Here are the apps we built for SXSW 2018

Art, technology—and muggy Austin weather

Music and art festivals come in all shapes and sizes.

Treefort, in downtown Boise, ID, is modest in scope—about 24,000 people attended in 2018. Other festivals, like Coachella, draw crowds that are bigger than many mid-sized cities.

South By Southwest, however, is in a class all of its own.

A multi-day celebration of art, culture, and technology, South By—as it is colloquially known—is a sprawling festival spanning everything from music to comedy and beyond. Started in 1986, South by Southwest quickly expanded well beyond its modest beginnings to become a cultural juggernaut, attracting over 400,000 people this year, as well as some of the world’s most prominent celebrities, musicians, authors, journalists and technology companies.

At South by Southwest in 2018, we developed a number of fun, innovative applications for the Digital Artistry House, a modish, happening activation sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. Over 5,000 individuals visited the House each day , and our applications were covered by ADWeek and EnGadget.

AI by Moon

Technology and art don’t always occupy distinct spheres; technology can be art, and art can be technology. But it’s at the intersection of the two, when art and technology coalesce, that truly beautiful things emerge.

AI by Moon combined the vibrant, surreal art of French illustrator moonue (whose birth name is Olivier Menanteau) with advanced facial detection software, designed by yours truly, to create unique, artistic, and easily shareable portraits.

For this activation, users lined up to get a professional portrait. Then, we cut the user’s face out of the original picture and morphed, blended, and mixed it into moon’s artwork using an advanced facial detection algorithm. Major elements from the original piece were cut out and separated into layers, then animated in code or with shaders. Based on the user’s skin tone, two techniques are blended to create the final image. If the user selected multiple faces, their MP4 and Animated GIF will cycle through each selection for a fun, custom animation.

The line for this activation wended throughout the Digital Artistry House, as people waited to give the app a try. When they were finished, people walked away with a gif or MP4 file they could share across social media, or turn into a unique profile picture.

Digital Aristry Competition (Laptop Skinz app)

Moon by AI took a user’s face and transformed it into art; the Laptop Skinz app allows the user to become the artist.

At SXSW, our app was the centerpiece of the “Digital Artistry Competition,” which gave users a chance to compete for a HP ZBook x2 workstation.

The app worked as follows:

Once launched, the app first asked the user to register and select a specific laptop size by make and model. The app then created a new file for the user based on a template and seamlessly launched it in Photoshop, which users then used to create their laptop skin design. Once the user had finished crafting his or her masterpiece, the file would be sent to an HP printer and emblazoned on a laptop skin.

We matched the template files to the laptop data using a custom data set created in BlackFrame, our proprietary content management system. The data set created in BlackFrame was a custom data set built on the fly and tailored to our exact needs. Because of that, we circumvented the need to setup a new database or table structure to feed the application the data. Using BlackFrame gave us remote control of the data which the app pulled down each time it opened.

The gallery app

Gallery application

Is a festival truly worth attending if it doesn’t feature a caricature artist? Probably, but that doesn’t mean caricature artists don’t make trendy festivals even cooler.

The final app we built for SXSW 2018 was a sleek and minimalist photo gallery, designed to give users the ability to easily view and share caricatures drawn by artist Len Hernandez. Though relatively straightforward, the app met our client’s dual objective of being both uncomplicated and aesthetically pleasing.

The caricatures drawn by Hernandez were scanned and uploaded to a file directory connected to the gallery app. The app displayed the images in a neat row and continually refreshed itself to bring in the latest ones. Even though thousands of attendees lined up to get their faces drawn, the app made it easy for everyone to find their respective caricatures without searching through thousands of files.

Once selected in the app, users could choose to get their caricature sent to their email.

SXSW is a cutting-edge festival, and it invariably features many of the brightest and most innovative minds in the world. Because of this, we felt challenged to create activations worthy of the festival’s bold, visionary style. Over multiple days, people lined up for hours to enter the Digital Artistry House and try out our applications.

Cherlynn Low, a writer and editor at Engadget, described the popularity of the Digital Artistry House this way:

According to HP, close to ten thousand people came through the Digital Artistry House, taking part in activities ranging from an AI portrait generator and an on-the-spot art contest to a series of panels. I was surprised at the amount of people that turned out, to the point where I felt bad cutting ahead of the dozens of people waiting in line under the sun to get in.

A good application, well-crafted and engaging, can draw a throng of excited people. Three exceptional applications? Well, you’d need an entire house to fit them.