Queen have produced some of the most iconic and memorable promotional videos in music. Their video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” is thought to have kickstarted the popularity of artists creating music videos but that’s a fact that is often stated and averts attention to many of Queen’s other videos. So, I thought it would be nice to look at some of the more complicated and technical videos in the Queen canon: those that use animation in them.
Queen's first video to feature animation was “Save Me”, released as a single in January 1980. This is a power ballad written by Brian which was recorded in the Summer of 1979. It was a mainstay on the Crazy Tour of Winter ‘79 so it was one of the few songs that the band would play live before being released. It was at two of the venues on the tour where the video was shot; the Rainbow Theatre and Alexandra Palace both in London. Keith “Keef” MacMillan directed the video which became one of the first ever to mix live-action and animation.
A couple of years ago, Brian talked about the morals the band followed by this point: “[We] reached a kind of conscientious and a way of working which says that whoever wrote the track generally gets to kind of oversee the video [and] supervise how the video turns out.” In the Brian and Roger commentary option for Greatest Video Hits release in 2002, Brian said: “This one [“Save Me”] I had a lot to do with. It was very seldom that my songs became singles, so I was sort of leaping at the chance!"
Brian talked about the video for “Save Me” in depth for an MTV Music special called Brian May: Queen & Beyond first broadcast in December 2021: “I had this idea that I would make Freddie transform and in those days you didn’t have an awful lot of technological options. What we did was we used a thing called a rotoscope where a picture was projected on a piece of paper and a guy draws picture after picture after picture which is [then] put together in the video frame by frame to make it look like it’s moving. And we made Freddie turn into a bird.” This is arguably the most memorable part of the video but ultimately was one of the lengthy and challenging parts of the shoot, getting Freddie to almost catch the bird took at least a dozen times.
Instead of all the band footage being entirely shot during soundchecks, it's suggested that at least the opening shot of the video with Freddie singing was filmed during the actual concert at Alexandra Place on 22 December 1979 as camera flashes and the positioning of him matches some amateurish footage shot by an audience member during the gig.
The production of “Save Me” was the first time that Peter Freestone (Freddie’s personal assistant until the singer’s death) worked on a Queen shoot. His memories of working on this film was to provide “a drink and a hairbrush” for Freddie!
Roger recalled an incident that happened during the shoot when talking about the video for Greatest Video Hits in 2002: “[The director, Keith] fell into the orchestra pit. I think it’s the one that Frank Zappa fell into. He hurt himself quite badly actually. I think it’s about nine feet down or something. There he was and then suddenly he wasn’t, he just stepped back into it.” Peter remembered this too: “Everybody panicked for a few minutes, but then he stuck his head up ‘Oh, I’m alright.’” Unfortunately, mishaps weren't unheard of on Queen sets, whilst filming the video for “Tie Your Mother Down” in February 1977, too much explosive charge in a bucket on Roger’s riser caused the drummer to be blown off his drum stool and off the stage! Luckily, Roger escaped unharmed and the colossal on-stage explosion which starts the performance looks epic!
One final trivial fact to say about “Save Me” is that it was the last video to feature Freddie without his moustache until the hilarious ballet sequence in the video for “I Want to Break Free” in 1984.
A Kind Of Magic
The next video to use animation is one of Queen’s most famous songs and has one of their best-known videos accompanying it. “A Kind of Magic” was released as a single in March 1986 and the song was a huge success all over Europe. In America, Capitol Records (the band’s American record label) wanted a different single. They ultimately chose “Princes of the Universe” instead as their market research suggested heavy rock sold better than pop-rock. So, the band let the record companies release both songs as singles which meant Queen made a promo video for both tracks with Russell Mulcahy directing them. (Russell was the Highlander director, the film to which Queen was contributing tracks at the time.) They filmed “A Kind of Magic” first in March 1986 due to the complicated and timely animated sections planned on being added.
The Playhouse Theatre in Charing Cross, London was the venue chosen to film in which at the time was disused (the BBC stopped using the theatre as a recording facility in 1976). Brian recalled the venue in 2003 for the commentary section on Greatest Video Hits 2: “At that time, it was pretty much derelict, it wasn’t in use, and I think there was a question mark over its future. So, it was the perfect time for us to go in and make it look even more derelict!” Unfortunately, for the band and crew, the venue lacked central heating and was very cold. With the Playhouse Theatre being in central London (and surrounded by other buildings), the exterior shots (seen at the start and end of the video) used a matte painting to simulate it's an isolated building.
The concept of the video is Freddie as a magician who turns three stereotypical tramps (Brian, Roger, and John) into Queen, and all four of them perform the song on a stage with their instruments. Brian talked more about the video in the commentary: “We all thought it was a neat idea for Freddie to be a wizard and for us to be the guys he transforms from tramps into glamorous rock stars.” Roger added: “I remember discussing it with Russell Mulcahy in the Groucho Club and just saying how we want strange little things to happen. I remember saying that I wanted gargoyles winking and things like that and having this magic stuff flying all over the place. I think it worked nicely; it’s unpretentious.”
In addition to Freddie’s magical powers, the computer animation produced by The Walt Disney Company brings to life the characters from the cover of the A Kind of Magic album (designed by animation artist Roger Chiasson) and three backing singers who unify with Freddie during some of the song’s harmonies.
Queen did another first with the “A Kind of Magic” video, it was released as a VHS video single in October 1986 along with the video for “Who Wants to Live Forever”.
One final trivial fact to say about “A Kind of Magic” is that Brian did not use his famous Red Special guitar in the video but a 1984 copy made by the Guild Guitar Company.
The Invisible Man
The Miracle released in 1989 has some of the best music videos accompanying any Queen album and “The Invisible Man” is no exception. It's the only video on the album to use animation but also the only Queen video to ever be nominated for ‘Best Video’ at the Brit Awards. (The video that ultimately won the accolade at the 1990 Brit Awards was “Lullaby” by The Cure.) The video was directed by The Torpedo Twins and filmed at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. Brian and Roger both spoke highly of the video on Greatest Video Hits 2 in 2003: “I think this is one of our better efforts,” Brian also said it had “lots of innovation and some very clever effects”. Roger himself thought that video was “very ahead of its time at the time and I think it goes very well with the song”.
The story of the video is of a typical British household; a mother, father, teenage daughter, and a young son who is playing a computer game called The Invisible Man which contains the band. As the video progresses, the characters in the game come to life and the boy keeps trying to shoot Freddie with his video controller who keeps appearing around the bedroom but keeps vanishing before the boy can! Eventually, the whole band appears in the bedroom after jumping out of the closet. “It’s great playing in the kid’s bedroom,” felt Roger “I love the idea.”
To make the video, Brian recalled: “We used a motion control camera which is basically a camera which can be controlled by a computer to make the same moves every time. And that was used to create some of the effects [including] where you see multiple images of me playing the guitar for instance. Those things have moved on quite a bit since but in the days this was made it was pretty much cutting edge.”
The video was shot on Roger’s 40th birthday (26 July 1989) so halfway through the filming, a huge cake was wheeled onto the set halfway through filming and a plentiful amount of champagne certainly made the shoot more enjoyable.
In the video, Freddie wore a pair of green sunglasses which Roger can remember the singer wearing on more than one occasion: “Freddie wore them to my 40th birthday party. It frightened the life out of the guests!” This infamous party took place two days later after “The Invisible Man” film shoot. (Roger’s 40th birthday party was the one in which he hired four powerful ‘searchlight’ spotlights to scan the sky over his Surrey estate. He managed to grant permission from the British Aviation Authority to ensure that aircraft didn’t think they were landing lights! But those lights caused chaos for people living within a 25 mile radius of his house as they confused people into thinking there were UFOs due to the low cloud of the night reflecting the lights!)
“The Invisible Man” later won the ‘Best Special Effects Award’ at the Diamond Awards held in Antwerp in November 1989.
One final trivial fact about the video is (if you haven’t already realised), future Eastenders actress Danniella Westbrook plays the teenage daughter in the video.
This next video is one of the most clever in the Queen spectrum (but one of the few to ever be produced in Freddie’s lifetime that doesn't feature any of the band); “Innuendo”. This is the longest Queen single ever and was released in January 1991. The song became an instant hit reaching number one in the UK in its first week largely helped by its video receiving heavy rotation including on MTV Europe. The Torpedo Twins and Disney animator Jerry Hibbert took charge of the video production and they used animation (rotoscoping is used once again) and claymotion to produce a visual tool to promote “Innuendo”.
The band only appears as illustrations drawn in the styles of different artists based on previous imagery of the band in videos (including those from The Miracle album). Freddie was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, Brian in the style of old Victorian etchings, Roger in the style of Jackson Pollock and John in the style of Pablo Picasso. All four members are brought to life and are displayed on a large screen in a detailed miniature cinema set that has dolls sitting in the theatre. The other style of animation used in the video, stop motion, was used to bring the grotesque-looking characters made from clay models to life. The flamenco guitar solo uses stop-motion animation done by Klaybow Films which shows jesters dancing.
The video also featured animated recreations of drawings from French illustrator Grandville who inspired the cover art for the Innuendo album and the song’s single cover. Additionally, stock footage from World War II and the Gulf War was also used and mixed in. An alternative version was later produced featuring folk dancing instead of footage from the wars due to the Allied Forces being engaged in the Gulf War.
“Innuendo” ended up winning accolades including a Gold Camera award at the prestigious American Film and Video Festival, and the production company DoRo Productions (founded by The Torpedo Twins) won a Monitor Award for Best Achievement in Music Video.*
These Are The Days Of Our Lives (US Version)*
The last video with animation is a rare alternative version of one that is incredibly well-known. "These Are the Days of Our Lives” features the very last video appearance of Freddie filmed on 30 May 1991 in Limestone Studios, Canary Wharf, East London and the Torpedo Twins were once again directing the video. Hollywood Records requested the song to be the next single so it was decided to film a video to promote the single. At the time, Brian was undertaking a lengthy promotional tour for the Innuendo album in America so his contributions were filmed later and added in the video carefully to make it appear all four members were performing together.
As Freddie had not publicly revealed his illness, rumours were rife about his condition so the decision was made to film in black and white. Freddie appeared gaunt, his clothes (including a waistcoat with pictures of cats made by Queen costume designer Diana Moseley) seemed loose on him and a lesion on the ball of his foot made it almost impossible for him to walk. Despite his ailing condition, he requested one more take for the last lyrics of the song. With his farewell look at the camera, as the song ends, he whispers “I still love you” directed to his fans, which are his last words on camera. Director Rudi Dolezal commented: “In these last few seconds of that song, he gives us a résumé of his whole life: 'I was a big superstar, but don't take it too seriously.' And then, 'I still love you,' which is to the fans. Then he walks out of life. Even in his last moments, he planned his exit artistically. That's how he wanted it to be.”
The Torpedo Twins’ edited piece was sent to the Walt Disney Animation Studios who added animation which is reminiscent of the rotoscope sequences in the “Save Me” video. (Queen’s North American record label, Hollywood Records, is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.) The animation is essentially a loose visual representation of the lyrics; two teenagers meet, fall in love, and are parted as time goes by. The male sits back on his chair and is whisked off on a rollercoaster ride through his memories. This was intercut with tinted shots of the band from the standard Torpedo Twins’ piece.
The single was released in the United States on Freddie’s birthday, 5 September 1991 where it didn’t chart. This meant the animated Disney version was rarely seen as the band chose to use the original Torpedo Twins’ version to promote “These Are the Days of Our Lives” when it was released as a double A-side single alongside “Bohemian Rhapsody” following Freddie’s death in 1991. The Disney version aired once on British TV in November 2001 when Top of the Pops 2 chose the video to mark the tenth anniversary of Freddie’s death.
*(This version of the video is currently not officially available on You Tube)
So, there we have it. Those are the five music videos Queen made during Freddie’s lifetime which have animation in them. Computer animation is now much simpler and better due to technological advancements but nonetheless, Queen were often ahead of the time with their videos, not just their music. Queen certainly deserves recognition for not just being the band that kickstarted the music video industry but also for being incredibly innovative and making some of the most iconic videos ever produced.