Friday, April 30, 2010

Crowdsourcing Album Art: The Johnny Cash Project

Producer Rick Rubin was having an understandably hard time deciding on the visual to accompany the single for Johnny Cash’s final album – American VI: Ain’t No Grave – the options for a posthumously released album tend to be rather limited given the sensitive nature of the release. Director Chris Milk luckily had an idea that matched the challenge – and the artist’s iconically defiant attitude – perfectly.

Milk and creative technologist Aaron Koblin pitched The Johnny Cash Project, a crowdsourced web film that allows fans to create original drawings based on archival frames of Cash, combined with animation. Pieced together in sequence and set to “Ain’t No Grave”, the artwork becomes an ever-evolving, abstract portrait. The project’s drawing tool allows contributors to illustrate over single frames of archival footage, undo or redo brush strokes, customize brushes and zoom in to perfect details.

When finished, contributors have the option of categorizing their creations as “abstract”, “sketchy”, “realistic” or “pointillism”. Viewers can then choose to watch versions of the ever-evolving video comprised of work that falls into one of those categories – or the most recent or highest-rated frames. So far fans have contributed more than 4,600 frames.

The Johnny Cash Project is a great example of how crowdsourcing with a passionate community can work successfully to engage fans – vs. dictating something as subjective, conversational and polarizing as album art. It also demonstrates how well the integrity of a “brand” – in this case, Cash and his defiance (and publicly perceived character) – can be honored, respected and evolved – even when handing it over to fans.
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