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Will.i.am’s augmented reality revolution

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Written by CNN Staff

This story is part of "Smart Creativity," a series exploring the intersection between high-concept design and advanced technology.

Will.i.am wears a lot of hats: Grammy Award-winning musician; co-founder of the Black Eyed Peas; a judge on TV's "The Voice;" headphones entrepreneur.

And now he's bringing his creativity and flair for innovation into a new dimension, incorporating virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into a variety of interactive experiences.

The Black Eyed Peas performed at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in October. Credit: Neil Lupin/Redferns

"We're doing music, (documentary), short film, long-form, graphic novel, AR, VR," says Will.i.am, whose full name is William Adams. "Things that we've never done. Things that the industry hasn't done."

The project that started this wave of projects was a graphic novel titled "Masters of the Sun." Produced with the publishing giants at Marvel in 2017, it tells what Will.i.am describes as "a heightened story on the rise and the fall of what hip-hop was meant to be." It follows a group of heroes facing off against an ancient god transforming gangsters into zombies, in an allegory for the proliferation of drugs in predominantly black communities in the 1980s.

When viewed with an augmented reality app, Will.i.am's "Masters of the Sun" graphic novel reveals new elements.

When viewed with an augmented reality app, Will.i.am's "Masters of the Sun" graphic novel reveals new elements. Credit: CNN

But to fully experience the graphic novel, readers must download an accompanying AR app: "When we put AR on it, the book comes alive, so people can experience our graphic novel in three-dimensional space," Will.i.am explains. As you scan the pages with your device, characters and scenes seem to jump out of the screen.

The graphic novel then spawned an hour-long, Oculus-backed virtual reality film scored by the Black Eyed Peas and Hans Zimmer, and starring hip-hop legends like KRS-One, Rakim and Queen Latifah.

This autumn, with their Masters of the Sun European tour promoting an album of the same name, the Black Eyed Peas are bringing their AR show on the road. During the finale, the audience is encouraged to take out their phones and watch the stage through an app that overlays the performance with colorful graphics.

With and app specially designed for the Black Eyed Peas Masters of the Sun tour, viewers can add augmented reality graphics to the finale.

With and app specially designed for the Black Eyed Peas Masters of the Sun tour, viewers can add augmented reality graphics to the finale. Credit: Courtesy @culturex_

"We're going to augment the layer between the person on stage — us — and the audience so that when they're watching the show through the lens of their phone, they're seeing something that's not there," Will.i.am said. "It's like Pokémon Go on steroids."

Watch the video above to find out more about Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas' experiential experiments.

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