Behind-the-Scenes of the In Sound Mind Animated Music Video
The three talented animators behind the In Sound Mind animated music video share their thoughts on animation, art, and what goes into making a video game animation.
Putting together the promotional music video for The Living Tombstone’s Here Comes the Savior” was a monumental effort for everyone involved. Beyond coordinating the partnership between the animation team, Modus, and Tombstone, a huge amount of time, effort, and love went into bringing together this visual journey through the game’s main theme.
We rounded up the talent responsible for bringing this music video to life and asked them to walk us through the animation process, their inspirations, and how they managed to perfectly capture the essence of the song and the game.
Q: For those who may not be familiar with you and your channel, can you provide a brief introduction?
Tom/Mashed: Mashed makes animated shorts about gaming and internet culture. Our output is a real eclectic mixture of primarily comedy content about games and characters we really love. At its heart, our best content tells engaging stories that appeal to both hardcore and casual fans of whatever world we’re in. If you’re into anime, music, comedy, sci-fi, horror, or pop culture then I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll love if you come and check us out!
Jaime: I’m a traditional 2D frame-by-frame animator. I like making surreal animations that give form to the imagination. Animation lets us explore past the limits of real life, and that’s what makes it the best medium of art to me. It’s why my work tends to have lots of formless shape-shifting, body horror, and “camera movement” to give everything in every frame life. I’ve been animating for close to a decade now, constantly striving to improve my craft and be better than I was yesterday.
Lee: I’m Lee Daniels, a Freelance Illustrator, Animator, Motion Graphics & VFX Artist based in London. My channel is a mixture of animated shorts of my own creation and tutorials primarily focused on After Effects, but with some traditional animation tips in there as well.
Q: What made you decide that creating an animated music video to promote In Sound Mind was a good fit for your channel? Was this your first time partnering in an official capacity to promote an upcoming project?
Tom/Mashed: In our experience, music has a unique and universal appeal that other content types struggle to compete with. When we discovered TLT was composing for ISM and having worked together with fairly spectacular results on “No Mercy”, it felt like the right time to bring the band back together on another animated music video adventure.
Q: Creating an animation for a project that is still in development must have proposed some unique challenges. How did you go about learning about the game, characters, and world to accurately represent them in the animation while avoiding spoilers?
Jaime: Much like the protagonist, I knew nothing about this world (game) going in and pieced together what I could from the info (concept art) I encountered as I went along. Are these terrifying apparitions truly hostile forces or are they fellow victims lashing out at me out of sheer confusion over their own painful predicament? “The Watcher” menaces every scene she haunts, but through her body language and cowering behind a broken mask, she elicited more pity than dread out of me. Same thing with “The Flash” who with its war-torn looks and tough-yet-unstable stature, made me think of a soldier suffering from PTSD seeking a new direction. “The Shade” was great to animate. Through the murky horror of his shapeless form, I reconnected with a familiar drunk friend. Confusion feeds fear, and the protagonist and I evade that fear by making sense of this madness through the clues we gather.
Lee: The In Sound Mind developers provided an extensive list of production notes and a mix of gameplay and concept art to give us all an overall feel for the game. Although the brief was very detailed on content – which is very welcome (and very rare in this industry!), it was abstract in nature, so this allowed us a lot of creative licenses to run with ideas and work up a unique style while staying true to the source material.
Q: This isn’t the first time you made a collaborative project with The Living Tombstone – how did that original meeting come about, and what is it like working with him?
Tom/Mashed: I had been a massive fan of The Living Tombstone for some time before working with him. When Mashed started growing and building a reputation for fun animated content, I reached out to him about working together. I (obviously) suggested something gaming-related, and I still remember when he sent me a very simple midi file with the initial melody (which I couldn’t get out of my head even then). We published it and it just exploded online pretty much instantly, pretty much became the unofficial Overwatch anthem (with official league players and other big names posting it) then also became a meme multiple times (first on Musical.ly and then again on TikTok which led to another renaissance).
Working with Yoav is always such a fun and exhilarating experience. He has this unique sound and an innate ability to create music that just stays in your head. He takes elements and inspiration from so many different musical genres and styles but always reimagines them in a truly original way. I’d go as far as to say that his music is so good and unique that you can instantly tell when a track is one of his. On top of that, the guy is really really driven, he’s constantly experimenting with new approaches and collaborators, never stagnating. He’s also super friendly, very open, and has a real passion for his art. He wants everything to be as good as it can be and will get involved creatively in the non-music elements as well (and have great ideas about ways to execute it). It’s almost annoying how great he is in so many different ways lol.
Q: Walk us through the creative process that goes into making an animation like this, and how you decide on the final direction to take with the different scenes?
Tom/Mashed: I could write a book about this, so I’ll try and condense it down to the real essentials. We think of an initial outline for an idea, summarizing it in a paragraph. Once we’re happy with that, we move on to beating out the outline, so basically a series of bullet points that tell the story from beginning to end. We then move on to character designs, art direction, color palettes, and the stylistic approach. Once we’re happy with that, we storyboard it to get an idea of the flow of the visuals (sometimes we move straight to the animatic, like very loose, rough, and ready animation). After various revisions and tweaks, we move into full production, so animation, color, backgrounds & post-production (VFX and other ways to enhance any elements of the visuals).
With this project specifically, there was already so much available to build on. We had concept art, gameplay, and a very switched-on dev team who really knew what they wanted. So our job was to find a cool way to bring the world of In Sound Mind to life, and our approach was to create an abstract and dreamy, but smooth, flowing journey through the World of In Sound Mind, telling the story of Desmond and the tortured spirits he has to figure out how to defeat. We intentionally used a very limited color palette only using maybe 3 or 4 colors maximum in any one shot, which gave this haunting but dreamy feel. I approached Jaime because I was already aware of his amazing work (through “Drunk” as some other shorts) and knew he would be the perfect fit. The guy is an incredible director as well as an animator, his style naturally lends itself to more abstract and horror flavored content and his frame-by-frame animation has an incredibly polished, smooth, and high-end look which naturally captures the imagination. I brought Lee Daniels on board having worked with him for years now, again, a very talented guy, with a pretty unique set of skills. Lee did a brilliant job working on the early concepts for the visual approach, creating a very smart and smooth workflow for a project that, to be frank could have exploded without the wrong team and on top of that, did an incredible job compositing all the animation, handling the color grade and creating additional VFX that really enhanced both specific scenes and the overall look in terms of production quality.
Lee: As I was responsible for post-production & VFX and Grade, it was my job to come up with some early concept design in regards to potential background styles, movement, colors, and textures. We requested Jamie deliver all of his incredible FBF Animations into separate layers (Characters, Backgrounds, Secondary Assets) which he really pulled out the bag for us. This allowed me to break each scene down into its constituent parts in Adobe After Effects and focus specifically on each element of a scene.
Although a lot of masking and rotoscoping was used for certain effects, this delivery method drastically reduced the workload and freed up a lot of production time to really concentrate on the finer details.
Jaime: First, I draw some rough thumbnail sketches of the initial ideas to get the ball rolling. These rough sketches are based on directions given to me by the directors mixed with my personal touch and whatever other ideas we feel are cool and could further serve the narrative/visuals/story. Then, I put those roughs to the music/audio and make an animatic from that to establish the pacing of the movement. When everything has a nice flow to it, I then make more refined storyboards to make the animatic better and make sure that all ideas are in place and all directions followed to where everything needs to be.
With the foundation of a completely storyboarded animatic firmly in place, I then move on to rough animation. With every problem worked out and every detail tweaked in the rough animation phase, it’s all smooth sailing from there. Then, with all of that and secondary animations ironed out, I then move on to inking, coloring, and clean up. With my parts completed, I then hand the animations over to Lee who compiles it all and adds the finishing touches with his amazing post-production magic.
As for the final direction on the scenes, I went with what I’ve done on TLT’s “Drunk” and other projects from before: continuous shots flowing into each other through morphing transitions. The music, much like life, is continuous with no cuts. So the animation should match that.
Q: Were there any ideas or concepts that didn’t make it into the final cut?
Tom/Mashed: Beyond tweaks to various characters (most fairly early and just a couple later in the production) no not really. Because we had such a strong foundation in terms of source material and a very excellent (and rare) outline from the devs, a lot of that early creative wrangling was eliminated.
Jaime: Near the end of the vid, the protagonist Desmond is shooting at a bunch of ink monsters. Originally, he was shooting their heads and limbs to pieces, but we wanted to ensure that the video would be viewable by all ages, so I had the monsters dodge all the shots.
Q: The full run-time for the animated music video runs a little longer than two minutes, but the creative process takes much longer. How many hours across how many days does it take to pull together a project like this, and what kind of tools do you use?
Tom/Mashed: Honestly, I don’t know exactly how many hours, and I almost don’t want to know! As a rough estimate, I probably spent between 1-3 days a week working on this for the duration of the project (which was around 3 months). My focus was helming the project overall from a production angle, so initial creative approach, briefing and working closely with Jaime & Lee on the creative execution, handling feedback rounds, general problem solving, and being the central figure and point man between everyone involved in the project.
Lee: It’s always hard to figure out a time in hours/days on projects such as these as they are so much fun to make, we end up working evenings and weekends just because we enjoy sticking it all together. But in total, I think it was probably 3-4 months from very early phone conversations and texts, though to final renders, edit, and delivery. My tools for this job were: Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Premiere, and some Third Party plugins.
Jaime: For my part, it took about a month and a half (from March to May) with another 2 weeks afterward devoted to changes/revisions/additions n such. Pre-production (rough thumbnails, storyboards, animatic) was ironed out in less than a week, with animation work being done over the next month. Had myself working 8 hours per day, with time on the weekends devoted to extra details and such that I was eager to see completion sooner. I used Adobe Animate to work on this project.
Q: Do you have any closing remarks or advice for aspiring animators or content creators looking to grow and improve?
Mashed/Tom: So I think the biggest and most important thing is that you have to really love what you do. So, if you do have that passion, just keep on working on stuff as often as you can but be careful of burning out. Try new software and approaches. Surround yourself or reach out to people you admire or could work with. Escape from the screen and find places and work that inspires you. Pitch ideas, show off work, and ask for criticism. Then the hard bit – try and take it on board (I was fully not ready for this when I started and man it cost me some really great opportunities). It’s very rarely personal! Also to contradict myself a little, have faith in yourself and what you do! Constantly push out of your comfort zone, even if it leads to spectacular failures. You’ll learn so much more from the things that go wrong than from the successes you have.
Jaime: I can say from experience that the best way to improve your craft is to practice, practice, practice. Study the cartoons or works that inspire you to draw. Watch them frame by frame to learn how they move… and then practice. Never let your ideas remain as just ideas in your head. Give them form through practice. Grow accustomed to how you give your ideas an existence through practice!
As for content creation: the more you practice, the more you create. The more you create, the more you have to show for yourself to the world. Through practice, you grow. Through creation, your work and recognition of it grows. Create, put it out there for the world to see, and grow from there.
Lee: Use every spare hour to make your own stuff and put it out there. Watch tutorials and keep up to date on software and processes. Find creatives with like-minded approaches to work ethic, but not necessarily to style, so you learn from each other.
There is no better practice than trial and error on a live project, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a client/paid project. The most rewarding way to learn any creative process is to make your own art from scratch and release it to the wild.
Of all the jobs I’ve done for TV, Commercial & Web production companies over the last 20 years, I’ve never once been asked for my official qualifications (which is good as I don’t have any!). Potential clients only ever want to see what you can actually create artistically. So, make sure you have a solid catalog of personal OR professional work to show would be my top advice. ✌️
Tom, Jaime, and Lee were kind enough to share even more WIP renders, animation stills, and early/post-production animations when writing these responses. You can view everything shared in this article and more here. If you liked what you saw, consider checking out Tom/Mashed, Jaime, and Lee over on their pages and letting them know your thoughts.
[ Indie Access is our collection of how-tos about industry best practices, behind-the-scenes content featuring veteran game developers, and Q&As regarding some of the most important and relevant topics in game development and publishing. We’ve spent a lot of time working out the kinks in ever-changing digital and retail landscapes, and intend to give back by helping to make your process that much easier. Subscribe below to know when we release a new article or contact us with questions, suggestions, or topics you’d like to see. ]