David Knight - 4th Jan 2011

It's been beset by problems and misfortune, and had its release delayed for over two years. But it's now finally out there: Fly Trapped In A Jar: An Alien Musical by the Saline Project is a dazzling animation which also sets the bar pretty high as a compelling performance video, featuring Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock, half live action half CGI cartoon, and unusual band comprised of an ever-changing number of identical aliens.

This indeed did begin life as a promo for the track Fly Trapped In A Jar from Modest Mouse's album We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank - that was well over two years ago. But an unapproved version of the video was unintentionally leaked (and pulled soon thereafter), and subsequently shelved.

The New York design/direction/animation outfit - namely, Adam Toht and colleagues - eventually shrugged of that disappointment to ultimately rework the whole project as a short film (or "Alien Musical"). And now it appears, fully endorsed by Modest Mouse and Sony Music, to blow your mind.

As Adam confirms, it was "shot, animated, submitted, rejected, reworked, resubmitted, unintentionally leaked, written up in Rolling Stone and appeared all over, was pulled and shelved for over two years before being worked on and approved finally by Modest Mouse. It was a pretty crazy ride but we're soooooo proud of this film."

Adam Toht on the making of Fly Trapped In A Jar: An Alien Musical

"As huge fans of Modest Mouse we were ecstatic to be offered the chance to make a video for one of the tracks from We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. For "Fly Trapped in a Jar" we kept seeing a band of identical extraterrestrials led by Isaac's alien counterpart. We loved this idea of creating a single-shot video set in a bright, tweaked take on a Seussian world. We saw Fly Trapped in a Jar as more of a performance than a standard music video, so we wrote it, pitched it and were awarded the job.

"Because we had a minimal budget, we piggybacked our green screen shoot with Isaac onto another shoot Modest Mouse were doing at the time. We mocked up an alien outfit so that Isaac could play with the character and the alien's body type. It was a fun, super short shoot and we brought the footage back to New York and began what we thought would be a relatively normal post process. We shot the backup band, with their performances taking cues from Isaac's, and began building out the candy-colored world and its inhabitants. That's when we began to realize how time-consuming the process was going to be. "A full five minutes of animation equals about 7000 frames of animation for each of 25 different dancing, instrument-playing, face-making little dudes. It was an insane undertaking. Even worse, as great as the individual character tests looked, once put in a single frame, our painstakingly animated little guys seemed to cancel each other out onscreen. The more work we put in, the more the video seemed to be sucking the life out of itself. So we asked for more time and put in what ended up being a few more months of work, only to submit a locked-off camera version that everyone hated. It was brutal. So other jobs came in and we switched off between these projects and endless iterations of Fly Trapped in a Jar.

As frustrating as all of this was, we knew there had to be a great video in there. All the individual elements- the song, Isaac's performance and our beloved aliens - were each too killer to result in something boring and static. Finally, with a version that seemed like a better video (we may have been losing a little perspective), we knew we had to put the project to bed. We re-submitted it to the label and...heard nothing. For weeks. And that's when we did a really stupid thing. We posted a version of Fly Trapped in a Jar to our site. We were up for several jobs with a similar aesthetic and salineproject.com serves as our main portfolio.

"Before we rubbed two brain-cells together and realized the kind of impact any new Modest Mouse video naturally has, Fly Trapped in a Jar was all over the web. Pitchfork posted it, bloggers blogged it, Rolling Stone wrote it up...and our production company called us to say that the record label was (rightfully) furious and wanted the video pulled immediately. That was one of the shittiest days our group has ever had. We apologized our asses off to Isaac, the record label and our reps, and wiped the video from the web as fast as we could. And then Fly Trapped in a Jar was sat on a shelf for over two years.

"And then we decided this wasn't going to fly. And we opened up the project again and started working on the video again. (Because we are crazy.) And it got really good. And years after the not-great version was leaked we got in touch with Isaac and talked about releasing the video again. And amazingly, he was psyched and approved it and the record company approved it! And Isaac liked the idea that this really was "An Alien Musical".

"We've made a decent number of videos, commercials and shorts over the years and have dealt with all sorts of situations--but we've never dealt with a process like this one. Amazingly, it resulted in one of the best things we've ever done. People love this thing; people hate this thing. We love it and are so grateful that we had a chance to make and (finally!) release it. We thank the genius that is Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse. We thank the filmmaking gods that this thing (in it's finally official version) rocks."


DirectionThe Saline Project

David Knight - 4th Jan 2011

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