If you were at CES this year, you saw it—heck, you probably interacted with it and stood transfixed at your creation just like 30,000 other attendees. The Intel Connect to Life Experience was a 168-foot-wide interactive 3D virtual life simulation that spanned the top of the Intel booth at CES, and you know we had to figure out how it was done.
Attendees interacted with the install via six stations at the perimeter of the footprint. These stations scanned visitors’ hands, keys, phones—whatever they chose—to create a custom silhouette shape that was projected onto the fabric structure above the exhibit. These shapes would then take on the characteristics of a pre-programmed “creature,” and zip around the huge projection surface interacting with other people’s creature creations.
Exhibit designer 2LK worked with interactive specialists at Foghorn (plus a team that included Stimulant, WorldStage, Stage Light Design and lead partner The Taylor Group) to bring the experience to life—literally.
Intel is always pushing the interactive envelope with its CES experiences, including the killer Infoscape Wall from two years ago. The brand charged Foghorn and the creative team with finding a way to immediately engage show-goers with its Connect to Life theme, but not in a superfluous way.
Designers knew early on that they wanted each person to contribute something unique to the experience; to bring something to life through that process and interact with other people’s creations.
“We wanted to create an ecosystem or world that would be really interesting to look at. The shapes appeared in a large scale on the screen, then transformed into a moving life form that was animated,” says Foghorn Creative creative director Don Richards.
Six basic species of these life forms were created, each with very different characteristics. Each life form that a user created was unique because of the shape that they gave it, then each life form had its own way of acting in the virtual ecosystem.
“Some life forms were dancers, and when they met another dancer they would engage and dance together. Other forms were chasers that would go after other forms; some ran from chasers. What we were trying to do was create an abstract digital world that felt like a real world,” Richards says
The notion of how things interacted appeared very organic, but the pieces within it were completely digital. Designers intentionally avoided representing literal life forms—they just had behaviors to make them seem alive.
The team began work on the project 11 months before the show, and the large fabric wave structure central to the experience grew out of the earliest sessions. A total of 12 different content streams were projected in HD simultaneously.
“There was no pre-generated 3D geometry; it was all generated in real time. The biggest challenge was working at scale. We knew that this was not going to be a single PC solution. We ended up working with a software framework that let us distribute the rendering over multiple machines. There were 13 core CPUs driving the whole system,” says Stimulant ceo Darren David.
“We had five different layers of activity going on. There was a background color, a layer of non-interactive, ambient particle that moved around the wave, a layer of active particles, a layer where the life forms existed, and finally a layer of all the lighting elements that illuminated the wave,” Richards says.
All five of these layers were being rendered simultaneously on the CPUs, and every pixel had to line up across 168 feet of image.
On the floor, the team’s number one objective was to attract people to the experience and get them to connect to the brand’s theme. The shape of the input systems was key, with 2LK working to create the elegant, organic shape and Taylor Group building them flawlessly.
“These input stations were the touch point for the whole experience. They needed to be inviting, they needed to be simple and they needed to be bomb-proof,” David says.
A 22-inch LCD screen was embedded into the stations, but these were not touchscreens. Custom computer vision software was behind the magic via an internal camera pointing at the screen. Designers really used the screen as a backlight for the camera, while also using it for messaging.
The main wave projection surface structure was constructed using two different fabrics: a semi-opaque fabric geared toward lighting effects, and the special fabric projection surface. These were all attached to the back of the frame with Velcro.
Because of the sheer scale and amount of technology all firing at once, the team mocked up the whole setup at scale in Las Vegas last November to make sure everything was operating properly. Once the show was over, more than 30,000 attendees had created a creature at one of the stations.
David says the most amazing part of the project was the lack of technical difficulties.
“For the four days that the show ran, we didn’t have a single bug, a single crash—nothing went wrong.”