The year was 1983, and the music industry was about to experience a seismic shift. With the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” an album that would become the best-selling album of all time, the world was introduced to a new era of music and performance. Amidst the songs that defined a generation, one music video stood out – “Thriller.”
The iconic music video for “Thriller” was more than just a visual accompaniment to the song. It became a cultural phenomenon, revolutionizing the music video industry and forever reshaping the way artists approach their craft. To understand the impact of “Thriller,” we must look back at the making of this legendary masterpiece.
To bring “Thriller” to life, Michael Jackson enlisted the help of director John Landis, known for his work on “An American Werewolf in London.” Inspired by classic horror films and with a vision to create something far beyond the constraints of a mere music video, Jackson and Landis set out to create an extravagant 14-minute piece of cinema.
The production of “Thriller” was unlike anything seen before in the music industry. Jackson’s dedication to perfection and attention to detail manifested in every aspect of the video – from the elaborate zombie makeup to the synchronized dance sequences. The budget for the video reached over $500,000, an astronomical amount at the time.
Filming commenced in October 1983, with the now-famous dance routines taking place at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles. A team of over a dozen professional dancers, along with Jackson, mastered the intricate choreography under the guidance of Michael Peters. The preparation and rehearsals lasted for weeks, ensuring that every step, every gesture, and every element of the performance was flawless.
The elaborate makeup and prosthetics applied to transform Jackson and the dancers into terrifying zombies were the handiwork of renowned makeup artist Rick Baker. The sheer level of detail put into each character’s appearance is mind-boggling, with some makeup applications taking over six hours to complete. Baker’s artistry even earned him an Academy Award for Best Makeup.
The narrative of “Thriller” was equally important as the dance sequences. Jackson and Landis wanted to create a story that would captivate viewers and add depth to the music video experience. Drawing inspiration from classic horror films such as “Night of the Living Dead” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Landis crafted a script that intertwined reality and fantasy into a gripping tale of horror and intrigue.
The climax of the video, where Jackson transforms into a werewolf, required extensive special effects. Award-winning special effects artist Rick Baker, once again, played a crucial role in bringing this transformation to life. Through the use of intricate prosthetics and animatronics, the on-screen metamorphosis became a visually stunning and unforgettable moment in music video history.
Upon its release, “Thriller” shattered all expectations. Not only was it a groundbreaking music video, but it also became a global cultural phenomenon. Audiences were captivated by the vibrant choreography, the storytelling, and the sheer audacity of the production. It solidified Michael Jackson’s status as not just a musical icon but an unparalleled entertainer.
“Thriller” won numerous awards and accolades, including three MTV Video Music Awards and a place in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Its influence can be seen in subsequent music videos from artists of all genres, who have been inspired by its boldness and creativity.
Today, over three decades after its release, “Thriller” continues to enchant and captivate audiences. It remains a testament to the visionary talent of Michael Jackson and his commitment to pushing creative boundaries. The making of this iconic music video stands as a testament to the power of imagination, collaboration, and an unyielding passion for innovation that turns ordinary moments into extraordinary art.