When I asked Donald Glover (the artist currently known as Childish Gambino) what his new song “Algorythm” was about and why he wanted to create an augmented reality app around it, his reply was succinct: “Trust the Algorythm.”
The visual themes in Algorythm, Glover explained, grew from a 2018 Childish Gambino show under a big dome at the artist’s PHAROS festival in Tapapakanga Regional Park in New Zealand. Immersive 3D imagery was projected on the top of the dome over the heads of the audience. “The app is an evolution of that idea,” Glover said.
Actually, the PHAROS experience became a VR experience first, back in 2017. But Glover became interested in the possibilities of AR for conveying the creative world around the music. “Augmented reality removes the barrier between the physical and digital world,” Glover said.
The Algorythm app actually doesn’t enable a lot of interaction between the digital content and the real world content. It does contain some interactive features—you can tap on the glyphs in the cave to activate them, for example. But the slow blending of the real world around you (as seen through the phone camera) into the world of the cave is compelling. It feels more like the gradual onset of a hallucinatory drug as opposed to the immediate occlusion and immersion you get when entering a VR experience.
The Algorythm was designed by the creative agency MediaMonks with direction from Childish Gambino and his creative management team using Unity’s 3D engine. The movements of the human dancers in the cave derive from the movements of humans wearing motion capture (mo-cap) suites. The data collected from the sensors on the suits are then fed into the Unity engine where they’re used to animate the avatars. The people at Unity pitched in with technical assistance.
Now Unity is out with a behind-the-scenes video showing the people and technology behind Algorythm. The company will be showing the video this week at its beachfront Cabana at Cannes Lions. The goal, Unity says, is to show brands and creative agencies how they can use AR to engage with their audiences in a new way.