Holiday augmented reality window art makes 'jaws drop,' organizer says

A group of artists are painting street-levels windows in a holiday theme — and if you look at them through your smartphone, you'll see a surprise animation.

Smartphones reveal extra pictures, stories in downtown Calgary paintings

The Northern Reflections Window Exhibition is running this month in downtown Calgary. It incorporates augmented reality technology. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Be sure to bring your smartphone to get the most out of a new art exhibit in downtown Calgary.

A group of artists are painting street-level windows along Stephen Avenue and the surrounding area in a holiday theme — and if you look at them through your smartphone, you'll see a surprise animation.

"Oh my gosh, the reactions are the best," organizer Katie Pearce said Friday. "I love especially the young ones. They just like are, their jaw drops. It's great."

Katie Pearce, creative director and founder of Buds of Buds, organized this art exhibition in downtown Calgary. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The colourful window paintings are based on memories or traditions the artists have from the winter holiday season. The pictures feature Christmas trees, reindeer and skating.

The Northern Reflections Window Exhibition incorporates augmented reality technology, which makes the animations show up when someone points their phone at the painted window.

One of the augmented reality animations counts down the days to Christmas. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

One, for example, counts down the days until Christmas.

"It's been a bit of a tricky process. The technology is relatively new so we had to do a number of iterations," said Pearce, who is the creative director and founder of Buds of Buds.

"But we expected that to be part of the process. It was a little bit of heavy research and development to get it up and running."

Artist Christina Stein says she was excited to work with an animator to enhance her painting with augmented reality technolgy. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Each artist must be careful to have high contrast in the painting, which they create using colours, lines and shapes. An animator creates a picture to put over top of that — and then a developer attaches the two.

Artist Christine Stein of Calgary's Copper Spruce Studio painted green trees topped with snow on Friday as people strolled by.

Use your smartphone to see what's hidden in downtown Calgary this month. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

She said she applied to be in the exhibition because she likes painting windows and the augmented reality component "is incredibly cool."

"I love the idea of collaborating with other artists to bring a painting to life and allow audiences to interact with it, so it's really exciting," she said.

You can explore the painted windows on Stephen Avenue and the surrounding streets this month.

This is a map of the window painting exhibition in downtown Calgary. (Buds of Buds)

With files from CBC's Monty Kruger.