In June 2011 I stumbled into the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic phenomenon and quickly became intrigued by the mixture of internet virality, a burgeoning remix culture, and the fact that the most unlikely of shows was at the epicenter. Just what was going on here?
I had never encountered something like this before and, fascinated to no end, I was drawn in, wanting to see where this crazy thing would go first hand. It seemed like one big and fun adventure, and so far I’m happy to say it has been. The show had captured my attention early on thanks to a wealth of music videos, parodies and mash-ups and, having some video making experience, I thought trying my hand at these would be a great way to be in the middle of it all and learn about this thing by being an active member.
I started out, trying to get a feel for the footage which resulted in my early projects. It helped build a mental library of scenes from the show and introduced me to some of my first challenges, like for instance converting episodes to editable footage. I solved these to the best of my then current abilities and released three videos: a music video and two parodies. By then I felt like I had hit a ceiling and wanted to do something different, see how I could push beyond my comfort zone and learn new things. Read more after the cut.
In the Beginning, There Were Racecar Noises
Top Gear ended its season around that time, and my mind was full of cars and angry V8 bellows. Next to that I had rediscovered one of my favourite drum and bass outfits Noisia, in particular their track Shellshock. Random things start to happen when you have all sorts of things that you love very much in your head. Rainbow Dash soon entered this mix as I began to liken her to an italian supercar. It wasn’t long before the idea of character based vignettes took root, because if I would make one for Rainbow Dash, why not one for each of the main six?
Development of the idea quickly went forward: I decided I didn’t want to just grab a song and layer footage over it, I wanted to encompass the character by combining imagery in one cohesive whole, creating something that would be more than the sum of its parts: Somehow, in some way the perfect audiovisual representation of each of the main six.
I would learn so much trying to reach that goal.
Considering each of my earlier pony video efforts took about a week to create I figured this project could be completed in full around the tail end of summer. Did I mention I would learn much? Going by what I knew I set out, starting the series with Rainbow Dash as that’s where the original idea took root.
Race Like Rainbow Dash was the first and is the least elaborate of the series, even so it could be the most important of the installments. Race laid out the groundwork, the rules, the format that would shape all future videos. It’s the most freeform and experimental of the bunch as I was just starting to feel my way around.
Some of the creative constraints I set for myself were easily definable and implemented: the shorts would for instance clock in at around one minute each, they needed to include specific character details such as their names, cutie marks, the title would follow a set format (Verb Like Pony) and its overall structure would be akin to that of a trailer. Others weren’t as clear from the get-go and needed to be developed along the way: the videos’ visual identity; typography, colours, transitions, cuts, and overall intensity needed to embody the character. The same went for the music.
These rules materialized as I went along the video’s creation, turning it into a highly iterative process where most of my time was spent figuring out just what in the world I was doing. I had no idea where to begin or where I would end up. I only knew that Rainbow Dash, plus racecar noises, plus Noisia equaled something cool. So I simply started, throwing the song into Sony Vegas, the editing program of my choice, and going from there. This is how I would approach every one of these videos: serendipitous, iterative, playful and rough.
Starting with the audio proved to be a great way to set it off as an editing program such as Vegas visualizes the music’s waveform as a track. The waveform changes as the song goes through its hits, bass drops, lulls and crescendos and provides a spine to which I can attach the visual meat.
In essence the song determines how the footage is presented to the viewer. Shellshock assaults you with a stream of drum hits and gnarly bass lines, leaving little room to breathe but all the more to get on the floor and rock your socks off. The editing would play off of this aggressive vibe.
Picture above is the final rendered video as viewed in Sony Vegas, showing both the video and the audio. This is not the project file itself as that’s currently sitting a halfway around the world, but it should still get the point across. The video could be divided into three parts: the opening, the lull and (for want of a better word) the rest. Let’s take a closer look at them.
The Opening 00:00-00:18
Opening a music video is like writing a short blurb in which you tell about yourself. Within a few lines you have to explain who you are and what you’re all about so that the person reading it has a good sense of what to expect. It’s not just the content of the blurb though that tells a lot about you, but also the way it’s written. Language allows for infinite ways of expression using the simple combination of letters, spelling, grammar, punctuation, et cetera.
A music video has its own language, instead of words though it’s composed of imagery and sound. In the opening moments a video introduces itself using this language to the viewer, and gives a sense of what’s about to come. What is the video about? How is this presented? What is to be expected? These and more questions need to be answered in the first few seconds in order to give the viewer a mental framework of sorts. If done right the viewer is drawn in and the video’s creator can start to play with the rules he’s laid out, or if he wants to outright discard them.
Given the song and the character Race it seemed fitting to start off with a huge Whizz Bang Pow Whablammo!
Lightning strikes and we’re on the tail of Rainbow Dash as she dives down to Pony Earth, accompanied by the delicious V12 engine noise of a supercar. The song hits and the video cuts hard to tell what this is all about:
The logo glitches as the bass wavers, gearing up for the next hit. Bam! More of Rainbow Dash flying through the clear blue sky at ludicrous speeds! By now the video has introduced itself: it comes at you relentlessly, it’s fast and hard-hitting, the music determines when and how footage is shown. And most importantly it’s about a rainbow maned pegasus…
… whose cutie mark looks like this and…
… whose name is Rainbow Dash!
Another one of the video’s key visual elements is introduced: stripes. These particular stripes share their colors with Rainbow’s cutie mark, tying together a key part of her look with a visual aspect evocative of the paint schemes found on racecars. Because racing stripes makes things go faster.
The rise towards the peak continues, emphasized by a slow fade to white. The video gears up for a climax, the inevitable drop of Noisia’s drum and bass. But then…
The Lull 00:18-00:20
… hits. “Awwww yeah!” Having introduced its key parts with enormous intensity, Race allows for a short breather, a technique borrowed from movie trailers. After filling in most of the opening I started thinking about ways I could add an additional dash of Rainbow. As so far it’s been essentially one big upward flow, interrupting that flow seemed a natural way of doing it.
I wanted to include a line of hers that I felt was quintessentially Rainbow Dash and would tie nicely into the overall feel of the video. There’s a moment in episode two of season one which does this perfectly. The main six defeat Nightmare Moon with a giant, rainbow coloured tornado of happy doom and receive their elements of harmony: shiny jewellery that lines their necks. Each character responds to this differently and Rainbow does so with her usual bravado, illustrating how she differs from the rest of the main cast.
In just this short moment it tells what the character is all about, hitting all the right notes I wanted to hit.
Having made its grand entrance with a torrent of noise and flashes the video can now continue deploying its audiovisual assault on its audience. This is the “meat” of the PMV, as it was once dubbed by the inimitable fenster. The meat is where I as a creator can start playing with the framework I’ve built my audience, bend its rules or I like change them to reach certain goals.
Race doesn’t deviate from its roots though and the meat is basically composed of lightning cuts of Rainbow Dash at high-speed and being awesome. Shellshock’s percussion provides the guideline for the timing of each shot, resulting in a frantic sequence that borders on over the top. To illustrate:
Dozens of cuts are present in a mere twenty seconds and no shot lasts more than a second, and it’s all over before you can quote Rainbow’s most well-known meme—you know, the one in which she dresses in style.
We end with another one of her defining moments: the Sonic Rainboom. Rainbow breaks the audiovisual spectrum, saves the day and we cut hard to a verb that’s meant to convey what she does: Race. A slow fade to black allows the viewer to let it all sink in and the YouTube player starts popping up related videos.
The Start of Something Beautiful
Even with all the experimentation involved the video would be completed in a week’s time, hitting the web on July 19th. What would happen next I never would’ve expected. I’ve mentioned that Race is perhaps the most important installment, as it started off the series and defined its format. But it managed to do much more than that. It unleashed an effects arms race in the PMV making community as it was one of the first that included custom content to such a degree. Much of its effects work would find its way into other people’s videos where it would be moulded into even greater use. Seeing its influence materialize so vividly took me by complete surprise and to this day I find works inspired by it, and I can’t help but do a little dance with a big silly smile on my face.
Race would spread throughout the Internet, appearing on various fan sites and eventually finding its way to one of the most unlikeliest of places: Forbes. Being used in an article criticizing SOPA/PIPA is Race’s crowning achievement. It’s the best kind of feedback I could have hoped for.
All of this was a happy accident: the unintended result of me I wanting to learn and have a bit of fun. It would bolster my resolve to put out my best darn work and see what the possibilities were. It set the project off with a bang and would soon lead to the second and perhaps most well-known entry of the series: Play.
The Finish Line
Thus ends this tale of Race Like Rainbow Dash, but if you’re interested I could give you additional insight of for example the more technical aspects. Ask away in the comments, I’m happy to explain things in more detail! ■