Toad-Lickers

THE TOAD LICKERS
THOMAS DOLBY MUSIC VIDEO

The Toad Lickers is musician Thomas Dolby's first music video of the Century!
Having worked with Mr. Dolby over twenty years ago on a Muppet music TV series, it was a great honor to be asked to contribute to his much anticipated new work. His videos are legendary and his music and production commands much respect throughout the music industry.

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Thomas Dolby has such a unique gift for crafting his works. I've always felt that he's one of those people who would excel at whatever he did, even if he had chosen to become a Muppeteer!
Through his music, he is in fact a master manipulator painting moods and pictures, telling stories and inviting us to come along for the ride on his brilliant journeys.

Directed by Paul D, all the human elements were shot at a real barn in the UK in PAL HD.
All the puppet parts were shot on a green screen with prop hay bales in the USA.
QuinnZone Studios directed, shot, performed and composited all the puppet sequences.

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THE MAKING OF TOAD LICKERS

When Thomas asked me to add a few visuals to his new Toad lickers video I knew I couldn't say no, as I had been wanting to work with him again since our last collaboration 21 years ago on a Muppet shoot (The "Fly Science" bit on The Ghost of Faffner Hall). Also his music videos were always epic, memorable and pretty well defined the genre.

As I recall, Thomas wanted puppets for this but I knew the budget and schedule just for building these would be too prohibitive. Then we thought perhaps replacing animated mouths on real animals might work, in a fun cheesy kind of way. After lots of exploration I figured I might be able to use and adapt toy puppet farm animals beautifully made by Folkmanis in San Francisco. Paul the director kindly facilitated getting permission for us to use them and that opened up a slew of possibilities for our shoot.

Thomas wanted a donkey for the "do-si-do" line and dancing chickens along with whatever else we could manage. Paul and I had fun coming up with dozens of naughty puppet gags, many of which we just didn't have time to prop, costume, shoot and post, so our wonderful list got cut short for practical reasons. One of my favorite ideas was having a pole dancing cat (with a pitch fork for the pole) and the pigs drooling and putting twenty dollar bills in the cat's thong. Also dogs were going to be playing poker and smoking cigars, a Billy Goat was going to be making illegal moonshine and animals were going to be hanging out in bondage gear. Oh well, you'll have to use your imaginations for that! Toad Lickers The Movie anyone?
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At least we had more puppets than we could shake a stick at, which was great! I modified most of them for my special rigs, removing stuffing, closing up and adding different entry points and adding arm rods, new cartoon eyes and costumes. I particularly wanted several shots of full length animals showing them standing with feet as I think it adds a special magic and charm to the shots. Something you rarely see as it takes so much to do.

By this time, all the human footage was shot in the UK and sent to me here in the US. I had my 10' x 14' green screen studio set up for PAL HD and was able to closely enough match the lighting style. I bought lots of hay bales for set dressing and originally I was going to build some set pieces for backgrounds for the barn set. I soon figured out it was easier to create a virtual set in Photoshop, large enough for me to zoom in to different parts for all the assorted backgrounds. For the exteriors, I had HD footage I'd shot in the town of Ulverston in Cumbria a few years back for my Stan Laurel documentary, so that stood in nicely for Snowdonia. The police car was actually a toy shot as a miniature in different angles and composited into the shots. I actually photographed it outdoors to help match the setting sun of my background footage. It's amazing how well those shots actually turned out.
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This was a first for my company QuinnZone Studios in that I recorded all the footage in real time directly to my hard drives, bypassing any tape, keeping it all strictly digital. To keep lean 'n' mean I was a one man crew for the entire puppet sequences from start to finish. I did all the photography, lighting, props and costumes, puppet rigging, puppetry and post production compositing myself. That wide shot has I think twelve puppets singing and dancing and each one of them is me, lol! Of course it's nothing Buster Keaton hadn't already done in his silent film The Playhouse, ninety years ago! The trickiest part was putting Hugh Hefftoad and his bunnies in the back of the set behind Thomas as it had to look like they were actually there, not shot three thousand miles away in another country! I ended up having to do a fair bit of rotoscoping around Matthew's Bass and all the burlesque feathers and flying shirts, otherwise the illusion would have been destroyed of course.
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The post pipeline was all Mac based for me. Everything stayed in the 10 bit uncompressed 4:2:2 domain to retain as much of the original quality as possible. I trimmed my chosen clips in Final Cut and did my initial "legalizing" of the images there. From there I exported to either After Effects or Motion, the latter being where most of my keying and compositing was done. That's where I would do the timing of all the piggies entering and paying their $20 entry fee too. I think I had about 14 piggies total and had fun trying to create different personalities for each one: nervous pig, angry pig, ridiculously happy pig etc. In post I came up with the idea of Bongpuss smoking a Dolby style monospectacle instead of a regular smoke ring. I wasn't sure if most people would catch it but wanted it in there for the fans.

No production is ever without its disasters it seems. I was completing the last few shots and my hard drive with all the final shots crashed. After a brief period of hyper(active)ventilating I was able to retrieve 75% of the shots with recovery software and the rest I reconstructed from my automated back up files. I think that cost us close to two weeks delay in delivering this but happily all was back on track eventually.

Apart from obvious bragging rights and the satisfaction of contributing to the work of one of the greatest musical minds of my generation, I learned that it really is possible to do so much with very little using the wonderful technology that has become available to us relatively cheaply in recent years. Thomas can create entire worlds of sound and music from his lifeboat studio and I can do the same visually in nothing more than a large room! You can bet this has got me rethinking how I approach many of my upcoming projects in the future. So, thank you Thomas for letting be be a part of your world for a brief period of time and for showing me a doorway into mine!


On the right is a short movie of a typical set up for shooting full length puppets.

The feet for the chickens were attached by rods to my forefinger and pinky, enabling me to get those chicken scratch dances.


Thanks Thomas for the nice
Mike Quinn shout-out at 5:30 into Part 2 of Toad Lickers Dissected.

You'll also find Part 1 quite enlightening on Thomas' YouTube Channel.

NEWSFLASH! Nominated for two WEBBY awards in Best Music Video category and winner of two GOLD awards: the W3 Gold Award and the Davey Gold Award!

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Gold winner on the W3 awards in the Web Video/Music category:
http://www.w3award.com/winners/gallery/?award=G&year=6&type=3&category=Web%20Video%20-%20Music

Gold winner of the Davey Award in the Online Film/Video category:
http://www.daveyawards.com/winners/gallery/?id=13912

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