The Spot: Mapping Central Park

Mcgarrybowen lights up Bethesda Terrace with a 3-D projection to celebrate the Central Park Conservancy

GENESIS: The Central Park Conservancy, which is celebrating 30 years of managing and preserving the landmark 843-acre park, needs more and younger donors. New Yorkers tend to think the park runs on taxpayer money, but 85 percent of the CPC's $40 million-plus budget comes from private donations. (And that's from just 35,000 people, a tiny fraction of the park's 38 million annual visitors.) Following its recent pro-bono modernizing of the CPC's image, mcgarrybowen planned a spectacular 30th birthday party that would double as a global fundraiser. On Oct. 13, under a light mist, the agency projection-mapped a visually stunning, five-minute, 3-D love letter to the park, narrated by Kevin Bacon (with music by Sting), on to the facade of Bethesda Terrace, the Civil War-era architectural marvel above 72nd Street. Footage of it is being seeded online, with the hope it will go viral and draw donations.

COPYWRITING: Mcgarrybowen's Danny Gregory wrote the script as a journey through the four seasons, from cherry blossoms to snow, to show how people use the park all year—for sports (softball to skating), arts, recreation, or just an escape. "I was thinking of things like Our Town or Under Milk Wood—epic, poetic stories about life in a place," Gregory says. The story visits nooks both popular and obscure, from the Sheep Meadow to the North Woods, to appeal to all viewers, no matter how well they know the place. The text mostly mirrors the images. "We didn't want it to be so abstract that we would lose the play on memories and experiences—but also not so literal that we were just playing a movie on a weird surface," says mcgarrybowen's Ethan Kent. There's a nostalgic element, but the film is mostly forward looking. "It's like a future-present with a little bit of past," says Kent. "The park you experience is the park of today, and the park we want to keep for tomorrow. The past is a very recent past. It could even be the seasons past." The projection ends with the CPC logo and tagline: "Central to the park."

ART DIRECTION: The location was as crucial as the film. "It's not just what you're projecting, it's what you're projecting upon. That's where the magic happens," says Ricardo Rivera of KLIP Collective, which produced the projection. The terrace's seven archways, in particular, made for a wonderful canvas. The agency filled the arches with foamcore so it could project images on the negative space and give the illusion of things happening inside the terrace. "It's almost a natural amphitheater," says Steve Zammarchi, the CPC's chief creative officer. "To use the park as a backdrop for this new kind of creative was breathtaking." The projection is also a metaphor for Bethesda Terrace's recovery from its low point in the 1970s, when it was abandoned and decaying. Transforming it in light echoed the CPC's triumph of transforming it in reality.

FILMING/EFFECTS: Laser scanning the location creates a bump map that is fed into software to create a virtual 3-D model. Colors, shapes and photos can then be virtually projected on the model. The effects can then be re-created in the physical space—the laser scan is so precise that the pixels line up almost perfectly. The effect can be overwhelmingly beautiful. "I got chills," says Terri Coppersmith, vp of development and external affairs at the CPC. "Something so technologically savvy on something so historic—it told an old story in such a new way." The mist caused the projection to glow sublimely on the wet ground in front of the terrace.