Billie Eilish and her avatar share the spotlight in a film on Disney+ that blends concert footage with animation.
The platinum-selling artist performs her entire second album, Happier Than Ever, in sequence, at the Hollywood Bowl, sans audience. Meanwhile, her animated alter ego takes viewers on a dreamy tour of Los Angeles, which is Eilish's hometown.
This trailer previews the hour-long odyssey:
Interscope Films and Darkroom Productions developed "Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles" with Nexus Studios, ALPWW and directors Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne (the latter an Oscar-winning animator, who turned a middle school play into an animated short during Covid).
Some reviewers note stylistic similarities between "Love Letter" and Rodriguez's 2005 live-action flick Sin City. Fair enough, in terms of the moody, fast-shifting visual dynamics, as both contrast darks and lights to dramatic effect. But Sin City offered a thrill ride, while Eilish's film plays like an ethereal night-drive guided by her musical sensibilities. Here, the singer's audio palette holds sway, with soulful crescendos, chunky power chords and bluesy breaks informing the imagery.
"The concept came from Billie," Osborne tells Muse, with Eilish suggesting her avatar appear between songs. The approach feels attuned to the Grammy winner's brand, almost an evolution of her innovative marketing excursions for the likes of Apple and Adobe. In fact, it continues a tradition of pop acts combining live footage with animated sequences that dates back at least to Led Zeppelin's 1976 feature The Song Remains the Same.
"The show was filmed over seven nights," Osborne recalls. "There was no audience at all, which was cool, because it meant we could use all sorts of camera equipment and not worry about blocking someone's view."
The team employed an array of drones, cranes and dollys, achieving panoramic coverage that lets viewers absorb the concert from every conceivable angle.
"We endeavored to make the transitions from animated moments to show moments as interesting as possible," Osborne says. "Billie's lighting designer Tony uses these really cool lasers throughout the show, and we discovered that when we pointed them into the seating area and moved them around, they looked a little like traffic in the streets of Hollywood."
That technique yields a glittery/magical vibe when Eilish launches into "My Future." Also notable: the performance of "Oxytocin," with choppy lasers mimicking a fast escape down a sparkling street. (Of course, everyone drives everywhere in L.A., so it's only natural that cars anchor the narrative. And Billie's connection to one particular nameplate is well documented.)
You can check out some "Love Letter" highlights below:
"One of the coolest things about the show is the inclusion of the pool in front of the stage," Osborne says. "For those who aren't aware, the pool was a feature at the Bowl up to the 1970s, but for the last 40 years it has been used as a seating area, and not filled. We were thrilled to fill the pool."
He adds: "The funny thing is, I've heard at least 10 people claim it was their idea. For the record, it was my idea (wink). Regardless of whose idea it was, I think it's one of the most beautiful pieces of the design in the show. Billie was going for classic, timeless Hollywood. There's nothing more timeless than seeing the Bowl's iconic arch reflected in that pool."
Last year, at the height of Covid lockdowns, several directors created deeply personal tributes to L.A., with this poetic journey from Biscuit Filmworks' Noam Murrow sharing some themes with Eilish's film.