The World's Most Famous Building

The Empire State Building Observatory is our biggest project to date. The ambitious, three-phase redesign transformed the building’s queueing experience into a carefully choreographed journey, seamlessly linking Squint/Opera designed digital elements with the building’s expansive history and current relevance in pop culture. The result is an immersive experience which excites, educates and entertains visitors from the Empire State Building’s entrance to its observation deck. A core contributor within the best-in-class team of interdisciplinary professionals, including exhibition designers Thinc Design and creative audio studio Antfood, we created digital elements for over 40 unique exhibits within the permanent exhibition. Spanning over 35,000 square feet, the exhibits range from large-scale projection-mapped experience to single-user virtual viewers. 

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The revamped exhibition allows visitors to feel like Empire State Building insiders as soon as they step into the building’s lobby. To cater to the diverse backgrounds of the roughly four million visitors welcomed each year, all the content and messaging within the exhibit are carefully translated into nine languages. Squint/Opera’s visual design language for the multilingual media included a modernised colour palette and new iconography that naturally integrates into the iconic Art Deco interior and architecture.

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On the second floor, we created a digital cornucopia across the building’s multifaceted new exhibits. In the Site in 1920s Gallery visitors can explore the streets of 1929 New York City through specially designed viewfinders. By peering through visitors can watch an animation, created using 3D models, archival photography and live-action content, which are paired with a generative audioscape, using original sounds from New York in the 20s. On the 80th floor, we use optical viewfinders to take visitors to the present day. Each viewfinder celebrates the diversity of the city, transporting viewers to different parts of New York, including an exclusive peek inside the opening of the UN’s General Assembly. We created these scenes with stereoscopic, 360º video content, paired with engulfing audio tracks.

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The Construction Gallery, inspired by the photography of Lewis Hine, displays a historically accurate life-size video piece that surrounds the visitor on four walls and into the ceiling. The looped film features 30 different actors, where hot rivets and steel beams fly overhead as the construction of the building is in full swing. Nearby, a newspaper boy announces the opening of the Empire State Building to the public. Set to an original score recorded with a 50 piece orchestra commissioned by the Empire State Building, the World’s Most Famous Building exhibit celebrates the building’s starring role in pop culture from every decade since the 1930s. A montage that sweeps over 70 screens and incorporates over 180 media pieces, ranging from Hollywood films and commercials to comic books.

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The Kong exhibit welcomes guests into a 1930s-era office inside of the Empire State Building, where a life-size King Kong clings to the side of the structure, peering in at viewers and dodging bi-planes as he climbs. Guests can climb into his hand and feel the rumble as he roars, while lights flicker overhead. The gorilla’s actions were first storyboarded, then turned into a 3D model. We then used specialist character animators and VFX artists to capture the intricate details of Kong’s personality – not too goofy yet not too scary – as well as of his skin and fur. Designed for selfie moments, the exhibit meets a key client goal of social media shareability.

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On the 80th floor, we created two diverse exhibits which incorporate the work of celebrated artists. A multi-screened media piece showcases the work of famed lighting designer, Marc Brickman, capturing a decade of Marc’s collaborations with Alica Keys, Eminem and more. We also developed a film documenting architectural artist Stephen Wiltshire, as he illustrated the New York skyline from memory over the course of five days. The film was directed by award-winning filmmaker and New York-based Squint/Opera Creative Director, Callum Cooper, and is placed next to finished illustration, on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building.

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Our extensive design scope for this project was made possible by the team’s multidisciplinary, expert-level knowledge to create all digital content within the exhibits, including projections, animation, live-action elements, and immersive technology. In order to conceptualize room-scale in these media-driven exhibits, we utilised SpaceForm, a revolutionary data-driven VR design tool developed by us to review immersive media content at scale, throughout all stages of the design process. The team also developed technology and materials for the Empire State Building’s lighting ceremonies, which are held throughout the year.

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