Animation fans know Patrick Osborne as the brilliant director of the Oscar-winning short Feast (2014), and his Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated VR short Pearl (2017). The talented artist’s latest animated creation can be seen in the upcoming musical special Happier than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles, a new concert special featuring popular artist Billie Eilish. The special, which is premiering on Disney+ on Sept. 3, takes viewers on a dreamlike journey through Eilish’s hometown of L.A. and its iconic landmarks. The project’s live-action footage is directed by Robert Rodriguez, best known for features such as From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City, Spy Kids.
“Billie is a big fan of classic movies that are set in L.A. as well as hybrid animation/live action classics like Richard Williams’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World, so we wanted to pay homage to these fictitious versions of Los Angeles that only exists in movies,” says Osborne during a recent phone interview. “That was the basis of our plan, to construct this modern version of a classic animated character, which ended up being a noir animated femme fatale version of Billie against live-action backdrops of L.A.”
The plan called for creating animated segments between the songs that are performed by Eilish at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. Osborne says he was very excited to work with the chart-topping performer. “I’ve been using her music as temp music for some projects, so it was a dream to work with her,” he says. “When my friends at Nexus Studios talked about this collaboration, I was thrilled and told them to sign me up!”
The animation, which was produced at Nexus in London, with the aid of Digital Frontier and Zoic Studios, was a combination of CG with some drawn-over motion-capture footage. “We did about 90-minutes of motion capture of Billie, but what we got was iconic,” says Osborne. “She has this way of moving and interacting with the camera as well as breaking the fourth wall. We only had about 12 weeks, so we had to do everything very quickly.”
Mixing Live-Action and Toon Worlds
The creative team had to zero in on the musician’s performances before the live-action shoot at the Hollywood Bowl, which also includes her brother Phineas, the L.A. Philharmonic and conductor Gustavo Dudamel. They also needed to get everything down before the summer season kicked off at the Bowl. “We needed to have the live-action Billie and her animated version interacting with each other, so that was complicated. But with a wish and a prayer, it all come together, because there was no going back and reshooting at the Bowl. We shot all night from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. with the symphony and directors and cinematographers for a whole week straight in July. I’ve played music my whole life so it was neat to observe a pop star’s life for a second. Plus, it was great to be at the Bowl again which is one of the great icons of Los Angeles.”
Osborne and his team aimed to create a moody L.A. of yesteryear vibe, a great noir backdrop seen in classics like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. “The show’s simple set design was also very cool,” says the director. “The brought back the historic Hollywood Bowl reflecting pool, which used to separate the audiences from the performers back in the 50s and 60s, before it was drained in the early ’70s. The caustic effects of the water gave the show this Blade Runner-type effects. The patterns helped us transition from animation to the show. Our goal was to create these animated vibey vignettes between the songs that felt like they were related to the music.
Overall, Osborne and his team created about 12 minutes of animation for the Disney+ special. “We were editing the footage up until last week,” he says. “Some of the stuff was left on the cutting room floor. We also have some great motion graphics animation from Robertino Zambrano for one of the songs.” The live-action footage was shot by Pablo Berrone.
The veteran animator says he pre-vized everything from the motion capture shoot in Blender to build the interstitial scenes based on the performances they had. “Then, we would hand-animate and clean-up on top of that footage later. It was a fascinating and fun editorial process. There were storyboards, but they were simple drawings, maybe one per shot. It wasn’t your typical animatic. We had about five or six animators on the Billie animation. Sallyanne Massimini was our vfx supervisor who oversaw all the studios on the project.”
Osborne, who has worked on Disney features such as Bolt, Tangled, Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph, says it was fun to learn about Eilish’s own personal take on classic animation. He adds, “I hope younger audiences will be inspired to look up Roger Rabbit and other great works by Richard Williams and Ralph Bakshi after seeing this special.”
You can watch the trailer here:
Billie Eilish: A Lover Letter to L.A. premieres on Disney+ on Friday, Sept. 3