The brilliant, Ben Stokes-directed video above for Azeem's Air Cartoons' album track "Latin Revenge" (on Oaklyn Records with music production by DJ Zeph) takes place in the Mission District of San Francisco. Inspired in part by Terry Gilliam's work and also by Azeem's music, the animated piece also puts a spin on the role of how police are perceived in society. In the video Azeem gains popularity as he peruses the streets of the Mission (eventually becoming a King Kong-like menace) as meanwhile a host of local neighborhood characters take notice. The police in the video are described by the maker as "enablers and cheerleaders."
I called up Azeem the other day to ask him what he thought about the new video. "It made me a fan and it's my video," he laughed, adding that, "All I can say about that video is that I can really almost take no credit for it. I just made the song. Like you and anyone else, I am fan of the video and I am amazed at the level of artistry that it incorporates." The video's animation was done by Ben Stokes (the video's producer/director) with additional animation by Patrick Siemer, who drew from the thousands of still photographs they shot, then cut up, mixed and matched, and then painstakenly animated using After effects.
Ben Stokes, also a part of Tino Corps, D.H.S.,, & Meat Beat Manifesto, has been professionally making music videos for about 20 years. The Mission District, San Francisco-based Stokes started out doing videos back in 1990 in his native Chicago where he began directing & producing a lot of the pioneering hometown WaxTrax industrial music artists' videos such as Ministry and the Revolting Cocks.
Soon after, fearing being pigeonholed as solely industrial music video producers, Stokes and his company H-Gun Labs branched out beyond industrial music acts. The first one was for Chicago hip-house artist Mr. Lee. This was followed by producing videos for hip-hop artists including De La Soul's 1991 song featuring Q-Tip "Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays" (video below). He also did two videos for Son Of Bazerk (including the genre-switching "Change The Style," below) and produced the Public Enemy/Anthrax collaborative version of "Bring The Noise" (video also below). It was around this same time that Stokes first met Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto fame and did some videos for him. The two became lifelong friends and artistic collaborators and continue working closely together on a myriad of projects to this day.
Additionally, Stokes works closely with DJ Shadow, creating most of the amazing videos for DJ Shadow's live shows. Not surprisingly, he has also directed many of Shadow's released videos, including "Walkie Talkie" (see below). And in fact, right now, this week, Stokes is working with DJ Shadow in preparation for their upcoming one-off SxSW Shadow performance for which Stokes will do the visuals. Last week I caught up with Ben Stokes by phone in his Mission District warehouse to ask him about the Azeem video specifically-- what work went into its creation and where its inspiration stemmed from.
Amoeblog: How did the new Azeem video come about?
Ben Stokes: Jack [Dangers] and I had done a couple of shows with him. We have mutual friends, as he is based here in the Bay Area, and the idea for doing a video for his new album Air Cartoons was hatched and I was just thrilled cos that guy is just so talented. So I pitched an idea of doing a sort of Terry Gilliam / Monty Python on steroids animated video and that ["Latin Revenge"] ended up being the song that we ended up doing.
Amoeblog: What was the pre-production process?
Ben Stokes: First we did a whole day shoot with Azeem and a couple of other people on a green screen stage. And then we used the pictures we took, which was over 6,000 pictures. And that is a camera that has a super auto shutter. Of course we didn't use every single picture we shot, but we took a lot of pictures and we were then able to sort of bring him to life in sort of cartoon form. And then we spent about a week of going out to the Mission District with our cameras and snapping lots of pictures of all the rich tapestry of colors and signs and buildings and everything in the Mission and then we just kind of put that all in the collage blender and sort of made this fictitious, but based on the real, Mission District environment for him to walk around in.
Amoeblog: It seems like an incredible amount of detail involved. So how long did the whole process take from start to finish?
Ben Stokes: Hmmm. It was a long time. About three and a half months of pretty steady work....cutting and pasting and trying things out and complete failure (laughs) and then success and throwing things away and reworking things. But it was a lot of fun, I have to say. I know three and a half months sounds like a lot of work but it was very inspiring and I just got a real kick out of working with Azeem too because he is such a great guy and he is so talented and he just kept pushing us, saying, 'Go, go further with that. That's cool.'
Amoeblog: So what programs did you utilize in post production?
Ben Stokes: I used [Adobe] After Effects [CS4] mainly and, of course, the other tools that go hand in hand with that like Photoshop. I figured you could boil it down to this: the tools that we used to make this video were the still cameras to shoot, a scanner since there [are] a lot of scans like album cover art and other things, Photoshop, and After Effects.
Amoeblog: Has anyone else ever used this style in music videos or other places?
Ben Stokes: I would say that DJ Shadow's "Walkie Talkie" video was kind of the Version 1.0 of that, as it used the same techniques. So for me that  video was my first foray into that technique. So Azeem's is the same thing but way further into the whole world of what you can do with cut-ups.
Of course the obvious one for me to have used this style before is Terry Gilliam, the Monty Python-style of cut up animation. Terry Gilliam goes back so far and I think that was a huge influence on a lot of people. It definitely was for me and I always liked that kind of discombobulated -- like taking one person's head and putting it on somebody else's.
Oh and another early, very early collage still artist is Richard Hamilton, who created the 1956 piece Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? which is all different clips and cut ups from magazines and stuff and I remember seeing that in art school and loving it.
Amoeblog: And the cops in the video seem like good cops, not exactly their image in real life, huh?
Ben Stokes: There was a weird thing that happened because, you know Azeem is from Oakland and then what happened towards the end of this project...I had incorporated the police as sort of enablers, like they're not bad cops. They're good cops and they're really there to help him and I thought that was just kind of funny. But then of course right towards the end of producing this project that whole Oakland shooting happened, the Oscar Grant shooting, and it made me stop and think about the whole thing and I thought, well this is even more appropriate now because it is somewhat ironic. It's... I don't know, it just came more to the forefront. And that was an interesting thing because you start a project and things happen in the world and you're suddenly more conscious of certain elements. But I do like the fact that the police are...that we are not against the police. They're not against us. It was a happy scene. They're there to enable. And they're getting into it. They're like cheering him on.
For more information on Ben Stokes' work visit his website www.holofonic.com. Meantime check out some of his wonderful videos below.
De La Soul "Roller Skating Jams Named Saturdays"
Son Of Bazerk "Change The Style"
Public Enemy/Anthrax "Bring The Noise"
DJ Shadow "Walkie Talkie"