If you happened to look up at the Empire State Building after dark on August 1, you might have seen a 33-story tall snow leopard or a manta ray. For a few hours, the building was plastered with images of some of the world’s most endangered animals.
“We wanted to project a sort of reverse invasion of endangered species in the urban jungle,” says Travis Threlkel, chief creative officer of Obscura Digital, the studio that designed the display along with filmmakers behind a new documentary on extinction.
Originally, the designers wanted to cover the entire Midtown skyline, but they quickly realized that wouldn’t be possible on a nonprofit budget. The Empire State Building–known for its massive, $20 million green makeover–was on board. Even with only one building involved, the display, called Projecting Change, cost $1 million to produce.
Using 40 projectors on a nearby roof, the show cycled through a series of animals. “We were looking to show as many as possible and to represent a broad range of our planets endangered biodiversity, a Noah’s Ark of species,” Threlkel says. Working with the Ocean Preservation Society, they picked animals that would look good at 350 feet tall and 186 feet wide.
By chance, the event happened the week that Cecil the Lion was killed, so he also got time on the display. “It was a sad, serendipitous tragedy, but ultimately to me it showed how much people care about life on our planet,” says Threlkel. “The hope is that the world can see that mankind is collectively causing the sixth mass extinction, and our generation will see the loss of 50% of the planet’s biodiversity by the end of the century.”
The show was part of a larger activist project called Racing Extinction, which will air a new documentary on the Discovery Channel on December 2. The whole project aims to spark new conversations about mass extinction.
“We don’t want to all look back and find out our generation made the stupidest mistake in the history of the planet and have to explain to our grandkids why we didn’t do anything,” says Threlkel. “We don’t want to find out that–unbeknownst to us–that if we don’t do anything we’re all much, much worse than dentist trophy hunters.”