Behind the Lens: Indie Pop Films and Apartment D talk The Itchyworms' stop-motion film 'The Life I Know'

Behind the Lens: Indie Pop Films and Apartment D talk The Itchyworms' stop-motion film 'The Life I Know'

Strap on your butterfly wings—The Itchyworms are set on taking you through a wonderful journey of nostalgia.

As part of their 25th anniversary celebration, the Filipino ''Di Na Muli' rock act teamed up with Los Angeles-based film collective Indie Pop Films and independent animation studio Apartment D to visualize their song 'The Life I Know'.

The heartwarming short film is told through adorable little puppets, textured fabric, and capiz balls with a universal story about family in a Filipino setting. "This talks about how one is suddenly detached from his former life of security and safety," drummer Jazz Nicolas shared with Bandwagon in an interview. "How the change really causes one to grow and mature like he never imagined."

Bandwagon caught up with director and editor Marie Jamora and producer and director of photography Jason McLagan of Indie Pop Films, together with director of animation Cami Kwan and producer Max Lopez of Apartment D to talk about the creative process behind the short film, working with the Itchyworms remotely, and translating the child's mind through animation.

Can you share with us the story behind 'The Life I Know' and how the animated music video came to be?

Marie: Jazz [Nicolas] approached me to make a music video and I got to choose which song on the album. I love 'The Life I Know' not only because it's haunting and it leaves something with you but also it's in English. I knew that it could do well globally.

I took some time and I listened to the song a lot, and I finally got a seed idea about how the womb is the safest place for a child until they're outside of the womb. And that's the idea I talked to Apartment D about. We started brainstorming the story of Awit and how her baby brother comes into her life and it threatens this relationship she has with her mom.

How are you able to translate the story and the meaning of the song to make it an animated video?

Cami: What's almost universal is that experience of learning that you're not the center of the universe when you have a sibling. They're the ones coming in and kind of force you out of that position of central or being completely safe and completely enclosed.

From there we  started getting a lot of fun visual ideas. At one point we really wanted an aurora borealis. That's all Marie had to say and I was like, "Yes, I know where it's going to go! I see it." And I was like, "I think that she needs to fly out, we should probably do wings!" And so we had Awit with these big feathery wings but then Jason was like "I think it should be butterfly wings because feathery angel wings is not really Filipino."

So then we did research and we found this type of butterfly that only lives in the Philippines and so that's the kind we made. And I was like, "We need cool glowy paper lanterns," but then Marie was like, "No, no—capiz balls!"

We had the core ideas then started getting these flashes of inspiration of the visuals that could carry it along. Through a back-and-forth, we narrowed those visuals down to the most appropriate for these characters the most appropriate for their story and to be something that was like uniquely Filipino, something that you could not see from any other band from any other director. It was a really organic process once we got those core little pieces in.

There can be so many ways to make a music video, but what made you decide to go through it with stop-motion?

Cami: Something that's really unique about stop-motion that you don't really get in any other medium—not live action or any other kind of animation—is how tactile it is. And there's an inherent magic in these items that you have experienced in your real life—seeing those things that you know should not be moving on screen, moving—the magic of your imagination.

And as a kid, your experience is very tactile and very textured. You're face level with a lot of fabrics like carpets and sweaters, your parents holding you, your face against stuffed animals. All that stuff really makes stop-motion bring you right back to that childhood experience. The vision for the song was just perfect for stop-motion because that's something everybody has experienced and can relate to. It's a relationship that goes directly to childhood and nostalgia and that safe warm space.

What was the timeline like creating this video? I can only imagine how much work you have to put into making this.

Max: You know, obviously animation is going to take much longer than live action. In live action you get a crew together for five days and it's kind of a mad dash, whereas animation is traditionally a much slower, more meditative process.

This whole project was about two months for us and a three week period where we were animating it. Actually, four minutes in three weeks is kind of fast for stop-motion. If you boil it way down, you can maybe get 10 seconds [of stop-motion animation] in a day, but we wanted to make sure that we could get the feel right within the constraints that we were working with. At Apartment D in general, we try to find the right scope to fit the scale of the project overall.

We were able integrate a few different techniques. We wanted to make sure we distinguished the dream world from the real world and we found this perfect way to do it, where it both helped us keep to a schedule but also had a really beautiful effect of the dream where it would become dimensional and free.

The Itchyworms remind listeners to tell their friends and family how much they are loved

Jason: It's a distribution of labor too. You get a 40-person crew for five days for a live action short. For animation, it's two animators and a cinematographer for three weeks, so it's a distribution of labor over time. But with that said, yeah, it was tight, but I think we all we took that as a way of making creative choices not just for economic reasons of time, but also ended up creatively being a good choice that, that helped to push the narrative and themes.

What was it like working with the Itchyworms on this project?

Marie: It's my sixth collaboration with Itchyworms in a span of 20 years. With that friendship, they did the ultimately best thing for this project, which is trust us with it. It's very hard to show people works-in-progress for animation because so many things are missing—the puppets have rigs on them, there are no backgrounds, all these things need to happen in post.

The best thing for the project was really trust and space, and that's exactly what the Itchyworms and Sony gave us. Having directed over 50 music videos, I know that that's an anomaly, because I've worked with many record labels and it's almost unheard of to give this much trusted space. I do think that because of our relationships with both the heads of the label and the Worms, they knew that we were going to give the utmost respect and all of our heart into the project, especially after we pitched it and showed them the deck and all of our intentions with it when we broke down the song.

We told them exactly what was going to happen, but after that particular process they had to just let us do it. So that's kind of an amazing process and I have to thank them for the trust and space.

Do you have any advice for aspiring animators and filmmakers coming from the Philippines, and how they can break into the animation scene?

Max: I tell this to everybody—I think any artist, the best thing you can do is create, because that is ultimately your resume. That is what people are going to see and know you by. Having hired many animators, I have no idea what schools any of them went to. It has never been relevant to the process. What always excites me is when I see an animator and clearly, they intend to create animation for their whole lives, whether or not anybody ever hires them. And those are the people that I know I can trust with something that I'm passionate about and I know that they're gonna meet that passion.

Now with social media, there's more opportunity for that than ever. But truly, I have found artists on Instagram, and we have hired them, and they have been rockstars so much of it is really just being willing to make the crappy work, put that out there, keep trying to get better, put that out there. It all helps build a narrative for who you are as an artist, and then people get a sense of what your voice is. I feel like that's where the electricity and magnetism comes from.

Cami: The most important thing is just practice your craft just make. Don't wait for the perfect idea or you'll never make it.

I would also say, just use your own voice. Make the work that you want to make the way that you want to make it. Don't try and be what you think people want, because you're not going to be that. You just have to be you and bring your own unique experiences to it, and that will make you stand out and make you memorable when people come across you on social media or wherever else.

Jason: The only thing I would like to add is that people who have the mind and the spirit for animation, they can tend to hold on to an idea for far too long. And so, besides just creating, you have to be able to let it go. So, either as Max said let it go and not be afraid to show the world, or let it go like and just say, "This is maybe not as perfect as I wanted it to be, but it's great enough that I'm going to just put it out there and move on to the next thing."

There's nothing that can stop a young artist dead in their tracks more quickly than just holding on to perfection for far too long and just waiting to release something because it's not right. You just got to get your idea down and move on to the next.

Marie: I'm just gonna add something as a non-animator and somebody who's very who's outside of it. There was a time Jason and I were in the Philippines and we were hiring animators for our LEGO show and we hired a lot of animators from CSB and we realized that our country is spectacular when it comes to 3D and 2D animation—it's historic since you know, Hanna Barbera days, right? But aside from the Alcazaren brothers, I don't think stop-motion is as explored as it should be.

There are so many talented animators in the Philippines, but they usually always go with 3D or 2D. And I think that stop-motion should really be a viable path and they shouldn't be afraid of it. Everyone thinks it's too hard. It's too time consuming, etc, etc, it's actually not. Cami and Max and Jason are proof of that.

Cami: If I could tell people who are at all interested in stop-motion one thing, it's that it doesn't have to look like the stop motion in the movies looks. Stop-motion is so much more than that. That's kind of what Apartment D tries to do by really leaning into the materials and textures that Stop Motion is made from.

And that's what Jason and Marie have really supported us in doing. We've partnered on multiple projects at this point and every time they have never asked us to make it look like a feature film they've always supported it looking like stop motion and celebrating the textures and the mediums and, and what it comes from.

I think that's a big barrier for stop motion for people. They think it has to be this one thing, but if you have an item and a camera, you can stop-motion animate. I think people should, they should animate, everything that's around them.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any cool projects you'd want to talk about?

Max: At Apartment D, we're working on a couple more music videos in addition to this one. We've got one for a band called NSP later this year. And then on top of that we work a lot with a toy company Mattel. We make mini series for their YouTube channels. We're about to produce a Hot Wheels series, followed by an American Girl series. Those are both really fun projects because we get to ut our voice into them.

Cami: We also at Apartment D are going to be finishing up our first original pilot. Pretty soon, for our own series for a character that we would really like to explore. We've been writing scripts for some original content so we'll probably throw one of those into production towards the end of the year as well.

Jason: With Indie Pop Films, we have a feature script that is out, and we're setting up with a studio that you may be familiar with. I don't want to say just yet but we also have a couple of series that have been in development. Marie has some exciting directing opportunities coming up this summer and in the fall, I don't know that he can talk about them. But things are on the docket.

Marie: A lot of original content on our end, whether it's movies or TV series. For me, I'm hoping to direct other things in television, either network or cable or something like that, within this year.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Stream the Itchyworms' Waiting for the End to Start below.

Bandwagon's Stories