The Band Real Estate Created an Animated, Interactive Music Video With a Wieden + Kennedy Director

Viewers can paint the second single 'Stained Glass'

Real Estate's music video is an interactive paint-by-number for their song 'Stained Glass.' Real Estate
Headshot of Marty Swant

For many bands, live shows are the best way to turn songs into musical paint-by-numbers. The contour is the crowd. The lights and projections are the palette. And yet, more often than not, the people are passive. They can’t do anything other than clap their hands and say ‘yeah,’ basking in the dream of a drum-induced coma, or maybe torn between looking up at their favorite band and down at their favorite app.

For the second single on their latest album, the band Real Estate decided to do something different by creating an interactive animated music video for the song “Stained Glass” that lets viewers color in the band as they walk through the scene. The video, which debuts today, fittingly resembles a stained glass window.

According to frontman Martin Courtney, the video reflects the personality of their latest album, In Mind, which debuted in March. It’s “surreal,” but also “loose and playful and fun.” It also reflects the entire process of creating it.

“When we were finishing the record, we were talking about how colorful the music felt to us,” Courtney said in an interview. “So it’s a good interpretation that you can play with it and it’s colorful, and those are all words that describe this record.”

The video does seem to capture the dreamy, playful, chill sound that the band is known for. If you pick the right colors, the trees, mountains and even musicians become reminiscent of something Dr. Seuss might create if he were still alive and listening to “Stained Glass” for the first time.

To create the effect, Allen and his team had each of the band members play and lip sync the song in front of a green screen, complete with a green treadmill that allowed them to create the effect of walking through the entire video while still being a more accurate-yet-animated composite of themselves.

In a way, there are two versions of the video. There’s the interactive version, which lives in a microsite created for the song. Then there’s the one on YouTube, which functions more like a music video that was pre-colored and recorded.

Animated videos are still fairly rare as a medium. However, it’s something the band has been wanting to do for a while. According to Courtney, the original idea was to create some sort of commercial for the album that would first debut as a television campaign before finding a more lasting—and hopefully more viral—sensation online. (The video was created in collaboration with Wieden + Kennedy group creative director Craig Allen and the digital production company MediaMonks.)

“That’s the whole thing with videos. you don’t want to just make one for the sake of making one,” he said. “We always want it to be interesting for us from a creative standpoint. It’s a thing we’re associating ourselves with that will exist on the internet until the internet is gone.”

But if there’s an underlying theme or philosophy for Real Estate’s sound, Courtney said it’s to never be too serious. The playfulness is something Real Estate shares with Allen, who the band initially met through keyboardist Matt Kallman. At Wieden + Kennedy, Allen has created fun campaigns for brands like Old Spice and Skittles.

The way Allen tells the story, they had originally thought of nearly a dozen concepts. But then one day he found himself doodling in a notebook while listening to the song, and he realized the music reminded him of something he’d want to paint along to. (It also reminded him of coloring in one of those adult coloring books that have become popular in the past few years.)

“I kind of feel like they’re this laid-back, perfect sunny day band,” he said. “We wanted it to be happy, but everything we did, we tried to time to the song, so it’s laid-back, it’s them.”

According to Allen, everyone who’s played with it in various stages of production has interacted with it in different ways. Some people fill in colors as the song progresses, while Allen himself prefers to fill in the entire video until it looks nice before hitting the play button. (Others have said they use it as a stress reliever during meetings.)

“I thought, how cool would it be to make a video with your fans instead of just showing it to them,” he said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.