What is Playmoji? Childish Gambino trials Google's latest feature in Grammys ad
Donald Glover can join you in your videos – if you have a Pixel
Right in the middle of the Grammys, the rapper appeared in an ad that first appeared to show him dancing with a mirrored version of himself. But it quickly became clear that the two were slightly different – and then, shortly after, one of them revealed itself to be an animated, virtual version of the singer.
The ad was made to demonstrate Google’s new feature called Playmoji, which allows people to hang out with virtual versions of celebrities and other characters. The tool allows people to brighten up their photos or videos by adding a dancing singer or fighting superheroes in the background, for instance.
Join Independent Minds
For exclusive articles, events and an advertising-free read for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month
Get the best of The Independent
With an Independent Minds subscription for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month
All of those characters are overlaid using Google augmented reality technology which means they fit smoothly into the area around them. The virtual characters will cast shadows and move around in the light, for instance, as if they were really in the video.
The video showed off the new Childish Gambino version of the Playmoji, which is able to dance to his real hits as well as allowing people to take selfies and videos that will see the character react to your own facial expressions. But there are many more waiting in the app, all relatively easy to add in.
But even though the app is made by Google and available on Android, it will only work on the company’s own Pixel phones. Luckily every Pixel phone does get it, however, all the way up from the first version to the brand new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
“We worked closely with Childish Gambino and his music video choreographer, Sherrie Silver, to make sure the Playmoji’s dance moves rival those of Childish Gambino himself,” Google said when the character was released.
“By using ARCore’s motion tracking, light estimation, and ability to understand the real world, his Playmoji looks and feels lifelike, whether he’s in front of you or in a selfie next to you.
“He even reacts to your facial expressions in real time thanks to machine learning – try smiling or frowning in selfie mode and see how he responds.”
The feature can be added to compatible phones by heading to the Google Play Store and downloading the Playgrounds app. Once that’s downloaded and installed, everything should be fairly self-explanatory.