Exhibitionists·In Residence

It took 3 years and 30 animators to make this tribute to 'Take on Me'

On this week's Exhibitionists, we don't have one featured artist — we have 30. Andrew Huang collaborated with animators around the world for his latest project.

For Toronto musician Andrew Huang, it's a collaboration that could only happen on YouTube

Andrew Huang's "A-ha" moment. A scene from the Toronto YouTube star's music video, "Every Night I Dream of Dancing," which will appear on this week's episode of Exhibitionists. (YouTube/Andrew Huang)

On this week's episode of Exhibitionists, we don't have one featured artist — we have 30.

They're from Vancouver and Australia and Ireland and places all over the world, and in 2013, this group of animators answered a call-out from YouTube personality Andrew Huang.

The way that I went about this project, and the way I go about a lot of my videos, is very tailored to YouTube.- Andrew Huang

Huang's a Toronto-based musician, and since 2011 the 32-year-old has devoted himself to YouTube. He cranks out two videos a week with the help of his wife and brother-in-law, Essa and Phil Bowser, and while they could be just about anything — vlogs, how-to's, etc. — the main attraction is his music, especially cover songs played on odd (but oddly appropriate) objects.

Think "Hotline Bling" played on telephones, "99 Red Balloons" played on red balloons — and, most recently, Bruno Mars's "24 Karats" played on 24 actual carrots.

"Every Night I Dream of Dancing," the video we're airing on Sunday, is a little different, and not just because it fails to feature a single vegetable-based slide whistle.

The song is one of Huang's originals, written for an '80s-inspired album he self-released in 2012. "It's definitely a whole other type of video for me," Huang, a member of CBC's Creator Network, told CBC Arts.

For one thing, the piece is animated — a nod to that totally '80s classic, A-Ha's "Take on Me." Huang reached out to his followers on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, searching for fans who'd be into rotoscoping a few frames of a video he'd shot for the track.

"I got a huge amount of response," he says, "probably 70 or 80 people that I whittled down to about 30."

But wrangling 30 volunteer animators — and then tracing a music video frame by painstaking frame — takes time. Three years, in this case.

When the video premiered on YouTube last week, it was the first time any of the artists would have seen the completed piece. Some would have waited months, if not years, Huang notes. "I'm sure that must be a weird experience creatively."

For his part, he was constantly "blown away" by the artwork that kept arriving in his inbox.

Anything that used watercolours, he loved — like a dance interlude animated by Maria Leung, an illustrator from California. "I thought that was a beautiful moment, and probably the one that stands out to me the most."

Volunteers chose how much, or how little, of the project they wanted to take on.

Jessica Luo's sequence, for instance, is only a few seconds — but to Huang, "it's different from anybody else — a little cubist maybe."

Charles Gateau, an animator from France, rotoscoped the majority of the video's 3,221 frames. This moment, a surreal makeover montage in two seconds, is one of Huang's favourites.

The video has more than 53,000 views as of writing, and while it'll air on Exhibitionists Sunday, it was only ever intended to appear on YouTube.

"The way that I went about this project, and the way I go about a lot of my videos is very tailored to YouTube," says Huang. The crowd-sourcing element, for example — that's something that's just a given. "I was very up front at the beginning about not really having a budget, and it being a project coming out of the YouTube community," he says. "I think for a lot of people involved in YouTube, it's a community first before it's a platform, or before it's social media."

"I used to prefer to put my music out there and just let it speak for itself, but what I've found is when I do a little bit of vlogging at the beginning of a video and I talk about my process or I share why I'm excited about releasing something, that creates a much stronger connection with the YouTube audience. Those videos actually perform better than when I just put out the music video — even a beautiful music video that I might prefer to have stand on its own."

Watch "Every Night I Dream of Dancing" below:

See more from Andrew Huang on YouTube and on the new episode of Exhibitionists. Watch online or Sunday at 4:30 (5 p.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Want to see your creations on CBC Arts? Just send us an e-mail! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.