The video for Hungarian musician Boggie’s “Nouveau Parfum” caused a stir when it landed on the Internet earlier this month (a stir to which we contributed with our own post about it), and for good reason: It’s a striking take on the “extreme Photoshop makeover.” Like previous creations (see Dove “Evolution”), the video calls out the airbrushing and retouching that happens to women’s images just about every time they are the focus of a media campaign, but here, it’s all done seemingly in realtime as Boggie performs her track. In the video–directed by Budapest directing duo Bálint Nagy and Nándor Lőrincz–we see the singer transformed by an unseen artist’s hand using Photoshop-like software. With each click, her features change, her hair style is swapped and her skin tone tweaked until she looks especially luminous.
Because the video portrays a process that would seem to be beyond the capabilities of Photoshop as we know it, there have been a lot of questions about its message, its approach, and the way it blends computer-generated and real-world changes. The comments section of the video’s Vimeo page is full of questions and criticism: “Does anyone know the name of the software??? Please??? I’m blown away by this shit!!!” one asks, while another takes the directors to task: “I love the concept and don’t really like the execution. Your video is not honest : there are too many lies, and it’s kind of a shame considering the actual point of the song is to show the lies of the beauty industry.”
The result has been a controversy video about a controversial topic–but not for the reasons one might typically expect. In order to better understand exactly how they made the video work–and how their artistic goals meshed with their intentions to make a social comment–we caught up with Nagy and Lőrincz (who are currently in pre-production on their first feature film) and learned how they did it.
“The whole process started with a very intense pre-production period, including the script writing, planning the graphic concept, and the technical methodology,” Nagy says. “It was really important for us to create not just a technically interesting, but a dramaturgically strong music video. So we focused on the subject, and the personality of the singer.”
Once the concept was ironed out and the pre-production was fully completed, the rest of the process was a combination of working quickly and fastidiously. “The shoot was really short,” he says. “We had to make four different set-ups of lighting and make-up. So all the phases of ‘beautifying’ were created on-set, by the different lighting, make-up, and hair styles. Then it was the post-production’s duty to work together all these shots.”
Nagy says that the process of stitching all of this together in post took four months. “We had to make plenty of tests for each trick and transition,” he says. “We had to synchronize all of the different shots, and track them together. Afterward, we had to animate all the transitions on the face, create the fake graphic interface, the mouse movements, etc.”
The idea that a video designed to highlight the issues surrounding digital retouching was created in many ways by using so many practical effects like lighting, hair-styling, and makeup is fascinating–though it’s also why the video has confused people who’ve been conditioned by campaigns like Dove’s “Evolution” to see these issues tackled by exposés and documentaries.
That’s something that Lőrincz has little time for, however. “Our main purpose was to create a video which refers to the lyrics,” Lőrincz explains. “This is not a documentary about the beauty business or Photoshop or whatever–this is a music video, made for music, edited for music. It is an illusion created by filmmakers.”
Lőrincz is more amused by the people who ask how and where to buy the imaginary software they dreamed up for the video, however. “If it was possible to create software like this, we would have done it instead of a music video,” Lőrincz says, explaining that the idea to create their own interface was both practical–they didn’t want to face legal consequences from using Photoshop–and thematic. “Our inspiration were these new-wave, user-friendly, eye-catching applications that are making our lives easier. We wanted our fake software to be like that.”
Ultimately, the video succeeds by raising these questions in viewers. The goal of the artists, in this case, was to tell an emotional truth without re-hashing what we’ve already seen in a literal truth. That’s an admirable use of the music video format (nobody expects that everyone on the television was actually lip-synching to “Like A Rolling Stone,” right?), and Nagy is confident that this part of the video comes across, despite the controversy.
“Beyond beautifying and Photoshopping, both the video and the song is about accepting our real values,” he says. “We live in a time of multiple crises of value, so it’s important to at least ask ourselves about our real values. Our goal was to show a bad example in the video, hoping it will generate personal answers in the viewer.”