Have you ever seen a zoetrope? Invented in 1834, the pre-film device – resembling a large cylindrical spinning top lined with sequential images that appear to move when spun – was one of the earliest forms of animation. Over the years, Ghibli and even Pixar have created their own zoetrope carousels from lines of model figures. And now, the 19th-century technique has cropped up once more in Pharrell’s new music video, featuring 21 Savage and Tyler the Creator. The brainchild of London-based visual effects company Electric Theatre Collective (ETC), production company Division and director François Rousselet, Cash In Cash Out takes viewers on an oddly familiar trip through childhood toy territory. Partly, because the whole thing is set on an incredible looping carousel. It will also leave you wondering, quite justifiably, ‘How on earth was this made?’ long after its four-minute-running time.
Aided by the Toy Story-esque themes behind Cash In Cash Out, the video initially resembles stop motion puppetry. But, this is all merely a part of the zoetrope simulation. “One thing you notice [in zoetrope animation] is the 12-frame per second ´stop-motion’ feel and the way it wasn’t 100 per cent perfect,” director François tells It’s Nice That. To give the impression of a moving zoetrope or carousel, ETC recreated an organic “jitter” within the motion of characters in Cash In Cash Out, but the video was actually created using VFX and CG.
This concept of a zoetrope underpinned much of the work; for François, the idea of “creating movement from a line up of characters,” which, “as you spin the carousel it suddenly all comes alive”, fitted well into Pharrell’s interest in collectable toys and art-pop. Plus, ETC adds: “Who doesn’t want to bring the worlds of rap & 19th Century mechanical artistry together!” Alongside simulating this stop motion “jitter”, François wanted the characters within the video – including Pharrell, 21 and Tyler – to look plastic, “like out of a 3D printed machine” featuring low res detail at close range. Plus, the director adds, “the cars should look like Hot Wheels diecast model cars.”