How augmented reality will make street art come to life

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Amid vagabonding taco trucks and art galleries, in Miami’s sunny art district, Wynwood, there are blocks and blocks of mural-embossed buildings. It’s a neighborhood with fantastic imagery only limited to an artist’s imagination. It’s also a community that is using technology in an unprecedented way to engage smartphone-distracted passersby.

Indeed, it’s here, among walls that have borne murals of Yoda wielding a “Stop Wars” sign and an elephant with a swaying bouquet of tentacle-like trunks, that a curious new spray-painted mural has been beguiling locals and visitors alike for months. If Miami creatives are right, then this particular work, by street artist Eduardo Kobra, is one of the first fruits of a revolution about to take the art world by storm.

'Stop Wars' mural by Eduardo Kobra
‘Stop Wars’ mural by Eduardo Kobra

A panel from Eduardo Kobra’s 80-meter mural ‘
Give peace a Chance’ (2015) in Miami, Florida. (Credit: Eduardo Kobra)

Fittingly, one of the subjects of the massive mural, emblazoned on the exterior of a restaurant named R House, is Salvador Dali. With a surprised gaze, the surrealist looks on with a rainbow-checkered pattern across his face. The mural already looks bold and vibrant, much like the other works across the neighborhood. It’s not like every other mural, though. When an in-the-know passerby points their smartphone to the work the image becomes animated via augmented reality.

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On the phone’s screen, the colorful blocks begin to be swept away, as though by the wind, revealing a black-and-white checkered underlayer. It’s in this grayscale scene that a butterfly with ultraviolet wings flits and rests on Dali’s cheek, sending his eyes into rolling excitement. To the naked eye, the mural is static, immutable, but with AR the image is placed within a dynamic scene.

South Florida-based artists, such as Luis Valle, who has spraypainted murals across Miami, say this particular intersection of technology and art is thrilling. Valle believes AR will help creatives better connect their work with onlookers because of its ability to make art more evocative.

“The technology is brand new and only the beginning. What we can do with it is only limited to what we can think up,” Valle tells Big Think. “It definitely does enliven the art experience. Everyone has a smartphone these days and with AR you can add many added elements to an art piece. You can add sound, motion and 3D elements to the experience, which affects more of your senses.”

Dubbed ‘ARt’, pieces where augmented reality and art converge aren’t just bringing passersby together in wide-eyed clusters, they’re also bringing artists closer to their tech-savvy counterparts. For instance, when Valle decided to make new business cards, he collaborated with the AR team that brought Kobra’s mural into motion, Mussa. The result? Cards and promotional posters that, when viewed on the company’s app, conjure up one of Valle’s characters, El Shamansito—a skull-faced demigod, of sorts.

“So far my experience has been with my logo and character, El Shamansito,”…

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