In today’s digital age, a music video is often as important as the song itself. Budgets are huge, and the results are as cinematic as any film in your local movie theatre. But, music videos have been around for a very long time, so it’s growing increasingly difficult to be original.
Animation might be the answer to this problem, as there are absolutely no limits to what can be created using this video style. And, as a result, there are some incredibly creative examples from all around the world.
Here are our ten best animated music videos of all time.
10. Kanye West - Heartless
Animating a person is a difficult undertaking at the best of times, and when that person has an ego the size of Kanye’s it’s even trickier. But, the video to Heartless does the job perfectly.
Directed by Hype Williams who’s also been a part of several other Kanye collaborations, including Gold Digger and Diamonds from Sierra Leone, the video was released in 2008 to accompany the track taken from the 808s & Heartbreak album.
The video is rotoscoped, meaning that Kanye’s actual movements were recorded and then drawn over for accuracy and authenticity. Any fan will recognize the rapper’s signature swagger as he moves through a semi-realistic neighbourhood which is said to include Kanye’s former apartment block.
9. CHAGE and ASKA – On Your Mark
Being the birth place of anime, Japan is synonymous with animation and so artists from the country should be a part of any ‘best of’ list. The first of two Japanese productions in our top ten is the seven minute long epic which accompanies CHAGE and ASKA’s beautiful rock ballad.
This piece was written and directed by the godfather of anime: Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of iconic Studio Ghibli. He created this mini-masterpiece when he was struggling to write Princess Mononoke, which went on to be one of the highest grossing animations in cinematic history.
The non-linear piece is packed full of action, adventure and additional SFX, and is purposefully mismatched with the song’s emotional lyrics. In fact, it almost feels like CHAGE and ASKA merely provided a soundtrack to Miyazaki’s masterpiece.
8. Juls ft. Burna Boy – Gwarn
Ghana’s music scene is rapidly evolving, and 2017 saw a wave of animated music videos sweep the nation. The collaboration between British-born Ghanaian Juls and Nigerian Burna Boy was always going to be as smooth as silk, and the accompanying animated video perfectly follows suit.
Created by Ghanaian design studio Polka Arts, the video features their signature style of muted colors, simple transitions and evocative lighting. The story sees Juls and Burna Boy serenading beautiful women in various scenarios and locations, and there’s a distinctly sexy feel to the entire piece which fits the low key afro-pop track perfectly.
7. Les Pires - Sovy Nezhnye
This masterpiece is the combined efforts of 28 people from nine countries, and although the song may not be well known the video certainly is. The video gained huge popularity in the animation community in 2005, and its makers, from Europe and South America, received much praise for the cohesiveness of their collaboration.
Sovy Nezhnye, or ‘Tender Owls’ in English, was recorded in 1994 by French band Les Pires. The song is sung in heavily accented Russian and speaks about a man who is repeatedly cheered up from the hardships of life by the chirping of an owl. The video is as dark and haunting as the song itself, and is hugely successful in meshing together the distinctive styles of the individual animators.
6. The White Stripes – Fell In Love with A Girl
Moving away from traditional animation, the video for The White Stripes’ 2002 hit uses stop motion animation combined with lots and lots of LEGO.
This painstaking method of video creation was made frame by frame to show Jack and Meg White along with their instruments, with French Director Michel Gondry and his team having to rebuild the LEGO after ever image had been shot. The video’s success lies in the smoothness of the animation, proving that Gondry’s patience and attention to detail paid off in the end.
It’s said that Jack White attempted to make a deal with LEGO whereby every single would be sold with a small LEGO set. The toy-giant declined, and when they changed their mind after the success of the single, The White Stripes frontman decided to reject them in return.
5. PSY – Father (with Lang Lang)
When you hear any mention of PSY, your first thought is most likely his smash hit ‘Gangnam Style’, but it turns out that there’s more to the man than catchy tunes and silly dance moves.
‘Father’ featuring Chinese pianist Lang Lang is a tender ballad about the struggles of being a dad, and the video is the perfect storytelling vehicle (even without translating the lyrics). In this seemingly biographical animation we see a linear timeline of a father and son via a series of photo frames, and the mood slowly slips from joyful to heartbreaking.
The video, complete with Chinese subtitles in a nod to PSY’s collaborator, is an emotive masterpiece that’s sure to bring a tear to your eye: it certainly did to ours!
4. Cocoon – I can’t wait
French band Cocoon’s 2016 single is fitting with their signature style, and the video is one of the most perfect track matches on this list. The song is light and airy, with darker lyrics that perfectly contrast with the animation’s idyllic scenes.
Inspired by American artist Esther Pearl Watson’s work, the animation brings to life the characters which feature in her paintings. The style of the animation stays true to her bold brush strokes and muted color palette, and sees surreal scenes is a town filled with people and animals.
The success of the video lies within director Simon Medard’s ability to spot how well the visuals would suit the track; it really is a match made in heaven.
3. Jhon Montoya – Cumbia De Piedra
This entry isn’t technically a music video, but a promo for an album. But, it’s just too beautiful to leave off the list.
Jhon is a Colombian violinist and composer who combines classical instruments with electronic beats and modern production. Latin American culture is at the heart of his work, and this video by Tomás Pichardo is a subtle but deeply emotive love letter to Jhon’s home country. Using the color and imagery associated with cumbia, a dance originating from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the video transitions and pulses with the track, making the whole production feel distinctly alive.
Jhon’s no stranger to animating his music, and the Panamanian Emberá tribe inspired video for Umza is subtle in its mastery.
2. Handsome Kenya – Sing in My Own Way
The second anime video on our list is for Handsome Kenya, a singer-songwriter based in Kyoto. The video was created by Kousuke Sugimoto, a director and animator best known for ‘The TV Show’: a satire about modern society. This music video follows his usual colourful and chaotic style, and is perhaps the video on this list most likely to put a giant smile on your face.
The video may seem kind of goofy on the first viewing, but have a couple more watches and you’ll see how witty and well thought out it actually is. The cuts and transitions are perfectly timed with the track, and as the song speeds towards its crescendo, so does the video.
1. A-ha – Take On Me
No list of animated videos would be complete without perhaps the best known animation of all time. This iconic piece of pop culture was first released in 1984 and has retained its crown as one of the best of all time.
The video shows a live action character being sucked into a sketched world to be won over by the hero in the story. Credited as being the main reason for the Norwegian pop band’s only number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, the video won six awards and was nominated for two others at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.
Success didn’t come without a lot of hard work, and over three thousand hand drawn frames combine with 16 weeks’ worth of rotoscoping to create the final piece.
What’s your favorite animated video of all time? Let us know in the comments.