- 04 Feb 14
Based in London, Scott Altman has worked on the video for Kanye West's globe-shaking 'Blkkk Skkkn Head' and employed The Strypes in his shoot to thrill success. The music-loving Dubliner talks working with his heroes and his ambitions for 2014.
If Bowie asks, yes, Scott Altman too is often wondering about sound and vision. In his co-winning Shoot To Thrill entry – as much a tribute from a fan as an advertisement – he was eager to capture the essence of Hot Press by focusing on its own history.
Watch 'Uncovered' by Scott Altman .
“I remember seeing on the Hot Press website that you guys had all your old covers up there,” says Altman. “I just thought, ‘what an amazing way to represent the Hot Press brand, by incorporating these photos, this artwork into an ad'. The Strypes were kicking off around that time, heavily supported by yourselves, by UK publications, and by Zane Lowe, Jools Holland and others. I remember hearing ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’ and it just grabbed my attention. It all just came together.”
The clever use of the Cavan lads’ cover of the Bo Diddley song was nothing new for Altman, whose art has always been inextricably linked to rock ‘n’ roll.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve picked up crayons, pens and pencils. I won my first award for art when I was about eight. It was the all-Dublin schools art competition. The actual picture was of a band, all wearing balaclavas! Music was a big influence even that far back.”
His father was also a big influence. “My dad was a huge music fan,” Altman explains. “When MTV was established in the early ‘80s, I used to sit down and watch the videos with him. I grew up watching stuff like ‘Billie Jean’, A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’, Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’, even Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl’! Iconic, cool but cheesy videos. They definitely influenced my work. Later on, with Aphex Twin videos by Chris Cunningham, things got a little bit darker...”
Scott’s career kicked off properly when he started splitting his teenage time between studying computer animation and working at Ardmore Studios. Subsequently, a few years travelling opened his eyes to the creative opportunities abroad.
“I worked at a couple of companies in Dublin but didn’t feel I was getting the creative opportunities I desired. Then I started to research other companies abroad.”
A one-way ticket to Bangkok had his name on it.
“I ended up staying there for a year doing visual effects for the Asian market on music videos, TV commercials, that kind of thing. Very, very hard work. Sometimes working through the night, until six in the desk.
Well then he'd fit right in at Hot Press...
“Ah, but you don’t wake up with cockroaches on you!”
Hmmm, best not to confirm or deny that one. It was all worth it when MTV asked the talented young video pro to test for a job on the European Music Awards 2006, in Copenhagen.
“I thought it was a real long shot. MTV was, of course, a company I dreamed of working for. The awards show was the most successful to date – and the work ended up winning awards worldwide. Then to be asked back repeatedly was just fantastic."
Animation with Nickelodeon followed. Does he prefer working with CGI cartoons or living, breathing musicians?
“Haha! Animated cartoons are definitely easier to direct! What I actually love doing is mixing the two. To shoot something for real but incorporate the 3D to create something you’ve never seen before and that you couldn't actually shoot for real. For me, it has to look as close to real-world as possible.” This holistic approach made him a perfect candidate to work on the VFX for Kanye West’s interactive ‘BLKKK SKKKN HEAD’ video.
“An agent sent over this potential job. I didn’t have a clue who it was for, but he did tell me that Nick Knight was directing. I’d grown up loving his work, so once I heard he was attached I thought, ‘Jesus, this must be bloody big!’ I knew that both Jay-Z and Kanye were releasing albums, so I reckoned it was definitely one or the other.”
A non-disclosure agreement prevents him going into too much detail, but Altman is hugely positive about Mr. West.
“Kanye’s so involved," he reveals. "It went on for a little longer than it should have, but I think every time feedback was received, it just made the video better and better. As long as an artist is doing that, you respect their opinion. I certainly did. I’d never known that side of Kanye before and I really thought, ‘These are great decisions that he’s making’. And Nick Knight too, obviously.”
And, years on from that school competition win, another example of balaclavas in his work. “Ha! I can’t take any of the credit for that! It’s all Nick Knight and Kanye! But yeah, it's a strong image.”
Fresh from his success with Hot Press in Shoot To Thrill, Scott is currently in talks to get representation, in the UK and Ireland, as a director. Altman now wants to be the one calling the shots.
“I have so many ideas, so much vision and experience. It’s got to be that way and it’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s a long, long road, but I think I'm on the right track."
Shoot To Thrill, a celebration of the power of cinema advertising, was run by Hot Press, in conjunction with Wide Eye Media (formerly Carlton Screen Advertising). Ads by the winners, Scott Altman and Matthieu Chardon, have been shown on screens all over Ireland. The competition was also supported by Windmill Lane Studios, Ardmore Studios and the Galway Film Fleadh.