Make a mu­sic video

The band OK Go uses tech­nol­ogy, in­ge­nu­ity and mildly dan­ger­ous stunts to rein­vent a dy­ing genre. Af­ter 350 mil­lion views, they tell their se­crets.

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents - Mickey Rap­kin

Ok Go and Kyle Lewis teach us their techniques

DAMIAN KULASH JR, lead singer of OK Go, likes to joke that his tomb­stone will read: “One of those tread­mill guys.” He’s re­fer­ring to the band’s 2006 break­out mu­sic video, in which the four mem­bers per­formed a syn­chro­nised dance on some gym equip­ment. If this were all Kulash is re­mem­bered for, it wouldn’t be a ter­ri­ble thing: ‘Here It Goes Again’ has been viewed more than 37 mil­lion times. But we’ve got a bet­ter epi­taph for the 41-year-old singer: The King of Vi­ral Videos.

The band now puts out sin­gle-take stunt videos yearly, each with tens of mil­lions of views. The mem­bers toss out ideas – “We should do some­thing with dogs” – and what emerges are wild feats of en­gi­neer­ing and imag­i­na­tion that of­ten take months of plan­ning to ex­e­cute.

“To be hon­est, it’s a bad busi­ness model,” Kulash says. “The way to make money on Youtube is to make some­thing ex­tremely fast and sh*tty, and do it of­ten. But this is a de­cent busi­ness model for a bunch of nerds who like mak­ing stuff.”

We wanted to get the story be­hind the band’s vi­ral videos: what in­spires them, how they’re planned, and what ac­tu­ally hap­pens on set dur­ing film­ing. So we rented a stu­dio in Los An­ge­les, queued up our favourite clips and watched live with Kulash. These are the sto­ries he told us. –


THIS TOO SHALL PASS (2010) With 12 en­gi­neers and Kulash’s fa­ther, OK Go built a two-storey Rube Goldberg ma­chine. Af­ter six months of work­ing on this thing, we’re down to the night be­fore shoot­ing starts. We’re in an aban­doned ware­house and the lights go out. A drunk driver hit the trans­former. So we started test­ing the ma­chine in the park­ing lot. Peo­ple need saws and drills, so we hooked up to car bat­ter­ies.

The video was shot over two floors; the sec­ond half was the bot­tom floor, and the cam­era goes down a lift shaft. The bot­tom floor was very pre­dictable: a bowl­ing ball rolling across the floor will go the same way every time. Ran­dom fluc­tu­a­tions of dust are not go­ing to screw with it. Whereas domi­noes fall dif­fer­ently every time. We wanted a world of colour when the cho­rus hit, so we at­tached big coloured flags to rat traps. Each trap set off the one in front of it.

We went through the ma­chine 89 times, but many takes were only the first 20 sec­onds. We got to the end three times over three days of film­ing.


UP­SIDE DOWN & IN­SIDE OUT (2016) Band mem­bers per­formed chore­ographed move­ments in zero grav­ity. We spent two weeks in Rus­sia do­ing par­a­bolic flights – six flights as to­tal free-form play. We brought up every liq­uid and prop we could think of. The crew thought we were in­sane. They were like, “Are these re­ally rich kids who are just wast­ing their time?”

We came up with ba­sic chore­og­ra­phy, then re­hearsed. We’d bud­geted for 20 flights: six as test, six as prac­tice, and eight shoot­ing. The first time you’re float­ing, you want to swim. But the amount of fric­tion in the air is so min­i­mal, it feels like you’re go­ing to puke. I didn’t, but I was on heavy anti-nau­sea drugs. Af­ter a few times, the ba­sic physics kick in. “If I push off that, I go that way… ”

When you’re brain­storm­ing for this, peo­ple say, “Do con­fetti!” But con­fetti al­ready looks like that. To make it ex­cit­ing you want con­fetti made of bricks. Or disco balls. We tried piñatas filled with candy a few times, but bits of sug­ary chunk got ev­ery­where. The in­side of the plane was a sticky mess.

Ba­si­cally, the rea­son for do­ing this en­tire thing was to burst paint bal­loons. We had done 20 flights, we felt like we got it in the last take. Ev­ery­one was like, “Party!” Then we get to the ground and the cam­era guy’s face is green. In the last shot, one of the paint bal­loons hit the cam­era lens. You can’t see any­thing. No­body wanted to go back up, but we had to go for a 21st flight.


THE ONE MO­MENT (2016) The band filmed a series of ac­tions in ex­actly 4,2 sec­onds, then slowed the video down to re­veal that each ac­tion (like ex­plod­ing wa­ter­mel­ons and paint cans) synced to the mu­sic. Every time you see some­thing in slow mo­tion, there is this ques­tion: is that how the world works? Watch­ing this four-and-a-half-sec­ond tape still makes me stressed out be­cause there was so much anx­i­ety around get­ting it to work.

I like this scene where Dan [Konopka] is cut­ting through the spray-paint cans; it’s this rocket of paint set to the beat. We did tests, and we quickly re­alised that to get eight cans to go off – to be at a frame rate around 2 000 frames a sec­ond – all of that has to hap­pen in about a tenth of a sec­ond.

Which means that the thing he’s slic­ing the cans with has to be mov­ing un­be­liev­ably fast, and with so much force. Af­ter hit­ting the first can, it doesn’t slow down sig­nif­i­cantly be­fore the sec­ond and the third. It looks like Dan’s tak­ing a base­ball bat through there. In truth, it’s a hy­draulic arm that’s yank­ing the be­je­sus out of him. He can barely hold on to that thing. He’s ath­letic, but most of the re­hearsal takes of this, the thing goes sail­ing out of his hands.

The zero-grav­ity video was filmed in one take and took 21 flights to per­form per­fectly.

OK Go floats in zero grav­ity in their 2016 video ‘Up­side Down & In­side Out’.

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