Real Estate’s ‘Stained Glass’ interactive music video is a living coloring book

Today, Brooklyn indie rock giants Real Estate take aim at the adult coloring book crowd, launching a fully interactive music video for the song Stained Glass from their new album In Mind.

As the track plays, an animated version of the five-piece band walks over an ever changing landscape of black-outlined shapes, each of which can be filled in with user-selected colors. It’s a fun, paint-by-numbers experience that feels perfectly suited to the driving and cathartic single, and marks the band’s first ever video in which audiences can actively participate in real time.

But if it weren’t for a friendship between keyboardist Matt Kallman and advertising wizard Craig Allen — whose work at mega-ad firm Wieden+Kennedy led to the creation of the now iconic Old Spice Man commercials — fans probably wouldn’t have gotten something so intriguing.

“We thought, ‘If we don’t make this video for Stained Glass, aren’t we all kinda stupid?’”

“We had been interested in an animated video,” said bass player Alex Bleeker when recalling the band’s first conversations with Allen about the project, ”but we were thinking squiggly, hand-drawn Charlie Brown Christmas-style animation,” he chuckles.

Allen, a longtime fan of the band, had something more special in mind.

“There’s so much good content online that if you’re not doing something new and innovative, people aren’t going to seek it out,” he says. “I didn’t really present them any ideas that were straight videos.”

Instead, Allen and the band focused on ways they could actively engage with viewers, eventually settling on the interactive video idea that was partially inspired by his wife’s newfound love of adult coloring books. It’s a visual aesthetic that seemed perfectly suited to the music.

Allen recalls the decision coming easily. “They liked a few of the ideas, but we all thought, ‘If we don’t make this video for Stained Glass, aren’t we all kinda stupid?’”

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Allen paired up with a development team from MediaMonks to help make the group’s creative vision a reality, quickly deciding the best way to create the visual experience would be to shoot the band live and then have animators trace over their image, rather than deal with the months of character studies and art development it would take to create the animation from scratch.

The band gathered in Brooklyn for a day of shooting the live-action shots, which would later be traced frame by frame for the animation. Bleeker and the four other musicians were excited for a multitude of reasons, including the immense ease of the process. Where previous music videos required multiple days of shooting, special locations, and costume work, things were much simpler for this project, as most of the video would be crafted in post-production.

“It’s funny because the most effort went into this music video than any other music video we’ve done by a wide margin, but our own personal effort was so little,“ Bleeker recalls. “It was one day of shooting and we just walked on a treadmill and played the song and that was it. It was just win-win-win-win for us.”

“There’s so much good content, if you’re not doing something innovative, people aren’t going to seek it out.”

While this particular project required relatively little effort from the band itself, Real Estate has a history of going above and beyond to connect listeners to their music. In fact, they recently released an instructional video using guitar tabs and close-ups of their fingers on their instruments to teach people how to play Stained Glass themselves. When tied together with the new interactive video, the pair allow listeners to both visually and musically engage with the band on a deeper level. For Bleeker and the other four members, that’s the most important element.

“So much is interactive that you don’t want to do it for the sake of it,” says Bleeker, “You want it to be engaging.”

With the new interactive video, the band has totally hit the mark. When Allen shared test versions of his side project around the Weiden+Kennedy office, even those who hadn’t ever heard of the band were deeply engaged.

“People want to mess with it,” Allen says, “And then you find yourself pausing it and filling every piece of it with purpose, and then when it turns white again you think, ‘Oh no!’ and pause it again.”

When we told this story to Bleeker over the phone, we heard his voice light up.

“I love hearing that,” he says, turning his thoughts to the happenstance of partnering with Allen for this project.

“This was a really nice surprise.”