Drive By Installation

Car Talk

Electroland’s LED installation comments on Los Angeles’ love affair with cars and movies.

Los Angeles is known for its obsessions, most notably with cars and movies. Drive By, a 240-ft.-long by 6-ft.-high LED installation in North Hollywood, brings the two together in a dynamic piece of public art that responds to traffic levels and recreates great moments from classic Hollywood films.

The installation was a Percent for Art project commissioned by the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. Completed in May 2007, it was intended as a landmark work to complement a nearby Metrorail stop.

Created by Electroland (Los Angeles), the display alternates between an alphanumeric/letter mode and a car-tracking mode. During periods of low traffic, the display spells out iconic lines from Hollywood movies, such as “Hasta la vista, baby,” “There’s no place like home,”  and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

“We wanted something that was appropriate for the area, and couldn’t decide between the film phrases and the car tracking, so we did both,” says Cameron McNall, Electroland principal. 

The second mode is triggered when traffic increases. Abstract white letterforms follow cars as they pass and display red “collisions” as cars pass each other.

The display consists of strings of color-changing LED lights arranged in brackets to form 35 5x7 alphanumeric matrices. A master computer analyzes video information from two rooftop-mounted video cameras to track the cars and control the light display modes. Lights and brackets were provided by Act One Communications, with installation by Polaris Lighting.

Drive By uses data from the car tracking software to determine which display mode to use. The default mode is the display of movie lines, each shown for 10 seconds. If three or more cars are detected in a four-second period, the phrase is replaced by the car-tracking mode, which features white numerical representations of the cars that “race” across the display, “following” the cars they correspond to as closely as possible. When the car number snippets overlap, they leave behind a red punctuation record of the overlap. If the street is empty for more than 12 seconds during car-tracking mode, the system transitions back to text display.

Unfortunately, the installation has been turned off for several months due to sign ordinance issues and conflicts between various city agencies. “It’s a terrible mess,” says McNall. “One city agency, building and safety, cannot talk to another, department of transportation, cannot talk to another, the community redevelopment agency. And the whole thing is confused by a giant multi-year struggle to come up with guidelines for art that don't cross sign ordinances.”

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 21, 2008

Jury comments

Drive By is a perfect play on LA’s Hollywood and driving culture. Celebrating the kitsch of America’s favorite Hollywood phrases with amusing intervals of typographical surveillance, this art installation punctuates and enhances its architecture and its environment.”


Location:  North Hollywood, CA

Client:  J.H. Snyder Company

Design:  Electroland LLC

Design Team:  Cameron McNall (principal); Damon Seeley (partner, interactive designer); Eitan Mendelowitz, Bradley Geilfuss (programmers); Corinne Weitzman (art consultant)

Fabrication:  Act One Communications (LEDs), Polaris Lighting (installation)

Photos:  Electroland



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