Animation wouldn’t seem like an obvious choice at first when making a music video for a folksy, somewhat serious, song like ‘The Lion’. “Somebody is murdered, somebody dies of alcoholism, and somebody has a brain aneurism I think in the first 13 or 14 seconds of the video. It’s very intense,” says songwriter Benjamin Scheuer.
When he was looking to make the video for the song, part of his autobiographical musical The Lion currently playing on Stage II, Scheuer was somewhat at a loss about how to do it. “Because there are so many words in the song, I wanted to tell the story with a visual medium that would help make the lyrics more clear and I thought that quite a literal telling would be compelling. Though, was I going to do it with actors dressed up as lions? That seemed wrong,” he says. He found his answer in animator Peter Baynton.
Having studied oil painting and architecture at Cambridge, Baynton combined his studies with his love of storytelling to find his way to animation. When asked to help with the music video for ‘The Lion’ he knew right away what the project needed. “He did two things that blew me away in our first meeting,” explains Scheuer. “One is that he turned up with the main lion character cut out of cardboard and black sharpie. The other thing was he brought some storyboard sketches where he had listened to the rest of the record the song ‘The Lion’ was on…and Peter had included details in the storyboard for the video for ‘The Lion’ that weren’t in the song itself, details that were in other songs that were relevant, but were left out.” Watching the ‘The Lion’ music video, with its hand drawn and uniquely detailed animation, it’s obvious the two decided to run with those ideas from that first meeting. “It seemed like a really appropriate medium with which to tell this story. It was lighthearted enough to tackle some very serious issues,” Scheuer says.
Once complete the music video for ‘The Lion’ did not just serve as a representation of the song or of the musical The Lion. Rather the video has become a piece of art unto itself. It’s won multiple awards including the Public Choice Award for Best Music Video at the British Animation Awards. Scheuer liked working with Baynton so well they collaborated on three additional music videos – one for the song ‘Cookie Tin Banjo’, another for ‘Weather the Storm’ (which will be released in March of 2016), and a new video for ‘The Cure’.
This ability to make videos that work independently is the reason he finds the use of animation interesting, Scheuer says. “Videos are how people listen to music now. We consume music with our eyes. You ask any 10 year old ‘How do your listen to music?’ – on Youtube. If I have songs that work in a show I’m not just going to record the show and take out that 3 minutes, that’s silly, nobody wants to watch that. Performance videos are really old news. We want something that stands independent.”
Scheuer feels marrying the medium of animation with music and theatre through his videos is helping to broaden the appeal of what he’s doing. “There’s plenty of people who’ve seen the music video for ‘The Lion’ who don’t know the song is from a show,” explains the songwriter. “They don’t know the song is on a record. It doesn’t matter. But they dig the video. So maybe then we’re going to get people who haven’t come to the theatre, coming to the theatre. Maybe, just maybe, we’re going to bring in a new audience who’s interested in pop music to the theatre and that’s a much bigger audience than we have right now.”
– Kimberly Shepherd