Now airing exclusively on Disney +, Grammy Award-winning artist Billie Eilish Happier than ever: a love letter to Los Angeles is a cinematic concert experience in which she performs every song from her brand new album, Happier than ever, on stage at the legendary Hollywood Bowl.
The special is directed by Oscar winner Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne, who designed and produced the animated elements of the film that take viewers on a dreamlike journey through the most iconic settings of Eilish’s hometown, Los Angeles. It is produced by Interscope Films and Darkroom Productions, in association with Nexus Studios and Aron Levine Productions, with Kerry Asmussen as director of live concerts and Pablo Berron as director of photography.
Osborne is perhaps best known for his 2014 Oscar-winning short, Feast, which he followed with the innovative Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated virtual reality short, pearl, in 2017. The longtime Disney host put all his experience and skills to work on this special, which from start to finish took just three months to produce. “I’ve worked with Nexus Studios over the last year on various projects,” he told AWN, “and they talked to Disney + and Interscope about the possibility of making this movie together for a few days. only before he was introduced to me to possibly work. That was about 13 weeks ago. So whatever was going to happen had to happen quickly. “
“Billie had this idea to make an animated character of herself that would go with her new look,” he continues. “At the time, she was not yet blonde. She was about to initiate the change of mood that was part of her album release plan. She told me she loved this’ 80s look, referring to all kinds of things including Richard Williams and Ralph Bakshi. Obviously, we have a tight schedule which is going to make it very difficult to achieve rotoscope style animations. But the plan was to come up with a cool, dark story of a trip through vintage LA, inspired by Williams and Bakshi, people like that, and see what we could create that was exciting. It was a Monday. We talked about it more on Tuesday; I told Robert about it on Wednesday, and we left. Things happened so fast.
In trying to incorporate Eilish’s ideas into something “neat and cool” that would fit into the album, Osborne and Rodriguez had to develop something that would fit the concept of the Hollywood Bowl concert with the LA Philharmonic. “The Hollywood Bowl is a super vintage and awesome place,” says Osborne. “How do you integrate the mood of the animation into the lighting design and plan what the bowl program would be?” Because the animation was meant to be pieces placed between songs, what could we do with it? The project ended with a 100% collaboration between me, Robert, Billie, Kerry and Pablo, the director of live-action and DP concerts, trying to figure out how to make the special feel like a solid piece with a little story, although the story is mostly in the album.
“With Interscope and Disney behind, we knew the timing was the trickiest part,” he continues. “Would we be able to try some cool stuff in the allotted time?” It was also clear that whatever our schedule we couldn’t fail to capture the iconic way Billie moves and looks on screen.
There was literally no time to waste. “Here are the collaborators… get together and discuss,” laughs Osborne. “Robert and I had a few phone calls and we just resolved it. I built a slide deck that showcased what this could be. And then we ran with that so fast.
The special features various animated elements nestled between the songs, as well as a climax where the live action and animation combine at the conclusion. “Our goal has always been, how did you get these two versions of a character? You know, your ideal personality as an animated character, and what you really are on stage? How would these two characters feel for each other? And how can we build a little story about visiting some LA landmarks, but not in an overly touristy way that treats them in a timeless way? “
Osborne left with a crew to film various locations around LA. “We went around and shot a bunch of places, to build a trip through town that meant something to Billie. And then the real challenge was how to get a consistent performance that captures his iconic way of moving? We’ve always known that she has a really amazing and unique way of moving, posing and looking at the camera. How then do we turn that into our animated Billie? “
It quickly became apparent that they would have to find a quick way to capture that physicality if they were to hope to build on that for the special. Knowing that they wouldn’t have Eilish for a week to shoot in place, and believing they didn’t have time for the “old-fashioned rotoscope,” Osborne looked for a way to meet the challenge. “How can I do this [rotoscope] in a modern way? he says. “How to do it differently? How can I do this efficiently with just a few hours of Billie’s time? “
They decided to “put her in a costume and capture her unique movement” and then apply their version of the rotoscope on top of this performance. “We went for a mix of rendering motion capture with manual input on top, trying to find a look that would work, where we could get its likeness, its movement, while still keeping that 80s roto vibe. . “
While a more reasonable schedule would have allowed for several months of live filming, followed by months for any rotoscoper, with just 12 weeks, Osborne had none of that luxury. “So what I did was call on friends, ask for favors, to do it, because it was going to be tight,” he laughs again. “Zoic Studios in London and LA, Nexus in London and a company called Digital Frontier FX in the Marina here in LA, have all contributed in different ways. We have divided it according to specialties.
After working with Nexus on hand-grabbed animation for the past year or so, Osborne asked them to “take the reins of the most magical and surreal parts of history”, with Zoic and Digital Frontier taking over. support some of the “anchored stuff”. “Zoic did some of the composition and put it in and looks great with the final images,” he adds. “And the tricky part of it all is we didn’t get the footage from the Hollywood Bowl until early July, so we literally had three or four weeks to add some animation to this thing.” . Not very long. “
And, he adds, “We had to capture Billie’s performance before we did the Bowl stuff. So that was weird too. We had to measure the bowl and make sure the stairs were the right size, and his stage performance would be somewhere close to the match. “
He concludes: “So these have been a fascinating few weeks for sure.”
Dan Sarto is publisher and editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.