In a dream state, the ordinary laws governing time and space are fluid. Minutes can seem like months, and a tranquil stroll through an old neighborhood can suddenly morph into a death-defying encounter at the edge of the world. Artists often make reference to the strange and elusive power of dreams in their work, but few have been as effective at translating the experience of dreaming in a way that’s as visually fresh and compelling as what Marc Donahue and Sean Michael Williams have done with Dream Music Pt. II. The viral short, which has racked up more than one million views and counting since its premiere last week (thanks in part to an Ashton Kutcher cosign on Twitter), combines time-lapse and stop-motion techniques to portray a surreal and kinetic journey with a killer soundtrack.
The narrative follows a man who falls asleep on the couch with his headphones on, launching him on a whirlwind, lip-synching reverie through scenic California and Nevada. Wardrobe and the cast of characters change on a frame-by-frame basis as the protagonist (Donahue’s roommate, Beau Brigham) moves from a high-stakes poker game to making sandcastles on the beach to gliding across the Golden Gate Bridge. Donahue and Williams, both Bay Area videographers who make most of their money shooting weddings, soundtracked the clip with a string of five snippets of songs by musician friends, each of which has an impact on the visual story.
The directing duo built on a set of skills they honed making Dream Music Pt. 1, a similarly themed, but shorter video they published in March. No CGI or compositing was used to create the special effects in the video–instead the filmmakers embarked on the painstaking task of shooting (and sometimes reshooting) several thousand stills on location over a period of six months. “Every single shot in the video we actually took while we were standing there,” says Donahue.
To pull off the remarkable lip-synching effect, Donahue and Williams used a technique they call “lyric lapsing,” where each word in a song was pegged to a specific number of frames. On location, the filmmakers shot multiple versions of each frame, tweaking the position of their subject’s mouth every time. If that sounds somewhat labor-intensive, it was–the four-second sandcastle scene took over six hours to shoot.
“It was hard work, but we love this stuff,” explains Williams. “We wanted to make something that people would enjoy and that was different. This was something we didn’t think anyone had done before.”
The directors didn’t actually get much sleep while creating their dream world. During the last week of production earlier this month, Donahue and Williams say they barely rested at all. The passion project had consumed them.
“Everything was Dream Music for six months: All our money, all our time, all our focus, all our drive—we definitely almost went insane at some point,” says Williams.
“Our girlfriends hated us,” adds Donahue with a laugh.
Looking at the response to the video online, all that effort seems to have paid off.