It's Monday morning, and Arcade Fire wants you to get up and move. The Canadian band, known for breaking music video's fourth wall with interactive outings like the multi-award winning "Wilderness Downtown," are back with "Sprawl II" directed by Vincent Morisset, who no doubt helped start it all on the band's Gold Pencil-winning "Neon Bible" video for the band back in 2007.
Sprawl II, however, takes interactive to a new level, inviting you to get up and move your body, aided by your webcam and the motion-detecting website. The movements you make -- not really dance as much as jerks -- will affect the characters in the video. If you are so inclined, you can also just use your index finger and click your mouse to influence the video.
Montreal director Morisset, who recently signed with production company Unit9 for representation, was then heralded as the pioneer in the burgeoning interactive video scene, one of Creativity's directors to watch in 2008. Since then Arcade Fire went on to work with Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin on The Wilderness Downtown, which leveraged Google Chrome to create a startlingly nostalgic and emotional experience.
Morisset says that he had wanted to do an "interactive cinematrophic"--that is, a video-turned-interactive experience--for a long time, and the idea of motion capture had been running in his head for a while. He had worked on a couple of prototypes that he had been showing Arcade Fire before the band's 2010 album, The Suburbs, was released.
Two years ago, lead singer Regine Chassagne told him that "Sprawl II" would be a "dance-y" song on The Suburbs that would probably fit this idea of dancing in front of your computer. When Morisset heard the song, he fell in love with it, but the project was pushed while he worked as art director on the band's album artwork and the basic web campaign.
Even for the Access-challenged
"There was this desire to develop something that everybody could get something out of," says Morisset. The project keeps in mind people without fast computers or broadband, and is deceptively simple, free from any "minority report" tricks. You move, the characters move, you move faster, the frames move faster. You freeze and the video freezes and then plays in a loop. The result is, fittingly, zombie-like.
Morisset began with what he calls an "intuition" -- an idea that he says has no prior precedent and one he works on "in a fog." First, he and developer Edouard Lanctot-Benoit shot themselves dancing in an alley, an effort to "validate that original intuition." Then, Lanctot- Benoit worked on a primitive code that would react to webcam-based motion. Over the course of three days, the team shot the piece, using two cameras, one a regular one and one that gives a stroboscopic effect that creates the jerky movements when you move quickly.
Choreography was also kept extremely simple, working with straight hand gestures and movements, shot in steady frames that didn't involve any walking around with a camera. The resulting linear video was then edited and adapted to the code to make it interactive.
Motion-detection is not new -- it's been around for at least four or five years -- and Morisset is aware of that. However, what he is breaking ground on is the simplicity and the restrained use of that technology. He points to a web site developed by Stink Digital to promote a Hugo Boss fragrance as a good example of how things can go wrong. "It's important that we keep in mind an experience," he says. "With [Hugo], I just didn't understand it."
Check out the non-interactive version below and experience Sprawl II in full glory here.