How do you release new music videos at a time when making them is dangerous? One art form has the answer to the industry’s quarantine woes: animation. For some artists who rushed to animated videos during Covid-19, avatars and CGI may prove a brief fad — but for Dreambear, a Brooklyn-based production company founded by Evan Brown, animation has always been a crucial yet underestimated part of the music-video universe.
Brown’s interest in animation is part passion — “I was always so fascinated with it” — and part pragmatism. For “a young company that isn’t getting the big budgets, animation gave us the ability to put the artist or narrative wherever we wanted to dream up,” he says. Since its founding in 2015, Dreambear has grown to incorporate plenty of live-action directors as well; the company has helmed recent videos for a genre-agnostic group of stars that includes Doja Cat, Katy Perry, Deftones, Kygo, Tinashe, Santana, and others.
Brown got his start in music and video by interviewing bands and shooting live performances in the Brooklyn indie scene. When his business partner left to focus on a band, Brown decided to change his approach. He was struck by the work of the animator Daniel Cordero, whose “ability to express a narrative in a short window instantly caught my eye,” and decided to do a cold reach out.
“We got on the phone and spoke for hours,” Brown recalls. “I’m like, ‘I really want to hustle and try to get you work. At the moment, I don’t know how to go about that. But I love your approach to animation.'”
Cordero was the first animator to join Dreambear. “At the time, not that many musicians were doing animation,” Cordero says. “From the label’s perspective, the first thought is often, ‘We want to see our artist in front of the camera,'” Brown explains. But where labels saw problems, Dreambear saw possibilities.
The production company’s breakthrough moment came from a bold bid on social media: The company tweeted at the rapper Talib Kweli, proposing a possible collaboration. Brown was not expecting a reply — at the time. “We maybe had five videos to our name,” he says. But Kweli responded within five minutes. Dreambear went on to handle the video for “State of Grace.”
The resulting clip is full of crisp, stylish drawing from Cordero, with beautiful black-and-white scenes of a lowrider cruising through a rain-flecked city as Kweli’s brassy track washes through the background. Dreambear’s animations tend to stay with you. This year it released the video for Tove Lo’s “Sadder Badder Cooler,” which somehow brings Kill Bill levels of mayhem to characters who wouldn’t look out of place in a classic Disney film.
“You know when you work with them, your stuff is gonna look good,” says Sabrina Rivera, who commissions videos for RCA Records.
Dreambear expanded steadily, bringing 15 animators and about as many live-action directors into the fold. “When the company first started, there was just a music video, no other ask in the music industry,” Brown explains. “That’s now branched out into visualizers, lyric videos, Instagram videos, vertical videos for Spotify, and so on.” Dreambear incorporates enough artists to cover “a vast menu” of options for the music industry.
That includes live-action clips, too, from Ari Lennox and J. Cole’s sensual “Shea Butter Baby” to Highly Suspect’s unruly “These Days.” One of Dreambear’s most memorable releases this year has been a zany, multipart series for the rock band Wallows, which sometimes feels more like a stoned-Seth Rogen bromance than a traditional music video. “It’s a perfect mix of comedy and creative narrative,” Brown says. “You don’t always get the opportunities to have a six-minute music video and have that be a narrative where your director is starring in it with the band.”
Brown’s early interest in animation proved prescient this year. “Now everything is kind of shifting, people are seeing the potential, more people are doing it,” Cordero says. “Dreambear was smart to bet on that side of the business.”
And as the company has grown, it has managed to hold on to another foundational tenet — its economical approach. “A gift they have is finding the most amazing crew, specifically the production designers,” Rivera says. “That means so much for a music video. And it’s for not a crazy amount of money, which is not an easy thing to do.”