Adobe Creative Cloud

Designing for Large-Scale Interactive Media at LAX

Can large-scale, story driven visual media and interactive features help put the magic and romance back into air travel? The Integrated Environmental Media System (IEMS) is doing just that at LAX’s international terminal. The experience contains seven media features, including Welcome and Bon Voyage walls, a four-sided Time Tower and interactive portals that guide passengers to their departure gates.  It’s supported by an intelligent show control system that maps content onto unique, very large-scale, multi-dimensional media surfaces.

The project – a joint effort between firms MRA International, Sardi Design, Design Kitchen, The Moment Factory, and Smart Monkeys –recently received a prestigious Thea Award. We had the opportunity to chat with Project Director Mike Rubin to get his insights on designing content for large-scale media in public spaces and architectural projects.


Adobe: Your specialty is place branding for destination projects. What did that involve at a creative level for the LAX project?

Mike Rubin: Airports, post 9/11, are designed around security and logistics. How do we safely move people through arrival and through departure in the most efficient way possible? It’s necessary, but it sucks joy and romance out of travel. Yet, LAX is a creature of the city of LA and the city of LA has a diverse set of identities. The challenge became, “How do we express this brand in such a way that along the passenger arrival and departure sequence, there are moments that change the experience, and relate back to a deep message around what LA and LAX are about?”

Adobe: How do you choose the story to focus on in the content and design?

Rubin: On one level, you’re working with opportunities and challenges the architecture team faces in creating a sense of place within the physical building. At a conceptual level, LA is a storytelling capital. It’s the place where narrative took on a dimension that was unprecedented because of the movie, TV, advertising and creative industries. For content and design, we focused on stories in three key ways: Stories which give expression to LA as the host city; stories that have to do with what goes on behind the scenes in the creative process and behind the scenes at the airport; and stories which emanate from the journeys people take both to and from the airport.

Welcome Wall Feature LAX

Adobe: How did the realities of the airport influence your visual design choices?

Rubin: We estimated how people would engage with the various media. We realized that when people move through an airport, they’re not going to be able to engage in an actual narrative. The audio and climate in an airport is hardly conducive to doing so with constant announcements, flights and more. Storyboard, for example, was designed so travelers can engage for fifteen to thirty seconds, or they could be in one of the upper lounges and engage with it for half an hour. The content is visual stories told from multiple vantage points. Each feature has its own structure with these engagement constraints in mind.

Adobe: Can you describe how the transitions between the stories displayed on the different screens create continuity?

Rubin: We had the transitions designed so the screens never go to black. Each image always has multiple layers. That’s how the playback system was designed. There’s always a layer behind the front layer so when people move from one story to another, they never get a black flash during transitions. It’s subtle, but people do sense a difference in the continuity.

Time Tower

Adobe: How do frame rates help create the right atmosphere?

Rubin: The frame rates on most of the content is super slow. Because the screens are so large, when you run them at a typical frame rate it’s like a Times Square environment – super frenetic. The anticipation was the content would feel slow moving and might have to speed up. The reality was once it went up on the displays, in almost every case, the content frame rate was slowed down.

Adobe: Can you describe how you used color to create atmosphere?

Rubin: All the colors across the various features were carefully coordinated for time of day and palette. The colors the palettes used were orchestrated with the light temperature within the room. Marcela Sardi, the lead designer, also worked hard with the airport team to change the lighting in the airport to controllable LED’s, so the light in the terminal ended up warming up a lot. We turned down the NIT level to about 24% of brightness, so it looks like it is emanating or glowing from a surface like a canvas.

birdseye view

Adobe: How do you provide guidance to the teams shooting the visual media to get the right end effect?

Rubin: Their surfaces are very large – two to three thousand square feet. We created modalities for the creative team on how the media should be shot. For example, on the Time Tower, we use much more of a y-axis and a very slow spiral movement typically ascending, and very rarely descending.

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