Digital Displays That Dazzle

These three electronic message centers are enormously engaging.
YESCO (Phoenix), The Sign Post (Bellingham, WA) and Atlantic Sign Media (Burlington, NC) produce three enormously engaging electronic message centers.

In the past, for a sign to be engaging, it simply had to be different – something novel like a 3D billboard or lights chasing around a marquee. But while those and other distinctive effects could capture attention, their messages were set, sometimes literally etched in stone.

Enter electronic message centers (EMCs). While not without their own parameters, what you can say and do within their space and with their software is nearly limitless. Add light effects; swap hundreds of colors; post words or symbols in any font and in endless sizes; or toss in sound effects, photos or animations. With so much versatility, it’s no wonder these digital displays are enjoying growth in the sign industry. 

BIG KID ON THE BLOCK

YESCO (Phoenix) is no stranger to electronic message displays. When they were tapped for the Block 23 project, they had only been working on the maintenance and repair of signs for the town’s Cityscape project. However, the Block 23 development also landed in the downtown Legends Entertainment District, in which YESCO had already built and installed many outdoor static billboard displays. Because these areas overlapped, the company was asked to create the dynamic display to showcase the property’s features and events as well as those of the surrounding venues. 

Not only was the display dynamic, it was also immense. In fact, the Block 23 sign is currently among the largest of its kind in the state. “Being involved in providing [this] outdoor electronic display in Arizona was of great interest to us,” Senior Account Executive Tim Lambson said. “This large LED sign adds to the other billboard-type signs we have installed in the district and [has also] widened the range of YESCO’s ability.” While initially YESCO was tasked with creating the digital display, as the project progressed, the Block 23 representatives offered them the opportunity to add more advertising displays and wayfinding. 

The Block 23 sign is among the largest of its kind in the state and is a part of Phoenix’s downtown Legends Entertainment District.
The Block 23 sign is among the largest of its kind in the state and is a part of Phoenix’s downtown Legends Entertainment District.

The client provided architectural concepts that the shop incorporated, and the project developer had commissioned conceptual architectural renderings that showed the display position on the current elevation, Lambson said. YESCO then enhanced those concepts in order to present the solution and final display design. The clincher was an animation they did showing how the display looked and worked on the building.

The simple design was created in CorelDRAW, while the 3D animation was produced using Adobe After Effects. For the display itself, YESCO used a Daktronics 10-mm SMD that measured 828-pixels high x 2,844-pixels wide, and used standard industry equipment and tools to fabricate the tube-steel structural frame with aluminum cladding for the surround.

Creating and installing an EMC also has its share of constraints. Once the design is in place, you have to wait for the display to arrive, which involves the longest lead time of the whole project. “A display of this size is shipped in several truckloads and sections over a period of weeks. Having the yard space to store and stage the sections for installation is critical,” Lambson said. “Coordinating the assembly and installation of an electronic display requires a high level of communication with the client, contractor, electrician and the customer’s IT department for the communication method and operation of the display.”

Constraints and wait times aside, Lambson predicts the demand for (and size of) EMCs will only increase as the overall cost of electronics keeps decreasing and the displays trend toward tighter resolution.

MOVIE MONUMENT MARCHING ORDERS

When Washington state’s Naval Air Station Whidbey Island received an Installation Excellence Award to fund the project of modernizing and improving the task of theater marketing, the preservation of the station’s Skywarrior Theatre was included. The station’s on-site contractor, Skookum Contract Services, invited The Sign Post (Bellingham, WA) to bid on the project. The company’s representatives showed up to the bid with their Samsung demo trailer, which included 16-, 10- and 6-mm digital displays. The client chose the 10 mm, and The Sign Post left with both their trailer and a new contract. 

To begin the process, the client provided a rough mock-up of the sign that, while not to scale, matched another sign on the base. The Sign Post was not permitted to deviate from the design, so they had to replicate it as closely as possible, Project Manager Kristie George said. Once everyone working on the project passed the necessary background checks and approval process, there were other hoops to clear for work on the base. In addition to ample administrative duties, paperwork and planning, some of the government’s material specs were not standard, and any changes made to the specs had to be requested through a specific process. 

The Sign Post was tasked with designing, fabricating and installing the Skywarrior Theatre monument sign for Washington state’s Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which included a lot of literal military precision.
The Sign Post was tasked with designing, fabricating and installing the Skywarrior Theatre monument sign for Washington state’s Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which included a lot of literal military precision.

“We had to revise and revisit many, many drawings and submittals before eventually getting final approval on the spec drawings,” President Glorene George said. Responsible for design, fabrication, installation and maintenance of the Skywarrior Theatre sign, The Sign Post also had to coordinate the landscaping, which had to be a specific type of river rock at a particular size. In addition to the EMC, The Sign Post created a set of aluminum letters that spelled out the name of the theater below it. These were stud-mounted into the concrete base, which had to be formed, poured and painted before the letters and display could be attached.

The main materials used on the project were steel and concrete, but The Sign Post also routed the aluminum letters used for the base of the pedestal. In addition, they manufactured a steel frame for mounting and a rebar cage for the foundation. The forms for the concrete base and the concrete foundation and base were built and poured on-site. Kristie George emphasized the need for precise measurements when forming the concrete base. “There was only to be about ¼-in. spacing between the sides of the EMC and the concrete base that it was to fit between. There wasn’t any room for error,” she said. “All materials used for the sign display (even down to the straps and shackles used for the installation) had to be a product of/made in the USA, no exceptions.”

Despite all the stipulations, The Sign Post was thrilled to receive the job. “It was a foot in the door for future projects on the naval base,” Kristie George said. “These contract services like to use contractors they’ve used in the past, so it was definitely a great opportunity for business.”

A DISPLAY OF DIGITAL WHIMSY

When the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library requested bids for new signage for its 103,000-sq.-ft., world-class children’s library, they didn’t ask that the bids include an EMC, just that the sign be whimsical. In fact, when Atlantic Sign Media (Burlington, NC) submitted their initial response to the RFP, they spent an hour pitching a combination of static signage and electronics, according to Managing Partner Joe Rickman.

“What we designed is not what we built,” Rickman said. “[The library] made a decision based on the overall presentation and methods of how we were going to do what we proposed.” Their first proposal included a curved radius wall featuring an 16 x 8-ft. curved radius frame with the word “ImaginOn” above it in individual box letters in primary colors that were staggered to look like children’s building blocks. Eventually, Atlantic ended up changing course, placing the sign on the opposite end of the building, on a far roof-support column in a high-visibility intersection near the library’s entrance. The library provided no artwork or input, expecting the bidder’s creativity to shine through with more open-ended guidelines.

Atlantic Sign Media Inc. designed and constructed a whimsical, cantilevering EMC for the ImaginOn children’s library portion of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Atlantic Sign Media Inc. designed and constructed a whimsical, cantilevering EMC for the ImaginOn children’s library portion of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

To create the digital display, Atlantic used structural steel in accordance with engineering requirements, and the top, bottom and rear portions of the three-sided-sign were made from perforated aluminum to allow for plenty of ventilation. The 12 x 6-ft., 8-mm high-resolution displays were manufactured by Watchfire Signs, and all the steel and the aluminum caps/backs etc., made by Precision Fabrication (High Point, NC), were powder-coated for added longevity.

In addition, Atlantic used a 95-ton Uni-Hydro Ironworker to punch the holes in the 1-in. steel circular substructure mounting plates; a Cosen NC-300H automatic bandsaw to cut the structural steel tubing and the angled steel; a Linde VI-400 CV/DC, 400-amp welder; and a 250-ton Baykal press brake to bump-bend the 1-in. plates to fit around the concrete column.

All that was left was to gaze upward at the inviting sign. “To have a sign like that cantilevering from the poles was quite an engineering marvel,” Rickman said.

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