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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Taking On a-ha

One thing that I have always been fascinated with is the subject of animation. I was once so enamored of animation that I ended up doing my independent study in senior year French class on the subject of animation.

Of course this meant that I had to give a half hour presentation completely in French, but I managed to make it work. I ended up getting a final grade of 87 in the course, so I must have done incredibly well in the presentation.

Here's how it all went down. After typing out a handout written entirely in French for my classmates which illustrated the bullet points of my presentation, I designed the whole project as if I were hosting a round of Jeopardy! I guess you could have considered me the French Alex Trebek.

I ended up using a slew of visual aids for my presentation as well. I showed video clips, used comic books, and came up with a bunch of trivia questions related to the subject of animation. I divided the class into two teams (the teams were separated by the colour of dot that I placed in the top right corner of the handout), and the winning team received the form of chocolate peppermint patties.

(My project presentation date was on the last day before Christmas vacation began and I only had a limited budget.)

At any rate, the project was a lot of fun to put together, and I have a feeling that my classmates enjoyed the presentation. Or, maybe they just enjoyed the fact that they got free chocolate at the end of the day. Either way, their happiness meant a lot!

And I actually ended up learning a lot about the different kinds of animation techniques. There's standard animation, computer animation, three-dimensional animation, claymation, stop-motion animation, and even sand animation!

But have you ever heard of a term used within the animation world known as “rotoscoping”?

It's a technique that was invented by Max Fleischer in the early 20th century, and it involved a process in which animators traced over footage frame by frame to be used in live-action and animated films. There's been many examples of rotoscoping used in a variety of projects in the world of entertainment. Rotoscoping has been used in...

  • Walt Disney's “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.
  • The “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sequence in the Beatles film “Yellow Submarine”.
  • Various cartoon series, including He-Man: Masters of the Universe and Flash Gordon.
  • At least two Peanuts specials (What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown and It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown

And one of the most memorable music videos that ever came out of the 1980s used the animation technique of rotoscoping. The video combined animation with live-action footage, and was a real masterpiece on MTV. It ended up winning six awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, and remains one of the best music videos ever made.

Not bad for a group who only ended up having a total of two Top 20 singles during their near thirty year career. And although the band performed off and on since 1982 before splitting up for good in 2011, this song remains their signature hit, and it happens to be the subject for today's blog.

ARTIST: a-ha
SONG: Take On Me
ALBUM: Hunting High And Low
DATE RELEASED: September 16, 1985

The band a-ha (and yes, that is how the band name really is spelled) was born in Norway, and was comprised of members Morten Harket (vocals), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards), and Pal Waaktaar (guitars).

I know I just butchered those names, but Norwegian is not my native tongue.

Now, you might have seen that the song has a release date of September 16, 1985...but this date was actually the release of an alternate version. The original version was recorded a year earlier in 1984, and reportedly took three attempts to get the single released in the United Kingdom. The persistence by the band paid off however, as the song would eventually top the charts in the United States, and reach the number two position in the United Kingdom in November 1985.

Another interesting fact about the music video for the single is the fact that there were two different versions of the video. The first version is shown above.  The original video just showed the band singing in front of a blue background. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?  Watching it as I type this out, I find it kind of a drag too.

Needless to say, the Steve Barron directed update of the song ended up getting a much warmer reception from the viewing public. And, here's a few pieces of trivia in regards to the video.

  • Despite the fact that a-ha never used a drummer (the drum sounds were created using a synthesizer), an animated image of a drummer is featured in the music video!
  • The song is set in quick tempo, moving along at a rate of 170 beats per minute.

  • Part of the video was filmed at Kim's Cafe, as well as a London, England soundstage.
  • Three thousand frames were rotoscoped in total for the film, and took approximately four months to complete.
  • Morton Harket plays the role of the hero in the music video.

  • The woman is played by Therese “Bunty” Bailey, who began her career as a dancer for the group “Hot Gossip”, who was in a relationship with Morton Harket at the time the video was filmed.

  • One of the biker men in the video was played by British actor Philip Jackson, who was best known for his role in the British television series “Poirot”.
  • The final scene of the video was inspired by the 1980 film “Altered States”.
  • In addition to winning six MTV Video Music Awards in 1986 (which included the award for Video of the Year), the video was also nominated for Favourite Pop/Rock Video at the 13th Annual American Music Awards in 1986.

And the song has appeared in various other media sources over the years. The British-Norwegian boy band A1 released a cover version of the song in August 2000, which you can hear below, though I readily admit to liking the original version the best.

The song has also appeared in the following television shows and movies.

  • It appeared in the South Park episode “Asspen” in 2002.
  • It was featured in a GEICO commercial which featured a dog playing the song on a synthesizer and a cockatoo singing along.
  • It was featured on the soundtrack of the video game “Saints Row 2”.
  • It was featured on an episode of “Family Guy”.
  • Pitbull and Christina Aguilera sampled the song on their joint single “Feel This Moment”.
  • A cover version recorded by Jeffster was featured in the 2012 series finale of the television series “Chuck”.

So, as you can see, the song remains very popular twenty-seven years after it was released. And to think that all it took was the animation process known as rotoscoping to make a song stand out.

Well, that...and the band's persistence to have a hit single.  

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