Sketchbook: Scary stuff

How does a pop video get from drawing board to small screen? Here, illustrator Julie Verhoeven and promo-maker Wiz give the lowdown on their collaboration for Melanie G's `Word Up'. But first, the Scary one herself sets the scene ...
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We could have done a nice, happy-go-lucky video with lots of dancers, but my husband Jim said, "It has to be something new, it has to be something that people don't expect. You have to go in a different direction now." So, you know, it's quite good having a husband, really. I said to him, "You go off and find two or three directors, and then I'll help you choose one." One of the ones he came back with was Wiz, who's got a very eccentric mind when it comes to videos. He and Jim got a storyboard together, and I said, "Well, OK, you go off and do it and show me the finished product."

I only did one day's filming. They put these little electronic sensor thingies all over my body, and I had infra-red cameras around me at all different angles, picking up exactly how my body moved and how my mouth moved. They took all that movement, put it into the computer and made me appear in the video as an animation. So it's all pretty complex and it was in post-production for months. These people worked on all the background scenery, every hand movement, every eyelash movement. I was constantly saying, "Is it ready yet? Is it ready yet?"

I didn't actually see the video until it was 90 per cent finished and I was gobsmacked. It freaked me out. Obviously Jim would come back from the studio and tell me what they were doing, but I didn't know it was going to be anything like what it was. It's very strange the first time you watch it, but then the second time and the third time you work out that it's all about life and death.

It was all a first for me, and it was the first time the people who worked on the video had done anything like it, so it was a real learning process for everyone. I put my own money into this video, it wasn't just Spice Girls' money. I got advised by the office, "Are you sure you want to do this?" "Yes, I believe in it."

`Word Up' is on release on Virgin Records

Wiz

The brief that Mel gave me was that she wanted to celebrate her pregnancy and the imminent birth. When I'd done an initial treatment and I met her, she said, "There's one more thing, Wiz, it's got to be sexy," which was music to my ears. I developed the story of this life-cycle of birth, growth, sex, death and rebirth.

Julie

This was my first time doing a storyboard. I normally illustrate fashion and work as a fashion designer, so I was completely oblivious to the technical side of making a video. I didn't think of it as a storyboard. I wanted each picture to work as a thought-provoking drawing with its own mood. I was going for the emotion rather than how it would look on screen.

Julie

Wiz had the idea that one character should be a traditional English butler, but also sinister and demented. The maid was a similar thing: she should look very humble, but very strange. It took quite a while to develop those characters. They all went though several stages. I'm not sure about the dog, really. We wanted to have lots of Mel characteristics in there and it just seemed right to give her a dog.

Julie

Wiz knew exactly what he wanted. He had a very definite idea of the mood and the emotion and how he wanted that translated into visuals. The treatment was very clear, descriptive and rich in detail. I was inspired when I read it. Then I met Wiz, and he's a very inspiring character, too. He wanted it to be highly stylised and sensual and that really appealed to me.

Wiz

I've always been interested in CGI, but I wanted to investigate that while avoiding all the CGI cliches, ie, the camera flying around at 100mph and amazing angles and colours. So I said to Mel that I wanted to do the video in black and white, I wanted to keep the camera largely static, and give it the feel of animation rather than of a special-effects video.

Julie

The video starts off looking very delicate. It begins in the playroom which is white and bare with thin lines, and as the story goes on, the texture is heightened, and gets a lot more intense. When I began to illustrate, the fastest way to cover the space was to work with black Indian ink, and not think too much about what I was doing. There's a quality of it being accidental, which felt right for the story. I was worried that the drawings were too messy, but it really added something.

Wiz

I'm always a little bit reluctant to explain things too much. All I do is make the film and then, that's it, the meaning resides within the viewer. But it is important to me that there is ambiguity and there is interpretation to be done if you so desire. On one level there's quite clearly a story about the joys of life and the inevitability of death, followed by rejuvenation. And on another level you don't have to look too far to see there's a parallel with Mel as a star, and people and events that have shaped her career. n

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