In Unexpected Places: a music video

By Christine Lemmer-Webber on Tue 19 December 2023

The cover for In Unexpected Places with the eyeball surrounded by 3 hearts

Today my girlfriend Vivi Langdon (EncryptedWhispers) and I released the music video In Unexpected Places, available on YouTube and on PeerTube both. It's based off of Vivi's song by the same name, available on BandCamp and on Vivi's Funkwhale instance! It features some kind of retro video-game'y aesthetics but its story departs from what you might expect from that while leveraging that, more on this below.

Everything was made with Blender, including some hand-drawn effects using Blender's excellent Grease Pencil! The video is also an open movie project; you can download the full .blend file, which is CC BY-SA 4.0, and play around with everything yourself. The eye rig is especially fun to control and the ships are too!

All in all this was project took about 6 months of "free time" (read: weekends, especially at Hack & Craft) to animate. I played the music over and over again until I had a good story to accompany it and then on a car trip I drew the storyboard on a pile of index cards from the passenger seat while Morgan was driving, and when I got home I pulled up Blender quickly and timed everything with the storyboard. That storyboard was meant just for me, so it doesn't really look particularly good, but it convinced me that this was going to work, and the final animation matches that hastily drawn storyboard very closely!

The title was Vivi's choosing and was selected after I storyboarded the video. It references the phrase "love is found in unexpected places" and references both the eye falling in love with the cube but also that this music video was made shortly after Vivi and I fell in love (which also happened in ways that felt surprising to be swept up into, in a good way), and a lot of the depth of our relationship grew during the half-year of making the video.

Some commentary about the narrative

You should watch the video yourself first before reading this section to develop your own interpretation! But if you are interested in my interpretation as author of the animation and its script, here we go.

The video is a commentary about violence and the ways we are conditioned. Without having watched the entire narrative, having just seen clips of the "action sequences", this might look like a video game, and a viewer used to playing video games of the genre seen (of which I am exactly the type of person who both plays and makes games of this genre, including with these tropes) would be most likely to identify with and assume that the two ships which circle and attack the eye are the "heroes" of the piece. Of course, we can see from the comments here that most people are identifying with the eye, which was the intention. Which then puts the viewer at a seeming contradiction: identifying with the character they would normally be attacking.

Of course, villain-subversion tropes are hardly new, particularly within the last couple of decades. But here I wanted to do so without any written story or narrative. In particular, the question is to highlight social conditioning. If I play a game and I see an eyeball in space, I'm gonna want to shoot it! But what will you think the next time you see a floating eyeball in a video game and assume you're supposed to hurt it? The goal is to get you thinking about the way we are conditioned from small signals towards aggression and confrontation and to instead take a moment to try to approach from a point of empathy. That the eye falls in love with the cube at the beginning, and then when disabled or killed at the end is unable to "see" the cube it fell in love with, is meant to be a bridge to help the viewer along that journey. (The goal here is to less criticize video game violence and more the kinds of conditioning we experience in general, though you could use it to criticize that too if you like.)

Likewise, aside from the two ships that destroy the eye, there were two prior ships that also seemed to be aggressive against the eye. These are what I called the "scanner ships": they gather information on the eye, and they confuse and irritate it but not in terms of long term damage the way the "player ships" do, not directly. Instead what they are doing is gathering information to send the players, hence the "speech balloons with antennae on them". This is your briefing at the start of the level, telling you in Star Fox or whatever what your objective is. Their goal is to provide something "fun" for the players to attack and destroy so that they may level up. They represent the kind of media that we consume which pre-conditions us against empathy and towards aggression.

Of course, this is just one interpretation, and it is not the only valid one. I have heard some interesting interpretations about this video being about the way we are pushed into engagement driven consumption platforms and how it hurts us, and another about this being about the way we wake up within the world and have to struggle with what is thrown at us, and another which was just "whoa cool, videogames!", and all of those are valid.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy. As a side note: no sound effects were added to the music video, all of those were in the song. I shaped the story around the song... you could say that the story "grew" from the song. So amongst all the rest of the story above, the real goal was to deliver an experience. I hope you enjoyed it!