Tigran Mutafyan on the Magic Behind the Black Eyed Peas Videos
Black Eyed Peas founding member will.i.am knows more than a little about crossing artistic boundaries. As a musician, actor, and composer, he has Grammy awards, Daytime Emmy Awards, and numerous accolades to vet this. His success is indebted to his willingness to experiment and utilize eclectic influences. The music video is still a profound means for artists like will.i.am to express themselves and he embraces it as such. Cinematographer Tigran Mutafyan has collaborated with Will on some of these adventurous productions over the last couple of years. Whether an artist finds themselves on the stage in front of tens of thousands or capturing images to propel a music video, lighting is key. Mutafyan describes just how vital the lighting was for his work with will.i.am on the visual component of the creative statement being made on “Smile Mona Lisa” and “Constant.”
The video for will.i.am’s “Smile Mona Lisa” takes modern visual artistry and melds it with the work of the classic paintings found in the Louvre. The embodiment of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece in this video is former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. The recreation of the masterpiece is flawless and seamless; owed greatly to Tigran. When director Michael Jurkovac explained that he wanted the lighting to be the same as it was in the Louvre paintings, Mutafyan began a painstaking research to achieve this end. The optimal light source did not always demand the most technical approach. The DP relates, “I needed to recreate the light of the imaginary world and the space I created in my mind. The most challenging part was the Mona Lisa’s lighting. I only used one light source, placed very close to Nicole and with a lot of diffusion and small pieces of duvetyn. When Nicole saw the ‘poor’ lighting construction with tons of rags, she requested a monitor. Michael Jurkovac (director) reassured her that it looked great. Pasha Shapiro noted that there was almost no need to do any work on this in post as the picture quality was so ideal, near perfection in assimilation to the original paintings. On the other hand, the portrait for “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (painted by Johannes Vermeer), required nearly twenty-five lights to recreate the lighting diagram of the space I imagined. I had to trust my ‘technology’ and stick to it. This helped us to shoot eight painting in the short days that we had with celebrities.”
The manifestation of the Black Eyed Peas “Constant” video required a drastically different technical and creative approach for Mutafyan. Multiple images of Will and fellow band members moved about New York City with seasonal changes occurring around them. The song features a sample of Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di” (with a cameo from the iconic rapper himself) and displays multiple versions of the band appearing onscreen at the same time. Different facets of the video were assembled with the use of green screen and post production techniques but the unifying factor was the lighting which Tigran designed. He describes, “The lighting in wider and higher spaces lies on the characters differently than the lighting in small and low places. The big windows let more light in that bounces all over the place, resulting in light that feels softer. In contrast, when there are big windows, the direct light feels soft because the windows defuse it. The light that goes through the glass keeps the same direction, resulting in a big separate light source itself. If the source is bigger than the object it will create a feeling of soft light. The same effect happens during the sunset or sunrise when the sun goes through the atmosphere which is closer to the ground and has a higher density. Imagine a sunset softens but without color temperature change. That was my direct light quality with a big source. The other was the bounced light from multiple angles. The contrast ration was not too high. I kept it around 3:1. You can always increase it in post and have a close-to-natural look... or decrease it and have the same natural feel.” The explanation is not dissimilar to the way a painter describes the use of color in communicating a light source in their creation. While technological tools are accessible to all, it takes an artist with insight like Tigran’s to use them to achieve the proper effect.
Since the early 1980’s, music videos have been heralded as a unique art form created to coexist with its sonic counterpart. Music videos continue to evolve at the hands of professionals like Tigran Mutafyan as he collaborates with visionaries like will.i.am and others to push their imagination. Creating the unimaginable while rooting it in reality is a way for today’s artists to lay the foundation for future generations to make their own statement.