The Oxfordshire band known for taking digital risks has done it again. 

Last October Radiohead released their album In Rainbows as a digital download with a pay-whatever-you-want price tag.

Now, they’ve published the video to their song House of Cards, again online, but this time the kicker is that their video, which involved all the parts of traditional filmmaking, was made without any cameras or lights.

They shot the entire thing with lasers. Computers constructed the resulting 3D moving images of pinpoints and wide colorful landscapes. (Watch video below.)

Directed by James Frost, the inspiration for the idea came from Aaron Koblin, an electronic artist and researcher at UCLA, who created the flight pattern map featured at the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

For close shots of faces, engineers used a scanner developed by Geometric Informatics that captures, in real time, the geometry of a moving 3D object and translates this data into video. A kitchen party scene and the wide lawns of a Floridian cul-de-sac were caught by a lidar scanner, developed by Velodyne LIDAR.

LIDAR stands for “light detection and ranging,” and is similar to radar, in that it determines the distance of an object by measuring time delays between a laser pulse and its reflected response. But unlike radar, lidar uses very short wavelengths so it can capture an image of much smaller objects, even single molecules and aerosols.

Lidar systems are used to monitor and measure glacier movement, leaf density in forest canopies, atmospheric winds, oceanic plants, and they are the choice for most of the winning unmanned vehicles at the annual DARPA Urban Challenge…and now used to capture the choreographed moves of lead singer Thom Yorke and friends.

For the video’s wide shots, Frost hoisted a cylindrical lidar system 30 feet into the air using a scissor lift. The cylinder constantly spins 360 degrees, from which 64 lasers shoot out to capture surrounding objects and terrain. (Watch the behind-the-scenes video here.)


Radiohead partnered with Google to premier their video via a Google Code page that includes a link to a behind the scenes, “making-of” video. In keeping with Radiohead’s share-everything philosophy, they offer a download of the video’s data so fans can remix to create their own version. (Click here, and use your mouse to manipulate Yorke’s face.)

In the making-of video, Frost says it was exciting to work on the project but also unpredictable, “I don’t speak the same language as the [technical engineers] do, so translating my creative visions and have them come to life through something I have no control over is daunting.”