Saturnz Barz is the first official single from the Gorillaz off their 2017 album Humanz. With this they released two music videos. One is a traditional, 16:9 animation. The other is a VR video. With over 11 million views on the VR video, it ranks as one of the most watched VR music videos on YouTube. Both the traditional and VR videos tell the same narrative of the band visiting a ghost house. The adaptation of the traditional video into a VR context is an interesting one and there are a few things they did well, and some that were done poorly.
During the first half of the intro to the music video, the audience is placed within a train car with the traditional Saturnz Barz music video playing on a phone in front of them. This scene helps to establish where center is for the audience so that they have enough time to orient themselves before the important part of the video begins. After this the audience is placed within the ghost house with the band as they explore. In the traditional video, there are plenty of transitions during this section where the camera moves to pull the characters into frame.
In the VR video, however, the character’s location is centered in the shot, allowing the user to immediately find them. In the traditional video there is this transition when the music begins where Noodle places a record on a turntable, it and the camera spin around, and become a cake that 2D is looking to eat.
Thankfully, this spinning transition was cut from the VR video and replaced with the record flashing and becoming the cake. Throughout the video, there is a lot of interesting movement of the characters that forces the audience to follow them around. In the penultimate scene, the audience follows the character Murdoc around as they orbit Saturn and float around the audience. In the final scene of the VR video, the audience is immediately cut into the same setting as the intro. This allows the audience to re-orient themselves to center when the penultimate scene ends with the audience facing to their right.
This video is not perfect however. Aside from simulating the direction that the camera is pointing in the traditional video, there isn’t much reason to look around in this video. Some of the scenes orbiting Saturn have something happening on the opposite side from the focal point, but they’re not that important. A fair amount of the scenes have the audience looking to their side about 90 degrees, which can be uncomfortable. The orbiting Saturn scenes can be incredibly disorienting. There’s a whole lot of movement in these scenes and a whole lot of movement the audience themselves would take part in to follow the characters. One of the Saturn scenes has the character Murdoc fly all the way behind and around the audience which can force them to whip their head around to see where he actually went if they are seated. These issues of movement come from a lot of the scenes having the same blocking as the scenes in the traditional video. Murdoc makes the same movement in the traditional video.
Through it all, this is still an extremely well thought out video. The attention to detail on what can make an appropriate transition for the audience between scenes is incredibly impressive. While there are issues, most of the issues present in the video couldn’t be resolved without completely overhauling the animation by recreating the scenes from the ground up. Maybe they wanted the Saturn scenes to be disorienting. It has a very strange effect and Gorillaz isn’t known for attempting to be normal.