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Down Home Dispensary

Schoolhouse Rock Meets AI: Crafting a New Kind of Lyric Video

Recently, Mechanism Digital in NYC collaborated with Vector Management to produce a lyric video for the Grammy nominated country artist Molly Tuttle, titled “Down Home Dispensary”. In this project, Mechanism Digital embraced Generative Artificial Intelligence, to elevate production value within the limited schedule and budget. The song humorously discusses the merits of legalizing marijuana in Tennessee, and the band wanted a 3-minute music video reminiscent of the 1970s' Schoolhouse Rock animated educational cartoons.  

The band’s fun t-shirt illustrations were an inspiration for the characters, then the next step was to develop storyboards and background images to support each phrase of the song's lyrics. Recognizing the impossibility of producing three minutes of hand-drawn animation within our timeframe, our talented artists turned to using AI assisted tools to amplify the vision.  

We studied visuals from Schoolhouse Rock and trained GenAI software to replicate the School House Rock style for each new environment. Then using a ChatGPT a large language model, we uploaded the song’s lyrics, which were then automatically segmented and translated into visual ideas fitting each section of the song. The upside to AI is the number of concepts which can be produced in a short time. The downside of AI is that it doesn't understand which ideas are on target for the concept, which is where experienced artists were necessary to guide AI to yield our final 15 scene concepts.

For each of these 15 scene descriptions, we then employed Stable Diffusion, generative AI image software. Our team input, then iterated each prompt dozens of times, editing descriptive text prompts to generate hundreds of images from which we only picked a small percentage for the video. These chosen images were refined in Photoshop to honor the Schoolhouse Rock style. Final scenes included picturesque Southern landscapes or rolling hills, small towns, tobacco fields reflecting the South’s history, and a whimsically designed “Down Home Dispensary” building. Additional scenes featured politicians, voters, and illustrations of economic growth, as well as cannabis plants and products showcasing the medical benefits. Concept descriptions of the Tennessee Capitol Hill building exterior, and interior were also included. These selects were used by our editor to to produce the animatic – a storyboard set to music using still frames – and presented it to Molly Tuttle for approval of the overall concept.  

For animating the band members, we used Adobe's Character Animator, which captured the motion of animators playing "air" instruments in real-time via camera, which was then applied to each 2D character. Val Iancu, our main artist on this project, acted out each character’s movements including the “Joint” character. For lip-sync, AI tools separated vocals from instruments, which triggered mouth movements in After Effects.  

We used traditional animation for camera pans, zooms, and synchronized all elements with the song's lyrics. The final product showcased the surprising amount of animation we can achieve in a short time. This project was an exciting exploration of AI tools, allowing our artists to focus on the creative aspects while the computer handled more laborious tasks.

Check out the video.

Originally published: 12/21/2023

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