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The Artistry of "Nikes" with Producer James Drew

Frank Ocean is sincere in bringing “art” to his artistry. The singer has received two Grammy awards, a Soul Train award, and a UK Music Award; proof that his music crosses genre and international boundaries. Ocean’s music video for the song “Nikes” proves that he’s just as sincere about creating something visually provocative as well as audibly so. As EP of postproduction on “Nikes” James Drew had a profound role in achieving the vision of both artist and director to the satisfaction of both. Unique art is rarely achieved easily, something to which Drew can assuredly confirm. “Nikes” accolades include: DJBooth’s award for Best Music Video 2016, NPR Listed as one of the “Best Music Videos” of 2016, a Vimeo Staff Pick, and Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazine’s description as “Stunning” and “Outstanding” of this production.

The video might be described as a series of vignettes that span self-evaluation, compassion, sexuality, and perhaps even consumerism in moments vacillating between lucidity and ego infused dreaming. Perhaps equally as descriptive might be “trippy in a peaceful manner.” While the music is most certainly the catalyst, it’s the expressive visual manifestation of imagery that director Tyrone Lebon has presented with assistance from James Drew, that solidifies it’s greatness. The director is known for his use of a multitude of filming formats and cameras, often analog, resulting in a scrap book/mosaic quality in his approach. To heighten the look and tone of Lebon’s work, James was in charge of the color grade, conform, and VFX work. The use of 35mm analog cameras for filming required the negatives to be scanned and was essential to infusing the proper mood for “Nikes.” James relates, “The VFX and the color grade weren’t that complex for this video. Usually the conform is straight forward [the conform is the process of matching the edits by linking all the raw camera footage to what the editor has made] but in this case, due to the multitude of cameras and different filming formats, the conform was quite difficult.” Referencing one of his favorite scenes which his team materialized for the video, James states, “One VFX shot featured a tiny Chihuahua mouthing some of the lyrics to camera which meant that we had to augment the dogs mouth to make it seem like it was saying the words. This took a bit of time to find the right balance as Tyrone didn’t want it to look ‘photo-real’ but rather like a dreamy cartoon effect. I think we achieved the desired aesthetic perfectly.”

While James and his VFX crew are sometimes considered as the nerds in the darkroom, it’s their work which is essential to achieving the surreal quality which “Nikes” possesses. The experience of watching it is akin to being inside the head of Frank Ocean and seeing through his mind’s eye. It’s a simultaneously pleasant and unsettling vantage, created by a team of artists.

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