Starlight Brigade | 01: The Heart of the Story

 Hey guys,

Last time we said we'd have big news - though you probably already know what we were talking about now!

TWRP's 'Starlight Brigade' Music Video, feat. Dan Avidan has been released!

The team has been wanting to shout about it for a long time, and now it's finally out in the wild we're excited to be able to share the experience with you! This week, we're going to start at the beginning and delve a little into the thoughts behind the story/visuals of the music video.

But first --

WHOSAWHAT?

Starlight Brigade is Knights of the Light Table's third released project! The company is created and run by Patrick Stannard, and he oversees and coordinates all of the projects, as well as directing the majority of them.

When TWRP and Dan approached Knights of the Light Table to create a music video for Starlight Brigade, Patrick offered Michael and I the opportunity to step up and direct the video. Having never worked on such a big project, we were nervous, but also excited to give it our all and create something KotLT and our clients could be proud of!

The video is the result of the efforts and labour of a team of fantastic artists!

From the very first concepts through to the final composite, Starlight Brigade could not exist without them. Please be sure to go and give them your support! 

Patrick Stannard - CEO, Producer, Manager

Elle Power - Designer, Story Artist, Lead Animator

Noitibmar - Designer, Lead FX Animator

Thomas Poole - FX Animator

David Liu - Clean Up Artist, Lighting Artist, FX Animator

Renee Violet - Background Illustrator


So let’s get into it!


Starlight Brigade

The Idea as given to us by the clients!

When TWRP and Dan first sent us the song Starlight Brigade, we immediately loved it. This was before TWRP’s album Together Through Time had released. The song was still in its early mix, but we could tell it was something special. It had a heart and sincerity to it that we connected with on a personal level. 

In an early meeting, the band/Danny expressed their vision for the music video, sharing with us the visual influences they wanted us to draw from. It was to be an epic space escapade, taking cues from 80’s anime and the stellar sci fi artwork of Roger Dean!

(Above: I used a great little browser whiteboard service called Miro to collate the references and share it easily with the team)

Miyazaki and Moebius in particular are two of my absolute favourite artists, so being asked to create something based on that aesthetic was a dream, an opportunity to dive deeper into something I love! 

As the lyricist, Danny also outlined the story he wanted to tell. The song is about a young, idealistic kid who wants to go into Space... But what the song is really about is how it felt for Dan to pursue his passion as a career in the face of what seemed like astronomical odds.

After Danny told us the song was about his experiences striving to become a musician despite how crazy it seemed, we listened to a lot of interviews where he talked about those struggles. We wanted to understand how he felt and what he went through so that the heart of the visual story would beat in time to the intent behind the lyrics.

During that time, I made extensive notes - there was so much of what Dan said in those interviews that we could pull story from and use to instill authenticity into the character and world.

It became clear that the reason our team at Knights of the Light Table loved and connected with the song so much is because we could all identify with that struggle of reaching for something that seems ungraspable.


Planning the Story

With our visual influences in place, a strong metaphor to work with, and the outline of ‘young idealistic kid goes to space’, the next step was for us to develop this into something we could pitch back to the clients.

It started with scribbling down a mass of first thoughts and ideas - getting everything out of my head so I could look through and cherry pick later.

The name of the song Starlight Brigade, and the evocative lyrics provided strong imagery out of the gate. Throughout the lyrics, there are many allusions to light/warmth as being a strong positive force -

“Turn the cockpit clockwise, toward the sunrise
“The firestorm ignites, last thoughts of a life by candlelight
Light shines only for the blind”

Relating this to Dan’s pursuit of music, I felt the light and warmth to be the representation of his inner fire. We tried to run with this theme in the music video by associating starlight with the main character's drive/passion, and darkness with their doubts/fears.

It felt natural then to create a story where the bad guys are literally bringing darkness to the Galaxy. Our main character needed to be a person who was unwilling to let go of that passion, hope and idealism.

The world and the characters were an expansion of these ideas. Once we knew our core metaphor, we could naturally extrapolate outwards to try and better express the message. I would like to take a moment to say that I’ve been really happy to see people noticing the background storytelling and digging into the meanings behind the video.


Story Beats!

Do you ever close your eyes whilst listening to your favourite song and imagine an epic story? I think we’ve all done that!

When I construct a story, it comes to me the same way - in scenes and visual flashes. Because of this, I find it easiest to express my ideas through a combination of notes and images. Here you can see the first draft of the Starlight Brigade story, as constructed on Miro (a kind of digital whiteboard).

I pulled imagery from my favourite anime, art, film and music to save time whilst still communicating the feeling of each sequence. This allows you to understand the jist of each section at a glance.


In terms of the pacing of a story like this, we were constrained by the narrative rhythm of the music - certain parts of the track felt like key moments that needed to be reflected in the visuals. 

For example, we knew that the bridge/breakdown before the epic final chorus needed to be where our character was at their lowest moment - a false defeat before rising up in triumph as Phobos’ sick guitar riff reaches its apex.

As you can see, we later adjusted some of the story beats. Originally, the characters’ first flight was going to be full of joy and wonder, the feeling of spreading their wings for the first time.

However in boarding, I preferred the ominous feeling of seeing old ship husks and the history this suggested, creating a point of tension to be relieved by the introduction of the TWRP crew!
I still miss the space birds that flew alongside the character’s ship, though.

That’s okay though, the main aim was to get a basic structure and story that we could pitch to TWRP and Danny. 

As intimidated as we felt at the time, working with these guys was so hugely inspirational. Throughout the process, they supported our ideas and gave us the creative freedom to explore and express ourselves. 


Twitter Questions!

Thank you everyone for your lovely questions! We’ll be talking explicitly about designs/boards/animation in the next couple of posts, so if you don’t see your question here it’s because we think it would be better answered there.

The First Flight sequence changed a lot in tone. There were also a lot of cut sequences where we got to explore more of the Galaxy, but there just wasn’t time. 

We also originally had the timeskip happen between ‘Meeting the Brigadiers’ and ‘Planning the Attack’ with young Dan becoming adult Dan. However, we felt a youthful looking character better personified the idealism they represented. Having a timeskip at the beginning also allowed us to show the long term effects of losing the stars on the planet/people.

As for funny jokes… We always lamented the fact that we couldn’t squeeze in our beach episode.

The breakthrough moment for this was linking Dan’s aspirational music career with the hopes of the main character. This gave us an emotional core, and an idea to refer back to when visually communicating the story of the video.

I feel the aspect of a theme/message can sometimes be overlooked in favor of cool visuals, but I really feel it adds an emotional connection when you know what it is and structure the visuals around it.

It was fantastic, honestly. Patrick would set up meetings where we’d get to discuss the ideas with them, and arranged for there to be periodic milestones where we would update them on our progress. They are the coolest people, and also enormously creative. They gave us some great direction for the visuals and storytelling of the video, and helped us out when we had questions or were running into problems.

We used a lot of pen and paper for planning, thumbnailing and designing. In terms of digital workflow, the main software used was:

Storyboard Pro |Toon Boom Harmony
Krita | Adobe Photoshop | After Effects | Premiere

We’ll go into depth in how we used these in future posts!

There were a fair few scrapped intros! The opening was one of the hardest parts for me to board, and I tried several different approaches. One even had a text preface! I’m hoping I can share those once we talk a little more about the boards.
Patrick Stannard was a great help with the intro in particular. He went through them with me and gave me some good advice on how to keep it simple, and lean more on strong storytelling compositions.

The main basis of the story is centered around the struggle of chasing your passion when it seems impossible, and that is 100% Danny and TWRP. We were also given the prompt of a space adventure centered around an idealistic kid.
Besides that, the nitty gritty of how the adventure played out is where the Knights of the Light Table team got to flex their muscles and play around with the storytelling.

Crafting the story involves a lot of tweaking over time, and previous iterations of the story certainly do exist, as animatics were reviewed and refined. We were hyper focused on trying to ensure that the major story moments were clear, and that their emotional payoffs were landing. 

How the TWRP crew and Dan’s character met was a sequence I had a lot of trouble with, and I remember there being a couple of different versions of. The opening was probably the part of the story with the most iterations, though!


Next Time

Next time, we’re going to delve more into the design process and share the thoughts behind some of the characters and locations.

Thanks so much!

- Swift

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