On New Year's Eve, around midnight, City Hall will disappear.
First, the iconic 85-year-old art deco skyscraper will morph and vibrate with neon patterns, as its windows, walls and edges extend out into the night sky like a trippy hallucination: Electric Daisy Carnival meets Eric Garcetti. And then — poof! — the building will be gone. In its place: Grand Park's Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain blown up to a few times its normal size, shooting brightly colored bursts and streams of water into the air.
No one will get wet, but everyone watching will forget all about the dinky disco ball that slunk down a pole three hours earlier on the other side of the country, overshadowed by thousands of square feet of LED advertisements on every side.
To ring in 2014, downtown's Grand Park will host N.Y.E. LA, a free event expected to attract 15,000 revelers to a closed-off 12-block area from Hope Street to Spring Street. Starting at 6 p.m., partiers can enjoy food trucks, bands, DJs, face painters, sculptures, sign spinners, a dance performance, a cash bar and a photo booth that gives you the option of adding photos of the goofy faces you just made with your friends to an ongoing slideshow being projected onto the Hall of Records.
All this will be awesome, sure, but what organizers are hoping will be the centerpiece — the part that will go viral the next morning and ignite civic pride among all Angelenos — is the phantasmagoric 10-minute 3D show, which will prominently feature Grand Park's fountain. The show uses projection mapping, a process that turns objects — in this case City Hall — into a display surface for animated video projection.
“As a shared experience, it's like fireworks on steroids,” says project manager Jonathan Keith, who has been working with a team of local visual effects artists, animators, programmers, engineers and production designers since the beginning of October. The show itself will make use of a 20-foot stack of five 40,000-lumen projectors, each of which weighs 500 pounds and can convey brighter and sharper images than any other projector in existence.
An example of the projection mapping process
Before the fountain show, for the first six hours of the event, during what's been unofficially dubbed the “screensaver” phase, City Hall will pulse in neon light with 2D designs created by artist Akiko Yamashita. In addition to more abstract imagery, visuals throughout the night will reference Grand Park's signature neon pink tables and chairs and other signifiers of contemporary Los Angeles, forgoing “classic” L.A. iconography such as the Hollywood Sign in favor of a more populist and inclusive image of the city. Palm trees made the cut; the Capitol Records building did not.
“Hollywood is sort of losing its grip on the culture here, economically and culturally,” Keith says. “And holding this celebration Grand Park can galvanize the new urban heart of Los Angeles.”
Grand Park's director of programming Julia Diamond wants the event to quash stereotypes of Los Angeles as insular and segregated.
“Despite the fact that we haven't had these traditions of communal civic gathering, that doesn't mean they have no place in L.A.,” Diamond says.
Instead, N.Y.E. LA offers a vision of the city as creative, technologically innovative and united in our diversity. Perhaps that's why the musical lineup includes a cumbia band, a hip-hop/afro-latin dance group and a soul duo. Headlining (and later playing “Auld Lang Syne”) will be indie-rock favorites Fool's Gold, who are based in Echo Park and have an eclectic, global sound (Their first album is entirely in Hebrew.)
To create the projection mapping show, a team of artists created 3D models of the building and of the fountain, added complex visual effects and turned the video over to the guys at VT Production Design, in Glendale. There, a team of five has been mapping the video against the geometry of City Hall based on architectural drawings and site-specific surveys.
VT creative director Michael Fullman says the team found four official recorded heights of the building — 456 feet, 457 feet, 458 feet and 459 feet — so he decided to design based on the median and correct any issues on-site, during the four days of set-up and preparation before the event. At that point, VT will set up computers with customized software, called media servers, to host the audio, video and 3D files, as well as handle any changes they may need to make so the output of the projectors matches the building exactly.
Fullman says City Hall's white surface, which refracts light, makes it the ideal canvas for convincing thousands of people that what was for a long time the tallest building in the city but is now the kid-sister skyscraper of downtown has morphed before their very eyes into a psychedelic fountain.
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If this sounds like something that would appeal to a bunch of ravers hopped up on molly: you're right. 3D projection mapping is largely associated with the recent boom in EDM — Keith first came across the technology's potential as an art form in his previous career managing electronic musicians.
“It's still a nascent technology and fairly arcane in the U.S.,” Keith says.
deadmau5's similar projection mapping project in London
VT Production Design has done tour design for acts like Baauer, of “Harlem Shake” fame, and the British dubstep producer and DJ Rusko, in addition to working with corporate clients like Xbox and Target. But Keith promises the soundtrack to their main event won't be “Satanic dubstep.” More like “progressive house,” he says, interspersed with sound effects corresponding to the visuals.
The VFX team is led by Jared Otake, who graduated from Los Angeles Film School in 2010 and later worked on 2012's 3D version of “Titanic” and a few Marvel movies, including “Captain America” and “The Avengers,” mostly in compositing, fusing together layers so that the CG-created Hulk appears quite naturally to be arguing with Scarlet Johansson.
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For the night's greatest illusion, Otake created a 3D model of the fountain, which dates back to the early '60s, and then handed it off to VFX artist Emad Khalili, an expert in a water simulation program called RealFlow, who made sure the neon particles of “water” spraying everywhere followed the appropriate laws of physics.
Otake says the best vantage point from which to watch the show will be on Broadway between Temple and First, although everyone attending the event or watching on TV will be able to see what Otake calls “Tron colors” lighting up downtown and bending minds.
So this should blow the tourist-infested New York shindig hosted by Ryan Seacrest and a sphere of Waterford crystals out of the water. Did you even know that Fergie is hosting the Los Angeles outpost of that event this year? FERGIE!
Of course, parents who can't handle the change in tradition can still bring their kids to catch live footage of the New York City ball dropping projected on the Hall of Records at 9 p.m.
Yeah, that's right. The Hall of Records is taking a break from its projected slideshow of goofy-face photo booth shots taken by drunk revelers for you, Times Square. How appropriate.
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