The White House has been sending annual holiday greetings to US citizens since the 1920s.
This year, it commissioned Nexus Studio’s Interactive Arts team to create an animated AR experience allowing people to explore the building and its gardens.
The greeting is accessed using a free app. Holding a smartphone over a dollar bill while using the app triggers an animation which sees the building brought to life on the surface of the note. (The app also works with printed images of dollar bills or by holding your phone over a photograph of one).
The animation is narrated by White House press secretary Josh Earnest and presents a year in the life of the building. It begins with Obama arriving in a black helicopter and goes on to show events such as Easter egg rolling on the lawn (a tradition introduced by the Obamas), Independence Day fireworks and a snowball fight in winter.
Earnest introduces the building as “the people’s house” and explains its role as a symbol of democracy – one that has been home to dozens of Presidents and their families since the late 1700s.
Changing seasons are depicted by falling autumn leaves, rain clouds and snow. You can also watch a press conference taking place in the Rose Garden and see visitors taking photographs outside the building.
There are plenty of hidden surprises, too – tapping on the roof of the main building makes the Secret Service appear, while touching the roof of the Oval Office reveals the room within. Users can pause the scene to explore the animation in detail, zoom in and out and take screen shots to share on social media.
Nexus Studios was commissioned to make the greeting after creating an augmented cover for the New Yorker magazine. The animation was designed by director Jack Cunningham and built in gaming engine Unity.
It is the studio’s second collaboration with the White House: in 2014, it teamed up with Google’s Made w/ Code initiative and ad agency 72andSunny to create a programme allowing US school girls to code light sequences for the national tree lighting ceremony.
With the US in a state of uncertainty following Donald Trump’s surprise election win, the animation provides a light-hearted look at the White House and a reminder of the building as a constant presence: one that has survived World Wars, Civil Wars and political upheaval.
The app is not political and makes no mention of the current President or President Elect – instead, it aims to highlight some of the many events that take place at the White House each year and recent efforts to open more of the building up to visitors.
The app is fun, intuitive and compatible with smartphones that are up to three years old. Nexus says it was keen to explore how AR could be used in a creative way to tell a story, and says the White House was keen to create something that would be easily accessible.
Christopher O’Reilly, ECD and co-founder at Nexus Studios, says: “We think this digitally innovative experience is a fitting collaboration to mark the end of the Obama’s administration that has sought to engage the tech community in government at an unprecedented level.”
Nexus has created some charming GIFs to promote the app on social media.