LED: The 3D evolution

Hurrairah bin Sohail explores how 3D LED installations coupled with anamorphic content are creating an impact and might be the future for outdoor advertising.

Anamorphic content and 3D LED displays are becoming more common. From Tokyo to London, and definitely all over social media, this new form of DOOH display seems to be next evolutionary step. These displays bring together technology, content and architecture to create a spectacle. The multi-disciplinary approach required means that artists are particularly suited to explore the medium.

Refik Anadol has created Nature Dreams: San Francisco, a digital art piece located at the east lobby of software company Salesforce in San Francisco. The 12m tall and 24m wide ‘sculpture’ is reported to be the first 3D AI-driven digital sculpture in the USA, incorporating 200 million photographic ‘memories’ of national parks in an evolving digital canvas to wow visitors.

A non-art and more advertising-leaning example can be found at the famous Piccadilly Lights in London. The Piccadilly Lights is home to Ocean Outdoor’s DeepScreen technology, recently used as part of a marketing campaign by bookmaker Coral. The display shows four horses and their jockeys jostling for position on the iconic screen, dissolving away as one horse leaps out of the screen in 3D slow-motion.

Content seems to be the driver for multi-planar 3D LED installations. Jimmy Heil, managing consultant, new media technology at Vega Japan, says: “As with most visual technology, I believe that the trend is being driven by the ease of access to compelling content. Many companies including Vega are working more closely with content creators to enhance the impact of the technology solutions that we provide.”

Sam Moore, national sales manager for Equans, adds: “The driver is presenting the 3D content to the masses without the utilisation of additional technology. We have not seen a huge uptake in our market [Australia] but we believe what makes the screen sing is the content that is created. But any screen can be the star of the show with engaging and interactive content.”

Advances on the content creation side, for example the newer versions of Unreal Engine, have allowed content creators to really push the boundaries with regard to what can be created in 3D. But has the ‘hardware side’ of things kept pace?

Heil says: “Although the LED medium itself is becoming increasingly affordable and easy to install, there are still various challenges that require immense localisation and technical specialisation to execute a project successfully. My personal opinion is that the content is what makes the installation most desirable and compelling. Certainly, software such as Unreal Engine makes it easier for creators to produce such content.”

Moore highlights areas where LEDs can improve: “From personal experience, integration of LED tiles is based on distances and viewing angles. Being able to provide the best viewing angle at all angles would improve user experience.”

As LED becomes more popular and commonplace, Heil recommends another step forward: “I would appreciate it if manufacturers would embrace the Right to Repair Movement and provide endusers with the documentation and tools necessary to fix equipment that is purchased. I think it is an important step towards an environmentally friendly and sustainable future. Doing otherwise seems to be a clear effort to protect earnings and is ultimately preventing the wider adoption of new technology.”

While we wait for LED products to make the next technological leap, Heil believes that with content leading the charge the world of technology has to evolve. He says: “A challenge the AV industry faces now is learning to effectively communicate creative requirements to artistic creators who are accustomed to a different way of operating from most of us on the engineering or business side. It would be beneficial if a larger variety of non-artistic companies explore the idea of creating new jobs in their organisations such as creative director or XR artists and engineers. It will become increasingly important for project managers to understand the budget requirements for such content and may even require legal teams to build and review licences and usage rights. One solution is to boldly embrace an open-source mentality such as the legal and business frameworks embodied in Creative Commons or the GPLv3.”

Lewis Watson, client lead, the7stars, says: “The industry is talking about 3D LED as the next major evolution of digital outdoor. It is a way to engage audiences with brands like never before; you can create characters that break the fourth wall in a way that is unexpected. This is an opportunity that you don’t get with standard digital outdoor technology. When you’re talking about something that is going to get peoples’ imaginations going, encouraging them to stop and stare, it shows that the brand means business, encouraging favourable perceptions of the brand.”

But as 3D LED and anamorphic content tend towards saturation, and perhaps oversaturation, we will have to find solutions. Heil says: “As technologies such as LED displays become more commonplace, it will be important for organisations to build differentiators that set themselves apart from the competition.”

Helena González Ung, digital art manager, Necsum Trison, explains: “Nowadays, everybody wants to have an LED screen. Clients know that it is an achievable aim, but the goal is to have wow-factor content. We are always being asked to create this and we have to seek a balance with the 3D content, you can’t always be impacting people 24/7. It’s too much to constantly show exciting images. The objective is to have eye catching visuals with ambient content or advertising before impacting again.

“That’s why Necsum always tries to have this kind of balance with its content. You don’t want to have a 3D LED setup in a food court impacting people all of the time while they’re having dinner, that’s not what we’re aiming for.” Looking to the future, there is fertile ground for the implementation of 3D LED technology across the APAC region.

Ung reflects: “You need a big LED screen for this content, and you need a big canvas to create these effects, so it is difficult to scale down. We can explore different areas outside of advertising and entertainment such as cinemas in the future, bringing 3D effects without goggles; there are lots of opportunities for this technology to expand.”

Watson closes: “[3D LED setups] allow us to use creative opportunities to the fullest and you’re not going to get that with other mediums. 3D LED is an exciting medium that is new and many haven’t seen this before here. Being the first brand in this sector to do it is an opportunity that we couldn’t let pass us. It will be interesting to see how this technology evolves when it’s more recognised with reduced wow factor, but at the moment, brands are looking to get involved as it’s the new big thing and these experiences generate fantastic brand exposure."

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