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Pharrell’s latest music video sees modern rap meeting 19th century zoetropes

Remember as a kid, you’d look into Victorian and 18th century toys for children? What always stood out to me was the zoetrope – a large cylindrical spinning top lined with sequential images that appear to move when spun and mimic motion animation. The zoetrope carousel technique has been adopted by the likes of Ghibli and Pixar and the latest to make the most of this cool motion is none other than Pharrell Williams.

Entitled Cash in Cash Out, the song features 21 Savage and Tyler the Creator, the music video is the brainchild of London-based visual effects company Electric Theatre Collective (ETC), production company Division and director François Rousselet, Cash In Cash Out takes viewers on an oddly familiar trip through childhood toy territory.

To give the impression of a moving zoetrope or carousel, ETC recreated an organic “jitter” within the motion of characters in Cash In Cash Out, but the video was actually created using VFX and CG.

“Who doesn’t want to bring the worlds of rap & 19th Century mechanical artistry together!” shared ETC. The concept of a zoetrope sat centre stage for François, with the idea of creating movement from a lineup of characters that comes alive suddenly as you spin the carousel.

Alongside simulating this stop motion “jitter”, François wanted the characters within the video – including Pharrell, 21 and Tyler – to look plastic, “like out of a 3D printed machine” featuring low res detail at close range. Plus, the director adds, “the cars should look like Hot Wheels diecast model cars.”

Fingerprints were worked into the models and their clay-like clothing to simulate the feel of being handled, and scuffing was introduced to the zoetrope – all while imperfections in movement add to the “slightly staccato motion you see on real zoetropes”.

When animating each musician, they also had to tightrope walking between “recognisability and miniaturisation”. The lengths of detail reached were great.  “21 Savage, for instance, has a less animated and pronounced mouth movement when he’s rapping. Tyler, on the other hand, performs with quite exaggerated mouth shapes. Mimicking these and playing with the level of characterisation made the lip sync process incredibly fun, but labour intensive.”

Watch Cash In Cash Out and you’ll spot rotating floors made of cash, model train tracks and face-swap scenes of a hula hooping Tyler plucked straight from the uncanny valley. What’s not to like?!

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