47 Australian students collaborated to make Justin Timberlake’s music video even better

For their project at the University of Newcastle in Australia, 47 students worked together to make their longest rotoscoped effort to date: an animated version of Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling music video.

Rotoscoping is an animation technique used to trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame, to mimic realistic movements.

For this assignment, the whopping 3,394 frames of JT’s music video was divided amongst the members of class DESN2801, as well as staff and old students. That’s 55 frames per student, with each person applying their own animation style.

The result? A mashup of different aesthetics – including frames with anime characters to frames with classic art – in one video. If you loved the original by Justin Timberlake, this one promises to be more colourful and inspiring. Most definitely an A+ for the entire class!

We recently caught up with Jane Shadbolt, design lecturer at University of Newcastle (UON) and the class’ teacher, to find out more about the project.

Can't Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake

This is the second rotoscope video I’ve seen coming out of UON in the last year or so. What’s the plan in terms of selecting songs and acts to work with on these group projects?

“It’s a long and laborious process that involves total immersion in YouTube pop channels for many months. Actually, I just find something catchy and cool with lots of movement, so no one ends up with a boring bit, although it also seems to help if it has been directed by Mark Romanek as I’ve discovered I’ve been professionally stalking him by rotoscoping two of his music video clips. He’s an awesome director so I guess these are both a homage to happy pop songs and Mark Romanek.”

Why rotoscope: what excites you and the class about working with that medium?

“Rotoscoping gives a lot to the tyro animator, the underlying footage and edit always shine through so you always end up with something that looks great. It’s a terrific way to introduce students to frames and how they work to make movement so I use this as a kind of class ice-breaker.

“Because they’re big collaborative efforts they really bring the class together and give everyone a sense of how everyone can contribute to a much bigger project. It’s also lots and lots of fun, I never know what students are going to come up with and they are always cheeky and playful with the footage so it’s always exciting to see it come together.”

Can't Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake

How does the project management of an ambitious initiative like this work? Who decides who does what and so on?

“It’s just me doing the frame wrangling so I use a bunch of scripts and programs to break the original music video into frames and divvy it all up into student-sized parcels of images. I love leaving it up to chance so I let alphabetical ordering make all the decisions for me in terms of who gets which bits of footage.

“I do a little bit of tidying up to make sure that the shots are mostly complete without single flash frames at the beginning or end of the student sequences but apart from that, I don’t make any executive decisions. Students just get a folder of frames with their name on it and then we can all wonder how it’s going to turn out.

“I think giving students over 3,000 individual items and asking for them all back in the correct order is just asking for trouble but they get it (mostly!) right every time.”

Is there a benchmark rotoscope that you show the students to aspire to?

“It is compulsory in all discussions about rotoscoping to show A-Ha’s Take on Me which is still pretty much a high point of the art form and I also show The White Stripes Fell In Love with a Girl which you could call a type of rotoscoping with LEGO but A Scanner Darkly is another great inventive use of the technique.

“Disney were also pretty keen on rotoscoping so I talk a little bit about the history of it as well, it’s been around for over a century so it’s not a new technique at all. Mostly though, my students just want to have fun with pop superstars and draw cool stuff on them and I want to help them do that so we also talk about being creative with the footage and how animation is such an amazing medium to ditch boring old reality and instead make crazy stuff from your imagination.”

Can't Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake

Who is next in line to get the UON treatment?

“If Mark Romanek’s agent would just get in touch and tell me what he’s doing next the process would be a whole lot easier. Otherwise, it will be another extensive excursion into YouTube to find the perfect match for the next class.

“I like to mix it up a bit, last year we went local with a shout out to Peking Duk’s Say My Name and there has been talk that K-Pop could do with a bit of roto magic. I have threatened to go all drama with Downton Abbey but I was the only one that thought that would be funny. We’ll see!”

You can see more projects from the University of Newcastle by checking out their YouTube channel here.

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