When it came time to design for the new canvas—a hype intro for the NFL’s Falcons, MLS’ Atlanta United and a progressive view on stadium art—the Chicago-based designers had one concept in mind, well, until they saw just how big a five-story-tall videoboard that has no end really is.
“We haven’t experienced the physicality of the canvas and that changed what we were doing,” says Ryan Summers, creative director. “Our experience in what we were making changed dramatically once we were there. We thought we were making a movie and then we saw it and we were creating a concert.”
The sheer size of the space meant every little decision, from a cut to a color turned “incredibly powerful.”
A cut made too fast can disorient a stadium full of 71,000 seats. “If you move the camera too fast it felt like you were tipping over,” Summers says. “Just because of the canvas, you can change the color temperature of the entire stadium because of how we light something.” In one clip, the team went from a cool color to gold and when it played out on the screen everyone in the building took a step back because the entire place experienced a sudden change.
“Rather than thinking we are creating content, it felt like we were creating an atmosphere and the pure emotion you are having around coming together for these teams,” says Anthony Vitagliano, president and chief creative officer. “It is more than hitting play and letting an intro play, we need to galvanize the entire city.”
Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons president and CEO, says the size of the screen is mind-boggling. You simply can’t comprehend it until you are in the building, which meant the board was about more than just creating the coolest of hype videos and in-game production. It also had a use outside of sports.
Often, buildings play the same highlight videos promoting ticket sales and merchandise endlessly whenever groups enter the venue. “If you are there an hour you will see the same touchdown throw and catch 472 times,” McKay says. “We weren’t going to do that.” Mercedes-Benz Stadium wanted to use its canvas for something different.
That’s why Digital Kitchen turned one of the world’s largest digital canvases into the most unique digital art display anywhere. “You have the large events that excite and bring people to their feet, but the art experience is the opposite of that in a way,” Vitagliano says. “The board creates a sense of that holy smokes moment when they walk in and the art is a calming experience. It levels them. It is like walking into the Grand Canyon. It is insane and you can’t describe it. We are not trying to compete against that feeling, but create this alternate element of awe. The stadium has that awe and the art should amplify that awe.”
The team aimed to counterbalance the weight of the stadium with something beautiful, creating a mixture of art that can play throughout the venue at different times.
Graphic art by Digital Kitchen for the display
“I think it was shockingly more difficult to create (the art),” says Summers. “We don’t want to make just some beautiful animated wallpapers. Each one of the art pieces has a story tied to Atlanta in some fashion.”
The suite of art was inspired by Atlanta, rooted in the real instead of the abstract. The team tried to tell stories, whether basing it on the massive falcon statue outside the stadium or the history and design of the city. They wanted to help create a journey through the venue for any guest, a journey that felt authentically Atlanta.
With up to 20 people working with them from the Falcons, the 18-month process of turning concepts to finished work helped the design team expand their creative borders, says Blake Nickle, executive producer. But more than conceptually, the team also had a physical responsibility to look at the design from all angles. The board proves so massive it can even be viewed from outside the stadium. “What does this look like to this person from this specific location and from someone coming into the stadium from the (outside) overpass,” Nickle says. “We had to make sure we took that into consideration.”
Summers says that designers dealing with an oversized canvas, especially one with the power to push people to look in any direction, must take in as many points of view as possible. The team started viewing video in different seats and locations. They wanted the perspective of the athlete, the press box and the fans from every angle. “That was the only way we could get our heads around what this space is going to look like,” he says.
“In the end when you are designing for these types of spaces it is easy to get tripped up into the technical side of things,” Vitagliano says. “It is easy to find yourself overwhelmed or inspired by the size and let that be the driver. The technology (or size) is enabling the story or the narrative. We are making a true connection to people. If you think about it that way, design for that.”