Riverside Investment & Development enlisted the help of McCann Systems, Digital Kitchen and Leviathan to bring a vibrant, generative video art installation, “150 Media Stream,” to life in Chicago.
150 North Riverside
The 150 North Riverside building in Chicago is an award-winning, ideally located 54-story LEED Gold Certified office tower that officially opened in April 2017, which houses a host of high-profile tenants like Hyatt Hotels, Navigant Consulting and William Blair & Co. The building was designed by architects Goettsch Partners for client Riverside Investment & Development, a locally-based commercial real estate firm specializing in transportation-oriented and complex large-scale acquisition and development projects.
Part of the prestige of this new address is Chicago’s largest video wall—a video-based art installation dubbed “150 Media Stream.” The installation defines the space, attracts elite clientele, delights visitors to the building and has transformed the building into an iconic Chicago destination. 150 Media Stream also provides a new opportunity for artists to exhibit their work in a public setting.
Commissioned by Riverside and curated by Creative Director Yuge Zhou, 150 Media Stream’s display concept and physical structure were designed and then custom fabricated by McCann Systems. Creative agency Leviathan was brought on to engineer and integrate the content delivery system because of their proficiency in using digital media and emerging technology to craft experiences into physical environments. Working together, Riverside, McCann Systems, Digital Kitchen and Leviathan brought 150 Media Stream from concept to vibrant completion.
The client’s initial vision of the project was a revolving video art gallery. The team had seen video walls around the world—many of which display beautiful and impressive content—but the repetition can spoil the experience for frequent viewers like office tenants.
"One of the initial requests was to have enough content to fill an entire week without ever seeing the same piece twice," Leviathan's president Chad Hutson explains. "To address these objectives, we knew that a generative visual approach was going to be key." The design team set out to create something they had never seen before: an ever-evolving, yet elegant generative solution that could be easily modified by both design firm and client.
Leviathan’s content strategy was to create an installation that is both visually enticing and conceptually interesting throughout the day by grouping and sequencing pieces, in effect forming a new story every day. They took into account how the “living sculpture” could affect the mood of tenants and visitors based on time of day, daily, weekly, monthly and beyond.
"Coordinated with both active and passive timings, the content plays off of activity and dynamism in the lobby on a typical workday,” says Jason White, Executive Creative Director at Leviathan.
Early in the process, McCann Systems and Digital Kitchen were hard at work conceiving and rendering the physical aspects of the installation—even the very first renderings for 150 Media Stream packed a powerful visual punch. Producing the visual content for the installation required a considerable amount of innovation, too. The Leviathan team took that preview of the installation a step further, developing a virtual model to view the designs on VR platform Oculus Rift.
Having a VR model of the lobby space allowed the team to understand the efficacy of the concepts and content in the space at different times of day, down to the reflections on the floors at night, which led to revisions that included motion, speed and vibrancy. Leviathan Senior Creative Director Bradon Webb remarks: "To allow our clients to walk through the lobby space, visualize the scale of the installation and preview our media design from any point of view before we began coding, we built out the entire lobby in 3-D as a VR experience, using Unreal Engine. Details included having the marble and glass rendered in real-time with reflections, lighting and depth of field."
The Leviathan team’s software arsenal included using Derivative TouchDesigner, GLSL shading language, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Side Effects Houdini, Autodesk Maya and Maxon Cinema 4D.
McCann Systems, a leading audiovisual systems integration firm, spent weeks completing research and feasibility studies for the challenging and unprecedented build of the 150 Media Stream display system in cooperation with creative experience company Digital Kitchen. "To address the many cutting-edge aspects of this project, we had to work closely with several manufacturers to design and the fabricate most of the physical components of the display, including everything from the printed circuit boards to the custom display cabinets," says Frank McCann, president and CEO of McCann Systems.
Once the physical design was finished, Leviathan’s challenge was to create a visual experience that is perpetually engaging—a daunting feat because of the scale of the display and video content. The problem comes with rendering; current hardware and software graphics technologies present limitations in terms of what content can be rendered out beforehand and what can be rendered in real-time.
So, the team first created graphics using traditional animation and CG software, then recreated the look of the content using a real-time software platform. The hardware necessary to play back content smoothly in real-time had to be robust and the programming had to be refined in multiple passes, but the team succeeded at fine-tuning the process.
"The massive scale and resolution of this display requires that all the art and media assets be rendered and produced at extreme resolutions," says Webb. "To render at 150 Media Stream's resolution, we had to distribute the load across four synced machines with a fifth machine serving as a backup. If any one machine goes down, the fifth one jumps in and resumes the rendering to prevent any downtime."
The Leviathan team then standardized the technical specifications of artistic submissions that enhanced the client’s vision and their own work, setting to animating, editing, coding and orchestrating data. In the hands of this team comprised of producers, engineers, designers, developers and artists, the deliverables transformed into an intelligent content.
The flexible framework allows for a combination of traditional still and linear video media as well as generative abstract and data-driven content. Using generative algorithms to heighten originality and relevance, the feed is programmed to address seasonal, monthly, weekly, daily and even real-time considerations.
All content aspects of the installation were also specifically devised to complement spatial and environmental concerns. "The video elements were designed as integrated components of a sculpture that addressed everything from the shapes of the video blades to the physical surroundings of the entire installation," says White.
The result of the combined efforts of Leviathan, McCann Systems and Digital Kitchen is an enormous, over 3,000-square-foot, 16,000-pixel-wide digital canvas formed by 89 individual vertical LED “blades” of varying heights. The installation incorporates ample use of negative space between blades that collectively “respond” to elements such as time of day, weather, activity levels and special events in the building.
The 150 Media Stream installation is also a significant new exhibition opportunity for artists. The exhibitions are curated by Riverside’s Creative Director Yuge Zhou. "150 Media Stream features artistry from all around the globe," remarks Zhou. "Importantly, we are also delivering this artistry through very inventive uses of technology, and our visitors are finding the results to be mesmerizing and spectacular. The effect is an environmentally-responsive kaleidoscope set within the gorgeous lobby of 150 North Riverside."
The 150 Media Stream content delivery system is unique in its flexibility of use, including a scheduling application which allows the curator to think about who’s in the space, what time of day it is, the time of year, and even what’s happening in the world at that exact moment and have the content reflect these parameters on the display.
For example, at the end of the workweek, a series of vibrant and celebratory sequences can be triggered; during a holiday season, colors and imagery can set that tone. The curator has the opportunity to modify the look and feel of content by using presets to change colors, speed, media input and more. Any kind of feed can be pulled in, like stocks, sports and weather.
The system is linked to the building’s website, which shows what is happening on the installation in real time, as well as a kiosk next to the installation, which provides contextual information about the imagery being shown. This curatorial capability really creates a sense of place and builds the building’s identity.
Data and the use of VR played a big role in how content appears in this project—a factor that the Leviathan team says will be critical in projects they build in the future—both in the visuals that can be created and the real-time responses that users receive via artificial intelligence. Despite these constant advances in technology, their mission to design superior user experiences will remain unaltered.
For the design team, the 150 Media Stream project was fulfilling because of the artistic and technological complexities as well as the scale, but perhaps most of all because the of the client’s insistence that installation remains truly artistic as opposed to many large displays that rely on advertising and brand messaging. The clients are also very happy with the installation, but so is the public.
Because the purpose of 150 Media Stream is to showcase art from renowned artists to local universities, museums and students, Riverside has extended the viewing hours to the public to include nights and weekends. The Chicago and global art communities have been responding to the project via Instagram and Twitter #150MediaStream.
Described by McCann as a "seamless integration of art, architecture and technology," 150 Media Stream is a pinnacle achievement for everyone involved. Anthony Scacco, executive vice president at Riverside sums up the success of the project thusly: "This one-of-a-kind Chicago installation and its artwork combine to express global ideas in original ways with each passing second. The results constantly, seamlessly deliver something beautiful, powerful and new... and that is exactly what we were hoping for."
Project Name:150 Media Stream
Client: Riverside Investment & Development Company– Anthony Scacco (executive vice president), Yuge Zhou (creative director)
Open Date: April 2017
Project Area: 3,000 sq ft
Experiential Graphic Design, Software and Systems Engineering: Leviathan– Chad Hutson (executive producer), Jason White (executive creative director), Bradon Webb (senior creative director, content developer), Ellen Schopler (senior producer), Adam Berg (director of research and engineering, UX design), David Braun (lead engineer), Chris Hall (lead engineer), Austin Mayer (web CMS director, UX design), Billie Pate (UX design), Fujio Harou (web developer), Gareth Fewel (content development, 2-D design/animation), Alexis Copeland (content development, 2-D design/animation), Anthony Malagutti (content development), Ely Beyer (2-D design/animation), Nik Braatz (2-D design/animation), Andrew Butterworth (2-D design/animation), Jesse Willis (2-D design/animation), Matt Burton (2-D design/animation), Becka Riccio (2-D design/animation), Yuan Chen (2-D design/animation), Dakota Hopkins (2-D design/animation), Kirill Mazor (editor), Scott Pagano (engineer), Elburz Sorkhabi (engineer), Mary Franck (engineer)
Architect: Goettsch Partners
Branding Design: The Narrative
Design, Fabrication and Digital Integration: McCann Systems, Digital Kitchen
Photos: Leviathan– Chris Pritchard, Jay Worsley, Nick Ulivieri
>>>Watch SEGD Talks: Ellen Schopler and Chad Hutson discuss 150 Media Stream at Xlab 2016.
>>>More information on 150 Media Stream.