Your Phone is Just A Reflektor

According to this 93rd Annual Awards & Tomorrow Awards Winning Interactive Music Video

We’re wrapping up our month of Mobile Creativity today with a behind-the-screen look at Just a Reflektor, an interactive short film set to the Arcade Fire song “Reflektor” that embraces mobile technology and harnesses its creative potential to transform the experience of watching a music video into a new kind of storytelling.

Written, directed and produced by Creative Director Vincent Morisset of AATOAA Studio, Just a Reflektor won both a Tomorrow Award for its innovative approach and a Silver Cube at the 93rd Annual Awards of Art + Craft in Advertising and Design for the craft of its art direction.

On his site and in an interview with ADC, Vincent recalls the story behind his first collaborations with Google Creative Lab and Arcade Fire on the project and sheds light on the inspiration behind the story-driven narrative and technological experimentation that make Just a Reflektor such an affecting film:

“In 2011, I met Aaron Koblin from Google Creative Lab at OFFF in Barcelona. We promised ourselves that we would work together one day. Last fall, Aaron and I started to ping pong some ideas. We were quite excited about the potential of connecting devices through web sockets. From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to explore that notion of connection in storytelling.

My genius developer, Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit, had the idea of displaying a tracker on the phone and use camera vision from the computer to track it. We pair this information with the mobile gyroscope and accelerometer data sent through network. This setup would allow us to know accurately where in the space we hold the phone and how we handle it.

I didn’t wanted to transform the phone into a remote control or a game pad, though. I thought it could be more interesting if the phone became a source of light. Give the illusion that we have a small video projector in our hand, beaming images on the computer screen surface. There was a desire to recreate something that feels analog and optical. Bringing back the visceral pleasure of playing with a flashlight, a prism or shadow puppets.

“For me, this song is a quest for truth. A metaphor about representation and identity. I thought about Plato’s Cave. The actual interaction was now part of the message.”

Again, by a strange coincidence or synchronicity, Arcade Fire was recording at that time a song called “Reflektor.” It was the perfect fit thematically! The lyrics became the foundation of the project. For me, this song is a quest for truth. A metaphor about representation and identity. I thought about Plato’s Cave. The actual interaction was now part of the message. We created an invisible wall in the physical space. The spectator on one side, the protagonist trapped in the screen on the “other side”. Fiction and reality colliding. This was also another thing I wanted to explore. Combine documentary style shooting to an imaginary world. Create a clash between the first interactive half of the clip and the end where the spectator is invited to let go.”

ADC: Do you think the trend of mobile interaction will continue to evolve and go on for the foreseeable future, or is it “of the moment” right now? Why do you think it can have such an impact in these types of projects?

Vincent: Smartphones will continue to be the most accessible and versatile interface between ourselves and the world (real and digital). As a director focused on interactive films, I often push the limits of processors and graphic cards. Mobile is not the ideal platform to display my pieces, but as an interface, I find it really exciting. We are now able to connect devices together through web sockets in real time. Smartphones and tablets have incredible gyroscopes and accelerometers in them that allow us to have a good idea of how the device is handled. For Just a Reflektor, we took advantage of this feature and transformed the mobile device into a virtual projector.

“The mobile device has become, in a way, our mirror and our connector to the other.”

ADC: Is Arcade Fire particularly interested in innovative technology as a way to market their band to a specific audience? How did your relationship with them work throughout the development process?

Vincent: The Arcade Fire members are really smart and open-minded people. I don’t think they consider those things as marketing. They approach it as a narrative and visual extension of the album. They have an interesting perspective on the world we live in, and technology is part of it. As they say in the song “Reflektor,” we live in the reflective age. The mobile device has become, in a way, our mirror and our connector to the other.

ADC: Do you think that the growing ubiquity of smart phones is having a fundamental impact on people’s behavior while consuming art? Was it important to you to incorporate what people might be doing anyway (looking at their phones) while watching the video?

Vincent: I thought there was something interesting in using something really personal as a window to another world. In the experience, we ask the spectator to face the phone screen toward the computer. Like in the tale of Orpheus (featured in another song on the album), we are asking the viewer to not turn around. We are playing with that tension based on curiosity. A familiar feeling that we live every time we refresh our email or social media accounts on our phone. When the mirror breaks in the video, the protagonist of the video appears in our mobile and we appear in the video on the computer as if the two worlds were swapping in an ultimate broken selfie. In the second half of the video, we invite the spectator to let go and embrace what is happening.

The code of the project is available for download here, and both Vincent and Google Creative Lab’s Aaron Koblin encourage “geeks” like them to play around with the structure. So not only can you experience this award-winning work, you can learn from its creation and find new ways to experiment with Mobile Creativity.