Katy Perry

Dark Horse

How to Build a Neo-Ancient Egyptian Hip-Hop Epic

For the latest film in Mirada’s “Katy Perry trilogy”—which began with the award-winning “California Gurls,” continued with “Roar,” and culminates with “Dark Horse”—the studio pushed their tradition of creating larger-than-life worlds to new heights.

The release of “Dark Horse” marks Mirada’s third collaboration with Katy Perry, and two-time Grammy award-winning director Mathew Cullen’s second video with the superstar artist. The filmmaker went straight into bringing the enormous world of “Dark Horse” to life just days after his return from the UK after wrapping principle photography on his feature film debut, London Fields.

Building on a creative partnership that began on “California Gurls,” Cullen and Mirada worked alongside Katy Perry to bring her vision of the song to life on a one-of-a-kind narrative canvas. Together, they conceived a film in which legendary “Queen Katy-Pätra” sits on the throne of an Ancient Egyptian kingdom—infused with distinctly hip-hop textures—in front of a parade of would-be suitors, each about to learn just how far they’re in over their heads.

The film was envisioned as a cinematic experience: an unapologetic epic that breaks free from  the traditional size and scope of a music video, and exists in the grand-scale of a major motion picture. From this foundation, the Mirada team set about designing the entire world of “Dark Horse”: crafting characters, costumes, sets, props, and reimagined Egyptian motifs – building a mythic landscape defined by stylistic juxtapositions that mirror the track’s fluid mix of sexy pop aesthetic and more dangerous hip-hop-flavored underpinnings.

Queen Katy-Pätra sits on the throne of an Ancient Egyptian kingdom—infused with distinctly hip-hop textures...

By any standard, “Dark Horse” was a massive undertaking. The scope of the video was such that Mirada’s relationship with Katy and preexisting creative shorthand—built over the course of two successful previous outings—proved essential in achieving the film’s ambitious scale on a tight schedule.

As Mirada President John Fragomeni explained, “We knew the challenge going in, but we also knew how dedicated and talented our Mirada team is. We started with the benefit of our past experience working with Katy and our studio’s nimble VFX pipeline – both of which enabled us to create a world this big full of story-based visual effects in less than two weeks.”

Likewise, the rich visual narrative—developed by Katy Perry and director Mathew Cullen—also benefited from vital input by Danny Lockwood, Capitol Music Group’s SVP of Creative & Video, whose experience on “Roar” and “California Gurls” also helped bring “Dark Horse” to life.

“Mirada has delivered on many levels for our recording artists, especially with Katy Perry. I’m consistently impressed by the creativity and commitment their artists display with each new project,” said Lockwood.  “Mathew Cullen and Mirada took ‘Dark Horse’ to another level and helped create a stunning visual world which is distinctly Katy and very entertaining.”

While the director was working with Katy and the live-action team, busy designing sets, lighting, costumes, and casting, Mirada was hard at work realizing the film’s heightened ancient Egyptian world – constructing a library of 3D character assets, building key visuals within big live-action sets, and crafting even bigger extensions to those sets with sprawling digital matte-paintings.

As Mirada Creative Director Izhak Roitman explained, “The process started with playful references pulled from great sci-fi movies, combined with the vivid color on old album covers like ELO and Iron Maiden. Then we took those and mashed them up with hip-hop culture for a more hyper-real, more immediate look and feel.”

Immediately following the shoot, Academy Award nominated editor Douglas Crise—who has worked on films like Spring Breakers, Arbitrage, and Babel just to name a few—set to work to meet the video’s tight schedule. And while much of the action was captured in-camera on stage in a fast and furious two day shoot, the Mirada team—led by Roitman and Visual Effects Supervisor Andrew Ashton—conceived, designed, and delivered well over 126 visual effects shots.

From creating giant Egyptian pyramids and architecture, building and animating a talking sphinx, to recreating the exotic Nile River, integrating elaborate matte paintings, and turning men into dust, the team of gifted Mirada artists yielded all the incredible visuals in a mere eleven days.

As Ashton put it, “The project was an adventure in the truest sense of the word. We had an excellent team that embraced the story and pulled together to make a very big, very unique film in a very short period of time. A perfect storm indeed.”

The tools used at Mirada include The Foundry’s NUKE, Autodesk® Maya, Chaos Group V-Ray®, Side Effects HOUDINI, Pixologic ZBrush, Andersson Technologies SynthEyes, Autodesk® Flame® Adobe® Photoshop®, MAXON CINEMA 4D and Adobe® After Effects®.


Mirada also created a mobile app, called AndCam, that allowed Katy Perry’s fans to step into her ‘Dark Horse’ world before the video launched.

Here is a behind the scenes peek into how we used AndCam for Katy’s brand and ‘Dark Horse’ video launch. The video has reached over a billion views on VEVO.

Previous Videos

Mirada also partnered with Katy on her previous videos for “California Gurls” and “Roar” – check out the videos here!

California Gurls