VFX Artist Vitaly Verlov Nails it on Twenty One Pilots’ Music Video Trilogy
From the far-out worlds and characters presented in films like Avatar, Planet of the Apes and Inception to the visuals in music videos such as Eminem’s “Walk on Water” ft. Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” the possibility of creating whatever an artist or director envisions on the screen, no matter how far-fetched, is within reach; and that’s all thanks to the booming world of visual effects.
The art of visual effects is by no means an easy field to master. It’s a painstaking process that requires incredible attention to detail, knowledge of a vast range of production tools and the ability to deliver top-notch work quickly whilst under pressure. Considering the intensity of the field, it’s no wonder that studios hold onto the extraordinary VFX artists they come across with a firm grip.
One well-known VFX artist who’s become internationally revered for his talent in the modern television, film and music video industry is Vitaly Verlov. Over the years he’s proven himself to be a VFX powerhouse time and time again, with some of his recent music videos including Carly Rae Jepson’s “Now That I Found You,” Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over,” Static & Ben El with J Balvin’s “Tudo Bom,” Jasmine Cephas Jones’ “Moonlight,” all of which have millions of views on YouTube.
Director Carlos López Estrada, who worked with Vitaly on the aforementioned videos and is the founder of Little Ugly, says, “Vitaly Verlov is one of the most talented cgi and visual effects artist I have encountered anywhere. He has an unparalleled ability to bring the creative and technical aspects of production together.”
Vitaly, who is originally from Russia, is definitely one VFX artist and motion graphics designer you’ll want to take note of, especially if you’re a fan of the Grammy and Billboard Music Award winning band Twenty One Pilots.
Last year Vitaly was brought in as a lead VFX artist on Twenty One Pilots’ “Trench” music video trilogy featuring the hit singles “Jumpsuit,” “Nico and the Niners” and “Levitate,” which promoted “Trench,” the band’s highest charting album to date.
With a hit album on their hands, one that debuted at №1 in Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, and Czech Republic, and the backing of major labels (Atlantic, Fueled by Ramen and WEA International), Twenty One Pilots went to great lengths to create something unique to promote the album, and they did exactly that with the “Trench” trilogy, which has since earned great praise and extensive coverage by the media.
Vitaly was hired on as the VFX artist for the trilogy by the Los Angeles and Sweden based post-production studio Diktator, which he’d connected with several years prior while working as the VFX artist and motion graphics designer on a series of promos for Pixel Titans’ video Game Strafe.
Vitaly says, “When this trilogy music video project came up they offered me to work on it and this is the kind of offer you can’t refuse… it’s a high-profile band represented by major record labels making a set of music videos to promote their upcoming album… it’s always interesting to work on these kinds of projects.”
Last summer the band released the “Trench” trilogy music videos “Jumpsuit,” “Nico and the Niners” and “Levitate” in consecutive order with the videos more or less taking off from where the last one finished, all of which unite to tell a rather dark and fantastical story about battles with depression and the prison one experiences when caught within its throes. In a nutshell, the series depicts Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph being dragged to DEMA, a post-apocalyptic looking compound that arguably serves as a symbol for depression, by Nico and the Niners, a group of menacing looking cloaked figures. The visual effects were key in making the videos come to life as envisioned by the band and the music video trilogy’s director, Andrew Donoho.
Vitaly says, “When you breakdown a script for any of these music videos in pre-production, VFX shots are already there. These music videos are conceived with visual effects in mind, meaning visual effects are an essential part of the process to make the video work visually and narratively. Without utilizing visual effects, we wouldn’t have been able to create the Dema scenes in the Twenty One Pilots’ trilogy.”
While there’s no question that strong VFX help set the mood, punch up the visuals and create exciting scenes within music videos, they are also imperative to fixing problems within the live action footage, such as a mountain being to tall for the frame, or a lack of continuity between one scene and the next, a prime example being the burning car in the video for Twenty Pilots’ “Jumpsuit.”
From the opening scene of Tyler Joseph standing on top of the burning car in “Jumpsuit” to the cold looking concrete construction of DEMA that we encounter in “Nico and the Niners,” the VFX are clean, seamless and virtually unnoticeable, but the VFX that went into the burning car and that of DEMA, are two separate kinds of visual effects — ones that Vitaly is a proven master at tackling.
The type of visual effects where there is a lack of continuity within the overall footage that needs to be corrected are what Vitaly refers to as ‘invisible effects.’
“There were a few shots with the burning car. The problem with that car was that its outer body and shape should have matched to the shape of the car from one of the previous Twenty One Pilots videos and it didn’t because it was a different car… So the task was to reshape this different car a bit in post production… it is a good example of where ‘invisible effects meet narrative’,” explains Vitaly. “You can see, or should I say you ‘can’t’ see, these invisible effects in every high end music video, commercial and feature film.”
On the other side of the spectrum are the worlds and elements we see created practically from scratch, the DEMA structure is a prime example.
Vitaly explains, “The other side of music video VFX post-production is more narrative-based, meaning you as a VFX artist introduce visual elements that were not filmed and that are important and consistent to the plot of a video according to a director’s vision and your own creative input. Some music videos are more ‘technical’ when it comes to VFX, invisible effects mostly, some are more narrative oriented. In case of the Twenty One Pilot trilogy, I had to tackle both technical and narrative focused creative VFX.”
Prior to becoming a master VFX artist for music videos, Vitaly spent six years working as a motion graphics designer and art director for television, specifically for MTV Russia and other entertainment stations where he designed TV shows openers, commercial promo spots, and national music award broadcasts.
He says, “I guess I switched from working on stuff that was supposed to be ‘in between music videos’ on MTV to working on graphics and visual effects for actual music videos, an ironic transition.”
Working as a VFX artist on music videos like Vitaly does, as technically challenging as it is, also comes along with some pretty tight turnaround times. It’s definitely not a career for the faint of heart, or for those don’t have an undying passion for the job.
He explains, “One of the challenges for sure is that you never have enough time. Music videos almost always have a limited production time and a locked release date attached to them so you just have to work fast, sometimes long hours, but it’s always great to finally see it on YouTube getting millions of views.”
Taking the challenges in stride, Vitaly delivered impeccable work; and, with “Jumpsuit” garnering 71 million views, “Nico and the Niners” gaining over 53 million and “Levitate” earning 28 million views on YouTube, the Twenty One Pilots’ music video trilogy definitely didn’t have a shortage of views.
When asked about his favorite part of working on the trilogy, Vitaly says, “Working with the director [Andrew Donoho] and the band to translate initial ideas into actual shots under a tight deadline. The whole process was like running at a sprint pace with some rewards at the end — the finished video was trending at number one on YouTube for a couple of days, which I think is pretty cool.”
Shortly after completing the “Trench” music video trilogy for Twenty One Pilots, Vitaly went on to work with Diktator and director Andrew Donoho as the VFX artist on Khalid’s “Better” music video, another video that struck it hot with fans and pulled in over 330 million views.
About working with Vitaly director Andrew, Donho says, “It was truly a positive collaboration experience.”