The contest held by the MTV channel once a year is chopped into over 20 categories, with some of them awarded by regular folks. However, there are non-votable professional categories in the MTV VMA contest to reward those who stand behind famous videos — directors, editors, choreographers, and VFX studios. One of the prestigious nominations is exactly that granted for the best visual effects. We enjoy them a lot but often know nothing about their creators.
MTV Video Music Award for Best Visual Effects - Past 11 Years
Technology standing behind VFX evolves all the time. A song might go viral overnight because of a bold video. The popularity is powered by a creative approach to visualization and the introduction of fresh breath-taking visual effects.
But let’s look at VMA winners of the last 11 years in more detail.
2011 | Katy Perry (featuring Kanye West) - "E.T."
This electronic and hip-hop ballade tells a story of the fascination with an extra-terrestrial creature, an alien. The futuristic atmosphere is created right off the bat with the help of kabuki make-up. The visual effects used to create cosmic landscapes and Perry’s transformation from a humanoid into a human being cast a spell on a viewer and won the VMA statue to the video directed by Floria Sigismondi.
Perry’s movements while she travels in outer space to land on post-apocalyptic Earth look hypnotic. The effect is multiplied by disturbing shots of wild nature hunting scenes. The story ends with a revised-sex Sleeping beauty scene. Perry kisses the broken robot and turns him into a naked man.
2012 | Skrillex - "First of the Year (Equinox)"
The video looks realistic at the beginning, with no visual effects in sight. A pedophile follows an innocent-looking girl whom he plans to turn into his first victim of the year. But the girl happens to have magic powers and starts torturing him by lifting him in the air and throwing him against the floor. The guy flies, his clothes flutter – this is when the effects talk for themselves. The way his body moves while he is being tortured is breath-taking.
The video was produced by the French company HK Corp and directed by Tony Truand.
2013 | Capital Cities - "Safe and Sound"
The Safe and Sound video plays with a combination of the dances of different eras, from the swinging music of the 1940s to hip-hop of the 1990s. Black and white footage is mixed with colored ones to create a retro effect and contrast it with modernity.
The life-affirming song became the indie-pop duo Capital Cities’ breakout hit. The video directed by Grady Hall is set in the Los Angeles Theatre. The duo emerges from a picture on the wall while we are presented with episodes from different periods in the theatre’s history. The creative approach to the scenery blended with the modern technology made it won the MTV VMA while being nominated for a Grammy as well.
2014 | OK Go - "The Writing's on the Wall"
The visualization of this soft and melancholic song is centered around moving multi-colored graphic objects and inscriptions. The video is shot in a single take like Dogma films. The members of the band move between different stations combined with everyday objects. A lot of preparation and rehearsals were done to shoot the video, but no special postproduction effects were applied after shooting.
The optical illusions increase the impression of the things falling apart and illustrate the banality and the pain of disintegrating relationships. The video is a perfect illustration of the text: things can be seen differently by different people — it is sad, but it is OK.
2015 | Skrillex and Diplo (feat. Justin Bieber) - "Where Are U Now"
Justin Bieber’s piano ballad was transformed by electronic musicians Skrillex and Diplo into an EDM hit, which boasts numerous accolades apart from MTV VMAs and was rated extremely high in the year’s charts.
The video’s director Max Colt (CEO of FRENDER and contributor to 4 projects out of 5 in the category) came up with the idea of superpositioning graffiti-style sketches over a video with the singer’s performance. A special event was held for fans to offer their drawings, and they produced about 500 sketches. The singer was used as an object, and fans could paint him the way they want.
2016 | Coldplay - "Up&Up"
The funny surrealistic visualization was directed by Vania Heyman and Gal Muggia. It addresses some current times issues and encourages a viewer to meditate on them and find their own associations and answers.
The video stands out for aligning different visual layers. A sequence of two boys walking with fishes floating above them makes a viewer wonder whether they are walking in the ocean or whether the fish fly in the sky. The band plays in various unexpected places like mountains, which support a gigantic figure of Chris Martin.
The VFX was created by GloriaFX and led by Max Colt, current CEO of FRENDER. While shortlisted for multiple video music awards, the clip has also won a prize in Cannes.
2017 | Kendrick Lamar - "HUMBLE."
The ironic and non-conformist clip features Lamar dressed as a pope and Jesus Christ re-enacting the scene of the Last Supper. Fast-changing visuals are packed with VFX. One moment Lamar rides a bike, and his figure is that big that one can see the whole globe behind him; on the other moment, his head is on fire. The script is rich in many allusions and hints.
Humble happened to become an eight-time nominee at 2017 MTV, grabbing six statues, including MTV Video Music Awards for best visual effects!
2018 | Kendrick Lamar and SZA - "All the Stars"
The video dwells on the African identity and the future of the nation with cultural allusions like ethnic costumes and accessories the dancers are wearing, all accompanied by fantastic local nature, fabrics, and patterns. Computer animation of the sea of hands gently rocking a boat with the singer is mesmerizing. In the final sequence, the stars shape themselves into the constellation of the Dark Continent in the night sky.
This piece of art was created by highly acclaimed music video and commercials director Dave Meyers, and it got to the list of the Golden Globe and the Oscars’ nominees.
2019 | Taylor Swift (feat. Brendon Urie) - "ME!"
A cheerful, bright, and ironic Taylor Swift’s song is a bold mix of Boris Vian’s Foam of the Days and umbrellas in Merry Poppins’ style. The video supports the strong message of individualism with focuses on hobbies and pets. Starting from a door opening to one of the main character’s heart and up to sweet clouds turning into cannibals, everything about the VFX is fun and laughter here. Apart from the MTV Music Awards, the video was also recognized as the best in Europe.
2020 | Dua Lipa - "Physical"
The video combines cartoon animation with a stage performance, inspired by the 1983 Flashdance movie and the music of the ‘80s in general. About 150 dancers were involved in the performance.
At the same time, the visuals are based on a logical diagram showing all possible connections and relationships between different objects. The dancers are wearing different colors respecting the diagram’s logic and have corresponding inscriptions on their t-shirts. The song's rhythm, rather than its text, defines the visual concept, which its director, Lope Serrano, likened to the track’s sexuality and represented with a sensual dance.
2021 | Lil Nas X
‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ not only took the award for best visual effects, but also was crowned as the Video of The Year. This music video generated a lot of buzz when it came out, both for its praises and criticism. And there is a lot to talk about, indeed.
The piece directed by Tanu Muino, an acclaimed Ukrainian director, was computer generated to absorb us into a fictional land of Montero — a place where Lil Nas X doesn’t have to hide and is free to unleash his most sacred and bold fantasies. He’s being seduced by a biblical serpent, falls from a heavenly garden right to his trial, pretty deliberately slides into Hell while pole dancing and replaces the Devil on his throne.
‘Montero’ is full of biblical symbols and references to significant events in pop-culture — so that even historians took time to analyze it and to decipher.