The Pokémon Snap Interview: An Ambitious Collaboration
The latest collaboration from VGM jazz maestro insaneintherainmusic (Carlos Eiene) and VGM guitar virtuoso Ro Panuganti dropped this weekend. The nine-minute Pokemon Snap medley featured a whopping thirteen tracks and a number of real-life locales. Watching the video, I was amazed at the production quality, the locales, and the arrangement. Naturally, I had to know how could anyone pull off such an amazing feat, so I went straight to the source(s).
The biggest challenge for this project, though, was definitely the filming!
Who came up with the idea first?
Ro: I visited Japan recently and snagged a lot of perfectly-preserved N64 games for my collection, and one of the games was Pokémon Snap. I remember renting that game a lot as kid so I felt inspired and began to brainstorm. A music video that incorporated the game's premise—taking photos of Pokemon—could make for a really cool, ambitious video! I wanted to film it at locales resembling the game's levels with lots of scenery and action. It just so happened I was visiting Washington anyway, and Carlos shared my vision for the same reason.
What were some specific challenges that you had to face with this particular cover?
Carlos: I arranged this project, and I typically write out the whole thing in notated sheet music which isn’t a format that’s typically preferred by guitarists in the VGM community. Luckily, Ro is familiar with sheet music to some extent, so I was able to convey the information through a mix of MIDI files and sheet music.
The biggest challenge for this project, though, was definitely the filming! I put myself in charge of finding locations for the shoot. Creating a timetable was also challenging as well since a long drive needs to be broken up with time for breaks and food.
How did you split up the workload? What was the planning involved?
Carlos: I handled the arrangement, choosing locations, and editing, while Ro handled playing his parts, a lot of the videography, and VFX work at the very end. We had a document that listed all the shots we needed to get at each location, as well as all the gear we’d need to pack for each leg of the trip. Having a master document like that made the filming plan super easy!
Ro: We both have worked together so much that we naturally fall into what we trust each other with doing. I spent a lot of time testing VFX, integrating Pokemon into test shots. Along with playing guitars, I took on the task of filming B-Roll (scenery, additional footage) and Behind-the-Scenes footage. The way I see it, this is the kind of music video we knew only WE would be crazy enough to try.
Ultimately, the most time-consuming aspect was just driving through traffic and trying to beat the clock, the sun, or our dinner plans.
How did you choose locations for the video?
Ro: I'll let Carlos answer this one, but we ultimately wanted to find locations in the real world that really reflect the video game's themed levels.
Carlos: I tried to pick locations around Washington state that were within a reasonable driving distance that more or less matched the aesthetics of the levels in-game. Some levels, such as River, were very easy since there’s a lot of that natural scenery in WA. Other levels like Volcano and Rainbow Cloud were a bit more ambiguous, so we did the best we could!
How long did it take to film all the outdoor shots?
Carlos: We filmed all the outdoor shots over the course of two days. One day was about a four-hour shoot in my backyard and a local park, and the other day was our travel day, where we were out driving and shooting from 8:30 AM until about 7 PM.
Ro: The setup was a bit more elaborate at Carlos' place, since we were alone. We were comfortable enough shooting with a stabilizer to do each other's solo shots, but we needed to set up tripods, check lighting/playback, and remember the parts to the lengthy medley too. Ultimately, the most time-consuming aspect of Day 2 was just driving through traffic and trying to beat the clock, the sun, or our dinner plans.
Did you have help with the videoshoot?
Ro: The video could NOT be possible without our buddy Colby (Colbydude). Not only was he a great host, Colby helped with equipment, filming and lighting some of our shots, and scouting out locations. When it came time for those fun duo shots, Colby was our master cameraman.
We wanted the medley to be a faithful tribute to the original game.
How did you choose the particular tracks for the medley?
Ro: Given that this was a niche spin-off game, Carlos and I wanted to feature every song in the soundtrack if possible.
Carlos: We stuck to tracks that the player is likely to hear in the normal cycle of gameplay. For Pokémon Snap, players start off in Oak’s Lab, go to select a course, play through the course, and then have their shots evaluated by Prof. Oak. My thought was that the Pokémon Snap OST has a lot of okay songs in it at best—songs that wouldn’t really be suitable for one-off covers. As a medley; however, I think they all hold a bit more weight.
Was there a particular style or styles that you wanted to capture for this medley?
Carlos: We were aiming to be pretty faithful to the original tracks as presented in-game, and deliberately didn’t take too many liberties in the arrangement. We wanted the medley to be a faithful tribute to the original game. We weren’t specifically going for rock or jazz or anything like that, though there are some sections that definitely have those influences.
Would you say this is your most ambitious collaboration yet?
Ro: In pretty much every aspect, this is our biggest collaboration together, and I also think it’s my most ambitious project to date. All things considered, I couldn't have had better collaborators than Carlos and Colby.
Carlos: I’d say it’s my most ambitious collaboration with a single other person (not counting Colbydude, despite having him help a lot with the video). I’ve been doing some other stuff lately with larger numbers of musicians that is probably a bit more ambitious musically. Video-wise, however, this is definitely the most ambitious project I’ve taken on!
You'll see shots of Pokémon flying around, chilling in the background, and sometimes interacting with the scenery too!
How much VFX was done for this cover?
Ro: To start, we filmed using two Sony Cameras with more advanced coloring approaches. We both had to match a lot of settings to get really consistent looks across our A6500 and A7III. The rich, lively color grade that Carlos (and I, for the Behind the Scenes) aimed for is definitely a reflection of the game's beautiful locale.
While the end result may only feature a handful of visual FX in both the music video and my Behind-the-Scenes featurette, there was a lot of effort in making the VFX of the video. I wanted to be as ambitious as possible, so I threw a few Pokémon into our extra footage as well as a recreation of the Professor Oak Photo Test (which occurs at the end of each level). You'll see shots of Pokémon flying around, chilling in the background, and sometimes interacting with the scenery too!
Before the shoot, I filmed three or four test shots in my room trying out different camera tracking and 3D models. Ultimately, I think I put 40 to 50 hours alone in this project! Since our performance shots are some of our proudest, I had to make sure that any effects or, in our case, Pokémon, that enter the shot really complement the video and blend in perfectly!
What video software did you use and would you recommend it for other VGM artists?
Ro: For final exports, Carlos and I use Adobe Premiere CC 2019. For visual FX, I use Adobe After Effects CC in tandem with a variety of smaller programs! I used Blender to capture some of the Pokémon, Video Copilot's Element 3D to let me use real 3D models in our videos, and a few different plugins from Red Giant's VFX Suite to blend the 3D elements into our scenery properly. While that might seem overwhelming, I really love how many effects After Effects comes with out of the box. If you already have the Adobe Creative Suite, I absolutely recommend giving it a try for even the smallest of creative visual ideas.
Once you got a picture of Mew, you were the coolest kid in town.
Ro, what's something about Carlos that you most admire?
Ro: Carlos has always taken the more ambitious, risky road even when it seems like he doesn't. He tries new instruments when he's already great at several, changes video styles when the old ones seem great, and, of course, is the only person I could imagine making this kind of collaboration with. He's a nice lad.
Carlos, what's something about Ro that you most admire?
Carlos: Ro has been such a great friend to me. He was one of the first people I ever met through YouTube seven years ago, and we’ve been good friends ever since! He’s very patient, easy to talk to and work with, and is very knowledgeable in different areas, especially when it comes to music and video production! I learned so many new things about filming and producing music through this collaboration because of Ro. Thanks, Ro!
Favorite Pokémon Snap memories?
Ro: I used to rent Pokémon Snap from Blockbuster all the time, and all my memories are playing it with my sister, trying to find all of the secret Pokémon that kids would talk about at school. Once you got a picture of Mew, you were the coolest kid in town.
Carlos: Definitely the first time I got a picture of every Pokémon in the game for the first time on one cartridge. I had so much fun figuring out the little tricks to get all the different Pokémon to appear! I’ve been a Pokémon fan ever since I started playing video games, so seeing Pokémon appear in their natural habitats doing authentic things makes me very happy :)
If you enjoyed this interview and want to know more about the creation of the Pokémon Snap medley, be sure to check out the Behind-the-Scenes video below!