For Arcade Fire‘s guerilla-style launch of their new single, “Reflektor,” the band paired up with a familiar collaborator: Google. The goal on both ends was to create a short film that would allow the viewer or, more accurately, the user, to physically interact with the video while watching from home.
Arcade Fire already experimented in this arena with “The Wilderness Downtown,” an interactive, Google Chrome-based video by Chris Milk in 2010. “Reflektor” (which you can watch at justareflektor.com) takes user interactivity one step further, by having users effectively be the special effects editor for the video, using a mouse or a mobile device, and also using the computer’s webcam.
Last year, before the band even had new material to draw from, one of their long-time video collaborators, Vincent Morisset (who directed the video for “Sprawl II”) the creative director on the Data Arts team at Google, Aaron Koblin (who also worked on “The Wildnerness Downtown”), started tossing around ideas for a creative film collaboration. They followed up this spring with a song in mind — “Reflektor,” and an initial idea — letting the viewer control a shadow puppet, in real time. Koblin calls the song “the perfect match,” especially considering the title, even if the idea for the puppet didn’t end up working.
The final video, filmed in Haiti, tells the story of a young lady who travels between two worlds: hers and ours. The graphics and visual effects reflect the movements of the user’s smartphone or tablet, which the user is instructed to wave around in the air while watching the video.
“The only involvement the viewer has with traditional music videos is clicking the play button,” says Koblin. “With this film, we wanted the user to participate in the experience. And rather than click the mouse or type on the computer, we wanted the interaction to be both unique and human. That’s why we incorporated the phone and webcam as input devices. It lets the viewer participate in the music video, and do so in a novel way using gestures.”
“We’re really proud of what we accomplished here,” says Koblin. “You can even skip forward and backward in the video, if you put your mouse at the bottom of the screen, and it feels exactly like a regular video on YouTube despite all the extra effects being applied.”