In Tokyo, Shinjuku Station is the busiest transit hub in the world, with up to 3.6 million people a day traversing an underground city with over 40 gates. Around one million of them walk through the East-West passage, a 100-meter-long, 20-meter-wide claustrophobic tunnel with low ceilings and no windows. The East Japan Railroad Company tasked multimedia entertainment studio Moment Factory with transforming the passage into a site that travelers would look forward to rather than avoid. “It starts with a clear understanding of how people use the space,” explains the project’s creative director Amy Chartrand. That meant making decisions about a wide range of disparate factors, from the architecture of the space fore solution, brightness, frame rate, color and sound. “It’s really like a recipe,” says Chartrand. “If any of the factors we take into account fall below the potential of the technology, you might not see it, but you will feel it.”
With the advent of giant LED screens, the number of public venues with such installations has skyrocketed, finding a home in corporate headquarters, airports, train stations, and casinos. HoloWire® focuses on a few innovative projects and learns from their creators how they navigated the technical and artistic challenges of designing for large-screen installations.
Sales Force headquarters, San Francisco, CA
Installation by Obscura Digital
The Sales Force skyscraper’s massive lobby was dominated by glass and granite, and Obscura Digital senior art directors Emmett Feldman and Tim Digulla were tasked with transforming it into a calm, welcoming space with a nod to Northern California beauty. The LED screens were designed to be a window into another world and, at the same time, they also had to work with the lobby’s existing architectural features, including three entryways. Digulla points out that the team integrated those entryways into the content. “For example,” he says, “When the wall becomes a waterfall, water splashes around the edges of the doorways.”
To capture the Northern California flavor for the content, Feldman and Digulla took a field trip to the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park where RED Dragon cameras shoot the towering redwoods. “Once we got it back into the studio, the footage from multiple cameras was stitched together, edited, then run through a compositing workflow to add custom elements,” says Feldman. The team also added fog and discreetly some small Easter eggs. “The client wanted a few fun elements that won’t be noticed right away but be a surprise,” says Digulla.
The content – a total of about 14 minutes broken into seven or eight pieces --also includes images of a more microscopic scale, with miniature photography of paper designed into abstract shapes, like sculpture. Feldman points out that, in addition to scale and size, large screen content creators pay attention to “the speed at which something moves.” “Newer artists have a tendency to have it run too fast,” he says. Digulla agrees, adding that “fast movement can create vertigo.” The directors also added some tricks to the playback so that the viewer doesn’t see specific actions happening twice. “The main content is a loop,” he says. “Then elements that appear only every ten minutes or so sit on top of that loop, so there are two layers going on at all times.”
Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, Japan
Installation by Moment Factory
Creative director Chartrand adds that, in addition to its low ceilings and no windows, the East-West passage has structural columns, which had to be taken into consideration when designing the space. “It starts with a clear understanding of how people use the space,” she says. “The LED screen is at floor height so most of the details are on the upper-third, where pedestrians are likely to see more of it on a crowded day (when the area can see more than a million passerby).” “Also, to create fun illusions at Shinjuku, we prioritized some points of view more than others, but made sure the illusions work from every angle,” she adds. “Mainly it’s about using a shorter depth of field; every one of these calculations becomes a critical part of the content’s successful design.”
Sound was a significant part of the overall experience inside the Color Bath at Shinjuku Station. “We have two layers of sound because it’s a noisy environment with hard surfaces and the sound of trains overhead,” she says. “We didn’t want to compete with and overwhelm the other sounds. Instead, we have two layers of sound: a more physical, percussive sound to grab your attention and then aural ambience, spa-like sound.” That type of soundtrack, she adds, has been used in Moment Factory’s airport projects to great success.
The columns also have LCD screens, light boxes, and fixtures that wash the ceiling with light: sometimes a soft gradient color, sometimes a green vibrant park content, but some of the team’s favorite moments are a series called Dynamic Gradients: “It’s shapes and gradients of color moving in a delicate choreography,” Chartrand explains. “The Color Bath is about enveloping people in color for a moment. ”The result is that the Color Bath has become a meeting spot in Shinjuku Station. “But it’s also about walking through and feeling it, rather than stopping and watching it,” she says.
MGM Cotai in Macau, China
Installation by Obscura Digital
MGM Cotai, a casino resort, featured an atrium lobby space with a 900-meter perimeter in the hotel. Feldman, who was an art director on the project, reports that the team installed about 25 screens, with the tallest over four-stories-high. “The screens were all different sizes, different form factors and aspect ratios, so figuring it all out was a major puzzle,” he says. MGM Cotai calls the result the Spectacle, “an innovative, multi-dimensional sensory experience.”
Obscura Digital created 26TB of pre-rendered and generative content, including an array of worldwide digital art featuring well-known artists, images highlighting China’s natural wonders and other art focusing on several UNESCO World Heritage sites in China. Digulla recalls the interesting process of shooting cloud tank footage. “We built tanks of water and injected paints and other fluids, to make cloud formations,” he says. The images were shot with a RED camera, and the results were collaged into one giant composition.
According to Feldman, when the project began, the screens were not yet built. “We designed our content in parallel,” he says. “There was some back-and-forth in terms of designing what the screens would look like, how many were going to be there, what shape they’d be and how it would all relate to the architecture.” The Spectacle content offers both daytime and night-time video content Digulla reports that resolution had to be “quite large” and the framerate faster since, “at 30 fps, which is standard, the content can flicker with quick movement.” Color can also be tricky. “LEDs are usually tiled together, so there can be discrepancies between manufacturing runs,” he says. “It takes a lot of calibration.”
Hong Kong Airport
Installation by Moment Factory
Moment Studio has created installations for several international airports, including Singapore’s Changi Airport, which features a faux 3D “fresco” above the security area that looks like a white stone carving, and LAX in Los Angeles with seven architecturally scaled LED screens including the 72-foot-high Time Tower that reacts to the gestures of passengers.
Interactivity is prominent in the installation at Hong Kong Airport where Moment Factory created three features: the "Crystal Elevator", in the Meeters and Greeters Hall, welcomes passengers with content highlighting Hong Kong; the "Totems of Joy" combines real-time flight information with content that allows passengers to take custom selfies.
The third, the "Waterfall Gardens", takes interactivity to new heights, as a videogame that people can inhabit in physical space. The LED features are a 13-meter waterfall and a 9-meter river that leads to a 3-meter pond. “All of this environment is interactive using the Unity game engine to support the ecosystem where passengers can play with the water,” says Chartrand. But they quickly perceive that the calmer you are in the environment, the more it blooms around you.
“This has been one of my favorite projects to work on, because of the human dynamics in a public space,” she says. “Strangers discover it together and learn together organically. It’s a larger-than-life video game based on nature.”
Into the Future
For creators of big screen LED content, the future looks exciting. Digulla looks forward to LED screens that are “as flexible as cloth that can easily be put onto surfaces.” “In the future, like a lot of sci-fi movies, I can imagine everything being covered in video,” he says. “And when it becomes holographic, we’ll be able to see different angles as we move around.”
“We’ve had cinema for a century and we’re still discovering the potential of that form and reinventing it with a dialogue among creators,” says Chartrand. “Large scale media features in public spaces are also their own unique form. It’s exciting to be part of their evolution and inspired by the communities who are constantly moving their potential forward.”