Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 6 (June 2002)

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An LA entertainment/retail complex uses wide-format motion graphics to advertise in an unusually big way

By Karen Moltenbrey

Many an actor dreams about seeing his or her name in lights. But at Hollywood & Highland, Los Angeles's new shopping and entertainment destination, seeing an illuminated name would be just the beginning.

Instead of relying entirely on static posters and billboards to promote its retail, entertainment, and dining tenants and coming entertainment events, TrizecHahn, developer of the new complex, creates moving graphics and displays them on two giant LED screens. One screen, dubbed the "Zipper," is 6 feet high by 85 feet long, and wraps around one corner of the complex at the busy intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The second screen is the 9-foot wide by 16-foot high "Marquee," situated at the entrance to Kodak Theatre, the complex's crown jewel and the new home of the Academy Awards.

"There are outdoor LED screens all over L.A., but none with these aspect ratios, which really command attention," says Rey Howard, Hollywood & Highland's director of content.
TrizecHahn, developer of the Hollywood & Highland retail and entertainment complex (top), uses motion graphics and state-of-the-art displays for promotional purposes, such as the advertisement (below) for pop singer Kylie Minogue's Fever album and tour.

One of the biggest challenges for Howard is reformatting content for the screens. Most video clips are created in a 4:3 aspect ratio, but the aspect ratio of the Zipper screen is about 14:1. To overcome this difference, Howard often treats the Zipper as several different screens by running four to eight tiled video clips across its length. He sometimes incorporates a "wave" effect for added punch, wherein each successive repetition of the image is played a half-second behind the previous one. For the Marquee screen, which has an aspect ratio that is taller and thinner than that of standard video, Howard moves the source video so that the most important images are centered on the screen.
Images courtesy Digital Kitchen and Rey Howard.

To produce the various spots, Howard uses Adobe Systems' Premiere running on a Macintosh G4 to capture source video as a QuickTime clip. He retouches any still images in Adobe Photoshop, and typically performs the fundamental design work in Adobe Illustrator, which allows him to bring graphics, still images, and text together into one composition. When he is satisfied with the basic design of the still elements, he transfers them into Adobe After Effects, imports the previously captured QuickTime clips, and from it all creates a 15- to 30-second spot, rendered as an uncompressed QuickTime movie. Finally, he imports the movie into Discreet's Cleaner, and rerenders it as an AVI file, a step necessitated by the playout system. "We're hoping to up grade to an MPEG-based system soon, which should allow for better compression at a given data rate," notes Howard.

According to Howard, one of the biggest problems he has faced since the screens went online last November is playing interlaced video on a non-interlaced computer-based system, which can result in a degraded image.

Another issue is compression. Even the fastest desktop computers have difficulty playing full-size, uncompressed video in real time. To run a screen like the 2736-pixel-wide Zipper, a high level of data compression is required, which results in a significant loss of image quality. "Because there is motion involved, the eye doesn't perceive most of the quality loss," says Howard.

The Zipper screen was put to the test during the recent live Academy Awards broadcast. "Before a commercial, the producer would cut to the camera that was pointed at the Zipper screen," explains Howard. "On cue, we'd run the names of the recent winners, along with a tally of which films had won the most awards, all on top of a looping video background. However, we learned who the winners were when everyone else did, through a video monitor that we had set up. So we had to type madly to input the information before the cameras cut to our screen. It was exciting, but it's not something I'd want to do every week."

Key Tool: After Effects, Adobe Systems ( infoNOW 97