Much of Tool's widespread success comes from the intra-sensory unity of their aesthetic. As a band, they've made great music, but their album art, concert projections, and music videos have been integral to their ongoing popularity. Guitarist Adam Jones does essential work not only as a musician but as the art director of the band. He created most of Tool's disturbing and iconic music videos that helped launch them into the mainstream.
The pitch-dark stop motion videos were certainly a large part of what drew me to the band. The video for the 1993 single "Sober" blew me away the first time I saw it. Nearly 20 years after its release, the "Sober" video remains remarkably popular, having racked up over ten million views on YouTube. Its eerie, atmospheric stop motion animation set it apart from other band-centered videos at the time.
The animation style contributes as much to the video's tone as its content. You get the sensation of watching inanimate objects coming to life, moving of their own accord. After all, you're looking at real objects lit by real light. No other filmmaking tool, not even CGI, can match the tangibility of stop motion. It's a technique I associate with certain films from my childhood, which makes its use in "Sober" all the more disconcerting.
But Adam Jones wasn't the first to realize that stop motion was an inherently disturbing method of animation that could be employed to great effect. He drew heavily from the work of the Brothers Quay for the aesthetic of the Tool videos.
Stephen and Timothy Quay, identical twin brothers from Pennsylvania, have been making animated films together since 1979. Their most famous short, Street of Crocodiles, was released in 1986. Much of the Brothers' work features distressed, distorted human figures assembled from old doll parts and other found objects. A haunting tone permeates their filmography.
Jones's borrowing of the Brothers' style for his own video is one of many examples where the replica becomes more famous than the original. With "Sober," he brought an existing short film aesthetic into mainstream culture. I don't believe Jones ever publicly acknowledged the influence of the Brothers Quay on his own work, which is unfortunate, especially given that the twins were making music videos themselves around the same time. As far as I know, the Brothers never took issue with the imitative videos, although Kurt Cobain personally stated that Tool should have been sued for them.
While I do wish more credit were given where due, the "Sober" and "Schism" videos are excellent in their own right and a perfect complement to Tool's music. They've aged better than most videos produced during the early '90s. Watching them now is a great way to revisit some of Tool's best songs.