Hotel 42 Brooklyn

The new Hotel 42 located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has an industrial-rustic vibe throughout the property with a stunning lobby space. The lobby boasts a 32-foot wide by 10-foot high fine-pitch, direct-view LED wall that can be seen from the bustling Brooklyn street outside thanks to an all-glass front entrance. The location and size of the video wall provides an immersive experience for hotel guests and can also be seen by pedestrians. The hotel owners wanted a mix of experiential 3D content that would provide the WOW-factor for guests in the lobby and also captivate exterior patrons as they walk past the display.

Knowing this, we presented the hotel owners with a mix of high impact 3D content concepts with the goal of creating a dual purpose immersive experience that left the viewer with anticipatory captivation, wondering what was coming next.  The owners also wanted the inspiration behind the concepts to be unique environments, including biophilic designs that at times incorporated the brand.  It was important to the owners to bring more nature into the city environment.

For the first phase, our team created several pieces including a pixel mapped CG-animated waterfall with liquid interaction on the client’s logo and the structural cutouts of both doorways; a stunning underwater scene with mystical jellyfish swimming freely in the depths of the ocean; a 3D Forced Perspective Zen Garden that includes a water feature, insects, varied plant life, and a wood beam ceiling allowing us to simulate natural sunlight and further simulate bringing nature inside; and last but not least, we created deep screen simulated staircases with branded dodecahedrons, or 12-sided three dimensional shapes, tumbling down the stairs where they collect at the bottom of the staircase, wait for a moment of anticipation, and then release at the viewer and tumble out of view.

Our Intentions

Content created for digital signage often falls into two camps: information and art. In this case, the client had one goal with these videos: to provide the viewer with captivating, original artwork that gives the viewer a moment to pause.

Our team immediately gathered as much information on the screen’s location while learning as much as possible about the display’s surrounding environment. This included key factors such as light sources, wall textures, paint colors, doorway sizes, and windows or glass doorways that would affect the amount of sunlight that hit the screen or entered the space. All these details were important for our design team to consider when building out new virtual settings. If not carefully considered, clashing virtual and IRL color schemes, misaligned layouts, and daily hotspots from the roving sun could all spell disaster for a video.

Most importantly on this project, our team had to take into account that we had two different viewpoints and viewers simultaneously experiencing the media. For the hotel guest, we wanted to provide a memorable first impression unique to Hotel 42.  For the casual observer walking by, we wanted the content to make them question the reality of what they saw and create a lasting impression in their minds. In both cases, the goal was for both viewers to tell someone else about what they saw and/or take a video of the content to share online about their content experience creating a ROI. In either case, the video wall becomes a must-see destination.


For this project, we were able to work with the interior designer for Hotel 42.  This is crucial to a project such as this since the lobby environment plays an integral role in the content design.  Render Impact uses both artist renderings and images of the space when storyboarding concepts and mood boards to ensure that the content makes sense for the space.  We refer to this as ‘Techorating’.

Techorating is a method that seamlessly blends technology into interior design, specifically by use of display technologies or video walls as the canvas for the digital content displayed. Techorators use intentional digital content on displays to ensure the display becomes part of the interior design, delivering a canvas that allows us to create media that is not only effective, but is also aesthetically pleasing and cohesive with its IRL environment. Making the LED wall feel as if it is part of the interior design opens a whole new world of creative possibilities.

Forced Perspective Design

We needed to create a space that felt like an extension of the actual lobby. By building the virtual room to match the perspective of a 5’6” patron looking out, we were able to achieve this feeling from both inside and outside the hotel from both viewpoints.  We knew the biggest issue would be properly pixel mapping around the doorway to the elevator and the stairs as well as liquid simulation collision detection and interaction with the logo.  As usual, the team executed the plan perfectly by both crunching the numbers and utilizing a previsualization based on drawings provided by the LED company and interior designer.

Matching the Virtual to the Physical

We’d like to say this part was quick and easy – that we took a few reference photos of the actual wall, mapped out the pixel placement, and got it right on the first go. The reality is that matching a screen’s content to precise real-world details is time consuming and can require a few rounds of testing to compensate for human error. But the results speak for themselves. This attention to detail further sells the realism of the piece for our viewers.

Open Ceiling

We used this technique in both the Zen Garden and the Falling Dodecahedrons.

For Zen Garden, being able to use the open beam ceiling allowed us to naturally light up the space while giving the perception that there is an outdoor space behind the lobby desk.  It also allows us to provide simulated shadowing so that the different vegetation appears to slightly move as if a breeze is flowing through the garden space.  This is only aided by the different insects and butterflies, and the shadows that occur in the natural world from their movement.

We also allowed the ceiling to feel like it was open beyond what’s visible. It’s as if the garden is in an atrium that extends sunlight from the sky above. How a breeze moves the plants further cements the realism of the overall piece in the viewer’s mind.

For Falling Dodecahedrons, the open ceiling allows the viewer to imagine where the tumbling dodes are coming from – just up a flight of stairs on the second floor. This sort of spatial justification is crucial for maintaining a video’s optical illusion.

Location and Natural Lighting

Placed behind the front desk, the wall has some separation from the large windows and doorway that envelope the lobby. This is essential to avoid the total wash-out that can happen on an LED screen too close to natural daylight. With us not being able to test prior to the screen going live, this was a concern.

We were able to alleviate this concern in two ways. First off, when we know sunlight is going to be an issue, we suggest day-parting the content when scheduling and make sure that we create certain content that will work well in sunlight and a few that work well at night. On this project, we also had a little unexpected help in that the lobby was on the first floor and was facing North, providing the shortest amount of sunlight hitting the screen.

PreVisualization as Process

It’s essential that both the client and our design team have a sense of the finished video’s placement in the final space. Unfortunately, with high-end digital signage, we frequently work on videos for displays that aren’t yet installed. To mitigate this, we’ll build out a virtual version of the final lobby so that we (our team and all stakeholders) can previsualize our content in this space. This approach helps prevent errors and aligns all teams to what the finished product needs to be.

PreVisualizations we produced for the client as the content was being created, before the video wall was installed:

Testing on the Wall

Once the wall is installed and the videos are near finalized, we’re able to begin our final rounds of testing. Because so much of our work is forced perspective and anamorphic content that’s designed to match a space, we’re often asked to match coloring of the virtual space to the IRL space. We wish we could say it’s a simple solution to take a picture of the space and match that, but the most overlooked issue is that large LED walls emit light that creates a variation that you don’t see on a 32” LCD computer monitor or the exact same LED wall in a space with different ambient lighting. You need to explore the real-world variables of the exact space where the display is installed. In a lobby like Hotel 42, the large windows only created  a few variables introduced by the time of day and weather. With all this in mind, it’s important to test content throughout a few days and weeks in order to fine-tune the content’s brightness and color for settings that work in all situations.


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