Serif in Education

Using music videos for creative projects to combine multiple applications across a range of devices

This week, it is time for some music trivia.

“You could have a steam train….. if you just lay down your tracks.”

From which popular 80’s song are those lyrics?

It’s Peter Gabriel’s 1980’s hit Sledgehammer, of course! And perhaps the lyrics aren’t the real reason why everyone remembers that song – more often, it is the video that has stuck in people’s minds. Watch it here:

Written, composed and performed by British musician Peter Gabriel, ‘Sledgehammer’ hit No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States on 26 July 1986, and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. It was Gabriel’s biggest hit in North America and ties with “Games Without Frontiers” as his biggest hit in theUnited Kingdom.

The song’s music video is much credited for this success – it won numerous awards, including a record nine MTV Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards. Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Awards: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Song of the Year and Record of the Year. As of 2011, “Sledgehammer” is the most played music video in the history of MTV.

The song was directed by Stephen R Johnson – an American music video director, television director, animator, painter and writer. In addition to directing music videos, Johnson is known for directing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (see the similarities?) for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in Children’s Programming.

Possibly one of the best animation videos of all time, Sledgehammer set a high bench mark for the videos that were to follow. Johnson used a mixture of pixelation, stop-motion and claymation to bring the rich visuals to life. It is rumoured that Peter Gabriel spent up to 16 hours under a glass plate while the animators shot the film one frame at a time. The labour intensive animation was brought to life by the incredible talents of Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame) and the Brothers Quay.

The video ends with a large group of extras jerkily rotating around Gabriel, among them: Gabriel’s own daughters Anna and Melanie, the animators themselves and director Stephen Johnson’s girlfriend. Two oven-ready chickens, headless and featherless, were animated using stop-motion and shown dancing along to the synthesized flute solo in the middle of the song.

And this isn’t the only example of stop-motion animation being used in music videos – another good music video is ‘Talking Head’s 1985 hit ‘Road to Nowhere’. Watch it here:

The best part about these music videos is that although a lot of time was spent putting them together, they are relatively easy for children to replicate and take inspiration from using the Serif Design Suite. They really show what children could achieve on a budget and with some imagination. For example, the part where Peter Gabriel is on a rollercoaster – these are just photo stills taken of him in front of a blackboard, with the background (rollercoaster) drawn on in chalk! Students could easily recreate this on a black/white board.

With DrawPlus, even a novice user will be able to develop impressive stop-frame animations with ease because it helps you cut out some of the routine tasks of building up your animation using vector shapes, tweening and other useful techniques. We have some really useful (and free!) teacher resources to guide you through the creation of stop-frame animation, from getting started with vector drawing to adding and animating text:

For post-production editing, children can try the latest special effects and green screening using MoviePlus. Perhaps they could try and play around with speeds, like Johnson does towards the end of ‘Sledgehammer’.  Or, they could experiment with Animate IT!, by making their very own models out of modelling clay and creating some colourful characters for their animation.