Childish Gambino

Pharos

Creating an immersive world with a VR experience for smartphones and real-time projection dome visuals

In collaboration with Microsoft

Grammy Award-winning artist Childish Gambino (alter ego of the multi-talented Donald Glover) approached Microsoft with his vision for Pharos. He wanted a virtual world that would blend the physical and digital, real and imaginary, and to share the experience with his fans around the globe.

Radio Design collaborated with Microsoft and Childish Gambino to create a Pharos VR experience for his 2017 album Awaken, My Love!, and graphics for a 2500 capacity projection dome at his Pharos concert in California’s Joshua Tree National Park.

Pharos was awarded Gold and Silver in the Clio Awards 2017.

Virtual Reality App

Pharos VR takes fans on a 12 minute trip, starting at the front row of the concert in Joshua Tree and away into a vibrant, imaginary world. The app features 4 live tracks recorded in spatial audio and blends real-time 3D animation with 360 degree video of the event.

“Me and Your Mama” and “Zombies” place you inside the projection dome on the opening night, while “California” and “Stand Tall” transport you into a colourful CGI world. You pass through a glowing forest with a procession of skeletons, share a moment with a hologram of Childish Gambino, before launching into space for a cosmic finale.

Pharos VR was released as a limited edition download with Awaken, My Love!. The app was created in Unity and optimised for smartphones with a headset. Here’s a clip of track 3, “California”:

Motion Capture

Did you know Childish Gambino performed the parts of all his characters in Pharos?

We used Microsoft Kinect with iPi Studio to capture Childish Gambino and dancer Eka Take performing the actions, and used the tracking data to drive the character rigs in Unity. We created over 90 different sequences for use in the concert and the VR app.

Animating all 7 characters by hand for the 60 minute concert was out of the question in the timeframe. Our solution to use motion capture streamlined the process and condensed 6 month’s work into 2.

Childish Gambino Hologram

In the final scene of the VR experience you find yourself standing face to face with a hologram of Childish Gambino singing “Stand Tall”. It’s a powerful moment, especially for his fans.

Fellow collaborators TimeSlice Films captured the performance in 4D volumetric using Microsoft Kinect and Mimesys Studio. We used the point cloud depth data combined with the RGB data to create the hologram treatment in the VR app.

Character Design

Pharos character design, 3D modelling and concept artwork created by Mikael Gustafsson.

In order of appearance: Witch Doctor, White Face Choir, Adult Skeleton, Baby Skeleton, Ghost, Wolf, Tribal Dancer.

Storyboards

The end-to-end experience we developed in collaboration with Childish Gambino based on his original script.

The Process

It all started with post-it notes and sellotape. The culmination of several trips to LA creating the experience flow with Childish Gambino, where we blocked the character’s actions and charted the emotional curves and colour themes for the story.

The Projection Dome

If you were passing through Joshua Tree National Park between 2nd-4th September 2016, you’d be forgiven for thinking something had landed in the desert. For those lucky enough to experience it, the Pharos dome was a truly immersive, memorable and pioneering live experience.

Our idea to use a projection dome with real-time Unity content allowed the teams to share assets across both the concert visuals and the VR app release, and maintain design symmetry between the two deliverables. Essentially the dome functioned as a giant shared VR experience for thousands of people.

A Microsoft creative collaboration with Radio Design, TimeSlice Films, Really Interactive and SoundNode.

Project Credits

  • Musical ArtistDonald Glover
  • Managing DirectorChad Taylor
  • Creative DirectorFam Rothstein
  • Art DirectorIbra Ake
  • Technical LeadMiles Konstantin
  • Music DirectorLudwig Göransson
  • Executive ProducersMicrosoft, Wolf + Rothstein
  • GM BrandJeff Hansen
  • Director, Strategic Partnerships, Brand StudiosAmy Sorokas
  • Lifestyle MarketingJennifer Buckmaster
  • Creative DirectorFred Warren
  • Art and Animation DirectorBen Cook
  • Technical DirectorGiri Tharmananthar
  • Development LeadJoão Guerra
  • Character and Environment Artwork and ModellingMikael Gustafsson
  • 1st AD and DOPCallum Macmillan
  • Audio Design DirectorDaniel Jaramillo
  • AnimatorNick Savvy
  • AnimatorAdam Spring
  • AnimatorHai Phung
  • DeveloperBjörn Albihn
  • DeveloperJonatan Crafoord
  • CameraAndrew Gibson
  • CameraMat Hay
  • Sound ProductionMarco Toca Ramirez
  • Sound DesignerChris Lane
  • Video ProductionJoe Steele
  • Video ProductionKim Curtin
  • StoryboardsRob Cheetham
  • DancerEka Take
  • VR App initial visual designDilan Manahan