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Passenger Terminal Today

Winning Combination

Russia’s newest airport wowed World Cup visitors with a series of visually stunning immersive displays.

Dan Symonds|21 March 2019
Free South, Platov Airport, Magazine Cover

The Free South video cylinder acts as the centerpiece for Platov Airport’s display installation and helps invoke a sense of place for both domestic and foreign travelers

Built ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Platov International Airport is the primary gateway to the city of Rostov-on-Don and the Rostov Arena — a 45,000-seater stadium used as a host venue during the competition. It is the first greenfield airport to be built in the post-Soviet era, replacing the city’s previous airport.

Designed by London-based Twelve Architects, Platov Airport is one of Europe’s largest new airports, capable of serving up to five million passengers annually. It has quickly become renowned for its visually striking £600m (US$770m) terminal, particularly for the flowing roof, which Twelve Architects designed to mimic the River Don, which cuts through the heart of the region.

Celebrating Cossack Culture

Rostov-on-Don is a city steeped in Russian history and the airport owner — Airports of Regions — wanted to convey this to travelers. It began by naming the airport after local hero Matvei Platov, a leader of the Don Cossacks Army who fought in several wars and was a prominent figure in the Patriotic War with Napoleon in 1812.

To convey the idea of Platov and the Cossacks to passengers, Airports of Regions turned to international design studio Lorem Ipsum, to commission a high-tech, immersive display that would resonate with modern travelers and fit in with the aesthetics of the new terminal.

“We wanted to avoid building a dusty old-school museum,” says Evgeny Krasikov, director, strategic communications, Airports of Regions. “We asked for a series of interactive objects to be installed in various places in the terminal. We wanted them to attract the attention of passengers as they made their way from the check-in desk, all the way through to the boarding gate.”

With the World Cup looming, Airports of Regions needed to complete the project within a four-month timeframe and to a budget of just US$250,000. Lorem Ipsum realized that to capitalize on the environment, installations would need to grab passengers’ attention without demanding too much of their time.

“At an airport, you don’t have a captive audience as everyone is heading somewhere, so we needed to come up with something that was more cutting-edge and off the wall,” explains Abigail Honor, partner at Lorem Ipsum. “We broke down the whole history of the Cossacks and Platov, including his relationship with Napoleon. We also looked at the demographic of the international and domestic sections of the terminal and decided that, with all the different languages spoken by the visitors, it was best not to get bogged-down with verbal narration. Instead, the content had to go beyond the spoken word, with big and bracing installations to match the wonderful architecture of the terminal.”

The Free South

The crown jewel of the Platov exhibition is the giant Free South video cylinder — 9m (29ft) in diameter — which displays original content shot using a Red Helium 8K S35 camera.

Free South, Platov Airport

Lorem Ipsum spent time with local Cossacks to better understand the culture and to help capture the wilderness surrounding Rostov-on-Don

“The cylinder helps people envision what it would have been like to travel through the Russian steppe 200 years ago,” explains Honor. “The steppe is the wilderness all around Rostov and it’s absolutely stunning. We wanted to create an image that helps you understand what it must have been like for the Cossacks to fight off the Turks and the Tatars, so we spent some time with the Cossacks who still live there and decided to make this a really immersive piece.”

For the content, Lorem Ipsum used a helicopter and an industrial drone equipped with the Red Helium camera to film local Cossacks riding across the steppe. This was edited and condensed to create an artistic and imposing narrative that would capture the traveler’s attention. The display is made even more immersive thanks to the eight-channel audio setup directed at passengers as they stand within the cylinder.

Animated Battlefield

To help depict the Napoleonic wars, Lorem Ipsum created an original painting of the Cossacks fighting the French army using various historic illustrations as inspiration. This was complemented by three Quad-HD Android standalone VR headsets, which were carefully fixed to stands and aimed at a specific point on the painting.

Animated Battlefield, Platov Airport

The three headsets for the Animated Battlefield are fixed in place

When passers-by look through the fixed headsets, the painting comes to life thanks to a series of short, immersive videos that are lined up perfectly with the scene in front of them.

“It’s crucial to work with immersive content to attract and impress the audience instantly,” says Krasikov. “If the content is too long or too complex, we lose the passenger and find them occupied with more practical or habitual things.”

Should passengers want to learn more, each exhibit has been fitted with a stand that provides further information about the content depicted in the display.

Cossacks Through the Ages

To interact with passengers, Lorem Ipsum created a 2.4m-tall (8ft) digital installation (using a 98in edge-lit 4K UHD LED screen) showing a life-sized Cossack whose appearance changes according to the timeline, demonstrating the evolution not just of uniforms but also of hair styles and accessories. Passengers are then encouraged to face swap their own face onto the Cossack using a 28in touchscreen tablet mounted alongside the display and have it sent to their own device or email account.

“The Cossacks have their own uniform, so it was good to track how the clothes, hair and weapons evolved over time,” adds Honor. “That was what we wanted to show with our life-sized 3D Cossack, including the names of the items, which are shown in Russian and English.”

The Don

Lorem Ipsum’s second-largest installation loops footage taken of the River Don on a 12 x 3.8m (39 x 13ft) LED screen. Shot using the Red Helium 8K drone camera, the content helps create a sense of place for passengers by celebrating the importance and economic impact of the Don to the region.

The Don, Platov Airport

The Don installation loops high-res drone footage of the River Don

“The river has always been hugely important to the city,” adds Honor. “It’s still heavily linked to the Cossacks and was even used by the Turks to invade the region.”

Displays with a Purpose

Despite having never worked in an airport environment, Lorem Ipsum succeeded in creating a striking and immersive series of exhibits that not only capture the passenger’s attention, but also educate and create a memorable experience. Together with fabrication firm Miras, which manufactured, installed and integrated the installations, Lorem Ipsum delivered the project on time and ahead of the World Cup.

“Technology is getting better and better but the storytelling and the message also need to work,” explains Honor. “That’s where we had an advantage, with our film-making background and ability to portray a succinct narrative. We see a lot of giant installations that just have blobs or objects moving around the screen. They are more like huge screensavers and don’t really say anything to the viewer.”

This is a sentiment shared by Krasikov, who stresses the importance of marrying technological structures with meaningful content to create something that travelers feel compelled to share.

“Nowadays the best indicator of success is probably the number of selfies taken with the objects on display,” says Krasikov. “Thanks to this exhibition, even locals can learn more about their region and its heritage. People who visit Rostov-on-Don will get an overview of local significance and will learn who Matvei Platov was. Foreigners will grasp another layer of Russian culture, one that they might have heard of without knowing exactly what it was – a period in time we like to refer to as the Russian Wild West.”