The Chronicles of San Francisco

Sensory Interactive worked with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and internationally recognized artist JR to develop the 107’ by 16’ digital display for JR’s enormous digital mural, The Chronicles of San Francisco.

To create the piece, JR set up a mobile studio in 22 locations around San Francisco, where he filmed, photographed, and interviewed more than 1,200 people from across the city’s multifaceted communities. The completed work scrolls across the enormous LED display, bringing together the faces and untold stories of everyday people.

Sensory Interactive provided design, technical specification, procurement, and project management services for the display, which was manufactured and installed by SNA Displays. With a total of nearly 26 million pixels, the display is among the highest-resolution LED displays in the nation and is comparable in size to the largest digital displays in Las Vegas and New York’s Times Square. The display is powered by a high-performance videowall processor and media server from Analog Way.

Because of the complexity of executing an installation with such demanding technical requirements and a large, international team, Sensory Interactive’s architects, motion-graphic designers, and 3D artists got involved in the process early, working with the JR team to ensure that every aspect of the display supported the goals of the installation.

The goal throughout the process was to keep the emphasis on the artwork and the stories it tells, with the technology fading into the background. To accomplish this, the team focused on helping JR find and implement the hardware and software that would create the best experience for people viewing the piece.

A key part of this effort was finding the right display configuration, size, and placement to create the most inviting and immersive experience for viewers. As part of this effort, Sensory Interactive, SNA Displays, and the JR team worked together to explore a variety of design options, particularly for joining the two planes of the display at their intersection.

Sensory Interactive rendered views of the space from a variety of angles to show different options for the display’s position and different approaches for addressing the corner. Ultimately the team settled on a curved connection and a slightly concave angle for the two planes. This approach draws visitors into the space and maximizes their sense of immersion as they are surrounded by the massive, slowly moving digital image.

The Sensory Interactive design and technology teams also worked with JR to explore various methods for smoothly drifting the video across the display to expose the full narrative of the finished art piece, as well as helping the artist find the display resolution and technology that best matched his vision for the exhibition.

As part of the project management process, members of the Sensory Interactive team traveled to the SNA Displays factory in Shanghai with SFMOMA staff and representatives from the JR team. While there, the team reviewed the progress of the display’s production and tested its performance before its shipment to the U.S.

This display is a milestone for digital art in the museum environment. It illustrates how the affordability, reliability, and flexibility of large-scale LED surfaces have reached the point where LED is a realistic alternative to projection systems for video art in many museums. This is giving museums the opportunity to bring video art out of the traditional darkened room and into wide-open spaces like SFMOMA’s soaring Roberts Family Gallery.