Creator Q&A with SNA Displays: cfire 

From modest video walls to gargantuan LED mega-spectaculars, well-executed creative is a critical component of any digital signage experience. There are certainly important display hardware metrics like pixel pitch and brightness, but it’s really the content that tends to elicit the WOW response display owners and operators crave.

Few things in the audio-visual industry are more rewarding than seeing your work connect people to powerful digital experiences.

We are proud to support the work of talented content creators in the digital signage space. Please enjoy this edition of the Creator Q&A with SNA Displays series in which we highlight digital art and brand specialists cFire.

Our Client Service Group has developed strong working relationship with cFire, leading us to connect cFire with clients to provide creative content for video walls in lobbies, tenant buildings, children’s hospitals, and digital tech giants.

cFire joined SNA Displays at an InfoComm meet and greet, where they featured some of their artwork on our 1.2 mm LED display. During the Meet and Greet, Peter Sapienza, executive director and CEO of cFire, and Nick Lynch, executive creative director, discussed some of their partnerships. Their presentation covered the scope of many of their artistic projects as well as the creative process and decisions necessary to get the right art for a client’s needs.

(Check out Sapienza and Lynch’s contributions to Commercial Integrator on the ascendancy of the digital art platform.)

Nicholas-Lynch

Nicholas Lynch is Executive Creative Director at cFire with 20 years experience delivering art-driven, high-impact immersive media projects all over the globe.


Creative Preference & Influences

What do you consider your specialty in terms of content generation?

We at cFire love to bring biophilic content to large screens. We have built a content library with terabytes of 4-8K video shot specifically for LED. We also love to work on animation and 3D products with a full creative cycle of storyboarding to production and delivery. 

Who are some of your artistic influences?

We work closely with Zheng Chongbin with whom we share a studio; he inspires us every day. In our biz, of course, there’s also Refik Anadol and all the great artists we collaborated with while working at Obscura Digital. Likewise, I’m a huge fan of modernist and impressionist art, which I would love to see more of on big screens and digital displays. 

In terms of the digital art you have created, do you have a favorite? We’d also love to hear a story about the worst digital content you’ve generated.

We recently completed a huge work for MGM Cotai called Watercolor Story. This was a really cool collaboration of painting, animation, and immersive video. 

As far as the worst content, we had a client point out that something in the video appeared to be phallic, so we removed it.

If a client gave you no guidelines for content, what would you create?

Much would depend on the context and location of the screen. However, with no direction we would curate a blend of gorgeous thought-provoking digital art and feel-good nature scenes with appropriate day-parted timing. 

What message do you want people to hear about digital art/content creation?

We want people to know how powerful this medium can be; it makes people think differently, be inspired, and dream big dreams.

Content Creation Process

How do you effectively connect with or influence an audience’s emotions?

Through a bit of study and strategy we find we can deliver content that is perfectly tuned to the local audience. 

How do you determine what content is best for a specific client or in a given space?

This begins with a review of the physical location, the client’s needs, and the foot-traffic audience. Then we explore deeper into the messaging needs, local arts and culture, and global connection

When do you choose abstract or data-driven art versus more traditional content such as nature scenes?  What settings work best for different art styles or art content?

We seem to always be pitching some data-driven art and nature scenes. Unfortunately, the choice is often not ours as we present the options to the clients. The best settings for nature content tend to be well-designed spaces by great architects. The data stuff I think works better where the LED is rather uninteresting on its own.  

What elements are most important in creating an immersive digital experience?

The single most important element to creating a great digital experience is the team. A good team with open communication and creative collaboration makes for stunning work. As an example, this is how the original Salesforce Waterfall was created. We had an amazing client and internal team that delivered the world’s most well-known piece of content. 

How do you build/curate your content library?

We take feedback from library users and often go out and shoot what they request. Currently, I’m tracking hot air balloons as a request. But also, we are always thinking about what looks great on LED walls: certain colors and feelings that are imparted from things like forests and rivers. We love the way that this kind of content makes you feel.

I remember walking into the Salesforce lobby one day to test our Redwood content. I saw the nature scene on the lobby videowall upon entering the building and took a deep breath – the same deep breath I would take upon gazing at the real thing in the North Coast Redwoods of California where we shot the content. 

What are some foundational design concepts for digital content?

I think we always ask, what is the effect you want to convey? Is it wild and flashy (like events) or is it serene and moving? Or are we selling something like a brand or a car? All design for us begins with comps and storyboards. 

How do you analyze different projects and determine a content strategy?

Peter Sapienza is our Content Strategist as has done an amazing job with every property we create content for by asking a series of poignant questions that really get the client to discover their own best interests and needs. 

What kind of sandbox environment do you use to explore new ideas or experiment with prototypes?

We have a really fun studio space in San Rafael with tons of computers, cameras, and screens. Sometimes we just get lost in making new digital art for the library.

For a long time, most digital signage content was made for square or widescreen formats, but with new technology, displays are no longer limited in this way. How has that changed your creative process?

Any time we can use the screen’s geometry with some collision physics, great things can happen!

Mapping the Landscape

In the content creation world (for digital signage), what kind of content do you think is most in demand?  

This is always on the move and very trendy. I think five years ago we saw lots of waterfalls! 

What do you think about the 3D/anamorphic content trend? Do you create this type of content?

We have done several 3D projects and pitched many anamorphic scenes; however, most of the anamorphic content seems to be heavily product based with corresponding budgets. We tend to fall more on the art side of the equation

What type of art style do clients typically ask for? What percentage are asking for 3D/anamorphic art? 

Currently, about 10% of clients end up requesting 3D content. Often, independent amenity-based lobbies will look to us to guide them on style.  More corporate entities will of course give us the brand guidelines to follow. 

Technical Considerations

What are the main things you, as a digital artist, want the LED industry to know?

Go look at your video wall often to see if the content has issues or the hardware is failing. Build a budget to update content and take care of the hardware. This may be the most important touch point for communicating your brand. 

How do you tailor content based on the physical aspects of the display like a curve or corner.

Curves and corners are great opportunities to have fun with the design. Every space is different and we love the odd shapes and cool design elements. When we see these kinds of displays, we tailor all the creative to work with the form and treat these as site-specific art installations.

In what ways does digital art drive technological advancement and vice-versa?

One could write a whole thesis on this. Let’s just say there is a constant osmosis between the two disciplines. 

What new technology are you using or excited about using in your content creation process?

Unreal Engine is of course super fun. Also, we just keep getting our hands on better cameras which is also great fun

What would be your dream LED display type to create content for?

I would really like to start doing content for completely immersive rooms, so the floor, ceiling, doors, and walls are all LED. 

What’s the longest render time you’ve had to endure?

To do twenty-five 10-minute pieces for MGM Cotai with all animated 3D delivered in HAP, it took a solid 6 weeks at 24 hours a day of rendering and crashing, crashing and rendering, until complete!

Future of the Art Form

What course of study would you recommend to someone interested in becoming a digital artist/content creator?

I would focus heavily on 3D engines such as C4D, Houdini, and Unreal. Basic animation skills will be very valuable. Also, you want a very solid foundation in After Effects and Photoshop. And finally, stay on top of AI as it relates to taking friction out of our industry workflows. 

What does the future hold for digital content creation? What styles will propagate? Any bold predictions?  

I think people will begin collecting and displaying more digital in homes and businesses. We may see more Refik-level artists and studios put out collectable, value-holding work. And there seems no end to what LED can offer. Someone will put it on the moon soon enough! 

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