WALL TOGETHER NOW
Las Vegas is known for its garish signage: flashy, flamboyant, all-neon-all-the-time. But now an entirely different kind of marquee has stolen the spotlight. It’s more than 16 feet long, just under ten feet high, and almost five feet deep. It weighs a whopping 770 pounds and is composed of nearly 50 modular MDF forms. It was meticulously designed in Adobe Illustrator CC, built by hand in England, shipped in pieces across the ocean, then reconstructed in Nevada. And it's greeting participants at the Adobe Summit.
For the past five years, Adobe has worked with artists on the conference identity, which corresponds to an annual theme. This year’s theme is “experience,” and creative director Angela Fisher was inspired to go beyond 2D constraints to bring the theme to life. “I started thinking, ‘What if the identity was a physical structure?’ A camera panning around, and in and out, could reveal a kind of experience within the branding itself.”
She began making paper models at home on the weekends to explore two facets of the idea. These geometric forms and patterns became building blocks—like DIY Legos—that took on the feel of an abstract cityscape in one, and the shape of an “X” in the other. They were promising, but the concept wasn’t quite there yet.
“Everything came together when I found giffgaff on Behance,” she says of the advertising project by London creative agency DBLG. “Then I realized we could actually flip the blocks onto a wall so they projected out, instead of up, to form the Summit logo.’”
The next logical step? Get the DBLG agency on board. Fisher gave them her background research, mood board, and a brief, but entrusted them with almost complete creative control from there. In addition to the visual assets—which had to be flexible enough to suit everything from main-stage videos and email banners to large-format posters and web applications—the team had one significant IRL deliverable: The massive installation piece that would not only act as the blueprint for all those aforementioned graphics, but also sit smack in the entrance of the show floor as a physical object. A really large physical object.
DBLG was ready to make it happen. “We started having fun with patterns and geometric shapes within a grid, breaking them down and rearranging them,” says senior designer Rinat Ashkenazi. “We looked at Jenga a lot during the process,” adds founder and creative director Grant Gilbert. Early ideas for audience engagement—including concepts where guests were encouraged to steal bits or leave things behind—were abandoned for a playful composition in a bright, kicky palette.
“Designing it as a flat thing in Illustrator was pretty straightforward—you know what you’re going to get onscreen and in print,” Ashkenazi says. “Actually building it was a totally different animal.”
To tame that beast, they turned to Jack Kirby, director at Almost Everything, a London-based prop and special-effects company that lives up to its name. “People come to us with all kinds of ideas and concepts; we take those and turn them into physical objects,” Kirby says. Their unique take on model-making requires an ability to adapt on-the-go to the demands of a wide range of clients and commissions. “Every project is like learning a new language,” says Kirby.
DBLG and Almost Everything embarked on a series of back-and-forths to figure out how to make Rinat’s digital files tangible. The whole thing would be modular; relatively easy to construct, then deconstruct, and construct again (an important factor in its cross-continental journey). Each of the component parts would be its own individual unit—some flat, others extruded like boxes.
Originally, Ashkenazi’s design was based on squares and circles, but a last-minute tweak changed things just enough that Kirby and co. had to switch their tactics. Rather than cut everything by hand, which would have been quicker, the new shapes required a CNC routing machine. From the exported Illustrator files, which were effectively line drawings, the team ended up with 276 uniquely shaped and numbered pieces. Kirby and four Almost Everything-ers sanded them down, then grouped them by color and hand-painted them in batches: 15 gallons worth of red, yellow, blue, etc. “It all felt so abstract until the very end,” Kirby says, when they joined everything and attached it with screws to a wall.
And then, just about two weeks after they began, the build was (nearly) complete. “We didn’t realize just how big it was when we were working on it,” Ashkenazi says. “When we saw it the first time we were like, ‘OMG, it’s huge.’”
The entire thing was disassembled and delivered to a photography studio across the city, where it was re-assembled for photos and video to be used in the Summit campaign. A medium-format camera captured gigantic files that gave Fisher the flexibility she needed to zoom in and crop out various elements for the branding. “It’s cohesive, but not repetitive,” she says.
After it was preserved on film, the Summit wall was deconstructed once again; wrapped carefully; and Tetris-ed into a shipping container for the 5,000-mile trip from London to Las Vegas.
“It’s sleek in the digital format, but the wall itself has such a presence,” Fisher says. “When you get up close, you can see brush strokes that reveal the hands of the makers.” It's an impressive sight for those who get to experience it in Sin City; neon could never.