How the video for Creed's Bullets cost an indie studio $500k to make
What would you do if you were a successful rock band in the early 2000s with $500k to shell out on a music video? Would you spend your money on a professional set, or would you contract the work out to an indie game developer? If we’re talking about Creed, they opted for the latter, and the result is by far one of their worst music videos.
Yes, it's even worse than the awkward video for Higher where the band can be seen surrounded by groupies while Scott Stapp rocks out in a white wife beater and chunky leather pants.
Before we dissect the fascinatingly weird backstory behind Bullets, there are a few things I need to clarify. First, I’m someone who will fight tooth and nail to support indies. However, indie developers are just as capable of making mistakes as the rest of us, and there's nothing wrong with that. Mistakes are how we learn and grow.
We’re also going to talk about it because 20 years have passed and a lot has changed in both the music and gaming industry. Second, I actually like Creed. Their music got me through countless periods of deep depression, and for that I'm forever grateful. I’ve even met Scott Stapp once – fine, several times – and have nothing but respect for him. He’s a genuinely nice guy who loves his music, his wife, and his kids. #LeaveScottStappAlone
We’ve all liked “cringey” music as children and teenagers, and it's ok to bring that enjoyment with you into adulthood. Be proud of your interests, even if people drag you for it. Or, in the wise words of Linkin Park, “In the end, it doesn’t even matter.” Trust me, I know how lame it sounds to defend Creed when (prior to Nickelback) they were a group everyone loved to hate.
Even now, if you mention Creed, you get the same old jokes about Pearl Jam rip-offs and Christian music. I’ve heard it all before, and I totally get it. I still think the music video is worth talking about. That said, let’s dig deep into everything that went wrong when Creed asked an indie game company to create the music video for Bullets.
Indie Studios of the Past: Vision Scape Interactive
Posted to Creed’s YouTube channel in 2009, the video for Bullets was created in 2001 by indie game company Vision Scape Interactive. For this feature, I tried to dig up as much as I could about Vision Scape and their work in the industry. Sadly, details are scarce, and what I was able to find includes a lot of conflicting information.
Vision Scape is described as a “privately held company” founded in 1997 by husband and wife duo Matt and Tammy McDonald. Some report it closed in 2005 and 2006, while LinkedIn makes it seem like the company is still active in some capacity. Based on one of the comments posted to Glassdoor, Vision Scape is an independent game development studio that employs a combo of “in-house developers and overseas production studios.”
It seems like they dabbled in just about everything in the early 2000s, but sports games for the Xbox and PlayStation were their main jam. A concise, accurate list of completed games from Vision Scape is surprisingly impossible to find in 2019. Titles that seem consistent across the board are X-Bladez: Inline Skater, Razor Racing, SeaBlade, and The Land Before Time: Great Valley Racing Adventure. Meanwhile, cancelled projects uncovered by internet sleuths include Tiltronica and Sonic Extreme.
Vision Scape reportedly developed Sonic Extreme for Xbox and pitched the idea to SEGA who rejected it, though demo footage still exists online that shows skateboarding Sonic in all his glory. You could do three things while skateboarding in Sonic Extreme: Mission, Combat, or Race. Yes, Combat is an real option in Sonic Extreme, with the demo showing a "Battle Arena" of some sorts and collectible missiles.
As much as I'd love to, we're not here to talk about Sonic Extreme. If you're interested in learning more about Vision Scape, I feel like the opening intro from X-Bladez: Inline Skater tells you as much about the company as you need to know at this point. It's somehow both a lot, and nothing at all, wrapped up in a disturbing little package.
If you see that clown in your nightmares tonight, I'm sorry.
Creed’s Bullets: Music to Video
The video for Bullets was directed by Vision Scape’s VP of Production, Clayt Ratzlaff, and produced by Vision Scape co-owner Matt McDonald. During my research, I was lucky enough to stumble across an interview with MTV and Vision Scape owners Matt and Tammy McDonald that’s illuminating to say the least.
In the interview, the McDonalds describe how they landed the role as creators for the Bullets video. According to the article, the McDonalds saw Creed on an episode of Behind the Music on VH1 and were “intrigued by the band’s message and energy.”
At the time, Vision Scape wanted to create a new RPG called Revelations. The McDonalds reached out to Creed through Dan Tremonti (guitarist Mark Tremonti’s younger brother) and asked if they'd be interested in contributing music to Revelations.
There’s no record of what the answer was, but it seems like it was something along the lines of, “Not gonna happen.” Given that Creed was signed to Wind-Up Records at the time, there might have been difficulties in obtaining the rights to the music from legal standpoint. Fortunately, Dan Tremonti got back to the McDonalds and asked if Vision Scape would be able to create a music video for them instead, giving them full permission to incorporate visuals from Revelations. Even better, right?
For a grand total of $473,000, Vision Scape did just that, completing the video for Bullets in two months using 15 employees “working more than 18 hours a day” according to the MTV interview. There's no way of knowing how much of that $473,000 was spent on the employees, but I genuinely hope they got paid their fair share.
I know we talk a lot about crunch placed on employees at video game companies today, urging many to advocate for unionization, but it’s something that has existed for some time. The statements the McDonalds made emphasize this, and I can only imagine what level of hell it must have felt like for the 15 employees working 18-hour days for two whole months to create what is – and I’m just being honest here – one of Creed’s worst music videos.
It’s not exactly something you’d want on your resume.
2001: Birth of a Digital Era
So, what exactly makes the video so terrible? After all, a lot of music videos made in the early 2000s featured bad CGI. Take the video for In The End by Linkin Park. Made in 2001 using CGI shots that are definitely dated by modern standards, if you play it and Bullets side-by-side they feel eerily similar. Particularly the muted yellow sky and blurry grass textures.
What makes the video for In The End palatable (aside from Linkin Park not being hated like Creed) is live footage of the band members cut in with the CGI. It gives it a sort of trippy, dreamlike quality. Originally, Creed planned to include band footage in a similar way, but had to walk the idea back due to a hectic tour schedule and the Tremontis’ mother dying of cancer.
Imagine if the video for Bullets was closer to In The End with actual band footage cut in rather than the lifeless, digital version we were given? It would have been a lot better, that's for certain. To be fair, Creed and Vision Scape aren't solely to blame for the misshapen final product. Back in 2001, digital rendering was in its infancy, while also rapidly growing in popularity. It was used often, and often used poorly.
One of my favorite examples of this is the unforgettable goof where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson comes out as the unintentionally hilarious Scorpion King monster in The Mummy Returns. It’s a scene that gets worse every time I watch it. Ironically, that movie was also made in 2001, the same year as the Bullets video. I think we can all agree that 2001 was just a bad year for CGI and digital rendering as a whole, and that’s totally ok. Technology improves, and we improve with it.
To Vision Scape’s credit, they dedicated a lot of time trying to get the likeness of each Creed member correct in the video for Bullets, and for 2001 the faces look ok for the most part. If this were game footage from 2001 and not a music video we’d say that Bullets looked somewhat decent. Maybe even something you'd want to play, if only to unravel its incoherent story.
The Right, the Wrong, and the Weird
In the MTV article, it’s noted that, “Vision Scape went to great lengths to make sure Creed were depicted accurately and to their liking, tattoos and all.” It goes on to suggest that some thorough back-and-forth took place between Vision Scape and the band, showing that the company cared deeply about how the video would be received by their clients.
“Although the band was on tour during the creation of the video, the company kept in touch by posting the latest images on a special website.”
To add to the mystique, Vision Scape presented each band member as a custom character. While guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips look relatively normal, singer Scott Stapp looks like... a weird sort of muscular bird man? I don’t know a better way to describe it. Tammy McDonald offered up an explanation behind Stapp’s winged design that explains the visual aesthetic, but not the reasoning behind it.
“Originally, the character we had for Scott Stapp was more of an archangel. It was very futuristic, and the wings were metallic. But Scott wanted to take it and make it more earthy and apply it to his American Indian roots. So we made his wings more like those of an eagle or a hawk.”
After nearly 2 decades, we may never know the real reason why Vision Scape gave Stapp wings. It doesn't work and it's uncomfortable to look at, especially when you consider how much time they spent on human realism elsewhere, sparing Tremonti and Phillips the wing treatment entirely.
Vision Scape even went so far as to put careful thought behind the weapon each band member would wield based upon their role in Creed, which is actually pretty clever.
“It was important that Mark [Tremonti] do battle with an axe because he’s a guitar player. And then Scott Phillips is a drummer, so we gave him two swords,” explained Matt McDonald. “The only thing we did different is we made them a little buffer than they are now.”
You could argue that Vision Scape was pulling from Revelations for future promos as that’s the game they wanted Creed to provide music for in the first place. However, comments made by the McDonalds make it clear that before, during, and after the Bullets video, Revelations was a "planned project."
It sounds like little – if anything – had actually been developed. With a name like Revelations, maybe Vision Scape aimed to give gamers the chance to embody a warrior angel? Your guess is as good as mine. The only thing that matters is that Creed liked how Bullets turned out, as emphasized by the fact they asked Vision Scape to work on another video for them. Of course, this never came to be as Creed would later disband in 2004. Probably for the best.
The cherry on top of the madness that is Vision Scape and their work on Bullets is a quote from Matt McDonald in the final paragraph of the MTV article.
“Now that we have digital versions of them [Creed] in the computer, we can do anything we want as long as they agree,” Matt McDonald said. “We have another project called ‘Speed Metal’ which is more of a car battle racing game, and if they have a song that works with that art, then we’d love to have them be characters in that as well.”
I had to pause and re-read that to ensure I’d processed everything correctly because I can't believe anyone would ever string a sentence like that together. It's early 2000s culture at its finest.
I have no idea how much a typical music video using CGI like Bullets did cost in 2001. When you compare its $473,000 price tag to the cost of a video like 1999's Heartbreaker from Mariah Carey that cost $2.5 million to make, it doesn't seem all that bad. It could have been worse.
Still, it's hard to look at the Bullets video and go, "Yeah, that's $500k put to good use." Worse than the monetary cost is the human cost, as it required 15 individuals to put in 18 hours of work a day for 2 months. Who are these people, and what do they think of Bullets now? Do they have a nostalgic love for it, or is it a bad memory?
Creed wasn't the first group to incorporate game visuals in a music video (Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers being another fun example), though Creed might have been one of the only ones to entrust an actual indie game studio (one that wasn't particularly well-known at the time) with the design work. I think that's commendable, regardless of how everything turned out.
Technology has come a long way over the last 2 decades and if an indie studio were to make the Bullets video now, it would look more convincing and stand out for better reasons. For being different and taking risks. I think 2001 was just a little too early for an idea like Bullets to go anywhere beyond where it wound up... collecting dust in the dumpster bin of strange, forgotten things.
For me personally, I can't help but applaud the attempt at making Creed characters in an indie game. It's something most would never think to do in the first place.