New Jersey-based content studio Image 8 Nineteen Inc. has created visuals for Mickey's 90th Spectacular, Breakthrough Prize Awards, and Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, and on January 26, 2020, celebrated its sixth year working on the annual Grammy Awards. Broadcast on CBS from the Staples Center, the 62nd edition of the awards show featured stunning performances by Camila Cabello and Usher with visuals designed by Image 8. Mat Hale, owner of Image 8, chatted with Live Design about Grammys past and present.
Live Design: How has Image 8 Nineteen’s relationship with the Grammys evolved over the years since 2015?
Mat Hale: Image 8 Nineteen Inc. has been working closely with screens producer Drew Findley since 2014. Drew has been involved with the Grammys for 10 years. During the 57th annual Grammy Awards in 2015, he brought our team onto the Grammys to work with DF Productions to create onstage screens video content for three performances: AC/DC, Beck, and a duet with Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani. For the next six years, Image 8 Nineteen has created Grammy performance video content for Justin Bieber, Skrillex and Diplo, Alabama Shakes, The Weeknd, A Tribe Called Quest, Bruno Mars, Sturgill Simpson, William Bell and Gary Clark Jr., Logic, Lady Gaga, Cardi B and Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae, and Motown Tribute with JLo, Smokey Robinson, and Ne-Yo. During the 60th and 61st annual Grammy Awards, Image 8 Nineteen was given the opportunity to create the onstage screens awards video content.
Live Design: What was your favorite performance to design the content for? What was the design philosophy behind it?
MH: The 61st annual Grammy Awards in 2019 was pretty exciting. The Motown Tribute with Jennifer Lopez, Smokey Robinson, and Ne-Yo is the one performance that really stands out for me. A total of five songs were performed with nine unique video moments. This was also the year that our team was really challenged. The working design resolution for the video was 13,700 x 2,500. It was a big medley celebrating Motown with some very high profile performers, so it needed to have some really epic moments in the video content. We received a content concept video breakdown of the song as well as the type of visual representation desired to be on the stage video screens from Drew. As a solution, I broke down each unique look and assigned them to different animators so we could get designs and motion samples back to Drew for review and revisions ASAP. This was one of those performances where adjustments were made up until dress rehearsal. It required perfection. We always treat video content we deliver with that mindset. We need to exceed expectations and design something we can make rapid edits on and deliver. When designing video content at this resolution, you need to communicate and lead your team, as well as communicate with the client.
Live Design: What has been the most challenging design year, either concerning awards content or performance content? How did Image 8 Nineteen overcome that challenge?
MH: The 60th annual Grammy Awards in 2018 was the first year Image 8 Nineteen was given the opportunity to create the onstage awards video content along with some performance video content. The working design resolution was around 9,400 x 2,000 for performances and the award looks. Performance and award content are generally two totally different aesthetics. Award content should always move slow behind the presenters, so as not distract the viewer. This meant a higher number of frames rendered, and with the combination of delivering performances and award looks, it meant that we needed to render a lot of high resolution frames. Image 8 Nineteen Inc. has an in-house and mobile renderfarm that we can also bring onsite to productions. Because of my experience from the video game industry and designing video content for 20 years, I was able to lead my team on best practices to reduce render time and get motion samples back to screens producer, Drew Findley, quickly for reviews and revisions.
Live Design: How did the video content help carry Camila Cabello’s emotional performance at the 2020 Grammys? How involved was the artist; any particular requests?
MH: Like most performances, approved creative look and mood boards are provided to us along with design elements by Drew. Some of the challenges we have is how to create this content to exceed expectations and design something where we can make quick revisions. For example, the home movie footage was an edit provided to us by Camila Cabello's creative team. The creative team didn't want the content to feel digital. We rear-projected and shot video content of white light on fabric, which was meant to create a delicate, dream-like environment of memories. This shot content was then composited onsite by Drew and Camila’s team to make the final edit. Making use of the onstage screens and camera direction of the video content we shot complemented Camila Cabello’s wardrobe, creating soft movement matching the musical tone of "First Man." The personal moments of Camila’s home movie footage really framed her and drew the viewer into the song lyrics and live performance. Personally, I found the performance extremely moving and intimate when I watched it from home.
Live Design: What was the concept behind the content for Usher’s tribute to Prince this year? How did you bring it to life?
MH: The creative for this performance was straightforward, classic Prince. Usher performed “Little Red Corvette” with iconic red metal blinds behind the band. The performance transitioned to multicolored smoke with an oversized silhouette of a bird cage for “When Doves Cry” ending with the song “Kiss.” Video content for “Kiss” was an oversized Prince symbol made out of light bulbs that animated to the music. With the band, dancers, and Usher all performing, the onstage video content created a subtle yet effective backdrop, matching Prince’s legendary stage appearances.
Live Design: What are your preferred software solutions to create video content, and why?
MH: We mainly work in Adobe After Effects with a combination of Maxon Cinema 4D. With the use of C4D, we use two different GPU rendering engines: Octane and Redshift. We are doing more content in 2020 with tools like Notch Builder and Unreal Engine. This is where I hope to utilize my extensive background and experience from working in the video game industry. In the concert touring industry, we've had success with Unreal Engine, all the way back to 2012 on a job we did for Skrillex.
Live Design: Anything else in particular you’d like to share? Collaborators? Gear? Favorite moments?
MH: I’d like to thank screens producer Drew Findley for the opportunity and trusting us with these projects. I would also like to thank Arturo Perez, Dan Block, Mehran Torgoley, John Federico, and Emilio Sa Colorado.