Esben and the Witch – When That Head Splits Music Video (Interview w/ Band & Director Rafael Bonilla)

Inspired by Salvador Dali’s painting and poem, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Matador Records’s Esben and the Witch have teamed up with prolific director Rafael Bonilla to create a colorful claymation world that’s sinister, playful, and chock full of inventive characters. In this comparative interview, both parties speak to the collaborative process.

Esben and the Witch – “When That Head Splits” Music Video

How collaborative was this process? How much of an exchange of ideas was there between the artist and the musicians?

Rafael Bonilla (Director):
When the band first contacted me, they had a story in mind about a girl traveling through a strange landscape that becomes increasingly sinister as time goes by. The song was influenced by a Dali painting/poem, The Metamorphosis Of Narcissus, which they also sent me. I used those ideas to come up with a story, a cast of characters and the imaginary world they inhabit.
Thomas Fisher (Esben and the Witch):
There was a swift exchange of ideas; to begin with, we gave Ralph some background about the track and its lyrics, as well as some loose ideas we had already had for a video. Ralph responded with his own thoughts, and it was clear to us that he understood where we were coming from. From that point on, we felt comfortable letting Ralph and his imagination run wild.


Salvador Dali – The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937)

in his immobility,
absorbed by his reflection with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,
becomes invisible.
There remains of him only the hallucinatingly white oval of his head,
his head again more tender,
his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs,
his head held up by the tips of the water’s fingers,
at the tips of the fingers
of the insensate hand,
of the terrible hand,
of the mortal hand
of his own reflection.
When that head slits
when that head splits
when that head bursts,
it will be the flower,
the new Narcissus,
Gala – my Narcissus


Can you talk a bit about the narrative and how that first came to form? Are there any overlapping themes between the song or record and the music video?

Rafael Bonilla (Director):
Some of the symbols from the Dali painting that helped inspire the song appear in the video. There’s a lot of great imagery in the song’s lyrics that I used as well. The line that influenced me the most was “When she grows numb/ Set by the sun/ She will become/ Part of the kingdom.” I thought I could make the story about a girl that travels through a strange kingdom and it transforms her until she literally becomes a part of it, or it becomes a part of her.
Thomas Fisher (Esben and the Witch):
There is considerable overlap between the two. It is important to us that any video reflects and complements the music itself; we are not great fans of randomly attaching videos to tracks. The narrative comes loosely from the lyrics of the song which in turn were inspired by the Salvador Dali poem… We wanted the video to capture the surreal imagery and vivid colours of the painting as well.


The animation features over 9,000 hand-animated frames; how long did this music video take to complete? What were some of the programs and tools used?

Rafael Bonilla (Director):
It took around 2.5 months to complete. I used Dragonframe to capture the frames and Adobe After Effects for the compositing. The band was very set on making the entire video stop-motion, so I only used minimal digital effects. I used Corel Painter for some of the background paintings.

The characters are all made of plasticine. Some of them have wire armatures and some don’t. I tried to make all the characters unique and interesting while still making it seem like they could all live in the same world. The final video has something like 40 different characters.

Thomas Fisher (Esben and the Witch):
I will have to leave this one to Ralph to answer. I would just add that considering the intricacy and wonderful detail that he achieved it seemed to take him no time at all.


What were some of the challenges you faced in the creative process?

Rafael Bonilla (Director):
I like working with clay, but I think that sometimes it can come off as “cutesy” which is not something that me or the band wanted. One of the toughest challenges was striking the right balance between fantasy and horror.

Stop-motion is obviously also very labor intensive, not only the actual shooting but also creating all of the assets themselves. It’s not that easy to sew tiny clothes!

Thomas Fisher (Esben and the Witch):
For us, the only challenge was the distance between us and that we are based on different continents. As Ralph’s vision was so closely in line with our own from the very beginning, this never became troublesome.


Using a stream-of-consciousness method of writing, could you write a couple sentences describing the video and/or how it makes you feel?

Rafael Bonilla (Director):
You start your journey as a stranger in a strange land. The further you travel the more you lose yourself, the more you realize that your existence as an individual is an illusion. You aren’t a visitor to the strange land, you are the strange land, it’s inside of you.
Thomas Fisher (Esben and the Witch):
A girl journeys through a strange technicolour world populated by a bizarre and mysterious band of creatures. The landscape itself is alive and she gradually starts to become incorporated into it, becoming part of the kingdom. It starts as exotic, intriguing and beautiful, gradually, though, a more threatening presence grows beneath.



Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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