November 12, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Gorillaz Mobile App to Augment Reality at Live Show

Augmented reality apps, which let us see the world as filtered through the camera and screen of a smartphone is an incredible thing, if still a bit gimmicky. They let us see subway stops that are miles away, identify stars, view ratings on top of restaurants, and overlay all sorts of other information on the world around us — and now, augmented reality is set to make a guest appearance at a concert.

Gorillaz, a semi-fictional band including Damon Albarn, the rhythm section of The Clash, and possibly the best selection of musical guests ever assembled for a single album, along with a cast of cartoon characters from the imagination of Albarn’s buddy and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, have conceived what is likely the first iPhone app designed for a single concert.

Features added to the newly updated version of the Gorillaz iPhone app will allow attendees of the band’s November 16 London O2 arena show to point their phones at virtual markers on the venue’s floor to conjure up 3D apparitions of the band and various elements of their cartoon world.

Augmented reality is still very much in its infancy, and these graphics look chunky — sort of like old videogames. Likewise, the first airplane didn’t fly very far. Once graphics designers start borrowing polygonal design tools and virtual lighting kits from game developers, apps like this are going to look much better.

Gorillaz are brave to embrace augmented reality apps so early. But their approach with this album (listen below) has been anything but conventional, with a DVD and a full collection of Plastic Beach-themed web videogames, which Albarn said started as a joke, but have become quite popular with Gorillaz fans causing the crew to spend more time crafting the gameplay.

Now, Damon and his merry band of multimedia artists have broken new ground in the app department. Here’s the official description of what the Gorillaz app will do for iPhone-toting attendees of the band’s London’s O2 show next week:

“The updated app will allow fans attending the live shows to interact with life-sized 3D models and visit the band backstage, using augmented reality to offer a unique view into The Gorillaz’ World. Markers will be deployed throughout the venue including in the arrival areas, VIP suites and on the screens. Each of these markers will interact with the app to unlock hidden submarines, pirate ships and Plastic Beach itself.”

The images above and to the right show what users of the app will see when they look through their phones while pointing them at two of the markers.

What would be cooler, obviously, is if you didn’t need phones in order to see these things.

When I sat down for a chat with Albarn and Hewlett in New York earlier this year, Albarn told me the band is looking for a good way to have holograms of the cartoon members of the band move around on stage and interact with the band. He said he’s willing to accept any ideas anyone might have for how to do this, so if you have one, send it my way via the comments or email, and I’ll pass it along to his publicist.

Here’s a taste of what fans can expect to hear during the show. Who knows, maybe they can add special guest Snoop Dogg onto the stage through the app if he’s too busy to make the trip to London:

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