The Guardian: AOAL - behind the scenes on the set of Coldplay's new video


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Nov 11, 2011
Adventure of a Lifetime – behind the scenes on the set of Coldplay's new video


Guardian photojournalist Sarah Lee was granted exclusive access to the set of Coldplay’s groundbreaking, Mat Whitecross-directed music video at the Imaginarium, a digital motion capture studio set up by Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish in London
Friday 27 November 2015 17.21 GMT

Concept design
Digital motion capture studio, the Imaginarium, took the lead designing the concept for the chimp characters who appear in the video. Below are the original designs by character artist Silvia Bartoli.

Chris Martin's character design

Jonny Buckland's character design – complete with signature hat

Will Champion's chimp character

Guy Berryman's character design complete with earring

The members of Coldplay get suited up in the studio. The band were captured with simultaneous body and face systems and a virtual camera

"As creatures go, chimps are one of the more difficult to animate. Not only are they quite human in their movement, but they are covered in hair. Add to this that we had no backgrounds shot, and we were asking an awful lot of any post-collaborator"
Hannah Clark, producer

The team at Mathematic – a Paris-based visual effects, animation and motion design studio – carried out extensive development work on each of the featured characters

Above: the final result seen in the video

Monkey business
Founded in 2011 by Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish, the unique Imaginarium studio and production company develops and produces its own films, television projects and interactive material

Andy Serkis demonstrates how to climb on the studio frames

Chris Martin tests out swinging techniques...

...and seems happy with life as an ape

"Every Coldplay video is a new adventure. They usually begin with a midnight call from Chris, and end with a unicycling elephant or a music hall built in the snow"
Mat Whitecross, director

An image of Martin's alter-ego as he swings from a tree

Director Mat Whitecross films the band using a special camera. Coldplay are not playing actual instruments, but similarly-shaped objects to enable creation of realistic body positions

"We originally started with lots of potential avatars. Will was a chimp, Jonny was a Mexican wrestler, Guy was a robot and Chris was a pixie. In no time at all, they all wanted to be an ape, and then Andy started showing them how to groom each other and ape around"
The Imaginarium

Back to bass: Berryman is finally rendered as his ape character

Precision marking
The band's faces are covered in a special make up which is reflective and catches the light in a way that is readable by the computer technology to create accurate renders of the apes

Each of member wears a head mounted camera system. These HMCs are configured into a three camera solution, and from this the animators were able to recreate 3D points from these multiple video streams

"The body system used 50 Vicon cameras which were made in Oxford. There’s a 'near infrared light' at the camera that hits retroreflective markers at key points on the body and goes back into the lens. That information is computed into a realtime skeleton. We can hang any skin on top of that skeleton. In this instance, the band are puppeteering ape avatars and are able to see themselves perform as chimps on TV monitors on our stage"

The video took six months to complete in total. The end result follows the four chimps "as they go an Adventure of a Lifetime discovering music"

In character
The specially designed prosthetic arm additions allow Martin to walk like an ape, with longer arms to rest his weight on

Andy gets down to talk ape crouch positions with Guy Berryman

"After a chance meeting with Chris Martin on a flight, I was delighted to hear that he often worked with my friend and director from the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Mat Whitecross, who’d been convincing him that Performance Capture was the best medium for the next Coldplay video"
Andy Serkis

The band working on the disco-inpired formation-dance sequence

"For us, it was a challenge like no other and we just jumped at the chance. Also, watching Coldplay act around like monkeys was pretty funny!"
Guillaume Marien, Mathematic

Early on in the development of the animation sequence

At this stage, Mathematic have added background and jungle floor detail

"I was able to move around anywhere during shooting, which felt strange. On set, I'm usually trying to stay out of the way!"
Sarah Lee, photographer

Sarah Lee and Matt Fidler