Lauren Lee has painted the first augmented reality mural in downtown Phoenix. Titled Take Flight, it’s located on the west-facing wall of Roosevelt Row gallery monOrchid, alongside Brian Boner’s 2016 mural depicting hundreds of birds in flight.
The mural was commissioned by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, a nonpartisan group that promotes voter education and campaign funding accountability in Arizona.
“We want young voters to activate their political power,” says Gina Roberts, voter education director for the commission. “We know this generation likes art, and we hope the mural helps to encourage them to vote.”
The mural comprises a pair of wings, with a QR code viewers can scan with their cell phones. Starting on May 4, the mural will have an augmented reality component through Shazam, an app that helps listeners find song titles and lyrics.
People who scan the code and then photograph the wings will see wings in motion. And a person standing between the wings will appear to be in flight.
“This is the first augmented reality mural in Roosevelt Row,” says Ben Dveirin, associate creative director with the Riester advertising agency. The commission hired Riester to help manage its 18 in 2018 campaign. Dveirin came up with the augmented mural concept.
Then, he turned to Lee.
Dveirin was familiar with Lee’s previous work, including her iconic Three Birds mural on the GreenHaus building at Third and Roosevelt streets. That building was demolished in 2015 to make way for a multilevel apartment building, where she later created a three-bird installation titled Three Birds in Flight that towers over the Roosevelt Row arts district.
“I was really excited about the chance to work with the Clean Elections Commission,” Lee says. “I used to be a teacher, and I always encouraged my students to vote just as soon as they were old enough.”
Bringing the mural to life was a two-step process.
First, Lauren painted the wings. Then, developers working in Phoenix and the United Kingdom created the augmented reality component.
Lee actually painted five different sets of wings, each one replacing the wings she’d painted before it. After each pair of wings, a production crew captured the image so it could be integrated into the augmented reality component of the project.
Before Lee started the process, she researched the ways wings work. “I began looking for stop-motion films of birds in flight, and found a video of a white dove.” Then, she thought about how to translate that into “a mythical imaginative bird.” And she thought about what happens to colors in flight.
Today, just the fifth and final mural remains. But the augmented reality experience will include images of all five pieces – which show birds in various stages of flight, such as gliding and cupping. “I painted them very painterly with big brush strokes so the wings looked like they were in motion,” Lee says.
Lee painted the murals between Monday, March 26, and Friday, April 6. That final day, she did live painting during the First Friday art walk, so people got a chance to see part of the process.
The official launch of the completed mural project happens during First Friday in May, when the commission will be on hand near the mural to help people of all ages register to vote. They're also installing a wheat paste version on a wall at the Tucson music venue 191 Toole.
Roberts hopes Lee's mural will be a draw for young potential voters. “We want their first experience with the political process a positive one,” she says.