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Audio technology and compression specialists, Dolby Laboratories (San Francisco) commissioned specialized creative agency Leviathan (Chicago), to create digital artwork for their newly renovated public gallery space.
Dolby Labs, most famous for its surround sound technologies, has been operating at the nexus of science and art for over five decades. Their team includes engineers, technologists and neuroscientists who find new ways to enhance and expand the sensory experience of digital audio and visual content—namely music and cinema arts—from movie theaters to consumer devices.
Because of this longstanding relationship and commitment to the arts, the company felt the artwork within its offices should reflect its business ethos and inspire employees, partners and visitors; thus, the Dolby Art Program was born. Dolby began to commission and collaborate with artists from around the world, starting with a series of brand-inspired works that led to the new, open-to-the-public Dolby Gallery. “It was natural for a company that enables artistry through technology to engage with creators to deliver that exceptional sensory experience through their art,” Vince Voron, current vice president and executive creative director at Dolby Laboratories and Apple and Coca-Cola design veteran told sfdesignweek.org. “This latest series [in Dolby Gallery] will help us scale the art program to Dolby’s office locations worldwide.”
Because of Leviathan’s reputation as both artists and experiential designers, Dolby was expressly interested in working with them to create a piece of digital artwork that could both span the Dolby Gallery setup—a built-in Orchid 1.9 mm pixel pitch, 62-foot-long, L-shaped SiliconCore LED display and 52-channel surround-sound Dolby Atmos audio system, which includes a whopping 34 subwoofers—and be distributed with consumer devices that feature Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision technology as part of a demo mode. The requests made of the design team were generous in terms of time and relatively open-ended: They were given the size and resolution of the two formats and were asked to create art with a narrative that ties to Dolby’s technology and the Gallery itself, inside of a nine-month timeframe.
After having a few initial technical questions answered by the client’s engineering staff about how they work with color and sound, the Leviathan team set to work. “The engineers explained how Dolby translates color into data and how they use algorithms to work with that data,” recalls Chad Hutson, co-founder and president of Leviathan. “So, we were thinking of the richness of color as data points, and wanted to visualize it as a volume, a mass.”
This led to a realization that color data could be sampled from anything to create art—including existing art. It could even be a way to explore masterworks in a decidedly new way through data visualization. The concept was a thrill for Leviathan Executive Creative Director Jason White and Senior Creative Director Bradon Webb, who both have backgrounds in fine arts. White says the data used for “Metamorphosis” comes from masterpieces of the last century—famous works from Van Gogh, Picasso, Seurat, and Monet, for example. From those works, they looked for vibrancies of color to translate into three-dimensional form set into motion.
The team tried various software platforms—Maya, Cinema 4D and Houdini—before settling on TouchDesigner because of its ease of use and virtual mockup capabilities, which were especially helpful in considering the work for both a 16:9 consumer screen and the Gallery’s extra-wide canvas. The team went with a generative approach, bringing in composer Joel Corliss of Waveplant to create the dynamic audioscape that is “played” by the visuals by assigning specific tones to color values. To achieve the desired aesthetic, the generative parameters were finessed and refined by Webb and the Leviathan team; the resultant vibrant, hair-like representations of the data come from a stretching and morphing of points that occurs with manipulation of the virtual camera in 3-D.
Due to the fairly open timeline and parameters and the team’s unbridled enthusiasm for the project, the biggest challenge was exercising efficiency and restraint with time and resources. The scope quickly narrowed from a full interactive to live-generative installation and finally to a curated selection of generative sequences on a ten-minute loop. “At times, so much freedom can be paralyzing for artists and designers,” Hutson asserts. “We began to overthink it and had to remind ourselves to keep the theme simple and the execution efficient, so it is just beautiful and showcases the technology—end of story.”
Dolby engineers executed the final mix for “Metamorphosis,” optimizing the color and audio for the space using Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision technology to bring the immersive experience to life. The client team was so taken with the final result and internal buzz about it, they decided to debut the work during San Francisco Design Week, amplifying the excitement.
For viewers, the piece was meditative, mesmerizing and synergistic, but for the Leviathan team, it was plainly a rewarding experience. The firm actively fosters appreciation for the arts within their staff, purposefully balancing opportunities to do commercial with artistic or educational work.
“We truly feel that doing art can teach us a lot and absolutely positively influences our commercial work,” states Hutson.
Project Name: Dolby Gallery “Metamorphosis”
Client: Dolby Laboratories
Location: San Francisco
Open Date: June 2018
Project Area: 186 sq ft
Digital Experience Content Design: Leviathan Design
Design Team: Bradon Webb (senior creative director, visual artist, programmer); Bill Galusha (senior producer); Brittany Maddock (producer); Adam Berg (technical director); David Braun (software engineer); Andrew Butterworth, Anthony Malagutti (look development, 3D); Kirill Mazor (editorial); Chad Hutson (executive producer); Jason White (executive creative director)
Collaborators: Waveplant (sound design)
Photography/Videography: Leviathan Design