The Making of a Music Video: “Akira” by Hessler
March 23, 2018
By Michelle Maslanka • Producer

Artists draw inspiration from other artists all the time, especially when working in a different art form as their inspiration. Take the latest Hessler music video for example. The band’s newly-released single, “Akira” was inspired by the Japanese manga of the same name. This manga was also released as an animated film, Akira, in 1988. And now, in 2018, take a behind-the-scenes look at how this story manifested into a music video adaptation!

Chicago heavy metal band Hessler brings an unparalleled energy to each performance, and that has a lot to do with the passion and unwavering dedication that both lead vocalist and guitarist Igz Kincaid and guitarist and backing vocalist Erik Michael have for their craft.

Nostalgia played a role in this latest piece, and Kincaid let his inner child come out to play. “As a kid, I saw the film [Akira] in probably 1994 and have been a fan ever since. Recently, Kodansha Comics released a box set anniversary edition of the manga and I had pre-ordered it. While waiting for the damn thing to finally arrive, I guess the inner kid in me penned the song lyrics!”

And from there, the words became music, and the single “Akira” was born. Now, it was time to accompany the song with a video; that’s where Kincaid and director Craig Bass joined forces. The two have collaborated on a number of music videos over the years, so trust, understanding, and friendship surround these projects. “It’s always a pleasure to work with Craig and the Motion Source team because we’re friends, which makes it that much more enjoyable. What made this video different, is that I sent Craig the demo of the song and completely took a back seat on ideas for the video because I knew he was also a fan of Akira and could relate to the song,” Kincaid noted.

That was not the only difference this time around. There was another, more visible, difference with this video: color. Bass explained, “Most of the videos that I have created for Hessler have had a very limited color palette: desaturated tones, red and black schemes, even black and white. Metal generally doesn't lend itself to a candy-colored palette, but, like so many trends, this is simply the symptom of us allowing our imaginations to be limited. Akira, and the world that it projects, is filled with colorful neon--itself, a staple of cyberpunk--and it was very important for us to fuse that with the overall Hessler aesthetic.”

One of the most prominent ways to include color into the scenes was the use of Quasars, which Bass explained in greater detail. “Quasars are a relatively new product that are essentially LED lights in a plastic tube, so that the end product looks like a free standing fluorescent bulb. Akira's world is neon-soaked, so we needed something to visually carry this across. Neon itself is prohibitively expensive for such a low budget, and difficult to work with in terms of rigging into sets, and being mobile enough to reconfigure efficiently. This is where the Quasars came in. Quasars are very low in power consumption, and are relatively light--light enough to hang from high-tensile fishing line--which means that we were capable of using them in all sorts of arrangements. The difficult part was that I wanted these Quasars to be all different colors. While they do sell Quasars that are color-tunable, we didn't have the money for these models, which meant that our team had to carefully cut endless color gels and just as carefully tape them over the front of the lights. This was a tedious job, and I have to give everyone who undertook it a hand in how well they did, and how much patience they exercised!”

The storyline was penned, the colorful, admittedly, ambitious, concept was in place, and the entire crew was on board to back Bass and give it our all. Producer and Art Director Lydia Koranda and Production Designer Beth Vymyslicky were tasked with setting of the scene, literally. Staged entirely in the Motion Source studio, we “needed to create windows into a world that doesn't exist,” as Bass said, and that took a lot of creativity, and a lot of work! From a graffitied wall to a giant stone throne, the team built out sets and props to bring the story to life. Fun fact: The “stone” throne was not made from stone at all; it was hand-carved out of insulation foam! But after Vymyslicky crafted and painted the piece, it looked like it was pulled directly from the source material.

The scene where the band plays amongst technological wreckage and neon tubes, or the “rubble island”, as we called it, was another production design challenge that Producer Steve Brown was tasked with constructing. While Kincaid and Koranda also helped collect items, Brown led the charge by filling up a truck with straight-from-the-junkyard pieces, including car hoods, industrial tubing, and, honestly, some stuff we had no idea what it was, but it looked the part!

Production took place over three days in the Motion Source studio with a cast and crew of creatives from all backgrounds.

Kincaid concluded, “'Akira' was the first video that when Erik [Michael] and I saw the final version, we didn’t have anything we were unhappy about or wanted fixed, and as any artist will tell you that is very difficult to achieve. The video made me realize that if you trust the director to bring a vision to life, you have to give them full control so they can invest their full mind, body, and soul into the project.”

Director: Craig Bass

Producers: Lydia Koranda + Michelle Maslanka + Steven Brown

Director of Photography: Samuel Ott

Camera Operator: David Gall

Gaffer: Brendan Davis

Key Grips: Mitchell Bequette + Gianna Aquilina

Grips: Chris Bongat + Fred Walls

Art Director: Lydia Koranda

Production Designer: Beth Vymyslicky

Set Decorator: Angela Koranda + Elvira Ibragimova

Stop Motion Technician: Sofia Coria

Pyrotechnics: Steven Brown

Editor + Colorist: Craig Bass

Motion Graphics: Nick Sgarioto


Number 28: Halle Drennan

Priestess: Sara Lindsay

Cyberpunk Girl: Katarina Villa

Cyberpunk Guy: Chris Bongat

Police Officers: David Gall + Steven Brown

SPECIAL THANKS: Heidi and Tom Drennan, Bernie Brown, John Scaletta, Michael Brown, Dani Gunther, Froggy's Fog