Last Saturday, anyone in New York City who could see the south facade of the Empire State Building probably noticed massive projections of endangered animals covering the 1931 skyscraper. Created to raise awareness about the global environmental crisis, the project included an image of a giant ape that climbed to the 71st floor (shades of King Kong), expressive animal eyes looking out at viewers, psychedelic faces with spiritual yogi symbols, floating sea life, tigers, and a whole array of other threatened species.
The project, Projecting Change, was conceived by Louie Psihoyos and realized by Travis Threlkel’s Obscura Digital design firm. According to the New York Times, the event cost around $1 million to produce and involved 40 stacked 20,000-lumen projectors on the roof of a building on West 31st Street that beamed 5K resolution video onto a space covering 33 floors — roughly 375 feet high and 186 feet wide.
The group is also releasing a film this fall called Racing Extinction, and during Saturday night’s event two film crews in helicopters circled the building to capture footage of the projected images, some of which were from National Geographic’s extensive archive of animal photography while others were created by various artists.
There was a musical component of the project but it was only available to those attending the preview party on the roof of a 27th Street venue.
“One of the biggest challenges, artistically, was that the pictures can handle themselves as a slide show and create wonderful reactions along with the music, but we worked on a reinterpretation of the images, trying to recontextualize them into visual poetry,” Emmet Feldman, senior art director of the project at Obscura Digital, told Hyperallergic.
The images of faces were created by artist Android Jones, who lives in Colorado and is known for his psychedelic style. “What was interesting is that he consulted all his yogis to make sure he put specific images out there that were representational of mythological symbols,” Feldman said.
The ending shot, which flowed along with the song by Sia, displayed sets of eyes looking out, and later, flowing images of animals. “We basically took all the luminescent pictures and created this radial mandala structure to show the diversity of life by echoing their forms around a circle and layering them up so that they become something bigger than themselves,” he said.
An image of Cecil the Lion, the endangered animal killed last month by US dentist Walter Palmer, was also included in the parade of animals and the inclusion sparked criticism on social media. Some people tweeted they were upset, echoing what many people were saying all week, namely why black people shot by the police in the US aren’t honored in the same way as the poached lion in Zimbabwe. The Empire State Building, which commemorates various landmark events and social causes, has up until now completely ignored the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
While the visual impact may have greatly impressed the crowd — and made a splash on social media — New Yorkers won’t be able to see lighted animals crawling up over buildings on a regular basis. Given the city’s strict laws regarding projection of images it might take years for the next event of this type to take place.