Showtime bets an eerie sidewalk experience will get you to watch ‘Penny Dreadful’


A man watches a shadowy figure who may be following him on Broadway in New York City as part of an interactive promotion for a cable TV series. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

On a street in New York, four lasers monitor the flow of pedestrians. It’s not part of a security system or a study in crowd control, but a sophisticated attempt to promote the Showtime horror series “Penny Dreadful.”

Artist Jake Lee-High  has built what is essentially an interactive advertisement in which shadowy characters displayed on video screens move along the block and interact with pedestrians. Depending on how many pedestrians are present — and if they’re standing still — different scenes will play out on the screens.

“You might have this shadow character that wants to follow you, and if you stop, it stops and introduces itself to you,” Lee-HIgh said. “Then wolves might come out and scare it off the screen.”

It’s the culmination of three months of work by a staff of 19 people. A total of 26 computers power the display in New York, which run until May 19. A similar interactive promo went live in Los Angeles near the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Wednesday.


A behind-the-scenes view of  the technology enabling the interactive window. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

“We wanted to be able to have something where if people just walked by, it would leave a mark and be memorable. But also if you just decided you wanted to stop and hang out for five or 10 minutes it would continue to be interesting,” Lee-High said.

He uses a technique he calls live vinyl, which combines vinyl fabric and LED screens.

“It creates a really unique visual style where it’s both high resolution and low resolution simultaneously. It’s like looking at a photo and a video simultaneously,” Lee-High said.

The display also features cinemagraphs, or GIFs, from the show, which pedestrians can glimpse by looking through peepholes.


A pedestrian examines a peephole in the interactive in New York. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
A demo of the display. (Showtime)
A demo of the display. (Showtime)

Artist Jake Lee-High, in front of his interactive installation in New York, is promoting the drama “Penny Dreadful” on Showtime. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

The display is located at 913 Broadway in New York. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

A view through a peephole in the New York interactive. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Pedestrians stop to take part in the interactive in New York. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Update: Here’s a video Showtime published about the windows:

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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