When it comes to making music videos, there are very few original ways into the medium. But when director Cassandra Brooksbank collaborated with her musician sister, BØNTHÖVEN, for their unforgettable new music video, "The D," they knew they needed to get creative.
But without the ability to attach major star power to get attention, they came up with another outside-the-box idea. Use major Renaissance art icons from the Mona Lisa to the Girl with a Pearl Earring to sing about craving the male member.
Overturning the usual highbrow approach to Renaissance artwork, the video makes use of the era’s uncensored nudity to wink and smile about human sexuality while pointing out the double standard held between men and women.
How did the video come together?
Director Cassandra Brooksbank initially hit upon the Renaissance concept when trying to navigate the difficulties of crafting a film called The D without getting banned from mainstream video platforms. So how do you make a song about being horny on main and then do a video that's not going to be dumped?
They turned to what they called "respectable male and female nudity" with artwork from people like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and other Renaissance artists. The other great part of this was that it allowed them to avoid issues with both censorship and copyright. They were able to dig into museum catalogs of classical art and then manipulate them.
Keeping it low budget
This song was written during the pandemic, so Cassandra and BØNTHÖVEN were faced with the challenge of making the video without a large crew or budget. Cassandra turned toward Premiere, the software she uses in post-production, and she began reading a lot about how to use it to animate things.
Once they had the images and a basic understanding of animation, they used motion capture software to track BØNTHÖVEN’s face, mapping it onto classic paintings to make them wink, stick their tongues out, and bring personality to the forefront of the video.
In the context of Renaissance paintings, the duo noticed that the number of nude women was far higher than nude men - and that didn't sit right with them. The pair flipped the lens to present a female gaze, with men as the new object.
When it comes to actually learning how to make a video like this, Brooksbank says:
The biggest challenge was that we wanted to make an animated video and neither one of us knew how to animate, which was a bit problematic. We also didn’t have the budget to hire an animation studio, so we had to figure it out!
Luckily, I’m an editor so I’m pretty familiar with post. Originally we started off using various mouth images and changing them every frame or so, but it looked pretty lofi (and when I say lofi, I mean shit). Then Bonnie found this amazing motion capture software that was able to add tracking points to her face and map that to an image—for instance a Renaissance painting. This was a GAME CHANGER. Suddenly we were able to use mocap to translate Bonnie’s actual performance to a classic Renaissance painting.
The other huge hurdle the duo had to overcome was taking some of these public domain painting images and then finding a way to upscale them from lower resolutions.
We found this other great software that could upres images, so we put that to use and were able to maximize the resolution of the video. Once the technical obstacles were overcome, the biggest creative challenge was keeping it interesting because it’s a long song (and I hope we succeeded)! At each new section we had to outdo ourselves and there were periods of “editors block” along the way. The grand finale took us a while to figure out—how exactly does one elevate paint splattered Ds? We had to top ourselves, and we opened pretty bold, so it set a high bar. We tried getting the Renaissance Ladies to dance for awhile, but honestly we aren’t the best animators and it looked kind of rough… plus it took us days just to get the damn arms to move. Then Bonnie had a stroke of genius. She was like, “Dude. The D has to sing.”We tried it and it was the cutest little singing phallus of all time. After that, it all just came together.
The Mona Lisa after the DCredit: Instagram
Exploring sexuality and animation
The collaboration with BØNTHÖVEN gave Cassandra the unique opportunity to get involved not only in building the video but in building out two different brands—one for a musician working to solidify her place in music. And the other for a filmmaker trying to showcase her subversive voice.
A lot of this came down to collaboration. They had to work together to balance egos and ideas. Also, given that they are sisters, they had to chat things through. Lucky for them, the chemistry was real and able to be seen on screen.
I don’t think I've ever laughed as hard as I have while making this video—it made quarantine go by very quickly. BØNTHÖVEN was right there in the edit bay with me the whole time, and this project would definitely not be as good if we weren’t both involved throughout, trying things, bouncing new ideas off each other, and trying to one-up ourselves… It really pushed the project to a whole new level of craziness. I’m now getting ready to shoot some live-action videos for BØNTHÖVEN too—stay tuned!