Disney Plus is getting ready to release Billie Eilish’s concert film “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles”; a film co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Award-winning animator Patrick Osborne. It goes without saying that Disney put together two immense talents for this film and with their respective unique touches in the art of filmmaking, motion capture and animation are getting ready to deliver a unique, yet one-of-a-kind concert film experience.
We had the privilege of sitting down with both Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne to discuss their approach to the film, working alongside Billie Eilish and bringing her vision to life and working with each other and marrying their respective skillsets to create this film. Patrick Osborne really dived deep into the creative process of this film and so did Robert, but as Robert Rodriguez mentioned, he’s truly at his core a facilitator and wants to just bring people’s visions to life rather than dictate how things should look and feel.
Check out our full interview with Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne below.
The Nerdy Basement: Tell us a little more about the concert and the approach taken in creating the film with your unique animated elements?
Patrick Osborne: Sure, yeah, we met with the group virtually of course, over Zoom like 12 or 13 weeks ago. Right at the beginning of Billie figuring out and starting to kind of reveal how she was going to present herself for this album release. All I really knew about it is that she wanted to do a live show with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl which is already amazing because I was a fan of hers and just to get to be a part of that would be cool. She really loved the 80s, like, rotoscope style animation. Characters like Jessica Rabbit or films like “Cool World”, Ralph Bakshi stuff.
It’s a particular look of animation that I love messing around in the world of non-photorealistic, hand-drawn stuff, hand-drawn CG mashup stuff. It’s been four weeks, as you know, from conception to finished product for something more than an hour-long is quite a lot to ask. So really quickly, we realized we’re gonna have to do some kind of modern version of roto. Like, what exactly would that look like, based on the time we’d be able to get Billie and how much time we had.
So we got to work, me and Robert Rodriguez, kind of planning out the general arc of the story and what backgrounds we could shoot. I basically went out with a small crew around our way and sort of tried to capture a bunch of locations that would feel iconic, that we could use these little animated moments in between every song, aiming to do an actual interaction between Billie and animated Billie at the Hollywood Bowl in the final few songs, that was their general idea. And we wanted to be like, the class of the ideal version of L.A., against what it really is like. Billie is an idealized version of herself as an animated character against her real self would be an interesting thing to mirror in the city of Los Angeles as well because we know it a lot from classic noir films, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, and even things way before that.
So what can we do that kind of harkens to that stuff, uses a bit of that Bakshi, Richard Williams rotoscope vibe but with modern tools and how can we do it in the timeframe that it needed to be done with the layers of challenges that were, you know, always fun to kind of play around with? I’m the kind of animator who likes to exist on the edge of what’s possible. So I was thrilled to jump in and try that plus, being a huge fan. Like I said I’d use Billie’s music in screenings before like, I loved the vibe that she felt, and to be a part of that in any way was just something I couldn’t possibly say “no” to.
So that started in June, we were shooting plates and we got Billie in a mocap suit to perform and then on top of that performance, much like you would draw on top of live-action footage in a roto film. We drew on top of her performed animation to make the final look and then we also have a couple of fully animated pieces right in the middle of the album. That was pretty awesome, done by Robert, Chinos, and Rondo who’s one of the other animator directors at the Nexus Studios where I was partnered with to do this. There’s a bunch of hand-drawn animated elements of flowers and signs and stuff, also throughout the film, is pretty cool.
So It took us three different studios, one in London, one in L.A., and one in Sydney to get it all done, literally working around the clock. But super, super cool to be a part of and we shot the [Hollywood] Ball stuff in July over about a week there shooting all night from 7 pm to four in the morning, L.A. Philharmonic and Dalian City and Andrew on. the drums.
The Nerdy Basement: You guys had a pretty extensive and intensive work scheduled it seems like, was there any COVID interference? How did COVID affect the filmmaking process if at all?
Patrick Osborne: I weirdly think this is only possible in this COVID world because there wouldn’t be a time we actually got the Hollywood Bowl to fill up the pool at the front of the Bowl, which they haven’t done since the 70s. Because we had the Bowl for a whole week, we could do that. The Bowl itself had no audience which itself seats around 18,000-20,000 maybe, it’s a lot of people and it was empty. There was no one there, it was treated as a film set so everyone had to be tested and/or vaccinated. The vaccination was totally out there but it was basically out there.
On the animation side, COVID really doesn’t affect you very much because we all work remotely from our houses. I actually barely met anyone on this project, except for on the Hollywood Bowl days. I’ve met Emily in person once. And [Robert] Rodriguez in person, you know, we were there for the whole shoot obviously. But beyond that everybody was basically on video calls the whole time. The animated business doesn’t change that much. It is nice to work in a place with other people but it’s a pretty lonely business in general.
When I worked at Disney, you could go a week without seeing anybody if you wanted, you know, just close yourself in work and get the shots done. It’s not that different now for animation. But the live-action parts were challenging. We had to keep the set very limited. My wife and I are huge fans, it would have been the coolest thing for me to be able to bring her to one of the nights that could not happen.
The Nerdy Basement: Speaking of Robert Rodriguez, you as an animator have a very distinct style, he also has his very own distinct style of filming things. How were you guys able to work together, balance, and marry your respective skills together?
Patrick Osborne: Yeah, I knew that Robert has like, when you hear or talk about him, he has a wonderful reputation by the way of being a great person and he really lives up to it. But He has a style that is like in the moment. So my goal was in any moments where I felt like I really wanted his help or mark on it like especially Billie’s performance. I wanted everything just to be ready for him to fly and change his mind on the fly and do whatever. So like, for the mocap suit and for the Bowl stuff and for the way we like plans, lighting, we always wanted to be sure that there was the ability for [Robert] to do what makes him good, and special and react to the moment and be in the moment and its the opposite of animation generally.
So the main target for that was that I was shooting background plates that were flexible, that we would make sure that we had a lot of options. Robert would direct [Billie] with a camera in his hand, we knew the angles that he was going for as references so that when we put together the actual show that had as much of his touch in there as possible for those moments. It was something I was very, not worried about but like concerned to get right. Because I wanted to make sure that we were using someone as brilliant as him for everything that he could bring.
Unfortunately here during our interview with Patrick Osborne, we had to take a little pause due to lack of service and him having to step away for a minute to handle something with his son. I asked Patrick about his short film “Pearl” which he shot in virtual reality and also has some musical elements to it. We asked him about the similarities or differences between sound mixing “Happier Than Ever” and “Pearl”. Due to the lack of service, we didn’t get much but Patrick went on to say that he loves working with music in general and that he thinks it’s a dream when you can do it [music]. Sticking to the virtual reality topic we asked Patrick the following.
The Nerdy Basement: If the option was there to film at least some, if not, all of this concert in virtual reality in some way would you have done it?
Patrick Osborne: I think doing something like that would be cool. It’s hard to. I think to do that right, it costs a lot, and you got to really have the distribution networks available to make it worth it. And now, there’s not a real clear way to distribute and make money in VR; but I think it’s awesome. I think the VR/AR side of the world and probably the workplace even and all that is gonna be giant. I thought the Mark Zuckerberg whole Facebook space thing (he did a couple of weeks back) — I love the idea of making concerts and live comedy work that way ya know, more livestock virtually.
So I think it would be cool to do a point cloud recording of a concert like this or something, kind of say, it’s a little bit like when you capture 360 data, all that data you’re starting to put [a lot] in the hands of the audience creatively and that’s trickier. I don t know if every audience wants to work that hard. So I think you need some sort of editorial concept in VR and it’s not quite there. I still think VR is actually much more interesting for creating anything else. It’s a great way to make animation. It’s very intuitive and feels like you’re working on a craft project.
You can work with multiple people at once all of that stuff is really, really cool about working that way. One of the things I loved about this project but on the final screen is the whole HDR revolution that has kind of happened in the last year. OLED TVs look incredible with the newest cameras and now we’re making our animation work in HDR, it’s beautiful, very cinematic, very broad range. This [Happier Than Ever] is mixed in Dolby Atmos as well and there’s like 10 people in the world that have Dolby Atmos in their house. But it sounds so good so I do love that. Even if it’s not literal VR like some of the technologies that are used in making VR content, like doing automatic range that adjusts when you turn your head and Dolby Atmos real spatial audio is pretty amazing.
The Nerdy Basement: You’ve stated in the past that with your work, at the very least you’d like for people to see it and ultimately connect to it. with Happier Than Ever, do you feel people can connect to it specifically?
Patrick Osborne: Billy does all the heavy lifting. It is a cheap pass. That’s great music behind a heavy kind of filmmaking and this is at its core like a concert zone so that’s what it should be. I think all I was trying to do was add a little flair and style to something really cool and interesting visually that complimented that, that completes Billie’s vision a little more of what the album feels like in her head. So I think the emotional side of things, it’s nice to let that be carried by some of the music and I do think in this case that’s what happens. I have plenty of other things I’m working on that I have to do all the writing and most of all the heavy lifting and that’s challenging enough on top of just making something look stylish and evocative. So I’m excited to do that for this one.
Patrick Osborne gave us a real in-depth look at the creative process behind “Happier Than Ever” and all of the technology that was used to create such a film for Disney Plus. During our interview with Robert Rodriguez, he had nothing but the utmost praise for Patrick and Billie Eilish as he himself is also a fan of the artist. We’ve spread out bits and pieces of our interview with Robert throughout our social media pages but you can check out the full interview in video format below.
Robert Rodriguez also gave us a much-needed update on “Alita: Battle Angel” and get the hype train started with his statements on the upcoming Mandalorian spinoff series “The Book of Boba Fett”.
Billie Eilish’s: Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne and is streaming now exclusively on Disney Plus.
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