Raúl Martinez Liera has been making videos since he was little kid. In ninth grade, he directed what he describes as a funny and surreal version of Don Quixote. So it’s no surprise that he decided to move from his native Mexico to New York City to pursue a career in filmmaking, putting his desire to tell stories through motion pictures to good use.
Since then, he’s cut his teeth in the commercial world, where he’s worked for agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, Conill, and Y&R (The Bravo Group). As the former Director of Creative Services at Rabbit Content, he worked with clients as diverse as Nike and Lexus. He often works with his creative partner/producer Robert Lavenstein as the aptly named duo RaRo. His personal projects have seen him tackle everything from music videos to short films, carefully navigating the lines between commerce and art, embodying the brand-savvy filmmaker so representative of the early 21st century. Whether making great use of a long take to drive home the point behind a PSA about bullying, or making luxury brand bags look otherworldly and impossibly alluring, you can glean an inventive eye for aesthetics married to a deep commitment to storytelling in his work.
This talent is on full display in his latest video. Set to “10,000” by 19-year-old Kevin Martínez (aka Niño Arbol), who we’ve raved about here before, Raul’s video is a dreamlike kaleidoscope of crisp shots of the Samsung Galaxy. Pulsating with energy, Raul has crafted a beautiful sequence that turns high quality commercial footage into a dizzying work of art.
Ahead of the video’s release, we caught up with Raul and talked about his process, his commercial production background, and the directors whose work continues to influence his personal style.
On Falling in Love with Cinema at an Early Age
I guess I’ve been watching movies since I was little. My dad loves films. He’s a cinephile, you could say. So he took me to the movies since I was very little. And I just fell in love with it. I think he had Star Wars on VHS, so I kept watching them. He kept showing me newer films and cooler films as I was growing, so that’s just what triggers my need to tell stories.
And then he bought a camera and I just wanted to shoot things, and make stories, and play around with it. I was influenced by so many things that I watched, that even when I was playing around doing stop-motion videos it was always influenced by something that I loved. I love anime; I love action films. So I always put little pieces of everything in my own story.
On His Worldwide Cinematic Influences
[The] directors I love re-watching are [Stanley] Kubrick and Orson Welles. Or [Akira] Kurosawa. Kurosawa is a genius, the way he adapted westerns. I don’t know, every time I watch these guys I find something new. And, in a way, I find [Quentin] Tarantino inspiring, the way he’s a film geek and everything he does is kind of an homage to the films he loves – be it Hong Kong old films, or kung fu films, or westerns, or everything like that. So I always come back to that. But Blade Runner, I guess, is one of the films that really struck a chord with me.
When I saw Blade Runner I thought, “This is amazing.” My dad showed me Blade Runner when I was 10, I think. Which is a very young age to watch it, probably. But then when I started watching anime, I was like, “Wow! I thought Ridley Scott invented these worlds!” Because, if you watch anime — futuristic anime like Ghost in the Shell or Macross or stuff like that — the worlds that Japanese artists drew, it looks like Blade Runner!
On Content vs. Form
When I went to film school, I had a teacher that always told me that “form equals content.” In art, to some people, that’s a bit contradictory. But I don’t think it is. I think the content has to have the same weight that the form does. I think one reinforces the other. I always try to keep both on the same level. I don’t see a distinction. One can’t live without the other. That’s the way I always try to approach every project.
On the Process of Turning Regular Objects into Abstract Video Art
This video is very particular, because we’re doing animation with Samsung footage; we didn’t shoot ourselves. I’m working right now with an animator in LA, a friend of mine. I saw the footage and thought it would be interesting to kind of deconstruct it – just give footage that is pretty much product shots a new life in a way. Put it in a bag and shake it and take it out and see how it looks.
How can we make an art video project with this existing footage? To me, it’s interesting when you have limitations and boundaries, because it makes you think more, and come up with an interesting way to tell or show something. That’s what this project was all about. I just wanted to make something visually interesting with unexpected materials.
On the Big Bang Inspiration Behind His New Video
So my creative process with this one was watching all this footage, and trying to ask it to guide me. Because with footage, you keep watching it and it’ll show you. And then we started experimenting with different effects and different patterns. Since the name of this Samsung phone is the Galaxy, we’re going with a space theme. We’re trying to tell a little bit of a Big Bang story, the evolution of the universe, in a very abstract way. That’s the concept behind it: To start from nothing and then have an explosion, a progression of shapes and forms, like the universe, and then the Galaxies (pun intended).
So yeah, I worked with Dawn, she’s my animator. We watch and re-watch the footage and try to find patterns through it. And then we apply after-effects and different techniques to make the footage really interesting. And if you see, there’s a close-up of the Samsung Galaxy — a beautiful product shot — and then you start morphing it, and it starts making beautiful shapes and forms, like flowers and other great great things.
On What’s Ahead
I have a partner, Robert Lavenstein, and he’s developing a feature film. I’ve also been writing a feature for the past year, and we’re developing a web series. We sort of grew up in this commercial production company world, that’s how we met. Together, we also make branded content.