JAMM Brings Grotesquely Beautiful VFX to Life for Die Antwoord’s “Alien”

June 5th, 2018

LA-based visual effects studio JAMM brings a freaky fantastical and grotesquely beautiful vision to life for Die Antwoord feat. The Black Goat’s “Alien.” Directed by Die Antwoord’s Ninja, the story he conceived with band-mate Yolandi Visser shows the South African rave-rap group continuing to push the boundaries of what a music video can be.

JAMM was introduced to Ninja through editor Leo Scott, and after meeting, it was quickly apparent the two parties would be creatively compatible. For “Alien,” Ninja wanted to capture the sense of otherness Die Antwoord felt when they came to the United States, in their own subversive, visually nightmarish way. The goal for the VFX was to create something never-before-seen yet authentic-feeling, a creature transformation which could exist within the pages of National Geographic.

Shot in Detroit, the video features Yolandi as a hoodie-wearing, insect-resembling alien. As the alien walks through a gritty and starkly real world, her non-citizen status denies her service at a diner, forcing her to trawl the streets alone. The exiled alien seems so perfectly enmeshed into reality, the viewer soon forgets they are viewing a VFX creation.

Amidst the bleak background, a glowing centipede-like creature encircles the alien girl. She catches it, and eats it – ravenously – tearing into its carcass and gooey entrails. A metamorphosis begins, as a webbed cocoon begins to grow and glow around the entire shape of her body.

The process becomes even more gorgeously realized through another transformation from unreal to real, as a second creature breaks through the cocoon. Emerging through the webbing, a human girl is revealed (played by Sixteen Jones, Ninja and Yolandi’s real-life daughter.)

“We’re used to doing complex creature work … the cocoon was a new type of challenge,” says CG Artist Zak DiMaria. “It was important to Ninja that the cocoon looked very real, but also unlike anything people had seen before. We based the material of the cocoon on different molds and fungi to ground it in reality. Then we simulated it and allowed it to evolve and grow on its own into a very detailed and beautiful structure.” DiMaria led the JAMM team through the cocoon FX simulation, the most challenging aspect of the VFX process.

References from the natural world – moths, plants, coral and growing mushrooms – were interpreted to create the cocoon-like formation. JAMM made a custom digital mold that could evolve, with thin threads of webbing that would grow down the contour of her body. As the webbing grows, there is a physicality to it that grows denser and denser.

Another exciting aspect for this project was creating a photorealistic centipede with the wings of a damselfly, explains Animation Supervisor Stew Burris. “Ninja had a clear idea in his mind of how this creature should move and behave. He didn’t want it to look too Tinkerbell or Fairy-like. Because this creature does not exist in nature, I used a combination of damselfly and centipede references to find a believable middle ground. These are the types of challenges I truly enjoy as an animator.”

Additionally, JAMM created the CG opening titles featuring the neon-lit insect encircling the Die Antwoord logo and song title. The sequence sets the mood for the entire film, a bizarre visual feast enhanced by JAMM’s attention to detail, from the creation of the centipede’s glowing internal organs to the delicate webbing of the cocoon.

“Ninja has such a strong vision,” says VFX Supervisor Andy Boyd. “He knows exactly how he wants something to look, and he works with you to get there and get it onto the screen.”