Society for Experiential Graphic Design

Lorem Ipsum Corp. Revives the Past at Platov International Airport

Through the creative use of technology, multidisciplinary agency Lorem Ipsum Corp. (New York) captured the spirit of the Don Cossacks and Count Matvei Ivanovich Platov in a host of interactive and experiential installations at the new airport in Rostov-On-Don, Russia.

20 June 2018

In anticipation of the 2018 World Cup being held in Russia, many infrastructure projects were undertaken, including the erection of an entirely new airport by Airports of Regions group in Rostov-On-Don. The over-530,000-square-foot facility was named Platov International Airport after Cossack leader Count Matvei Ivanovich Platov.

Platov, who lived in the second half of the 18th through the early 19th century, was a Russian military General who commanded the Don Cossacks in the Napoleonic wars and founded Novocherkassk as the new capital of the Don Host Province.1 The Cossacks, a semi-military and self-governed ethnic group, played an important role in the cultural development of Russia and Ukraine, protecting and patrolling borderlands on the steppes and serving in the Russian military in conflicts through WWII. Today, between 3.5 and 5 million people worldwide self-identify as Cossack.2

Lorem Ipsum Corp., an agency with offices in New York, London and Moscow, started out in video production and has grown to encompass a plethora of creative capabilities from branding and graphic design to augmented and virtual reality—all with a focus on storytelling. Lorem Ipsum was approached by client Airports of Regions in mid 2017 with a mission uniquely suited to their skills: Tell the story of Platov and the Cossacks with a cutting-edge, media-driven approach fitting for the brand-new, technologically-advanced space­—and complete the work in five months in time for the airport’s December opening. They needed to find a way to combine the aesthetics of today with that of centuries past to create a cohesive environment, without stripping either of its integrity.

Because of the firm’s background in production, generous in-house resources, like-minded fabrication partner and satellite office in Moscow, the project was able to get off the ground quickly. A total of 55 staff from architects to CGI artists worked on the five-month-long project, with half of them solely dedicating their time to it. Partner Abigail Honor attributes the success of the project to the firm’s ability to mobilize their large and multitalented team quickly—and a little bit of good luck. “Even with a great team like ours, the turnaround for this project was unheard of, but we did it,” she laughs, admitting that several sleepless nights were a part of the process. They brought in trusted fabrication partner Miras Group to help with the speedy execution.

The challenges of the project weren’t limited to timing, though. The team needed to consider the great scale of the new space, the heavy traffic, the international audience and where, if and for how long people would stop to interact with an installation, in addition to using the exact right amount of historical information to tell the story and pay homage to different aspects of Don Cossack culture. Lorem Ipsum dispatched their team of researchers to delve into the life of Platov and the long history of the Cossacks—their goal was to keep the history light and interesting and deliver it in a way that would be easy to understand with minimal text, with the potential for viewers to choose to dig more deeply.

This particular goal led to the creation of oversized portraits of Platov and Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov. At a closer distance, viewers can see the portraits are composed from smaller words and letters, which build upon one another to tell the story of Platov and Kutuzov. The portraits were digitally printed on four panels of 3m Scotchcal Clear View Graphic Film 8150 each, which after much testing was the best material for perfect transparency when applied to windows. The material was difficult to source in rolls, but more trying than the sourcing was the application— the panels needed to go up without dust or air bubbles, which proved to be an unexpected challenge to navigate because the airport was still being built.

Construction dust played a much smaller role in the installation of the Don River, a 35-foot-long LED screen manufactured by Miras Group, showing an 8K resolution, three-minute-long, custom drone-shot aerial film that follows the river from its beginning in Novomoskovsk to the Sea of Azov, inspired by footage of the Thames shown during the London Olympic games. The river was chosen as the subject of an installation because of its central role in the development of civilization and Cossack culture in the region. The Don also inspired the design and aesthetic of the airport itself. The screen showing the film is at a crucial juncture at the top of the escalators between the check-in area and security checkpoints, where travelers can get an impression of the river with a glance or watch the entire film during their journey upstairs.

Inside security, visitors can indulge in viewing a rare treat— “Animated Battlefield,” an animated canvas interactive. The 24-foot-long Photoshop-created “painting” was derived from a series of 19th-century works of art and depicts a symbolic battle between the Russian and the French troops during the Napoleonic Wars in 1812, with the Cossack forces taking charge. When seen through a pair of electronic viewfinders, parts of the painting become animated and show the heat of battle with horses bucking, swords flying and dust whirling. “The viewfinders look like the ones you might see on an observation deck, but inside are equipped much like a VR headset,” explains Chris Cooper, partner at Lorem Ipsum. “The media is stored on BrightSign players and can be triggered to play with the touch of a button.” The effect is delightful and brings the concept of a battlefield painting firmly into the present day.

Another deft way the Lorem Ipsum team brought the Cossack history to life in Platov International was through the development of a large-scale, two-part interactive centered on historical garments. “Through our intense research we found one of the well-documented facets of Cossack culture was the clothing,” Honor remarks. “We tried to keep the language very simple and keep it more of an emotional narrative because of the non-Russian audience present in an airport setting.” The interactive was built in two parts: a 3-D rendering depicting how Cossack uniforms evolved as the army became more organized and an interface where visitors can take a selfie to virtually “try-on” outfits from various eras.

The grandest gesture by the Lorem Ipsum team takes the form of a huge ring 90-feet in circumference. The perforated exterior echoes the surrounding shopping area of the terminal. The interior of the ring houses a 360-degree LED screen playing the “Cossack Spirit” film. Airports of Regions had requested an activation in this opening inside a circle of shops, in which Honor says a circular installation “only felt natural—a T or cross shape would break the flow of foot traffic.”

Cossack Spirit, shot and produced by Lorem Ipsum, introduces viewers to the Don Cossack people and their traditional methods of travel and fighting, effectively conveying a feeling of riding through the Eurasian Steppe on horseback. The location and shoots were challenging, requiring extensive planning, complicated equipment, treacherous travel on foot or horseback and good weather. Thankfully, the four-day shoot went without a hitch, the most difficult part being finding pristine locations (without evidence of the 19th, 20th or 21st century).

In-situ, the high-definition images appear as one in the round but are actually two to three shots filmed with a single camera, then stitched together. The stitching was critical to the effect and to achieving slow-motion shots of the horses. The team did research and analysis into how people watch films to determine the best way to play the narrative to encourage viewing from all perspectives—like using a giant VR headset. Beyond the rigorous production, the fabrication and installation teams had their own set of hurdles to jump: cathedral ceilings, changing light, hard floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, a pervasive PA system and incomplete construction. “These are interesting challenges to overcome,” muses Cooper. “A lot of testing was done on site as a result.” The team was also working with eight rounded speakers that required tweaking to eliminate transfers, echoes and reverb.

The result of Lorem Ipsum Corp.’s efforts is nothing short of astonishing; the agency was able to determine the message and provide solutions in innovative and original formats tailored to the scale and space in the span of a mere five months. The team believes, though, the most important accomplishment of the project is the impact it has on the region and those who visit in understanding Rostov-On-Don’s cultural history.