发布者 Childish Gambino, Wolf + Rothstein, and MediaMonks
关于Childish Gambino的AR应用(PHAROS AR)制作和技术的对话。
The studio
Pop culture mastermind to AR avatar

Tina Fey immediately recognized the talent Donald Glover had when she hired him at age 21 to write for the sitcom 30 Rock. The actor, comedian and auteur has since contributed to Community, Deadpool, and Spiderman scripts, as well as his very own Golden Globe-winning hit show Atlanta. He’s also played Lando Calrissian, and voiced Simba in The Lion King. His music persona, Childish Gambino, recently made Grammy history by winning both Record and Song of the Year for “This Is America” – the only rap song to ever win these prestigious awards. The song’s music video generated over 400 million views in under three months.

“Gambino is on an upward trajectory that’s rarely seen for a musical artist, let alone an is-there-anything-he-can’t-do polymath who channels so much creativity into so many different projects,” says Jem Aswad, Variety.

It’s fair to say that he is a renaissance man and pop culture visionary who reaches his fans through television, movies, music . . . and now through augmented reality (AR).

Wolf + Rothstein, Glover’s creative management team, has worked in lockstep with him to build up his Childish Gambino brand. PHAROS, their interactive concert experience brought to life in 2016, was intended to immerse fans in an interactive and Voodoo-inspired world Gambino created as a companion to his album.

“When fans attend PHAROS they enter an immersive experience created by Donald,” says Wolf Taylor, Donald Glover’s manager and co-founder of Wolf + Rothstein.

Donald Glover performs as Childish Gambino on the This Is America Tour.

Donald Glover performs as Childish Gambino on the This Is America Tour.

When planning this year’s event and 2019 album release, the team agreed that they wanted to engage fans with the Childish Gambino universe even further – and at a global scale. They were searching for something that would be accessible to millions, while providing a high-quality audio/visual experience in a new way: Mobile AR.

“We wanted to push the boundaries of technology, while maintaining the best possible experience for fans,” says Taylor.

Wolf + Rothstein also needed to find an expert team that could author a seamless user experience and jaw-dropping visuals to match the quality of Childish Gambino’s oeuvre. Who was up to the task of creatively expanding the PHAROS world?

The project
Translating Childish Gambino’s brand of magic

MediaMonks, an award-winning creative production company that has worked with highly acclaimed brands such as Heineken, Nike, and Tommy Hilfiger, was chosen to develop the experience. Their work is recognized by advertising and craft awards around the world, producing 128 Cannes Lions and over 225 Favorite Website Awards to date.

When MediaMonks started talking to Wolf + Rothstein about the proposed project, they were given carte blanche. The only requirement: it needed to be multiplayer so it could bring people together rather than isolate them. Plus, the experience should involve a portal to another dimension and it had to start in a cave.

“The ambition itself was the biggest risk we took,” said Eric Wagliardo, Creative Director at MediaMonks. Not only would this be the first cross-platform experience, but they would need to pioneer a new method of storytelling. Because Childish Gambino prefers to leave his art open for interpretation, the app needed to communicate with the user in subtle ways, without spelling out instructions. Admittedly, that would be difficult to pull off, especially since a lot of his fans would be trying an AR experience for the first time.

MediaMonks worked closely with Wolf + Rothstein to bring their creative vision to life. Eric Wagliardo, Thomas Prevot, Jakko van Hunen, Leon te Loo and Justina Sung.

MediaMonks worked closely with Wolf + Rothstein to bring their creative vision to life. Eric Wagliardo, Thomas Prevot, Jakko van Hunen, Leon te Loo and Justina Sung.

Breaking new ground with first AR multiplayer

In September 2018, MediaMonks got to work developing the story-driven application, which takes fans through his universe to the tune of his latest sounds. “The team made fun of me for being a fanboy,” says Wagliardo. “I’ve been following his work since 2005.”

And soon enough, the team was rewarded with a substantial technical undertaking. Creating a stable multiplayer experience in AR would involve ARCore, Google’s platform for building AR experiences, and specifically, the use of the ARCore Cloud Anchors API, which enables shared experiences across Android and iOS. The team also aspired to create high-fidelity psychedelic effects that would be difficult to render on a mobile device.

“We decided at the beginning of the project to use Unity because of its early adoption of ARCore and better support for mobile development,” says Wagliardo. The MediaMonks team, totaling about 50 people from several offices, was thrilled to work on a groundbreaking experience for Glover. “His music creates a lot of controversy and discussion among his fans, so there was a lot of pressure for us to live up to his name,” says Justina Sung, UX Designer at MediaMonks.

The reveal
Building connective tissue across the Gambino universe

The ethos of the Childish Gambino brand is based on worldbuilding and it was fundamental that the AR experience fit neatly into this universe. This is why the MediaMonks team began its R&D process by attending his concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They were blown away by his performance, which was filled with lasers and saturated, punchy colors, ultimately inspiring the look of the AR experience.

MediaMonks also worked closely with the creative director of Childish Gambino’s PHAROS event in New Zealand, Alejandro Crawford, and the lettering artist who designed his tour posters, Alexis Tyrsa, to ensure design elements aligned with the larger brand. “Alejandro’s stuff was incredibly psychedelic and trippy, and so out there, which gave birth to the cave and visual effects in the app,” says Wagliardo.

Creating a cosmic glow

The characters and environment in the experience get their special glow thanks to custom Unity shaders and the Post-Processing Stack. However, to optimize against mobile limitations, Jakko van Hunen, Sr. Unity Developer at MediaMonks, says they were careful about not rendering their custom shaders on the full screen. They also prioritized performance by disabling shadows and anti-aliasing. “It was really easy to quickly catch and fix performance issues using the Unity Profiler,” says van Hunen.

“Usually I like to have a completely finalized concept. For this project, we had a lot of room for iteration, which was both exciting and challenging,” says Leon te Loo, Project Manager at MediaMonks.

Motion-capture animation drives the movement of Childish Gambino’s avatar.

Motion-capture animation drives the movement of Childish Gambino’s avatar.

Unity’s particle system was perfect for creating cosmic effects. For example, the augmented cave characters in the experience are made with keyframe animation-driven particle effects. For the hero character, animation tracks were derived from a motion-capture performance of Glover himself. “Having the real-life data of Childish Gambino’s signature moves really brought the experience to life,” explains MediaMonks’ Creative Director.

“We were trying to keep this in a similar universe so that when fans see him in concerts and in the PHAROS AR app, there is connective tissue across the brand.”

“The AR experience allows fans to experience a piece of PHAROS from their living room,” confirms Taylor.

Connecting users in intuitive ways

Making the application a connected experience was a top priority for Wolf + Rothstein and MediaMonks. Thanks to the streamlined integration of ARCore Cloud Anchors with Unity, this goal was easily achieved. Cloud Anchors give developers the ability to create AR apps that share a common frame of reference, allowing multiple users to place content in the same physical location. This virtual content can then be seen by all users in the same position and orientation relative to the environment.

MediaMonks solved the hard problems first by focusing on the multiplayer user flows. “It was a challenge to onboard new users to the setup involved with multiplayer AR,” says Justina Sung, UX Designer. In PHAROS AR, users sync their phones together to kick-off the shared experience. To enable ARCore’s Cloud Anchors, the host places the anchor point, which is then synced across devices.


MediaMonks developed the cinematic outerspace sequence using Unity's timeline

MediaMonks developed the cinematic outerspace sequence using Unity's timeline

Rather than spelling out all the instructions with text on a screen, Sung says they chose to keep the setup experience intuitive. “With the multiplayer flow, we challenged ourselves to create a narrative for that flow, so that users feel like they are already inside the storyline during setup.”

“This app is a test case for what multiplayer can become,” promises Wagliardo.

Creating a sense of oneness  

The mobile app is one of several productions the polymath has slated to release in Spring 2019. The experience was previewed at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, timed with Childish Gambino’s headlining performance and the premiere of his new film, Guava Island. It was released to the public shortly after.

The result of the teams’ combined innovation is an easy, connected experience that allows users to commune with new music in a fresh format. PHAROS AR creates a sense of oneness and an uplifting celestial journey that you can’t help but dance to.

Download the app to experience the journey yourself, available now on Android and iOS.

“The AR experience brings an important piece of PHAROS directly into the hands of fans. ” – Wolf Taylor


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