Client

JAY-Z & Mark Romanek via Anonymous Content

Production Company

The Mill

Director

JAY-Z & Mark Romanek via Anonymous Content / ECD: Phil Crowe & CD: Lisha Tan, The Mill

Capabilities

Design / Animation

Brief

Create the animated music video for ‘The Story of O.J.’, a track from JAY-Z’s hotly-anticipated visual album, 4:44.

Approach

JAY-Z’s concept for the piece draws on the stylistic conventions of theatrical cartoons from the 1930s-40s and highlights the many prejudices and stereotypes of the era. Our artists realized JAY-Z’s vision using a combination of hand-drawn cel animation, computer graphics, and painted backgrounds, collaborating with Titmouse to animate the original characters.

Impact

Over 99million views on YouTube. The video was also Grammy-nominated. WARNING: This video contains explicit language.

Art Director, Tim Devlin, comments, “The project definitely evolved. It all started with JAY-Z’s new track, ‘The Story of O.J.’. He and Mark brainstormed an idea for this film where the track would play over visuals derived from old, racist cartoons from the 1930s-40s. It was a very powerful concept to them. Mark came to us a couple of days after meeting with JAY-Z and we began developing a way to use the conventions of that style of animation to portray these terrible stereotypes, delivering a message through JAY-Z’s voice. We knew it would be a challenge replicating these incredibly controversial cartoons from the past in an authentic way – authenticity being the key – within such a short time frame. While the old animated shorts we referenced would take around 9 months to create, we had six weeks from the initial call to delivery.

Making storyline and character choices proved difficult from a conceptual standpoint too. The 1930s-40s cartoons feature very rubbery, happy characters, but this piece speaks to the serious subject matter. A lot of implications rested on every decision, especially as we were sticking to the specific aesthetic. That’s why, in the end, we ended up breaking away from some of the animation languages of the time. For example, the main character whom we follow throughout the song carries himself in a more modern, laid-back manner than you might see back in the day.”

Creative Director, Lisha Tan, comments, “It’s as if our lead is looking back in time and commenting on those issues in retrospect.”