Scottish animation startup, Speech Graphics, has collaborated with Kanye West and Nick Knight on the controversial, technology driven video – ‘Black Skinhead’ – which was finally released this week.
Co-written with Daft Punk, the single is from the number one album, Yeezus, released by Def Jam Records. A media firestorm has surrounded this now infamous video, fuelled by the leak earlier this month of an unofficial and unfinished version. This prompted Kanye West to issue a volley of tweets: “Me and Nick Knight have been working on this video for 5 months and for creatives it’s heartbreaking when something like this happens”.
Produced in Berlin, Paris, London, Los Angeles and Edinburgh the video was directed by iconic fashion photographer Nick Knight who has made music videos for the likes of Bjork and Lady Gaga.
The three-minute 3D-animated video for ‘Black Skinhead’ features a mix of animation and film footage of Kanye West as he stalks the floor, screaming raw emotion from the screen. This cutting-edge and experimental project includes technology used for the first time in a music video – including user interaction and audio-driven animation technology. Debuted on the Kanye West website, the video incorporates other technical innovations including interactive speed control and image grabbing.
With an international reputation for extraordinary advances in audio-driven animation and motion technology working with companies like Warner Brothers, Speech Graphics was a natural choice for this video. Michael Berger, co-founder and CTO of Speech Graphics explains: “When we took the call from Hollywood they set us exceptionally tight deadlines. But we just could not say no to this amazing job. We knew that bringing the voice to life would be critical to capturing the intense power and energy of Kanye West.”
Emotional impact comes through very strongly in the lower face. Speech Graphic’s technology captures the intensity of every syllable and animates lips, jaw, cheeks and even tongue. Berger continues: “When we animate speech we actually animate most of the face, because the skin moves, right up to the eyes. We even had his ears moving with the jaw motion. But our biggest challenge was to make Kanye’s face move naturally over the famous gold and diamond grill on his teeth. And – of course – ‘the bling must most definitely stay in the picture’.”
Speech Graphics took the assets – a 3D facial model of Kanye and his voice track – and used their audio-driven animation technology to drive his face up to the eyes. By running audio through acoustic analysis the company replicated the muscle activations to reconstruct what Kanye’s face was doing when he produced the sound.
Gregor Hofer, CEO and co-founder of Speech Graphics, comments: “This has been an extraordinary project to work on. To make the most famous face in Hip Hop rap has been a surreal experience and the media furore has added to the intensity of working on the project. It just doesn’t get any bigger. This project has given us the chance to really show what our technology can do. We are hugely excited about what the future holds for us and proud to work with such an artist.”
Speech Graphics is on track to become the main provider of lip-sync and facial animation – a sector forecast to reach over $500 million (£375m) – to the global video game market.
While Speech Graphics has been expanding rapidly in the global video games market, the company’s versatile technology can be used for any application that needs syncing facial animation with speech and the Kanye West project marks Speech Graphics’ first involvement in the music industry.
Black Skinhead has been used as the soundtrack to the trailer for the new Scorsese and DiCaprio film, The Wolf of Wall Street, due to be released in November.
About Speech Graphics
Speech Graphics Ltd is an award-winning tech company providing facial animation with next-gen realism driven completely by audio. Founded in 2010 by speech technology experts with two decades of experience in speech animation, the company is expanding rapidly while already providing animation services to several major AAA studios. For more information visit www.speech-graphics.com, call +44 (0) 131 6686 911 or email