One of our goals as writers of The Round Stable’s remix culture is to illustrate the detail and creativity that goes into these works made by people who participate in the remix culture. Our upcoming series of articles will bring you a unique insight into how these works were created. The goal is to bring you a new view on the different elements of the remix and how they come together in the finished work. And what better way to begin the series than by explaining the creation of an influential PMV that I personally worked on?
Anthology Of Creation
PONIES: The Anthology has, to our surprise, become an incredibly popular PMV. The video itself has over one million views and was heretofore the most ambitious collaborative PMV. The project consisted of eight anime music video (AMV) editors, all of whom were good friends and also fans of Friendship is Magic. Due to our origins in the AMV community, we wanted to bring one of the most popular styles of AMVs – “AMV Hell” – to the domain of PMVs. Between shared tears, sweat, and laughter, this popular PMV was produced over the course of several months. Although we met many difficulties, both technical and personal, we all agree that the production of PONIES: The Anthology has been the most rewarding effort we’ve put forth in this fandom.
One of the most recognizable parts of PONIES: The Anthology was the Kanye West POWER parody used as its opening, created by ZephyrStar and myself. That video, however, was in production before the idea of The Anthology even existed. When The Anthology was well underway, ZephyrStar and I decided that PONIES would make a great intro for our collaborative project. I will take you through a behind the scenes look at how the iconic opening video PONIES was created. I will first go through the conceptual phase, followed by the creation, and finally the description of exactly how it all came together in the end.
PONIES is not only a parody of Kanye West’s POWER music video but it is also a tribute. Because ZephyrStar and I had an appreciation of the uniqueness of the original music video we were extremely careful about following the cinematography of Kanye’s original. A side by side comparison video was created for us by Tosxychor that perfectly illustrates our attempt to follow the original so closely.
In The Beginning There Was Nothing
Before I talk about the techniques involved in the video creation it’s important to know the conceptual side of the process. It started of as a spark, a single idea that ignited in my mind as I was trying to get to sleep. I had been a fan of Kanye’s music videos for a while and at about 11:30 PM a ridiculous idea popped into my head. “What if,” I silently pondered, “I recreate POWER, with ponies?” I chuckled to myself and then drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I had retained the idea, let it gestate a little, and expanded upon it. At the time I did not have a very speedy computer so my experience with After Effects was very limited. I had to ask someone who had a much greater competency with After Effects if something like this was even possible. Later that afternoon I was in a Skype call with ZephyrStar and I told him about PONIES. ZephyrStar did not seem entirely convinced. “Kanye West? Really? I dunno man, that sounds kinda stupid.” ZephyrStar had never seen Kanye’s original so we watched it together and with a little expansion and explanation he seemed to warm up to the idea. I asked him if it was possible to re-make this with ponies, he thought about it for a little while and said “Yeah, the composition shouldn’t be too difficult.” How little did we know.
I think it’s important to take a moment to look at the original video. The video itself is effects heavy, using many of the trendy effects you can find in after effects and cinematography. A lens with a short focal length to simulate a cinematic feel, a bleach bypass filter to get a gritty look, and overcranking to get slow motion are all effects and techniques that were seen in many of the popular hollywood blockbusters. Even though the effects were common, the one aspect that made the video catch my eye was the single panning shot. Kanye had centered himself in the middle of the shot; the camera never loses focus on him, and all characters and objects point to him. These camera techniques ensure that the audience never forgets the idea that the most important person in this video is Kanye and also highlight his power. The composition of the entire video exaggerates Kanye’s importance to a level that I found to be a little amusing, but also extremely cool. I figured if I add ponies to it, I can exaggerate the video even further and make it hilarious.
The Best-Laid Plans
Most of the time when I made music videos I would spend a bit of time planning out what scenes to use, how to fit the song, where to put little jokes, and this video would be no different. PONIES, though would require more planning and organization than I was used to. The first order of business was to figure out how many characters were in Kanye’s video and assign ponies to replace them. I first created this sketch.
We discussed which ponies would go where, and made a couple of changes and improvements. I was extremely happy with my original sketch but ZephyrStar did not appreciate my excellent artistic ability and decided to just make this instead.
Some of the ponies were chosen arbitrarily, or were chosen for no other reason than they had the correct body positioning. There were quite a few however that were chosen based on their importance or character. We knew Celestia would replace Kanye from the very beginning, as she holds all of the power in Equestria. Kanye’s video was very much a representation of the power he believes he has. Celestia knows she’s one bad ass horse princess. Naturally, Twilight replaced Kanye’s guards. The angel at Kanye’s feet is one of the few characters that break the symmetry of the original composition, indicating she is extremely important. The obvious choice here was Luna. She fit the space perfectly, and mirrored the shape of the angel in the original composition with her wings.
Pinkie was another early choice. She seemed perfect to replace the girl that tosses up the fabric because of how Pinkie appears in the second episode. She also gave us the idea to replace the cloth and fireworks with confetti. Kanye’s kissing girls in the lower right was replaced by Rarity. She was a good choice because her dress took up the space of two people.
Now that the organization was pretty much completed it was time to start on the actual creation of the video. ZephyrStar and myself had decided that since he was going to do the composition, and because I had more free time, I would be the one to find scenes of the characters and mask them out. I didn’t have that great a computer, one that couldn’t edit HD footage easily, so I had to make a list of exactly what clips I needed.
I made sure to keep really good track of the elements I had completed by being overly obsessive with my folder structure.
No One Video Should Have All That Masking
For those of you that don’t know the more technical sides of making a video like this I shall now attempt to tell you without making it dreadfully boring. The following picture is a screen cap of the mask of Fluttershy.
This was probably the most difficult mask of the entire compilation due to the slow speed of Fluttershy’s walk. This was compounded by the fact that the animation in MLP is very fluid, and higher quality in terms of animation than most other shows that utilize Flash. The multiple masks were used because several parts of Fluttershy would cross over each other. The multiple masks broke Fluttershy into different components, similar to the way she was animated in Flash. This helped masking the 24 frame walk cycle a little easier. After the walk cycle was completed, it had to be rendered out as individual frames, and then re-timed frame by frame in our composition.
ZephyrStar had a similar problem with Celestia. He wanted her wings to move, and her hair to wave, but there was no good cyclable shot of that happening in the show. ZephyrStar had to improvise.
OH GOD! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!
Celestia was broken into several different parts in order to facilitate the animation. The wings were cut out and extended, the eyes were fixed, and the hair was created from scratch. There were some problems getting the hair to wave, but ZephyrStar had found a default effect in After Effects that ended up looking perfect. Sometimes simplicity is key.
At the same time I had gathered the clips and masked out a few characters, ZephyrStar had worked on Celestia and the background. We decided to put together a small concept test to see if all of this work was even worth it. I rar’d up the frames of Twilight, Derpy, Luna, and Rarity and sent them to ZephyrStar with the AE Project files.
After a couple of rough mock-ups we started seeing the potential of the video. Many things changed from this version, but seeing it in motion for the first time cemented our desire to complete the video. We knew this was going to turn out pretty rad.
After masking out more and more ponies, sending them to ZephyrStar and having him composite them together we ended up with a video that was much closer to being completed.
We’re Rounding Third
Hey! That looks pretty good. But there were still a number of issues that needed some polish. I had a list of demands that required ZephyrStar’s acquiescence and I must admit I am one heck of a taskmaster (Just Like Cap).
Here was one of my many lists of commands:
0:24 – Soften the stopping motion of the Pillars. So It’s not so abrupt.
0:22 – Descending motion of spike more constant.
0:36 – Right Side Trixie Arm Cycling has too long of a freeze frame.
1:06 – Reverse the fluttershy
1:18 – Rarity’s Animation needs to be reset.
Fix Blinky Spike
Braeburn needs to be moved more to the left more behind Lyra.
Apples need to go a little lower.
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle and Granny.
Text At The End.
Add the Confetti
Remove some frames from the reverse of Twilight.
Make the Confetti go behind Celestia’s wings.
Fix Derpy’s Outline.
Most of these fixes were very minor layering or character movement problems, little tweaks to a video that usually need to be done for a project of this scale. Obviously, I am an iron-fisted overlord expecting nothing less than perfection. After a couple more weeks of spit shining and making ZephyrStar deal with my ridiculous demands, we had a completed video.
From the initial layout, many small things had changed, but the overall impact of the video was stunning. We couldn’t stop watching it.
But wait! There’s More!
Thus concludes the story of PONIES. But wait just one minute dear readers, there is still more to this tale! It seems other people thought the video was cool, and often comments would pop up with alternate lyrics to Kanye West’s rap. Following these re-writes, iBringDaLULZ decided to take ZephyrStar’s and my creation and recreate the song with the new lyrics.
I think this is an excellent addition to our work and it has added something to make it entirely new.
Overall PONIES was a really fun project. The response to it has been overwhelming, and very inspiring. I hope you enjoyed reading about the creation of this video as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I hope this was of some help to any other PMV makers out there if you needed an example. It has been nearly a year since we put this together and it was a very cool experience for me to revisit the video in this amount of depth. ■