Mill Paris | Singer M.I.A and her robot clone take on influence culture in Popular’ video

Work August 24, 2022

After three music video projects for Kanye West, The Mill Paris signs a new collaboration with director Arnaud Bresson and Division production for the ‘Popular’ video of British singer Mathangi Arulpragasam, better known under the stage name M.I.A.

In the track, M.I.A tackles influencer culture by featuring a robot influencer in her likeness with artificial intelligence. This robot, named M.A.I, has only one goal: to be liked and popular. Throughout the video, the real singer trains her robot counterpart to reproduce human movements and, of course, to gain popularity. With its scary plastic face, the robot imitates dance moves mechanically, smokes cigarettes, and takes selfies, all the while asking to be loved continuously. On a dancing rhythm, the artist sarcastically repeats hollow phrases related to the diktats of influence: “Love me like I love myself” “Suddenly it’s about me/ You want to be near me/ Because I love myself/ I’m living my best life”. Then, despite her best efforts, she decides to end this futile exercise and disables her robot lookalike by throwing water on it.

For the art direction, the director Arnaud Bresson had an exact idea of the style he wanted to give to robot. He wanted the robot to be creepy, realistic, cold, frozen and disturbing. A mask was made of the singer’s likeness to bring his vision to life. The artists from The Mill Paris were then in charge of bringing it to life. They used artificial intelligence to add a look, DeepFake for all the expressions, especially the lips, and then animated it with 3D. Beyond the clone, our artists worked on the motion design animation sequence when the screens and videos appeared successively. Finally, our artists shot textures in Paris, such as the one used to burn the clone at the end.

Through this hybrid use of tools (AI, 3D, DeepFake, motion, shoot, and more), we managed to bring M.I.A’s clone to life and fulfill the vision of the singer and the director.

“During the pre-production discussion about the look of the M.I.A avatar, Arnaud Bresson, director at Division Production, was clear about his vision. He wanted to avoid a meta-human or game character look. He was looking for a hybrid avatar. Something that makes the spectator uncomfortable, he shared with us some videos of robots you can see with a silicon mask.

They used a prosthetic mask for the shot. This mask was static and had no eyes. Our first step was to reintroduce sight, which should feel static and catch our attention. To push further the uncanny valley feeling, we trained different models of deep fake. One with M.I.A to push towards a perfect match, one with the MAI mask, to introduce some expressions on the static performance. Some shots were matchmove in 3D, and the face was animated to introduce some lip sync and expressions. Using all these ingredients, we used flames to combine these different passes.

There was also much work from our motion design team led by Olivier, followed by Agathe and Yohann with creating and animating all the social network interfaces. Arnaud wanted to avoid any extensive VFX for the destruction to keep it analogue. He wanted to have his look. With the producer Laure Salgon we shot with different layers of fabric melting. We combined all these burning pieces with sparks during this 15sec shot.

The video look was then accentuated and magnified with the talent of Arthur Paux for the final grade.

Working on this music video with Arnaud was very inspiring. We tested new techniques and new crossroads to follow his vision. This film was shot with an old-school video camera and a good combination of hidden tricks, Artificial Intelligence footage and CG renders. What a journey”
Franck Lambertz, VFX Supervisor & Executive Creative Director
“After the three Kanye West' music videos, it's a pleasure to team up again with director Arnaud Bresson and Division's production team Laure Salgon on the M.I.A. video. Thanks to The Mill artists lead by Franck Lambertz and IA technology, a new beautiful artistic collaboration is emerging, and I hope we will continue to produce and post-produce original, vibrant and surprising films together.”
Fabrice Damolini, Executive Producer

You can get in touch VFX specialists about your next project via our contact page.


Arnaud Bresson:
Executive Producer: Laure Salgon
Post production
Executive producer Fabrice Damolini:
Production coordinators: Ghalia Chammat, Ewan Rosenstrauch
Post-producers: Benjamin Cathala, Stephanie Mollet, Marie Cécile Juglair
Ecd & vfx supervisor: Franck Lambertz
Head of cg: Guillaume Parra & Guillaume Ho
Flame artists: Franck Lambertz, Valentin Gingembre, Jao M’changama & Aurélien Teurlai
A.I. animation: French Faker
Animation: Alban Lelièvre, Alexandre Sauthier
Nuke artists: Maxence Peillon, Tytouan Botte
Motion designers: Olivier Jarry, Agathe Sayegh
Sfx video shoot: Shaun Severi
Colorist: Arthur Paux