I said to Lou the other day that I wanted to make a clip like Lily Allen’s Sheezus or Danny Brown’s ODB.
Though it’s completely obvious now, I didn’t realise they were by the same director – Ruffmercy. Since then, I’ve been devouring all his other videos.
Ruffmercy – real name Russ Murphy – is a Bristol-based animator and director. He’s worked for companies like MTV since the 90s, but it was his video for Dahlia Black’s Fuck A Rap Song that made his name as a director. Inspired by a gif he was sent for reference, he started drawing over the frames of the video, inventing an aesthetic that synthesises graffiti, Ralph Steadman, Basquiat, and every schoolkid that’s added a moustache and a black eye to the cover of a magazine. I love how his motto – ruff, rugged and raw – applies equally to hip-hop and punk. Being a relentless doodler and former stencil artist, it’s a style that immediately appeals.
Messing up film has been an ongoing pursuit for me – I’ve written before (a year ago to the day in fact!), about a Central West gig where multiple projectors where running 8mm reels. Some of this footage was blank frames that had been painted on – it looked amazing. Nearly everything is easier to do digitally these days, but replicating that is not one of them – I ended up buying an off-the-shelf set of ink and paint splattered footage to overlay over my videos, but it’s not the same.
However, what Ruffmercy’s work first reminded me of was the unexpected ending to one of my fave movies, Irma Vep.
I was very taken with the effect, how punk and tactile it felt.
It’s surprising how adaptable Ruffmercy’s technique is – here’s another video utilising the same approach but with a different vibe.
The harsh and jagged lines, the scratched out eyes and teeth, have been replaced with ballooning squiggles and dots. This completely changes the effect, from violent paranoia to something bubbly and pop. The song contributes, but there is no doubt how much personality we imbue into the lines and marks themselves.
In the few interviews online with Ruffmercy, I pieced together enough of his workflow to try myself. Armed with a borrowed drawing tablet, I had a crack over the weekend. I tried a mixture of the poppy and grungy stuff over a few seconds of Kev dancing. It’s clumsier than Ruffmercy’s work, but I was encouraged enough by this first attempt.
As any animator will tell you, it’s time-consuming work. There’s over 500 individual frames making up this brief proof of concept. That said, it’s the kind of work that can be pleasantly done with the radio or TV in the background. I still haven’t figured out how Ruffmercy times his stuff so well to the music, and that will be the focus of my next test.
Music videos are a natural fit, but I’ve also been considering its use in other genres – as transitions between scenes in a sitcom, or in a stylised action sequence. It’s given me a taste for the possibilities in animation – I also stumbled upon this video yesterday AND OH GOD I’M ALREADY BUSY ENOUGH…