Linkin Park’s Lost In The Echo interactive video uses fans photos
Linkin Park’s Lost In The Echo interactive video is now up at http://lostintheecho.com. The video application asks permission for temporary access to the fans’ Facebook photos and incorporates them in the video. Mike Shinoda and co-director Jason Nickel spoke to Wired about the video in an interview below. A non-interactive version of the video will be up in a couple of days on Linkin Park’s Youtube page
New Linkin Park Video Implants Your Friends’ Faces Into Post-Apocalyptic Memories
No member of Linkin Park appears in the band’s new video, but some of your closest friends can get some prime screen time with the simple click of a button.
The video for “Lost in the Echo,” a “personalized film experience” that pulls in images from Facebook to weave your loved ones into its post-apocalyptic storyline, is slated to go live Wednesday at 11 a.m. Pacific on the Lost in the Echo website.
“We’re trying to make it about the story, rather than just pulling in the novelty or the gimmick of these Facebook photos,” said the video’s co-director Jason Nickel in a phone interview with Wired. “We’re trying to tie your personal life into the actual story, so that it’s logical and it seems like it was actually created for you rather than kind of shoehorned in there just because we could do it.”
The atmospheric music video is part of a swelling stream of “interactive” projects that tap Facebook Connect and other datasets to power a new sort of storytelling. By blending personal data with traditional imagery, “Lost in the Echo” seamlessly injects the viewer into the video — with results that are sometimes surprising.
Unlike some previous interactive projects, there’s no tedious uploading or cropping of images — everything takes place in the background once the viewer links their Facebook account to the video.
“We talked about doing a few different interactive ideas, but in the end, we’ve always liked the idea of just having the user click a button and they are off viewing the experience with minimal interaction,” Nickel said.
Nickel and creative partner Jason Zada explored similar territory with their award-winning interactive horror short Take This Lollipop, which used Facebook Connect to make it look like the viewer was being stalked by a sweaty creep wearing a wife-beater. (Zada is currently seeking funding for a Take This Lollipop sequel on Kickstarter.)
For the Linkin Park video, Zada and Nickel worked closely with Mike Shinoda, the rapper/multi-instrumentalist who writes many of the Southern California rap/rock band’s songs. The group wanted a video that would make a personal connection with its 44 million Facebook fans while also augmenting the theme of the latest Linkin Park record, Living Things.
“This album ended up being very much about ‘you’ and ‘me,’” Shinoda told Wired by phone, “so when it came time to think about this video … the idea of doing something that was also very personal and connected to somebody’s memories — you know, the things in people that they’re not letting go, that maybe they’re hung up on or have issues with — to do a video that touched on some of that felt like it fit with the song really well.”
The “Lost in the Echo” video, set to a typically energetic Linkin Park track, shows a young man walking with a briefcase into ruined buildings in a grim future where photographs don’t exist anymore. Once inside, he opens the case, revealing snapshots to various characters. The actors exhibit some rather extreme emotional responses to the images, which come directly from the Facebook accounts of the viewer and the viewer’s friends. The images are essentially composited in real-time using flash, Nickel said, and each play of the video will be slightly different, even if the same viewer is watching.
“It’s basically like special effects that are being done on the fly,” said Zada, who handled the more traditional directing duties on the “Lost in the Echo” shoot.
To pull off the video’s personalized elements, Nickel wrestled with code to effectively pair Zada’s visuals with the data served up Facebook (no data is retained after the personalized video plays).
“There’s no real API for this kind of thing — we just deal with the raw data from Facebook,” Nickel said. “And even though Facebook actually has algorithms built into the backend on their side to show you who your most popular friends are and all that kind of stuff, [the social network] doesn’t open that up for developers. It’s all up to us to kind of just take the raw data and parse through it to figure out, ‘OK, does this person have a photo and are they tagged in here and how many people are tagged in there?’ It’s all stuff that we have to kind of just come up with from scratch.”
Nickels said he spent a lot of time tweaking his algorithms in an effort to pull in appropriate images. There is a margin of error involved, and he said Tuesday that he was still tinkering with face recognition in an effort to fine-tune the results (“There’s a lot of food pics on Facebook, so it is tough to deal with that for sure,” he said.)
“We ran into a lot of pitfalls with what data people had,” Nickel said. “There’s just so many different ways, different logic flows you could go down depending on how many friends they had, if they have a significant other listed, if that person has a photo, how many photos [the viewer is] tagged in, if there’s anything that’s popular on [their] photo list.”
Writing code that effectively sorts and prioritizes images in an attempt to serve up an optimal photo for a pivotal scene is anything but an exact science, but “that photo that you see in there, hopefully, meant something to you,” said Zada.
While Nickel and Zada faced technological challenges, Shinoda ran interference with his bandmates and label execs at Warner Bros.
“Sometimes the things [Nickel] was trying to describe about what he wanted to do with a certain treatment or concept were so hard to understand,” Shinoda laughed. “He was like talking in ones and zeros, and the other folks on the phone are just saying, like, ‘OK, Jason, can you slow down or like backtrack, because … we have no idea what you’re talking about at this point.’”
Technological bafflement aside, the project also faced an uphill battle because of its innovative nature. Shinoda theorized that record labels, already dealing with seismic shifts in distribution, are having a harder time than artists dealing with what he called a “new phase in music videos.”
“Some of the people at the label really fought us over this video, and it was tough, because they just simply wanted to put something static up on the website and on YouTube and Vimeo and whatever,” Shinoda said. “Like, they wanted to put [a static version] up a month before this thing was even ready. And I was saying, ‘That’s crazy. This thing is so much more interesting.’ Even if they look 99 percent similar, the Facebook-connected version is so much more interesting than the static version because of what it does with you as a viewer.”
In the end, the video got made and remained true to the vision of the filmmakers as well as the band. And the most vexing aspect from a data standpoint — dealing with the vagaries of any individual viewer’s Facebook photo library — showcases one of the risks of this sort of experimental project.
Shinoda said some of the band members have secret Facebook accounts where they do all the normal social networking things a typical user might do outside the blinding light of rock ‘n roll stardom. When they tried connecting their hidden Facebook accounts to the “Lost in the Echo” video, they got results Shinoda called “hilarious.”
Using the relatively small datasets “got rid of any consistency with the images that were being shown, so it was almost like people in the video were looking at pictures of, like, a little 14-pound dog and crying,” he laughed.
While his band is known for taking its music seriously, Shinoda said his bandmates actually have a great sense of humor, and the strange “secret” versions of the video — which put a weird spin on the static version’s post-apocalyptic tone — proved entertaining in their own way.
“If we’re watching this video and a picture of your dinner comes up and people are, you know, crying hysterically over that,” he said, “I think that’s one of the things that can make this video great.”