The HBO series Game of Thrones has had no shortage of plot twists—including notable deaths of key characters each season—but perhaps no character has had quite the journey of Arya Stark (played by Maisie Williams), who has transformed from a young girl with dreams of adventure to a world-traveled assassin in training.
Earlier this year New York art studio Red Paper Heart created an installation that allows participants to take part in their own Arya-inspired transformation. The Game of Thrones “Sword Experience,” which was installed at SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin and Comic Con in San Diego in 2015, allows fans of the show to receive sword training and at the same time see their digital likeness undergo a transformation.
As part of the experience, users are photographed in a custom-configured studio before stepping onto the Game of Thrones-inspired stage, where they wield a replica of Arya’s training sword against a 10′ x 10′ projection screen. As projected targets are hit, they spill artwork onto the canvas inspired by the show’s visuals, including blades, dragon claws, raven feathers and direwolf fur. At the same time, the user’s portrait morphs, undergoing an evolution akin to Arya’s.
The experience is similar to gameplay on a video game console with a motion controller, but on a grander scale.
“We tend to take readily available technology and find interesting things to do with it,” says Zander Brimijoin, co founder and creative director at Red Paper Heart. “The Xbox and Wii games are traditional applications where you might win something, but for the live environment we’re more focused on an experience than gameplay. There is a storyline along with the interaction, but the underlying technology is similar.”
The “Sword Experience” uses wooden swords rather than game controllers, for one. Embedded in the swords are wireless gyroscope and accelerometer sensors to measure the trajectory and velocity of each swing. This interaction in turn affects the visuals much like in a console game. The visuals are produced via a custom graphics engine built with C++ framework Cinder and blend both 2D and 3D elements, while the user’s portrait is built up through the experience and then shared the moment the user steps off the stage.
“We wanted to make something that was larger than life; that was immersive, with sound and light around you; and where the space is built out and yet still evocative of the Game of Thrones experiences,” adds Brimijoin. “The goal was to create something different than what you could get in a living room.
“Through the experience they see a ghosted image of themselves and it fills in as a portrait on the screen,” he notes. “This gives them a goal as well as an end product for their effort.”
Red Paper Heart worked with Civic Entertainment Group on the experience, with the latter building out the activation space while the former created the actual installation. While unique to Game of Thrones, this interactive art project could easily translate to any number of properties, but Brimijoin said he’d like to do more than just change the backgrounds if he were asked to adapt it.
“We rarely do the same thing more than once,” Brimijoin says. “If we were to do something for, say, Star Wars, we’d want to start from scratch and not just turn the swords into light sabers.”
In this way Red Paper Heart might just make its own transformations with each of its projects.