2328 umbrellas + one drone + OK Go = made-in-Japan brilliance

by

Staff writer

“When you’re employing hundreds of umbrellas that all have to go up at the same time — there’s going to be problems,” says Damian Kulash, the lead singer of OK Go.

It’s Sept. 2, and Kulash, Tim Northwind, Dan Konopka and Andy Ross of OK Go are sitting in a meeting room of JVC Music, talking about their new video for “I Won’t Let you Down,” which they had just been filming the day before at Longwood Station in Chiba Prefecture.

The umbrellas were props for a group of 2,328 dancers who, by opening and shutting them in a synchronized manner, produce patterns and words that become visible when seen from directly above.

OK Go go through the dance moves during rehearsal days.
OK Go go through the dance moves during rehearsal days.| COURTESY OF OK GO

“There’s always going to be one that doesn’t go up properly,” Kulash says, smiling. “But I think we got a take we can use.”

Indeed, “I Won’t Let You Down,” which was released on Oct. 27, does not let down OK Go fans. The video encapsulates the band’s signature celebration of creativity by combining a DIY wow-factor with a fascination for new technology. The Busby Berkeley-scale dance routine was planned out by Japanese choreographer Air:man and the geek factor is satisfied by the band’s perverse use of Honda Uni-Cub mobility devices and a commercial flying drone for the filming.

“I can’t believe the technology behind that drone,” Kulash enthuses when he explains how the video was filmed. “It starts like a locked shot, then it moves like a steadicam before it goes up in the air. It can stay perfectly still — it’s like someone put a statue in the sky. The last shot in the video is taken from 200 meters up.”

With the drone flying overhead, OK Go with school girls in tow, glide through the stadium courtyard.
With the drone flying overhead, OK Go with school girls in tow, glide through the stadium courtyard. | COURTESY OF OK GO

And, since this is an OK Go video, it was all done in a single take that  involved hours of complicated off-camera preparation. A special unit was responsible for the drone: one person to fly it like a remote-controlled plane, another to program GPS sequences and complicated moves, someone to manually operate those sequences, plus someone else to control the drone’s camera, which is able to spin a full 360 degrees.

The whole concept was also carefully visualized using advance previsualization software, some of the footage of which will be utilized for an additional interactive component to the video, scheduled to be released some time next week.

While riding Honda Uni-Cubs, members of OK Go practice the choreography with a group of school girls.
While riding Honda Uni-Cubs, members of OK Go practice the choreography with a group of school girls. COURTESY OF OK GO

It took the band a couple of weeks of “playing around” on the balance-controlled Uni-Cubs before they got the hang of them, even though, Kulash stresses, they were “not really designed for outdoor use at all,” let alone to be danced with.

“Figuring out how to have technology dance with humans was funny and silly,” Kulash says. “But hopefully it’s not really goofy.”

And there’s one more thing. . . .  Do the female assistants who test the lighting, wipe the camera’s lens and slam the clapper board at the beginning of the video look familiar?  Fans of the hugely popular J-pop band Perfume surely will recognize them.

“They’re not singing, and they look like our crew,” says Kulash of the surprise cameo. “But they are awesome. We promised to do something with them when we come back to Japan. So hopefully, in February, we’ll record a song with them.”


Related: Read more about OK Go’s relationship with Japan.