Artwork for the 'Take On Me' single.

Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger are an American couple of visual artists, graphic designers, photographers and animators, known for their conceptual art installations, films, TV commercials and music videos. Their most famous work is the iconic music video for 'Take On Me', the 1985 single by the Norwegian group A-ha, in which a girl enters a comic book world. The art for the comic book and the animation was done by Patterson, while Reckinger directed the film. One release of the 'Take On Me' single featured the comic strip from the video printed in its sleeve. Among the other memorable music videos made by Patterson and Reckinger were 'Luka' (1987) by Suzanne Vega and 'Opposites Attract' (1989) by Paula Abdul. They've gained additional notability through a series of multimedia projects, visualizing classical music for concertgoers.

Early life and career
Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger were both born in Chicago, but trained in California. Patterson studied at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, while Reckinger received her MFA in Film and TV from the University of California in Los Angeles. Reckingers's experimental feminist sci-fi short 'Occupied Territory' (1981) was well received at various film festivals in the United States and Europe. Patterson and Reckinger first met in 1982, while attending a short film festival in Paris, France. Coming from the same background and art studies, they instantly got along. In 1984, they got married. Their sons, Jasper and Barney Patterson, are active as electronic musicians. Between 1996 and 2004, Reckinger put her professional career on hold to focus on her family and gardening. Both Michael and Candace Patterson are teachers in Animation and Digital Arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles.

Comic segment as shown in the 'Take On Me' video.

Take On Me
Reckinger and Patterson's career took off when they were approached to make a music video for the Norwegian pop band A-ha. In 1984, the group had scored a hit in their native country with a first version of their song 'Take On Me', reaching nr. 3 in the charts. While the song itself used a different arrangement, the original music video was a basic registration of a studio concert. In 1985, A-ha recorded a different version of 'Take On Me', with more thrilling synthesizer arrangements and higher-pitched vocals. To promote the song, a new music video had to be made, and Steve Barron was hired to direct it. Already an acclaimed director, Barron had shot many memorable music videos, including 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981) by Sheena Easton, 'Maid of Orleans' (1981) by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 'Don't You Want Me' (1981) by The Human League, 'Promised You A Miracle' (1982) by Simple Minds, 'Africa' (1982) by Toto, 'She Blinded Me With Science' (1982) by Thomas Dolby, 'Electric Avenue' (1983) by Eddy Grant, 'Billie Jean' (1983) by Michael Jackson and 'Summer of '69' (1984) by Bryan Adams.

For the new 'Take On Me' video, Warner Brothers Music executive Jeff Ayeroff came up with a storyline in which a girl meets a comic book character who comes to life. Barron suggested a race-themed comic, inspired by one he read in childhood about guys racing on motorbikes and sidecars. One night, Warners producer John Beug saw the five-minute animated short 'Commuter' by Michael Patterson on the cable channel Z. The student academy award-winning film featured rotoscoped animation (drawings traced over live-action footage). Contrary to most rotoscoped animation, which often looks stiff and unconvincing, Patterson's film had a vibrant look, comparable to hand-drawn sketches coming alive. Realizing he had found the perfect man for the project, Beug assigned Patterson as animator. Reckinger would direct the animated footage, while Steve Barron took care of the live-action segments.

Artwork from Patterson's 1981 'Commuter' film, which inspired the 'Take On Me' video.

The video for 'Take On Me' kicks off with a young girl reading a comic book in a diner. She is played by the 21-year old British model and dancer Bunty Bailey, who at the time was part of the British dance troupe Hot Gossip. Suddenly one of the characters in her comic book winks and offers her his hand. Hesitantly, she follows him, entering the comic pages. The girl finds herself in a wonderful world where everything is penciled in black-and-white. The boy, played by A-ha's lead singer Morten Harket, sings for her, while they step back and forth between a looking-glass portal where people and objects look real on one side and pencil-drawn on the other.

Their magical moment together is then interrupted by the competing racers, who chase them away. One of the villains was British actor Alfie Curtis, previously recognizable from his role in 'Star Wars' (1977) as the thug Dr. Evazan, whose arm gets cut off by Obi-Wan Kenobi after threatening Luke Skywalker. Reaching a dead end, the boy and girl try to escape by smashing a dent in one of the walls. The girl wakes up in her own world again and discovers her comic book was thrown away in a trash can. At home, she tries to flatten the crumbled paper, but her paper-and-ink boyfriend seems dead. To her surprise, he suddenly leaves his comic universe and enters her room. But he flashes back and forth between being a comic creation and a real person. To break the spell, he smashes himself against the walls (a reference to a similar scene in Ken Russell's 1980 cult film 'Altered States'). Eventually, he becomes real and the couple falls into each other's arms. As a romantic side-note, Bunty Bailey and Morten Harket actually became a couple in real life for a while.

Mike Patterson drew each of the 3,000 drawings in the animated sequences of 'Take On Me' singlehandedly, while his wife Candace hand-cut each image. Since computers were still in their infancy, the animation and live-action were combined "in camera" through a time-consuming process named "aerial image photography". The comic book in the video was also drawn by Patterson, graphically inspired by 1970s Marvel, DC and manga imagery. However, it was never turned into a full-blown book, since it was merely meant as a prop for the video. Therefore, the comic is basically a sequence of panels with many close-ups and barely speech balloons. However, a rare 45rpm 7'' single release of 'Take On Me' (1985), did include a mini comic book inside the sleeve. It features drawings from the comic, arranged in a panel lay-out. Following the chronological plot of the music video, it can be described as a pantomime comic.

Comic page from a rare 45rpm 7'' single release of 'Take On Me' (1985).

'Take On Me' was a huge hit at the time and, from May 1985 on, the music video received heavy rotation on MTV. At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, it won six awards for "Best New Artist in a Video", "Best Concept Video", "Most Experimental Video", "Best Direction", "Best Special Effects" and "Viewer's Choice". Since MTV was broadcast all over the world, it gave the music video global exposure. A-ha decided to capitalize on this success by making a follow-up music video for their next single, 'The Sun Always Shines On TV' (1985), which was also directed by Barron, animated by Patterson and Reckinger and again starring Bunty Bailey and Morten Harket. At the start of this video, the girl and the boy from 'Take On Me' walk at night, when suddenly he retransforms into a comic character and leaves her. Patterson and Reckinger collaborated with A-ha one final time for the music video of their song 'Train of Thought' (1986). This short also features rotoscoped animation sequences, but more as intermezzos between live-action footage of the band performing.

A-ha remained popular throughout the 1980s and became the best-selling Norwegian musical act in the world. For the British Look-In magazine, Maureen and Gordon Gray drew a biographical comic about the group (1986). However, 'Take On Me' remains the band's signature song. It has been used in several commercials, films and TV series, often referencing the iconic music video. Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head watched it in a 1993 episode, while it was also parodied in the episode 'Breaking Out Is Hard to Do' (2005) of Seth MacFarlane's 'Family Guy' and 'The Seven Beer Itch' (2020) of Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons'. The plot of 'Take On Me' also influenced the video game 'Wisshu Rûmu: Tenshi No Kioku' (2007). Numerous bands who covered 'Take On Me', such as Weezer in 2019, have often made a shout-out to the original animated music video in their respective music videos. When in 2020 a digitally remastered version of 'Take On Me' was released on Youtube, it quickly became one of the most watched videos, reaching over one billion views.

Imagery from 'Take On Me', printed in the sleeve of the 1985 single release. 

Other music videos
In addition to their work for A-ha, Patterson and Reckinger also directed other music videos. For Suzanne Vega, they made the black-and-white video to her hit song 'Luka' (1987). The child actor who played Luka, Jason Cerbone, would find additional fame a decade later as Jackie Jr. in the gangster TV drama 'The Sopranos'. In 1988, the video for 'Luka' won "Best Female Video" at the MTV Video Music Awards. Patterson and Reckinger also made music videos for the Paula Abdul songs 'Opposites Attract' (1989), 'Knocked Out' (1989) and 'Skat Strut' (1991). Of these three, 'Opposites Attract' became Abdul's biggest hit. The music video features her singing a duet with a cartoon cat about their different habits and preferences. It is fondly remembered for its mixture between live-action and cartoony animation, popularized by Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams' film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988). In fact, two of the animators, Joe Haidar and Jacques Müller, had actually worked on 'Roger Rabbit'. The other animators for 'Opposites Attract' were Disney employees (Ruben A. Aquino, Debra Armstrong, Chris Bailey, Ron Husband, David Pruiksma) and Don Bluth animators (Debra Armstrong). While Patterson and Reckinger directed 'Opposites Attract', they weren't involved with the actual animation.

Patterson and Reckinger also directed videos for the songs 'Be Still My Beating Heart' (1987) by Sting, 'Five Long Years' (1988) by Collin James, 'Stop Your Fussin' (1988) and 'Stand Beside Me' (1988) by Kansas, 'Luka' (1989) by The Lemonheads, 'American Music' (1989) by Ian Hunter & Mick Ronson, 'Across the River' (1990) by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 'Let's Be Mad' (1990) by John Doe, and Wilson Phillips' 'Impulsive' (1990) and 'Give It Up' (1992). For Go West, they directed 'Faithful' and 'What You Won't Do For Love' (1992), for rapper Immature the video to 'Tear It Up' (1992) and for Donald Fagen 'Tomorrow's Girls' (1993). In 2012, Patterson and Reckinger also created a music video for an older song, 'Mr. Blue Sky' by The Electric Light Orchestra.

Classical and avant-garde music multi-media performances
In 2011, Patterson and Reckinger directed animated images for a live orchestra performance of Modest Mussorgsky's classic piece 'Pictures at an Exhibition'. The multimedia project was made at the occasion of the opening of Frank Gehry's New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida, with Michael Tilson Thomas as conductor and music video director. Patterson and Reckinger have made similar multimedia installations for performances of Johann Sebastian Bach ('Sarabande', 'Suite No. 1' and 'Partita') and Leonard Bernstein ('Candide'), but also more contemporary composers like John Adams ('Phrygian Gates'), Thomas Adès ('Arcadiana'), Jeffrey Holmes ('Kirurgi'), Gene Koshinski ('And So The Wind Blew…'), Veronica Krausas ('Midaregami') and Thomas Perich ('Qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqq'). Some of their mixtures between animation and music have been presented under the 'Rhythms + Visions' banner and are usually performed at the University of California.

Seven of Patterson and Reckinger's music videos have been included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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