Meta x Murakami at The Broad
As one of the most famous and beloved living artists, Takashi Murakami’s exhibitions always create a lot of excitement and fanfare. For his first solo exhibition at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, Takashi Murakami: Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow, BUCK was invited to collaborate with Meta on six site-specific AR experiences.
Go With the Flow
Drawing from Mr. Murakami’s catalog of expressive characters, these AR installations marry his vision with the architecture and ethos of The Broad. But the goal was not to simply add virtual sculptures for some extra razzle dazzle. The AR activations serve as a guide for the journey visitors take through the museum — starting at the East-West Bank Plaza and flowing all the way through to the exhibition gallery space.
The effects are discoverable through custom activation vinyls onsite and used Meta Spark’s Multiplane Tracking capabilities for AR effects.
They call me Mr. DOB
When arriving at The Broad, visitors are greeted by Murakami’s mascot, Mr. DOB, who floats on a cloud over the lawn of the plaza like an oversized parade float, surrounded by blooming/smiling Ohana Flowers. The location of the AR activation is designed to celebrate the iconic facade of The Broad which makes for the perfect backdrop to the festive scene.
Mr. DOB sits cross-legged in a meditative pose, his thumbs and middle fingers connected. The 3D model has been rigged and animated so that Mr. DOB breathes, lifts and drops his arms, and wiggles his toes from time to time. His eyes have been cel-animated and applied as a texture onto the optimized 3D model.
The large 3D Ohana Flowers floating around Mr. DOB bloom at the start of the experience, and then their cel-animated faces change expressions on a loop. Their color variations are controlled via a custom technique in Meta Spark that allows us to fit a lot of color ways into a small space.
AR experiences are usually under 4mb because they have to be rendered on your phone. Our creative technology (CT) mad scientists cooked up a space-saving system that allowed for a dozen colorways, giving the effects both a better and faster performance.
The small, cel-animated 2D Ohana Flowers bloom open as they rain down from the cloud as particles. These assets are packed sprite sheets that our CTs found a way to cram into our data budget limit, providing playful animation in an array of Murakami rainbow hues.
The Broad Map
At the start of this collaboration, BUCK toured the museum with the Broad’s team to get an understanding of the journey that visitors take — where they arrive, where they queue for entrance, paths they walk in the lobby, and where they enter the special exhibition gallery. Armed with this information, we could plan where best to stage our activations.
Oh hi, Ohana!
Before entering The Broad, all visitors must queue up and walk through the Veil, a partition of The Broad’s iconic facade that drapes down, separated by a walkway between the lobby’s glass wall. There, visitors are entertained by large Ohana Flowers that bloom at the top of the Veil and smile down at visitors as they wait to enter.
The 3D Ohana Flowers were repurposed from the Mr. DOB effect, but six more color ways were added to make the Veil pop with technicolor variety.
Accentuate, but don’t add.
The tightrope we walk on a job like this is how do we accentuate Mr. Murakami’s work through placement and context without imbuing them with new meaning? This is a harder line to walk than one might think. When work gets recontextualized, there are inevitably new meanings that can be drawn out. We were mindful to maintain that balance — ensuring that what we did through our AR effects only accentuated his work.
Thankfully, we were never working in a vacuum. This was a true collaboration between the curators at The Broad and BUCK. With every piece and its considered placement, there were conversations about the meaning of the art, the theme of the exhibit and how best to communicate that with the public.
Demons standing sentry
One of the nice things about AR is it allows museum curators to put on a bigger and more ambitious show than the budget might allow. Mr. Murakami’s giant-sized Demon sculptures (Embodiment of ‘A’ and Embodiment of ‘Um’) debuted at the same show where the titular painting, Standing on the Tail of a Rainbow went on display so including them in The Broad exhibit made sense. But they were traveling at the time so it was not possible to physically ship them to Los Angeles in time. By building them in AR, Mr. Murakami and The Broad did not have to compromise their vision.
IRL, the sculptures stand at an imposing 14' tall. Ed Schad, The Broad’s curator, wanted the AR versions to ‘stand guard’ in the lobby with a similar, looming effect, but this presented unexpected challenges. First, it was difficult to designate enough floor space for them in a way that wouldn’t affect the flow of crowds through the lobby. Second, the illusion of presence, and correctly representing occlusion on visitors’ devices (e.g. when a person walked “in front” of one of the sculptures), was only possible with the latest generation of smartphones.
We arrived at the idea to ‘carve’ giant, virtual negative voids into the walls of the lobby itself to house the demons, which felt like the proper home for these modern-day interpretations of Nio (temple guards). These alcoves solved three problems in one stroke: they didn’t create bottlenecks with foot traffic; ensured the sculptures could be viewed on a wider band of devices; and alleviated performance issues by reducing the visible parts of the sculptures that needed to be rendered.
Attack of the Clones
Mr. Murakami’s Clone X Avatar series, made in partnership with RTFKT, represents his second body of NFT works. Excited by the potential of this new digital form, Murakami designed these ‘sculptures’ to be used in the metaverse but after completing them, Murakami made IRL chrome versions of them.
Two of them: HIROPON and My Lonesome Cowboy were concurrently on display at the Gagosian Gallery in NYC when The Broad exhibit was being installed. By transforming them into perfectly rendered AR effects, Murakami was able to teleport his work to the new space and The Broad was able to add a sculptural dimension to one of the galleries. Think about this: these “digital ghosts” sprung from Mr. Murakami’s head and into the metaverse — then they took physical form — only to return back again before entering the public’s mindscape.
Is this how the singularity begins?
The Champagne was not virtual.
Looking back at this job, it feels like a fever dream — the pace and ambition of the exhibition and what we were trying to achieve with the AR effects was dizzying. The way they complemented the artworks exceeded our expectations.
It was an incredible experience and an honor to be working with Mr. Murakami and his studio as well as the amazing people at The Broad. And we always love working with the Meta team who generously brought us into this mind-expanding project. We walked away with invaluable insights and learnings that we hope to apply to equally ambitious projects in the future.
Group Creative Director
Michelle Higa Fox
Lead Creative Technologist
Lead Creative Technologist
Juan Carlos Barraza Mendoza
Luka Lan Gabriel