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How 'Augmented Reality' Software Can Blur the Lines Between Online and Offline Worlds

Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the January 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

Mastodon makes music as powerful, as intimidating and as heavy as the prehistoric beast that lends the group its name. Formed in Atlanta in 1999, Mastodon--lead guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor, bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders and guitarist Bill Kelliher--is at the forefront of a generation of bands expanding heavy metal beyond its headbanging roots into new realms of sonic complexity and thematic daring.

With the recording industry now a lumbering dinosaur facing extinction of its own, Mastodon's most recent album, 2011's The Hunter, extends the quartet's high-concept sensibilities beyond the music--their 2004 album, Leviathan, drew inspiration from the novel Moby-Dick, while 2009's Crack the Skye charted the adventures of a quadriplegic hero who learns the art of astral projection--into its packaging. The move is intended to steer fans away from simply downloading or sharing digital files and instead purchasing the vinyl or CD release.

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"For a band like Mastodon, a lot of fans want something extra--it's up to the labels and up to the bands to figure out new and exciting ways for them to want to purchase the music," Dailor says.

Mastodon commissioned artist A.J. Fosik to create a sculpture depicting the head of a mythical, bull-like creature for The Hunter's cover art, then teamed with Paris-based Total Immersion, an Augmented Reality (AR) software and solutions developer with offices in Los Angeles, to build an interactive 3-D experience that uses the listener's smartphone or computer camera to transpose the sculpture's head over their own, mirroring their movements in real time.

"We're always keen on doing something innovative--we like to go as far as we can," Dailor says. "We knew [AR] was something new and different. It had the potential to be cool, but we weren't sure how to implement it. In the end, it was an obvious choice to make the Hunter head the head of a person. It was the coolest thing we could do."

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AR technologies can do a lot of cool things, especially for small businesses. AR-based mobile applications essentially translate the digital experience to the offline world, overlaying contextual information on top of live video streams. For example, a shopper could enter a brick-and-mortar retailer, hold their phone in front of an item and access location-specific product details, prices, store discounts and customer reviews. Consumers could even "try on" the latest fashions or watch step-by-step instructional videos on how to install a new appliance.

"AR can transform passive consumers into active consumers," says Total Immersion co-founder and CEO Bruno Uzzan. "It has the potential to disrupt any kind of market."

In addition to Mastodon, Total Immersion has worked on AR development projects for clients such as Paramount Pictures, Cartoon Network and Dior. The startup also offers a suite of licensed D'Fusion solutions that enable software developers to build their own AR experiences for smartphones, tablets, PCs and even connected TVs; its D'Fusion Mobile product touts a 3-D rendering engine and facial recognition tools optimized for next-level mobile commerce experiences.

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"It's a no-brainer that AR will be used in many activities," Uzzan says. "This is where the world is going."

Total Immersion's innovations certainly struck a chord with Mastodon. "Nobody else has done anything like this, and it ended up being cheaper than a lot of the hands-on, tangible promotional ideas we were discussing," Dailor says. "We're excited to be a part of [AR] and we're looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. I hope more bands pick up on it--that's the only way it will grow. But it's cool to be the first."

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