Meet the filmmaker whose work with King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard has dominated the Australian psych-rock scene and drawn praise from El Topo himself.
If you're not familiar with the band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, there's no better time to start than now. The ridiculously-named Melbourne-based septet has put out eight albums in the past four years, and their boundless creative energy is only matched by the fury of their live performances.
The band has gained a following which contains a level of diehard loyalty similar to The Grateful Dead; in turn, a sort of mythology has developed. This is in large part due to the efforts of one Jason Galea, a visual artist who has been with the band every step of the way. He's responsible for the slew of cover art, animation, posters, and direction behind nearly every music video the band has put out.
No Film School sat down with Galea to discuss his directorial vision for music videos.
No Film School: What was your first directing gig?
Jason Galea: Directing the music video for King Gizzard’s Bloody Ripper early 2012 was my first shot at directing. I studied multimedia at university between 2004 and 2006, which led to working for a casino for five years creating motion graphics and web content. During that time I’d been developing my art practice on the side with AV collective Zonk Vision, making short films and dabbling with live projections. We often collaborated with musicians around Melbourne and Sydney which, over time, led to making music videos, album art/posters, and live projections for bands.
"It almost feels like the VHS creates a painting, the more eroded and processed it gets."
NFS: What do you want to do next?
Galea: In the short term, I’m spending the rest of the year working on the rest of the seven music videos for Nonagon Infinity. We are creating The Nonagon Infinity Movie, which is essentially a looping album of music videos that are all connected. It’s a big undertaking, so I’m collaborating with other artists and friends to help get it done. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been keeping busy on the animated video for Robot Stop. After the Nonagon Movie is finished I’ll be moving onto whatever’s next with Gizzard.
NFS: How did you meet King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard?
NFS: Were you an illustrator or a director first? How has illustration influenced your video work?
Galea: I’ve been jumping between drawing and making video for quite a long time now, but I started honing in on my illustration work first before taking my video skills further. I had a general grip on video and motion graphics from over the years of making skateboarding videos and what I had learned through university. Over time, I discovered more about video art and started stepping out of what was normal to me and began blending my illustration into my video work. I think I identify more with album covers and design work since my animations are heavily fed by my illustrations; the album covers and posters are more physical and real to me. I do love making videos, though, and having the balance of doing both keeps it fun and interesting.
NFS: What post-production software do you use for these effects?
NFS: A few people have been bold enough to label some of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s sound as "VCR Rock." Since their first videos, it seems like the aesthetic you bring fits in with this label nicely. How has VCR or VHS inspired your work?
Galea: I'm really interested in what videotape does to the signal. It almost feels like the VHS creates a painting, the more eroded and processed it gets.
NFS: How do you achieve the VHS effect?
Galea: There are a few ways I go about it, but most of the time it's just video signal to tape. I think you can repeat the process about 50 or so times until the information is completely gone. I also use a circuit bent video processor made by Tachyons.
NFS: Where did the idea for 3D come from?
Galea: The 3D glasses idea came from the lyrics of the song about watching 3D movies with cellophane glasses. The 3D idea didn't happen straight away, but after trying this 3D stereo effect, it gave an interesting effect, which looked good to me with or without glasses on.
NFS: Someone commented on this video trying to explain how “the recording doesn't live up to the insane energy level of this song live.” Do you ever focus on strategies that could potentially make the video bridge that gap?
Galea: The intensity in video form is hard to match when YouTube recompresses the video. I think I could go way further than what I do with intensity, but have to hold back because their bitrate settings wreck anything that’s over-the-top fast, strobe-y, or detailed. The Cellophane video turned out really compressed; hopefully, over time, they’ll give more options for the uploader. Seeing video presented in a gallery or as projections at a show is a much better experience.
NFS: This is the first video where this cultish Holy Mountain robes and jewels theme was implemented. What was the concept behind that?
Galea: I’ve been using robes and cultish looks in my videos for a while now. The ideas were present in the Mind Fuzz album artwork, which I thought could be cool to cross over to the video. Mind Fuzz was the first album where the '70s prog and heavier sounds started appearing, which goes hand-in-hand with fantasy imagery like wizards, occult, etc.
NFS: I get some serious Monty Python/Jodorowsky vibes from Trapdoor. How was the idea for this video conceived?
Galea: We made this video on tour in Europe. We were waiting to find the right idea or place to make a goofy music video, and one night we played at this massive concrete venue in Hamburg which was a Nazi bunker in World War II. There were some really cool props and bits laying about that were perfect for a Trapdoor clip and it all just happened pretty easily over a couple of hours. A few days later we shot the outside scenes at the Nottingham Castle using props from the gift shop.
I haven’t watched much Monty Python at all, but in Australia, there were a lot of British programs on television when I was growing up, so from time to time I’ll go into this weird '80s BBC mindset when making videos.
NFS: What was your process like in illustrating this video? Can you share some strategies for syncing moments in music to moments in illustration?
Galea: The River track has four sections to it and the album was also split into four songs with the four panels on the cover linked up to the four tracks. For me, 10 minutes is a long time to sit on the same sort of visual animation style, and it would have driven me crazy to do it all the same, so I tried to emulate the four different cover sections throughout the one track. We had some tour footage that helped fill it out and connect the worlds.
"I don’t think I really planned it to be much of a story, but more of a visual ride."
NFS: The way the illustration blends with the music in this video tells a certain type of story that everyone can relate to, yet there’s not really any clear plot line. What is the story you wanted to tell?
Galea: I guess it kind of rolls and flows like a dream sequence, which everyone can relate to in some way. I don’t think I really planned it to be much of a story, but more of a visual ride.
NFS: Can you explain the length at which you collaborate and are involved with King Gizzard and their creative process? It almost seems like you’re the eighth member of the band. Your work with illustration ends up being a huge influence on them.
Galea: I’m surrounded by the band a lot since I go on tour with them and we all share the same workplace in Melbourne. I’m around to hear the music take shape from the beginning to end and constantly planning what to do next for covers and videos.
NFS: What are the other mediums of art you used to create this video? It seems like the gators are running on...layers of paint? And then projections of hands on top of that. You’re bringing multimedia to a whole other level here.
Galea: The 2D alligators are running on these frozen river sets that I made with plaster, cardboard, and paint. It was incredibly hard to film it in the studio I had at the time—really cramped and messy. The projections are green-screened hands I filmed and composited in.
NFS: What sort of camera/FX did you use for the live-action kaleidoscopic hike segment?
Galea: That was filmed on a GoPro by the band while they were in upstate New York. I ran it through an analog processor box to mix it with the other clips a bit more. Also, there was this After Effects lens effect.
*Watch this in 1080p
NFS: In keeping with the track listing of the album, this would be the first part in the larger "music video movie" you'll be making for Nonagon Infinity as a whole. How was it making an introductory video for a movie that's supposed to be an infinite loop? What is your strategy for building a narrative in this unique sort of story structure?
Galea: I’ve got a pretty good idea of how it's going to come back around, but I I’m trying not to think too much just yet. I’m worried locking things in early will take the spontaneity and fun out of it for myself. The narrative is pretty loose and not really structured in the usual three acts of a film; I’d say it's going to be more of a music video album than a movie.
NFS: This seems sort of like a companion to "The River" music video what with the harmonica crocs and swarms of insects, but it's got this Matrix/dystopian/cyberpunk/terminator vibe going on to it. Do you have any big influences in the sci-fi world?
Galea: I was really into Star Wars and Planet of the Apes as a kid and still prefer sci-fi if I’m going to watch something. I think I always expected the future turn out like those dystopian wasteland movies—Terminator 2, especially that nuclear apocalypse scene with people burning on the fence, left a long lasting impact.
NFS: Color or the absence of it seems to be a major theme in your work. What is the significance of color for Gamma Knife in particular?
Galea: I co-created Gamma Knife and People Vultures with Danny Cohen, a photographer and director also from Melbourne. We originally started Gamma Knife with the idea of the band playing a TV performance on a giant stage like the early Black Sabbath videos, but we ended up taking it in a direction with more of a Holy Mountain inspiration. I think there are still some signs of the original idea in there with the simplicity of it all, but the ideas kept changing from so many inspirations.
With the colors of the wizards, we were trying to tie them into the Nonagon Infinity album artwork, which at the time had these circles with symbols around it referencing the nine tracks. The colored wizards were to symbolize each of the nine tracks from the album.
NFS: How did you pull off the spinning camera move? Was it sped up in post?
Galea: Cameraman Joel Betts was running around his tripod in circles really fast with everyone else following behind, trying not to get in the shot. Some parts towards the end of the video were sped up, though.
NFS: We get this sort of retro glow and coloring going on in this video. Again it reminds me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Was that done in post or was it the camera you used?
Galea: The glow was from the Pro-Mist filters we used on an Arri Alexa.
NFS: Are you the costume and prop designer as well? Who made the giant egg and, well, the ensuing vulture?
Galea: I made the initial sketches and design for the egg and vulture, and for the costumes, we had a production team put together by producer Ruth Morris who helped bring everything to life. The vulture structure and mechanics were created by Melbourne cardboard crew Box Wars with the exterior vulture team lead by Tom Brooks. The costumes for the fighters were made by Phoebe Taylor and Ash Pierce.
NFS: How was it built? What is it made from and what is it moving on?
Galea: It was a wooden frame with a cardboard layer built around to create the contour, with fabric feathers and silicon skin on top and wheels attached to the bottom. It had flappable wings that were pulled by strings from inside as well as people helping to push it through the rough terrain. It was a really weird and uncomfortable two days for the band, especially for Stu the singer up top.
NFS: How much would you say you value absurdity in your work?
Galea: I’m always questioning my work and trying to take it further and I guess pushing things to absurdity and beyond is what I have the most fun doing. If it makes me laugh or gets me pumped, I’ll usually do it if I can.