Written by Director of Emerging Technology Dan Phillips
Reality is subjective. Not everyone or everything experiences the world in the same way. Sometimes differences are subtle, sometimes markedly extreme. Whether it’s how you react to an election result, hear a tone in a song, or taste a delicious dish, see a rainbow, observable reality and consistency of perception is often not as objective as we think it is.
Emerging technologies such as augmented and mixed reality will over time further expand and blur this line of perception. With AR on mobile devices and head-mounted displays, we’re well within the beginnings of what it means to live an augmented life. Humans are doing a lot of fun things right now, like bringing gaming into our physical world and making our faces into playthings of fun with endless filters and enhancements and props. We’re also starting to find utility for AR in enterprise and education and in customer experience, and with the emergence of hardware designed for specific applications in business.
But AR is not just about the future of vision changing. AR can be the technological prism through which we see the world, but for humans it will also become the common device for the combined knowledge of the species. We will expand our tech parameters beyond display technology to deeper integration with machine learning and artificial intelligences and instantly searchable databases. We will tap into the power of 5G connectivity and beyond to create new merged physical environments. We will be able to intuitively read the reactions of people we encounter based on the dilation of each other’s pupils and the pulses under our skin. Opinions and choices will be made through instantly accessible shared data. Want to make a key purchase, for example? Analyze the salesperson’s biometric response to your questions, and scan satellite imagery to see how much bargaining power you have based on how long the product has remained on the shelf.
Magic Leap, Microsoft’s Hololens and much anticipated but never confirmed moves into the wearable space by Apple give us mainstream hardware for AR. We also have next generation AR-enabled spectacles and contact lenses on the near horizon, or perhaps we will just jump straight to implants and nerve-driven control systems. If that sounds ridiculous and farfetched to you consider how the inventors of past innovations in spectacles could not have anticipated our use of laser corrected vision or human-computer interfaces used in experimental therapy today. If we think the oblong devices we carry in our pockets are the end of screen interface technology then we have learned nothing about the power and pace of technology to change and be adopted. Technologists have the free reign to debate the ethics of data driven modification where politicians and bioethicists do not. The question is not if these technologies will change our experience of reality, but how quickly.
Many animals already sense things we can’t and on spectrums not available to humans. Think of that when you put on an AR headset and find yourself motioning to the invisible. Your own visual experience can be completely unseen by the people around you, whilst remaining entirely real to you. What you see and your understanding of it will soon be different from the person next to you, and we will no longer have a common experience of our shared environment. When AR arrives in its fuller and more integrated state, the challenge for our technologically tiered society will be how we stay in sync with one another.
As fans, we are often wowed by the visual stories within our favorite music videos and taken away by the lyrics of our favorite songs, but we rarely consider the foundational work that goes into bringing these creative visions to fruition. Behind each and every chart-topping music video is a director working diligently to illustrate the music with a visual story.
French director Clément Oberto, currently based in L.A., is one of the rare creatives whose vision, drive and talent have led him to become the creative force behind numerous award-winning music videos.
Well known for his passion and clear vision, he has caught the attention of millions of viewers. Over the past 15 years he has directed music videos for internationally acclaimed artists, such as Christina Aguilera, Gary Clark Jr. Zhavia, and John Tejada. Along with stylish music videos for French singer Lou for her track “Dans le bleu du ciel“, which already gained over 5 million YouTube streams, and Canadian pop sensation Anjulie feat. Natalia Lafourcade’s hit “Holy Water”.
One project that really turned the heads of fans and the music industry alike was his remarkable work as the director behind the music video for four-time Grammy Award winning indie artist Gary Clark Jr.’s “Pearl Cadillac”.
The soulful track was taken from Clark’s 2019 album “This Land”, which took home the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, making it his third consecutive top 10 album debut.
Clark wrote the track in honour of his mother and the experience of leaving home to embark on his next chapter. In a collaboration that could only be described as ‘serendipitous’, Oberto, who at the time was journaling about his own relationship with his mother, was approached by Warner Record Executive Producer Devin Sarno; who’s known for his work with iconic bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, My Chemical Romance and Green Day.
“I was diaring about the way my mom had led her life and how I wanted to make her proud, and within 5 minutes after writing this, Devin reached out with the song; asking if I was interested,” he recalls. “There was no way I wasn’t going to book that job. It was perfect timing.”
Oberto shot the video in classic black and white on 35mm film, creating a nostalgic and overall harmonic sensation to enhance the moving lyrics.
“I wanted to create a metaphorical video that would highlight memories of childhood and the passage towards adulthood while reflecting on the support Gary received from his mom,” he says. “I wanted the video to be like the song, poetic and soft, while also giving justice to that epic guitar solo.”
He used smoke and light to add symbolism to the video, which made it stand out and take home 9 awards at renowned global festivals including Best Music Video at the U.K.’s Ramsgate Film Festival and Best Cinematography at the Black Bird Film Festival in New York.
Along with directing and editing the video, he was also responsible for designing the original concept and storyline, while also building a stellar crew.
“I care to create strong relationships with my team. I surround myself with talent that I admire and I communicate a lot with them to make sure we are all on the same page,” Oberto shares.
“There is nothing better than feeling that everyone gets you, and has your back to make sure your vision comes to life accordingly, or even better than what you imagined. For Pearl Cadillac I proposed the 35mm format and the idea of shooting the car in a studio with plates of the road projected on screens, like they used to do back in the days. This way we’d be able to have Gary laying down on the hood as the car drives by itself, without taking risks for his safety.”
Clark shared in an interview with Billboard that it was his first video in 35mm black and white film and that “Clément was really passionate about telling the story of ‘Pearl Cadillac’.”
Producer Roger Mayer (“Antibirth,” “The Rambler”), who collaborated with Oberto on the videos for both Gary Clark Jr. and Anjulie feat. Natalia Lafourcade, shares that “Clément adds a flair unlike so many of his peers that elevates the project to an art piece… Working with Clément is a dream, he is a confident and determined filmmaker with a clear vision, and is able to communicate that to everyone working on the projects he’s attached to.”
Oberto’s ability to expedite an entire music video in record time and remain in control while bringing the artists’ vision to life are key factors that have led to his remarkable success.
In June 2020, while the world was adjusting to the unexpected global shifts of Covid-19, he directed the stunning music video for five-time Grammy Award winning pop sensation Christina Aguilera’s tracks “Reflection / Loyal Brave True.”
The powerful song was the promotional single for the 2020 live action remake of the classic Walt Disney film “Mulan,” which was noted as Oscar worthy by Rolling Stone Magazine.
Oberto was brought on board, not just for his unique visual identity, but also due to the fact that the entire project needed to be overturned in a matter of days in order to coincide with Aguilera’s highly anticipated live performance on “Good Morning America.”
He was approached by Grammy Award winning video producer Jamie Rabineau, the founder of Lark Creative, who’s best known for producing Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed 2017 music video “Humble.”
“The main challenge was the timing, combined with the Covid safety guidelines. To make sure everything would be safe and ready for us to shoot in a couple of days, and that we’d go over the post production process in a heartbeat,” Oberto shares. “We managed those challenges by working in confidence, hand in hand with my producer Boris Labourguigne at Left. He really made magic happen and got everything working tightly. As for Christina, it was pure bliss. She was very professional and easy to work with.”
Proving that he is a highly adaptable and humble director, Oberto applied a simple yet highly effective approach to the aesthetics of the video, using a few pieces of floating fabric in order to shine a light on Aguilera’s signature vocals.
“I usually create concepts and aesthetics to highlight the artist and the song. We spend a lot of time building sets and working on light, effects, transition, framing… We make sure everything feels magical,” he says. “With this project it was more simple, focused on the performance and not that much on the aesthetic. My job here was more about not trying to add complications by demanding, or wanting too much.”
Reaping over 2.6 million views on YouTube and 5 million viewers on “Good Morning America,” the music video’s end result was flawless, and it once again proved Oberto’s ability to transform an artist’s vision into reality.
His outstanding directorial achievements on both Gary Clark Jr. and Christina Aguilera’s music videos were created with Boris Labourguigne, who is the founder and president of Left Productions, an award winning video production company with offices in Paris, Los Angeles and London.
“Clément is really involved in every project from the creation to the delivery. He’s able to create a really strong relationship with clients, labels, and artists. He puts all his energy and talent to find the best solutions to do the best video possible,” says Labourguigne.
“He’s also super flexible and can work on a large scope of projects. He loves to be challenged, and is always open to discovering new territories, new talents, new brands, new styles. It is very stimulating to collaborate with him.”
In 2018 Oberto was also the leader behind the mysterious music video for American songwriter Zhavia’s debut single “Candlelight,” which is a bluesy R&B ballad about persevering through adversity.
Zhavia, who has over 3.2 million followers on Instagram, had just signed with Columbia Records, one of the most prestigious labels and home for iconic artists such as Beyonce, Adele, John Mayer, Mariah Carey, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Pharrel Williams.
Honoring Zhavia’s artistic mission to motivate her fans to express their emotions while working towards their goals, the video required a thoughtful director who could turn the song into a stunning visual story.
Record producer Jenna Andrews, who’s known for her songwriting collaborations with Lily Allen, Noah Cyrus and BANKS, approached Oberto not only to conceptualize a video that would personify the heartfelt lyrics, but here again to deliver the project in a matter of days.
“We had to pull everything together in a heartbeat. We shot overnight, 3h from LA and created the proxies for the editor in the car on our way back to the city, so we could have our first cut on the exact same day,” he says. “It was an adventure, people at Sony and Columbia were skeptical about us delivering in time, but we did.”
His savvy leadership allowed production to maintain the strict filming schedule, to capture every single shot in record time and to deliver the video only 5 days.
He shares, “That was pretty wild for me. More than anything I’m happy that I was able to be there for Zhavia, to help the team in that crazy tight deadline and to sign her first single’s music video was really rewarding.”
Upon its release, the single became #1 worldwide on iTunes, along with the music video garnering a whopping 32.7 million streams and trending at #5 on YouTube.
Given the incredible demands that came with the active production, Oberto’s expertise in delivering such a brilliant final result was highly commended, not only by the record label’s executive heads, but also across the music industry.
“From the very beginning it was clear that Clément was a true visionary, whose concepts and ideas were incredible… him and his entire team were true magicians from the first meeting to the final product. He went above and beyond to deliver under a very tight deadline from the record label and he didn’t let us down,” says Zhavia’s manager and platinum award-winning artist and producer, Thomas Barsoe. “I hope to continue to work with Clément for years to come and can’t recommend him highly enough.”
Oberto’s proven repertoire of success expands far beyond the director’s chair. His entrepreneurial drive also allowed him to grow within the bustling entertainment industry. In 2020 he launched Creative Film Awards, an LA based music video, short film and fashion film festival that focuses on gathering creatives from all around the world and to create a gateway for promising industry filmmakers to gain recognition.
“The inspiration came while spending years showcasing my films in festivals. I was thinking how I could do things differently by hosting immersive events and promoting the work of the filmmakers through a community behind the festival,” Oberto shares. “I wanted to create a festival that would feel like a label, something filmmakers could feel proud of being part of, and also help them be seen by well established figures of the industry.”
The festival attracted a stellar line up of industry guest judges, including two-time Grammy award winning music video and film director Matthew Cullen, VP Creative Services at Warner Records and MTV Video Music Award winner Devin Sarno, and French actress Loan Chabanol.
With his proven track record of success, it seems like Oberto has no plans to slow down anytime soon, in fact it’s quite the opposite. He is currently working on “Voices,” his first feature film, as well as on “Greenroom” a podcast with record producer Jenna Andrews, which focuses on mental health in the music industry. The podcast features popular music figures such as Tegan and Sara, Upsahl, Rebecca Black, Parson James, Verité, Kiesza and many more.
With all this in mind, it’s fair to say that Clément Oberto is an unstoppable industry force whose diverse talents and relentless desire to bring stories to life will continue to captivate a global audience for a long time to come. So stay tuned.
Standing ready to capture the magic of any moment, Chinese photographer Jiayi Liang is always looking for her next shot. With professional experience spanning years of brand campaigns, documentary filmmaking, and high-profile fashion photography, Liang has proven that no subject is outside of the scope of her photographic prowess—which she has been cultivating for a lifetime.
From a young age, Liang was encouraged to explore her natural proclivity for visual arts by her mother, who was herself a painter. Growing up in this artistic environment gave Liang freedom to creatively interpret the world through her own eyes. She soon became engrossed in motion pictures, and began her relationship with photography during high school. Since then, she’s never stopped shooting.
Of course, there are many people who take up photography as a hobby or a means to capture memories. Liang, however, became obsessed with understanding the craft and its nuances; with mastering the interplay of light and shadow; and with capturing emotion to eternalize the moments she experienced.
“When you view a photograph, you can experience the feelings of that moment, even after many years,” Liang mused. “I think the meaning of photography is very important—it is a medium through which the moment becomes eternal.”
Since receiving her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Filmmaking and Cinematography from the New York Film Academy in 2014, Liang has professionally expressed her philosophical approach to photography across an impressive array of projects spanning multiple high-profile industries in New York City.
One of Liang’s more recent and prestigious career accomplishments was her coveted role as a photographer at the internationally-renowned and highly exclusive New York Fashion Week. Each year at New York Fashion Week, more than 250 of the industry’s top designers gather to present their latest collections with the world. Attendance to this high-profile event is by invitation only, and press credentials are given out on an extremely selective basis. Due to the merit of her work, however, Liang was one of the incredibly talented photographers chosen to shoot New York Fashion week.
“Being invited to photograph New York Fashion Week felt like a rare opportunity to document history,” reminisced Liang. “It was also a chance to glance into the future of the fashion industry by photographing the next quarter’s trends.”
From 2019 to 2020, Liang covered runway shows, backstage moments, presentations, private shoots, capturing the collections and styles of international fashion icons on behalf of VRAI Magazine, an American publishing house and digital fashion magazine with international readership. VRAI Magazine recruited Liang as their chosen photographer for both the New York Fashion Week and New York Bridal Fashion Week events during this period.
In addition to her undeniable ability to convey the attitude and grace of high fashion through her photography, Liang also has a proven track record of helping big brands bring their vision to life. Suki Eyewear and Mott & Bayard Eyewear, two of the biggest eyewear brands in New York City, called upon Liang in 2018 to manage their photo shoots, promotional video shoots, and lookbook creation on an ongoing basis.
“Jiayi Liang often finds different perspectives and gives her images new meanings,” said Kenneth Ma, Owner of Suki Eyewear and Mott & Bayard. “Each time I finish working with her, I look forward to starting our next project together.”
Through her years at this position, which she currently holds, Liang has earned nothing but praise for her work, which includes seven campaigns for the Suki Eyewear and Mott & Bayard brands. By using her fresh and unique perspective behind the camera, Liang has been able to capture the very essence of these brands and portray them in a natural light, resulting in a win for Ma’s business.
“I’ve been using the images and footage Liang created everywhere for my stores, websites and social media,” mentioned Ma. “I saw a big impact for both of my brands after the photos and videos were released.”
Liang doesn’t just lend her talents to big clients—she also believes in making an impact in the lives of young artists. Since 2018, Liang has been a photography instructor at the Rising Star Photography Society, a photography club for teenagers based in Princeton, New Jersey. Beyond just teaching technical skills, Liang aims to ignite a long-lasting creative spark in her students.
“It is very important to create the right environment for younger kids, because anything could unexpectedly influence them,” said Liang. “Teenagers have incredibly interesting thoughts and ideas, so I encourage them to practice and explore.”
As Liang continues to push her craft forward, both as an artist and a professional, the lens through which she interacts with photography expands to include new skills and perspectives. With an already inspiring portfolio and list of career accomplishments, Jiayi Liang is poised to capture the imaginations of not only her clients, but also her students and anyone fortunate enough to appreciate her body of work.
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