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The House That Fuse Built- LED Displays In Unique Ways
By Louis M Brill
Dave Alworth, Vice president of Operations, explained that the company's signage strategy was conceived of as a way to put the music network on the map as a new icon for New York City. “FUSE knew it wanted to be more than just a linear television channel on cable and satellite. We've already built a strong presence on the web, on mobile and VOD and from that, we were ready to take on our latest programming strategy and push direct contact with the public through another platform, interactive signage. Our audience is young and hip and we were looking for a sign design that was the same. The guideline for our sign design was that it had to be 'eye popping' as a destination and a 'place to be.' "
The creation of the FUSE signage was designed by Walker Group (NY,NY), now known as Fitch, and Multimedia LED (Rancho Cordova, CA), who both worked together extensively to bring the FUSE brand to life. Fitch, who is an established global, retail design agency, saw the dynamic potential in using the FUSE signage to expand the cable television studio's identity and give them a physical presence on the street. "Ultimately, the challenge we faced was how to use the signage to bring the FUSE television studio onto the sidewalk," said Fitch Studio Director, George Kewin, AIA. "Vice versa, we also wanted to bring the viewing pedestrians "into" the studio to have a more personal contact with the brand."
To do this, Fitch proposed four different types of LED displays that together presented a series of overlapping sightlines that constantly attracted the viewer’s attention, drawing them right up to the building's windows. First, from a long distance, the FUSE channel letters with their embedded video screens were visible at least six blocks south from the building site. As pedestrians approached the building, a second sign system comes into play; a series of overhead hi-def video displays with endless changing colors, video imagery and text messages constantly streaming across the building. To further attract the curious is a “zipper” electronic message center that snakes in and out of the serpentine contours of four two-story tall window bays, and continues by going 'south' down into the sidewalk in front of the building and ending up back underneath the channel letters. Most exciting was when surprised first time viewers watched as the LED curtains folded up and disappeared behind the windows in front of them. A sign that disappears? Hmmm.
As to FUSE's location, if you'd have guessed it's "just" another Times Square project you'd be wrong. FUSE is actually part of Manhattan's 34th Street, Seventh Avenue corridor, and a neighborhood that is becoming a sign district in its own right.
Improving brand awareness
The channel letters are the most visible and most visually impactful part of the FUSE sign package. With their large size and bright changing colors, they are designed as a long distance viewing system that begins to draw people’s attention from several blocks away from the building.
The FUSE stainless steel channel letters projects outward about 15 feet to completely dominate the airspace in front of the building. This was done with two open-faced FUSE channel letter forms placed left and right to each other in a curved-shape and was completely filled with 12mm, high definition, eVidia RGB LED blocks. The letters were raised 23 feet from the ground, and were each eight feet high and approximately (depending on character shape) nine feet wide.
"We built the steel support structure for the channel letters," said sign installer Tony Calvano of Landmark (NY, NY), "which in turn were connected to the FUSE building. At the points where we had to penetrate into the building to connect the steel to the building foundation, we carefully cut out the limestone facades with a diamond saw, made the connections to the building's out riggers and then seamlessly replaced the limestone pieces back on the building.
To maximize the channel letter's long distance sightlines, one segment faced south on 7th Avenue and visible for at least six blocks away. The other channel letter segment curved out across 32nd Street to capture both the pedestrian traffic coming from Penn Central Station and that of the audiences across the street coming to and from Madison Square Garden.
The zipper embellishes the entire sign package as, at some point it passes under, over and around every other sign system. It begins by running underneath the FUSE channel letters, then up across and along each of the four window bays and then down and across the sidewalks. As described by Sawler, the blue, monochromatic zipper was 325 feet long, with a six-inch width and a 34mm pitch (8 high x 3160 wide pixel resolution), NovaLite LED module. In incorporating the ticker sign system into the building design, MultimediaLED designed the ticker cabinets to allow for variations in the height and angle of the sidewalk. These elements were all expertly installed by Landmark Signs to minimize visual disturbances to the flowing ticker text.
Sawler pointed out that the biggest challenge for the zippers was when it was in its "sidewalk" mode. "No one has ever run an LED message center across a sidewalk, this was a world's first. Our biggest concern was how to both protect the LED display and show it off. At issue was the thousands of New Yorkers who marched across the sign face every day, either walking across them, or stopping to read the messages moving past them. There were also weather issues in keeping the sign system waterproof as well."
"To protect the sidewalk zipper screens from the constant pounding pedestrian traffic shuffling across the display face, each sign section was covered with one-inch thick, six inch wide, structural glass. Working with Landmark Signs and Israel Berger and Associates, curtain wall and glass sealing experts, MultimediaLED developed an easy to install and maintain sealing scheme, allowing for the use of techniques and materials well established in the glazing industry. "As for setting up the zippers on the sidewalk, said Calvano, we took the sidewalk out and set up watertight troughs to insert the zipper cabinets in, We then poured a new sidewalk right up to the troughs to prevent any 'high points' from the cabinet edges from sticking up."
The zipper is a 'kick' because it has the capability of allowing viewers and pedestrians to read e-mails, advertisements and program alerts. On the other hand, loyal FUSE fans also send “shout outs" providing very enlightening zipper content to be read as pedestrians pass by.
The Upper Video Screens
The disappearing curtains
Each LED Curtain is eight feet long according to Kewin, and consists of a series of translucent polycarbonate tubes filled with RGB LEDs capable of running synchronized full motion video. The LED Curtain's operation is mechanically controlled and designed as a dual presentation system. Closed, the LED Curtains portray whatever streaming video content is displayed upon them. Folded up, the Curtains reveal the "magic behind the curtains" of music band broadcasts for FUSE fans everywhere.
Overall, the FUSE sign system succeeded beyond everyone's (the client, the sign designer and the public) wildest expectations, where the sign system is less a display and more a media experience. From Fitch's point of view, said Studio Director Kewing, "We created a brand environment" that extended down from the client's identity (the building) and into the public realm (the street level encounters). In effect, the FUSE signage acts to bring the television studio out onto the street (by showing live studio activity on its video screens). Inversely it also brings the public and their fans into its studio system. This happens in two ways: first by giving the FUSE reader board a personality as messages zip in and around the building. Second, is the added delight of having the LED Curtains part and disappear for a live look of a television recording session.
When signage is priceless
The LED curtain was engineered and project managed by Multimedia LED. The curtain system was composed of two parts, a mechanical framework that held the LED tubes in place as it folded in and out of the window bay. The second part was the LED video tubes which were custom designed by LED Effects (Rancho Cordova, CA) and inserted into the curtain frame.
The original mechanical structure was acquired, according to Bob Sawler of Multimedia LED, from a company in England, which was then modified for their specific purpose. The final effect of the curtain was a dual positioning which when closed, showed off a six-foot tall video image. At the preferred moment, the curtains folded back into a twelve-inch storage space allowing each window to provide an unobstructed view into the interior television studio.
FUSE's video curtain display was designed by LED Effects as noted by Casey Call, Special Projects Manager. "Each curtain segment was composed of 32, eight-foot long 20% diffusion polycarbonate tube. Each tube contained six-feet of three-inch addressable LED strips mounted inside the polycarbonate. Combined together, all four window bays consumed upwards of 128 LED video tubes. Each individual LED video strip was composed of a single RGB LED pixel at a 3 mm pitch. Controlling each video tube was a power and data line, which were tucked into a collapsible raceway that folded up as the curtain was opened.
Each individual curtain frame had its own controller and power supply which were all linked by Ethernet to each other and to a dedicated computer that processed and distributed the video signal to each individual curtain. Along with the LED video tubes, LED Effects also provided their Designer Suite and Scheduler software to manage the FUSE video files and the LED curtains. The suite included LED Effects proprietary software FireFly which was controlled by the Scheduler program to place the various video segments onto the video curtain at their assigned moments.
The LED video curtains in effect were the entire culmination of the entire FUSE sign system. The curtains as described by Sawler acted as a "gateway" opening up the windows to allow waiting pedestrians a chance to view ongoing FUSE television productions. The LED video curtains had the ultimate position of a sign system, to draw customers to a brand, and then get out of the way allowing those customers to interact directly with that brand.
Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He can be reached at (415) 664-0694 or email@example.com
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