Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Darcy Prendergast had the childhood most kids dream of. Having a zookeeper as a father and a mother fostering a sense of uninhibited creativity, Prendergast’s roots as an artist began to sprout at a very young age. “My dad was attacked by tigers multiple times–he’s got some amazing stories, so he was the person who gave me the storytelling elements I like to weave in my art,” Prendergast says. “And mom, she gave me the artistic flair. Every week we would try a new artistic style or medium like mosaics, oil painting, or pottery.”
After years of dabbling in clay animation and a stint in the art department for the critically acclaimed film Mary and Max, Prendergast, 26, made the decision to start his own production company, Oh Yeah Wow. Recently, the company made waves with “Rippled,” a video for the band All India Radio that turns stop-motion animation and light into a mesmerizing, moody narrative.
“There’s a great quote from Thomas Edison, ‘Discontent is the first necessity of progress.’ I realized quickly that my personality didn’t gel with the structure of the studio system, and I really couldn’t deal with it,” says Prendergast. “That’s why Oh Yeah Wow was born–I wanted to create a workspace in which I could thrive but also the rest of the people in the company could do their own thing and feel like they had creative freedom and creative control.” Prendergast describes his production company as “an egalitarian environment where we all share whatever work comes in.” And they’re quite selective as to what work they accept.
“Our wages are terrible, really, because we don’t take on work for monetary gain. We take work on purely based on the integrity of the project,” says Prendergast. “So we do very few commercials and focus mainly on projects we have creative control on. Music videos are a great example of that.” Case in point, “Rippled.” Having worked with the band before on their video for “Lucky,” Prendergast wanted to channel Oh Yeah Wow’s signature light painting technique–a photographic method involving long camera exposure times, a dark setting, and a light source to create shapes–into an actual storyline for “Rippled.”
“‘Lucky’ was very much a spontaneous piece–it was more about experimentation with the medium,” says Prendergast. “Whereas with ‘Rippled,’ I knew I wanted to have a narrative, even if it was abstract one. There’s something about the light creatures that, to me, paints these feelings of lost souls or otherworldly characters–almost as if they’re no longer living but they’re possessing the night.”
Shot on the properties of an abandoned bread factory and brick mill, “Rippled”’s lo-fi feel was somewhat dictated by circumstance–a serendipitous situation welcomed by Prendergast. “People walk by completely oblivious to the beauty that’s withheld in these locations. They’re covered in graffiti and completely unsafe, but they’re really amazing places to shoot in,” he says. “Security was patrolling these factories, so we really had to find a way to do it old school, which is what we wanted to do anyway.”
Armed with little more than a camera, tripod, and homemade dolly tracks, Prendergast and his crew would shoot for 8 hours or more, editing footage as they went along and only using color grading in post-production. “There’s a lot of shots that didn’t make the cut,” he says. As the shoot went on, we got better and better with the [light painting] technique and got better drawings, so there were a lot of shots we did early on that were cut because we didn’t think them up to the same caliber as the later stuff.”
Prendergast’s artistic vision was realized over six painstaking months of creating each visual frame-by-frame–an experience he could only describe as “intense.” “[Light painting] is a really difficult technique, and that’s why most people only do it for one frame. And then to animate with squash and stretch in real space is again a whole new league,” he says. “I guess the most difficult thing about it is you’re essentially drawing a 2-D character in a 3-D space and you have to draw to the perspective of the lens as well.”
Animated creatures of the night are only part of “Rippled”’s desolately haunting landscape–the physical elements were carefully chosen by Prendergast to relay a “dystopian theme that may suggest humanity is being left behind.” Look closely, however, and subtle traces of mankind are intentionally disbursed throughout the video in what only appears to be glossed-over post-production treatments.
“I’m all about leaving fingerprints behind in stop-motion animation. I deliberately left in the bricks that were propping up the cat when he was jumping. And the same with the characters behind the balls of light,” says Prendergast. “We could’ve digitally erased them, but I believe with computer animation being more and more able to replicate stop-motion stuff, it’s more important now than ever to leave behind fingerprints. It shows the audience that it’s been slaved over in the real world, in the real environment for God knows how long, and taking away that humanity is a little detrimental to the end piece.”
For Prendergast, his work on “Rippled” was a perfect synthesis of two mediums inspiring each other. “Over the course of the collaboration, we adjusted some of the music to fit the visuals and vice versa. “Being a good music director, it all comes down to that artistic bond–you’ve got to driven by the music.”