The Johnny Cash Project: A “Living Portrait”

Infographics guru Aaron Koblin is crowdsourcing a music video for the country legend.

Johnny Cash

Infographics wizard Aaron Koblin, working with video director Chris Milk and producer Radical Media, has pulled the sheet off of his latest project: a crowdsourced music video for the Johnny Cash song, “Ain’t No Grave”–the title track off the last album that Cash recorded before his death.


Anyone can contribute at the Web site. The project basically asks participants to redraw every single frame of archival footage of Johnny Cash–thus building up a personalized, living portrait of the man.

It’s easier than it sounds: Koblin created a drawing tool for the site, which randomly assigns you a frame to draw. Using a series of paintbrush tools, you just trace over the original video footage. When you’re finished, you just click “submit,” and your drawing is dropped into the video. Think of it as the 21st-century update of the Take On Me video.

As more and more people contribute, frames are constantly being redrawn–meaning that the video always changes. No two viewings are ever the same–“a visual testament to how the Man in Black lives on.”

Johnny Cash video

You might be familiar with Koblin’s previous works: He was the technical director for Radiohead’s House of Cards video, and this lovely animation of plane flights across the world. He’s also experimented with crowdsourced art before. In Sheep Market, he used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to create a database of 10,000 drawings of sheep; in 10,000 Cents, he got 10,000 people to draw tiny sections of a dollar bill, building up to a complete drawing; and in Bicycle Built for 2,000, he created a song recorded from 2,000 individual voices.

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.