California Gurls

California Gurls

Mirada, Los Angeles, 2010


Project brief: In the music video for “California Gurls,” a team of artists create a confectionary California dream world. Katy Perry stars as a heroine who playfully duels against Snoop Dogg, rescues the “Queens of Candyfornia,” and ultimately overthrows the “Sugar Daddy” by giving him a taste of his own sweet medicine.

Approach: The video follows Katy on a journey through the Candyfornia board game, controlled by Snoop Dogg, the ultimate “Sugar Daddy.” A cupcake-suited Snoop rolls the dice to move Katy through the game. Along the way, she dodges an unwelcoming gummy-bear army, can’t keep her hands off an angry (yet tasty) gingerbread man and overcomes a series of dessert-centric obstacles. Katy carefully crosses a licorice tightrope high above a chocolate river, outwits sweet slithering snakes to ascend a peppermint stick, then reclines on a heavenly bed of cotton-candy clouds high above.

As she hops along the game board, passing familiar Southern California landmarks like the famous Hollywood sign and historical Capitol Records building, she finds girls, possibly the Sugar Daddy’s former game pieces, trapped inside candy “prisons.” After rescuing and befriending the girls one by one, Katy and her crew come face-to-face with the Sugar Daddy himself, backed by his super-charged gummy-bear army. It’s the ultimate sugar showdown. With all the courage and strength acquired through her skillful game play, Katy easily defeats the army with her sexy whipped-cream coup de grâce. Snoop happily surrenders and a fun beach party ensues in front of a pristine sun-drenched West Coast backdrop. Snoop has definitely met a woman worthy of his candy-coated throne.

The studio partnered with painter Will Cotton as artistic director, whose artwork portrays dreamlike visual sensibilities of excess and indulgence, often featuring pinup-style models in iconic and hyper-real candy-inspired landscapes. His sensual paintings are commentaries on the subject of desire. He states, “I’m delighted that my paintings are the inspiration for this video. My work is about creating a utopia where all desire is fulfilled all the time, but where pleasure and delight can turn dark and dystopic. Katy embodies the archetypes that I look for in a subject. It was thrilling to work with her and to see her inhabit my landscapes.”

The music video for the song of the summer was shot in Los Angeles over a two-day span. The overall production, from start to finish, lasted from May through mid-June 2010. The performance was shot against green screen on stage with some practical set-lets as partial backdrops. Visual effects supervisor states, “Keeping the authenticity of Will Cotton’s work was our most important goal in creating this world. The scope of the visual-effects work was very ambitious but thanks to a remarkable roster of artists, I’m very proud of the quality we achieved.” The matte-painting team designed 20 custom environments. In total, the team created 165 VFX shots, many of which involved seamlessly integrating CG matte-painting backgrounds and environments, as well as 33 3-D shots, including evil gummy bears, peppermint snakes, a gingerbread man, melting popsicle, bubbling hot-chocolate ponds, sugar-cube dice and a girl trapped in a Jell-O square. Software for the project included Maya, Zbrush, Synthese, Houdini, RealFlow, Nuke and Flame.

Effectiveness: Just as popular as the track (“California Gurls” is the fastest-rising single released by a Capitol Records artist in more than 40 years), the music video became one of the most-spoofed videos on the web, and Perry’s sugary outfits and bright wigs were the number-one Halloween costume of 2010. With everyone expecting a beach-party video, the metaphor for the indulgent California lifestyle came as a refreshing and smart surprise.

Juror Notes

Extremely effective in that people are taking it and making it their own. Metrics are interesting: one of the most-spoofed videos on the web and inspired the number-one Halloween costume of 2010. High production values. Partnering with fine artists.

Beautifully executed. Fun color palette.

Collections: AIGA 365: Design Effectiveness (2011)
Repository: Denver Art Museum
Discipline: Design for entertaining
Format: Animation, Video