Showtime Networks has taken a modern, high-tech approach to promote the Victorian era horror series Penny Dreadful, installing interactive window displays in New York City and Los Angeles that make use of LIDAR (light detection and ranging) lasers and Live Vinyl display technology to immerse passerby in the dark world of the show. “It is exciting to use such cutting-edge technology to allow people to experience the Victorian age,” says Jake Lee-High, CEO/creative director of Future Colossal, the creative shop that produced the installations. “This was the age of innovation, so it feels very fitting.”
Live Vinyl is a display technology developed by Future Colossal, and it is employed in this case to create a living, breathing version of an intersection in Victorian London with carriages darting by, fog rolling in and birds flying about. The technology was inspired by the artwork of Jim Campbell, who is known for working with LED light installations, and incorporates techniques used in projection mapping. “We align the images of an ultra high-resolution print with an image rear-illuminated by low-resolution LED walls,” Lee-High explains. “The LED walls bring life to the printed image by changing dynamic lighting, creating effects and showing AI [artificially intelligent] characters.”
“When viewing the display, one looks both at and through the image,” according to Lee-High. “It is an effect the people have not seen before, and it is fun to watch them try and figure out the magic that is making it visible.”
One of my friends walked by the display in New York City on 21st and Broadway (the one in Los Angeles is at The Roosevelt Hotel) without taking notice of it until she realized that she was being followed by a dark figure. That was thanks to the LIDAR lasers at work behind the scenes of the display. “LIDAR lasers shoot out beams of light in order to judge the distance to objects around them. By combining a series of these, we are able to pinpoint the location of each pedestrian as they walk past on the sidewalk,” Lee-High says. Using this information, some of the AI characters follow passerby, while others stop and greet pedestrians. Sometimes wolves come out of nowhere and scare away the Victorian era figures.
While my friend was momentarily creeped out, being stalked did make her stop and take a look at the installation. Because it is difficult to engage pedestrians on the go, the displays in New York City and Los Angeles, which both can be seen through May 18, are over 30 feet long so that people walking by have plenty of time to recognize that there is a virtual world playing out beside them, Lee-High says.
Once the display grabs a person’s attention, it then aims to further engage. Those interested in learning more about Penny Dreadful can peer into kinetoscopes for a look at images and scenes from the show, and people can also create animated GIFs to share via Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. “We use the next-generation kinetoscope to cut pedestrians out from their environment and place them within a scene from the show,” Lee-High says. “Animated virtual lighting is then applied to the pedestrian in the creation of a stylized GIF known as a cinemagraph.”
While the technology employed in these displays is impressive, Don Buckley, executive vice president, program marketing and digital services, Showtime Networks, stresses that it all grew out of a strategy. “Everything we do, including this, is guided by the narrative and the way we strategically position the show. Penny Dreadful is a quality, adult drama with a completely unique vision. It was a good fit.”
Buckley sees each display as “a very personal experience, at the street level, and therefore kind of practical, tactile and intimate as were the theatrical experiences of [the Victoria era].”
Lee-High has had fun observing how people interact with the experience. “People love to dare each other to look into the kinetoscopes and then scare each other when they look through. You will also hear them get excited and start talking to strangers around them about different aspects of the experience and the show itself,” Lee-High says. “This is when I feel the installations are a true success–when the people experiencing it start to take ownership of it.”