I was only 14 years old when the Gorillaz released their debut album of the same name in spring 2001. This virtual band was different – something new and exciting. What was so special about them? The band is not represented by real persons, but by four animated, fictive characters. Various musicians and producers work together on the music, so there are no “real life” alter egos for the individual band members. At the same time, each of the animated characters has individual character traits and a detailed biography.
Literally everyone back in my ninth grade could sing along with their first single “Clint Eastwood” – well at least the chorus: I ain‘t happy, I’m feeling glad / I got sunshine in a bag… – btw: I didn’t have to google the lyrics; I still know them by heart.
That was 16 years ago and the Gorillaz are about to release their fifth record Humanz next week. Just like me, many other millennials are bound to be curious of the next album by the virtual band members 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs and Noodle. Animated characters alone do not evoke waves of excitement anymore; they have become way too ordinary. But just like the development in technology, the Gorillaz didn’t just stop: The band’s world developed further and with the new Augmented Reality (AR) app “THE LENZ” by Deutsche Telekom, fans can now explore it up close. AR meets Gorillaz? I have to take a closer look at this!
I can download THE LENZ easily and for free in the AppStore or in the Play Store, I choose the iOS version. Download is extremely quick, the app opens and asks whether I am ready for the Gorillaz. Of course! The app goes straight into the camera mode and lets me know that I will need a magenta colored surface for the next step. Working for my employer, that’s no problem at all: There is a magenta notebook on my desk and on the wall close by is a small magenta symbol.
But no worries: Thanks to „chroma keying“, the app turns all surfaces which range somewhere between pink and blackberry into a virtual portal to display exclusive Gorillaz content. This means: As soon as I point my camera at my magenta notebook, pictures and short video sequences appear. Totally in the style of the Gorillaz, the look is rather gloomy: A mixture of sci-fi, hip hop, old horror movies and anime. Even though I have already tested many AR apps and devices, I still find it extremely cool how I can not only dive into the Gorillaz’ universe with the app, but also bring them into my world: With a single click, Murdoc (vocals and bass guitar) pops up on my desk. Thanks to various recordings of the first live performance, I can already listen to parts of the new album Humanz – before the official release date.
My test continues: With the app, I zoom right into the Gorillaz House, the band’s virtual home. THE LENZ brings the fictive characters to life, turns the virtual band members into personalities with history. For me, it’s a little bit like meeting an old acquaintance from my school days. For me, the selfie feature might be the coolest. Just get in front of a magenta surface and take a selfie with your favorite band member. And share it with just another click in the social networks or save it on your Smartphone.
THE LENZ is easy to operate and a fun gimmick. No doubt, the app is a must-have for real fans. For everyone else, it is just a really cool example of what Augmented Reality is already capable of today and intrigues you of what is yet to come. In another 16 years, I’ll be in my mid-forties. Who knows, maybe by then, I’ll be able to stream the Gorillaz as a hologram on the bench beside me with 5G. I'll stay curious.