In the fall of 2021, I began collaborating on a music video with LA-based musician Mauricio Morales for his new song and album Tower in the Sky. After a year and a half of production, the final animated film came into fruition.
The story follows a daydreaming kid, who one day decides to ascend a mysterious tower of legend. Many secrets await him, and the higher he goes: the stranger things get.
Behind the Scenes
At the start of the project, Mauricio presented me with the concept of a massive tower in the middle of nature, with no clear indication of how or why it got there. From this initial idea, I pitched three different directions to take the story of the music video. In the end, it was a mix of two ideas that went through: One where a young kid grows up at the bottom of the tower, and one where an adventurer explores to discover the cryptic origins of tower.
Below, you'll see an inspiration board used to kick off design explorations. For the upper levels of the tower, I pulled from puzzle boxes for reference. These intricately designed mechanisms felt like a right fit as a final challenge to the protagonist.
Some other inspirations include the Tower of Babel, The Legend of Zelda video games, and the city design from Battle Angel Alita.
The cover of Mauricio's previous album, Luna, pictured a kid dressed up in a Robin Hood outfit holding a balloon. From the start, Mauricio communicated that he wanted to feature a similar character, while also emphasizing that I give it my unique voice.
The main character of the music video, Kid, is the wide-eyed dreamer type. But he's also a bit of an unlikely hero, achieving great feats but always looking a bit silly while doing it. When designing him, I wanted to use simple, clear shapes so his expressions and body language would read immediately.
Through working on the animatic, I began to understand the character of Kid better and better. As a result, I gave his design one last pass, which resulted in the look you see in the finished film.
Drawing from the inspiration board, I began designing different ways of portraying the world of the film, and most importantly: the tower itself. My focus initially was getting the sense of scale right, to make Kid's journey to the top feel impactful. Soon into these design experiments, I realized the best way to convey the magnitude of the tower would be to actually build it in a 3D space.
First Visual Explorations
With this idea in mind, I began modeling and lighting set designs using Cinema4D. Originally, the direction for these sets was to make them as realistic as possible, as if this tower had been built to scale in our world. My thought was that having the contrast of 2D, stylized characters against a realistically-lit, grounded setting would emphasize the importance of the tower.
Despite this reasoning, I could feel there was something about the current direction wasn't working.
After completing style tests for two backgrounds, it dawned on me what was missing. A driving theme of the music video is childhood imagination, a concept neither test played off of. To reinforce this theme, I started from scratch with a new direction: Hand-made dioramas.
With a refreshed perspective, I began building everything more deliberately, thinking about what materials an artist would use at a small scale, as well as adding intentional imperfections like uneven edges. The finishing touch was changing the focal length of the camera to imitate macro photography, bringing out the miniature look.
Final Art Direction
The city Kid grows up in is colorful and full of life, serving as a contrast to his ascension up the tower where the worlds grow hostile and eventually sparse.
To express how out of his element Kid is on his journey, each rung of the tower plays off a distinct visual theme, such as industrialism, futurism, medieval ages, and others. I imagine there isn't a lot of interaction between the various tower cities, resulting in each one developing its own unique culture.
World Design Sketches
All of the backgrounds in the film were modeled, textured, lit, and rendered in Cinema4D using Octane Render. These images were then brought into Adobe After Effects where character animation was composited in, as well as color correction, particle effects, and more.
This video below shows the development of key backgrounds, from initial modeling to their final appearance.
All the character animation was done frame-by-frame using Adobe Photoshop. For each scene, I did a first pass of animation where I drew out the key poses to convey that scene's movement.
Once the foundation was laid, I went back in and added in-between frames to create the fluid motion seen in the final piece.
Josefina Silveyra - Vocals
Anthony Fung - Drums
Megan Shung - Violins
Rita Isabel Andrade - Viola
Mikala Schmitz - Cello
Mauricio Morales - Bass & Piano
All music written by Mauricio Morales
Lyrics written by Laura Rizzotto & Mauricio Morales
Produced by Ali Stone & Mauricio Morales
Mixed by Daniel Galindo
Mastered by Jett Galindo