1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 10/12/2010 12:45:46 PM ET 2010-10-12T16:45:46

One brushstroke at a time, "The Johnny Cash Project" is gathering illustrations submitted by fans online into a living portrait of the country music legend.

  1. More Entertainment stories
    1. Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts

      In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...

    2. Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
    3. See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
    4. Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
    5. 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom

The project is a unique Web-only music video where every frame is a fan-created drawing. Directed by Chris Milk, it's set to Cash's "Ain't No Grave," the title track from the posthumous album released earlier this year.

Work on the project — a complex mix of software design and editing — began last September. The website launched in March. After more than 250,000 submissions, a broadcast version of the video has been released for TV stations and eligibility for 2010 Grammy nominations.

For Milk, who has directed videos for Kanye West and Gnarls Barkley, the project is a "living memorial" that befits the song. In it, Cash sings, "There ain't no grave gonna hold my body down."

"He's singing about the eternal life of his spirit, and the way his spirit lives on is through all of his collective fans," says Milk. "This project becomes a physical manifestation of his fans' love."

The genesis of the video started when Milk met Aaron Koblin, an artist and programmer who specializes in data visualization. The two began thinking of new, crowd-sourced music videos, and when producer Rick Rubin was looking for a video for "Ain't No Grave," it seemed a good fit.

Music video director Chris Milk.

The website, Milk says, has received hundreds of thousands of visitors. That traffic still pales in comparison with "The Wilderness Downtown," the similarly Internet-based music video that Milk and Koblin collaborated on following "The Johnny Cash Project."

"The Wilderness Downtown" used HTML5 programming and Google Maps to create startling individualized videos to the Arcade Fire song "We Used to Wait." The interactive video was a sensation, leading to 35 million hits and 5 million unique visitors.

Though the response hasn't been as considerable for "Ain't No Grave," Milk hopes the broadcast release will attract more attention. Lou Robin, Cash's longtime manager who handles business affairs for the Johnny Cash Estate, said the Cash Estate was pleased with the video as a memorial.

There are numerous versions, including edits that gather the most realistic illustrations, the most abstract drawings and the highest-rated frames. Each frame is labeled with the artist, and all contributors are listed in the credits.

  1. Most popular

To contribute, fans are given the choice of a handful of numbered frames to use as a template. When strung together in the proper order, they appear as a moving image. The broadcast edit is introduced by those who submitted drawings, talking about their illustrations and their memories of Cash.

"The level of artistry that some people have invested into their drawings is staggering," says Milk.

The website, www.thejohnnycashproject.com, updates twice a day to incorporate the new drawings. Milk hopes it will be an "eternal thing" that will continue to regenerate.

"Unfortunately, there will be an external server and bandwidth bill that goes along with it and eventually someone will stop paying that," says Milk. "But it's up for the immediate future."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Joan Lunden: 10 things I wish I knew before I was diagnosed with breast cancer

    From the moment you hear the words ‘You have breast cancer,’ it’s almost like you’re shot out of a cannon. Here are 10 things I wish I knew before I was diagnosed.

    10/1/2014 10:52:45 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T10:52:45
  2. Want to help? A guide to breast cancer charities

    In the United States an estimated 296,000 women and 2,240 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and almost 40,000 women and 410 men will die of the disease. That's one death every 14 minutes, according to the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

    10/1/2014 10:45:11 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T10:45:11
  3. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY
  1. Texas Ebola patient had contact with kids

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a press conference on Wednesday that “some school-age children” had been identified as having contact with the man diagnosed with the first case of Ebola in the United States. 

    10/1/2014 5:37:52 PM +00:00 2014-10-01T17:37:52
  1. TODAY

    Derek Jeter dismisses 'most eligible bachelor' title: 'No, no, no'

    10/1/2014 11:43:39 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T11:43:39
  1. Getty Images file

    Duchess Kate pulls out of charity event due to morning sickness

    10/1/2014 1:20:02 PM +00:00 2014-10-01T13:20:02
  1. TODAY

    Al, Jay Leno kick off USO comedy tour in Afghanistan

    10/1/2014 11:00:13 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T11:00:13