Coachella AR parrots

In what could be called the concert of the future, Coachella featured an AR experience attendees won’t soon forget.

Unless you were following the Coachella YouTube Livestream on Saturday night, you might have noticed gigantic green trees and a Godzilla-sized parrot slowly rising over Flume’s stage. Were these massive inflatables? A 200-foot-tall LED screen with mirages? Mind-bending hallucinations?

Hardly any of the preceding. This year, Coachella collaborated with Unreal Engine to produce the first Livestream to include augmented reality technology in a music festival performance. Flume’s artistic team and other technological colleagues collaborated with Unreal Engine to produce gigantic psychedelic 3D graphics that mixed in flawlessly with his stage design and scenery, drifting around the artist and into the Indio sky.

Only spectators at home could see the massive parrots, which were not visible during the celebration. The outcome, albeit just a few minutes long, serves as a model for how live event organizers can use metaverse technology in the future to create unique experiences for at-home spectators. Many metaverse architects anticipate that live events will become increasingly hybrid, incorporating both digital and real-world components and that immersive tools may help make each version of the event different and valuable in its own right. “It doesn’t make sense to just reproduce the live music experience electronically,” says Sam Schoonover, Coachella’s innovation head. “Instead, give fans something fresh and unique that they can’t do in real life.”

AR images have been finding their way into live broadcasts over the previous few years, but primarily as tiny gimmicks. Riot Games sent a massive dragon to the League of Legends Worlds 2017 final’s opening ceremonies; a camera tracked the wailing beast as it swooped over the stadium’s crowd. A massive panther rushed over the Carolina Panthers’ stadium in the same method in September. (Unreal Engine was also used to build the panther.)

Schoonover has been attempting to use similar effects for Coachella’s Livestream for years in an attempt to expand its audience beyond the Empire Polo Club. “The online audience for events is expanding exponentially to the point where perhaps 10 or 20 times more people are viewing the show through a live stream than there are at the festival,” Schoonover adds. “Because the at-home experience can never compare to the at-festival experience, we want to provide artists new methods to express themselves while also increasing audience globally.”

However, earlier attempts at AR testing at Coachella were thwarted due to production costs and a lack of enthusiasm from musicians. To bring the project to completion this year, a collaboration with Epic which is focused on decreasing the barriers to entry for 3D creators, and the support of Flume, an electronic artist who has long prioritized visual craftsmanship at his concerts were required. The artist Jonathan Zawada, who has worked extensively on audio-visual projects with Flume, including NFTs, and the director Michael Hili, who created Flume’s incredibly hallucinogenic recent music video, “Say Nothing,” were key actors in this process. Several additional production firms, including All of It Now, we’re also participating.

As a consequence, giant Australian birds, vividly colorful flowers, and green trees sway in the wind over the stage and teeming throng. The production crew was able to put such 3D visuals into the video stream in real-time thanks to three broadcast cameras outfitted with extra hardware tracking.

According to Schoonover, the images are only the beginning of what may be developed in AR for live performance scenarios. Future artists may, for example, have lighting effects around their faces at all times or coordinate their dancing motions to those of surrounding avatars. It’s easy to see production designers adding in real-time the effects that ubiquitous music video filmmaker Cole Bennett adds to his videos in post-production, or a Snoop Dogg concert accompanied by his Sandbox metaverse creatures.

And, according to Schoonover, when AR glasses become commonplace, these AR experiences will be elevated to a new level. You could eventually be able to watch the performance in 3D from the festival grounds, surrounded by floating AR birds, flora, and anything else 3D artists come up with. “This is the entrance point for individuals who want to receive that Coachella experience from their couches,” he explains.

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