When the Westfield World Trade Center opened in August of 2016, it was clear to all who entered that it was very different from malls of the past. This new shopping destination, which features the Oculus, the central promenade of the World Trade Center’s transportation hub, is a light-filled wonder designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.

Such a unique, otherworldly place calls for exceptional advertising. So Westfield signed on several companies for five-year brand partnerships. Among them was Pepsico, which in turn tapped New York City-based design and brand strategy company, Imaginary Forces, to create digital signage content for 14 different Pepsico brands.



Using Cinema 4D, After Effects and Octane, Imaginary Forces spent 11 months creating the 10-second ads, which range from photoreal to 2D and 3D. The ads play in continuous loops on the expansive LED screens that run the length of the Oculus’ plaza-like interior through which hundreds of thousands of people walk every day. “They wanted the ads to feel like expressions of the brand,” says Theo Daley, who served as Imaginary Forces’ co-creative director on the project with Audrey Davis. “But they also wanted to be sure they weren’t disruptive to the flow of people through the transportation hub.”

X-referenced figures were created entirely from SunChips.

Envisioning the LED screens as blank canvases, Imaginary Forces came up with 14 very different ads that spoke to each brand’s voice while maintaining a sense of cohesion within the group. “Together the ads feel like an art gallery series,” says Imaginary Forces Producer Will Arnold.

Here is what Daley and Arnold had to say about Imaginary Forces’ work on the project’s three 3D ads, which featured Pepsico brands Pure LeafPepsi, and SunChips

What kind of artistic direction did you get from Pepsico?

Arnold: It was quite an organic process that evolved over time. The key thing they wanted was movement that was right for a calm walking pace. And we came up with some overarching strategies based on five pillars: scale, speed, clarity, color and respect for the brands. Scale, for example, meant using Cinema 4D and Octane to create photoreal SunChips that were 4-feet tall with even the little indentations showing.

Specifically designed for the location, the Pepsi ad is a celebration of New York City.

Describe the three 3D ads that Imaginary Forces created.

Daley: The Pepsi ad starts with the logo, which turns into a speaker that emits sound waves and the particles come together to form New York City. Each screen is a different camera angle and a celebration of different parts of the city, like Brooklyn or downtown.

Daley: We used X-Particles for where the speaker bursts and the particles, which are Pepsi’s colors, spread out to form the city.

Daley: We made the leaves for the Pure Leaf tea ad from scratch using scans of the actual tealeaf they use. All of the animation, modeling, lighting and texturing were done in C4D. We needed the leaves to be lifelike because you see them up close subtly rocking and moving in the wind.

Imaginary Forces bought and scanned the actual tea leaves Pure Leaf uses so they could model the leaves accurately from scratch.

Being able to use Octane’s live view to test lighting and textures while also animating and getting feedback was vital to Imaginary Forces’ timeline.

The SunChips ad is more elegant than the others. We not only created the chips, we animated three characters that take shape as chips come together to form their bodies. We combined X-Particles and cloner objects to get the chips to coalesce onto the character. To get the detail we needed on the chips themselves, we put them through a scanner bed.

How tricky was it to create the scenes where the SunChips come together to form characters that were skiing, running and swinging on a swing?

Daley: We figured that out over time because at first we couldn’t control how the chips came together and stayed on. We ended up using a lot of different selection tags. We painted the tags on various parts of the stationary character, like the arm or foot. That’s how we got the arms moving back and forth. The chips were moving through the space and when they hit the person, they locked onto the animation so they wouldn’t come apart when the character was moving. The key was having the chips come together in an order rather than randomly.

Here, chips are coalescing onto a figure based on selection tags.

Lighting was done using Octane’s live view.

Explain in a bit more detail how you created the Pepsi ad scene where all of the particles shoot out of the speaker to form New York City.

Daley: For this brand, we combined various C4D particle position passes from C4D and used Trapcode Form to generate a point cloud of New York City. That allowed us to create hundreds of thousands of particles, as well as depth of field and cameras on the fly. The speaker particles were generated based on colors from the speaker itself using X –Particles, with various effectors.

The point position pass in C4D is shown above. Gradient colors translate to fixed points in 3D space.

This composite view of Manhattan utilizes several point position passes in Trapcode Form.

What did you enjoy most about working on this project?

Daley: This was kind of a collective piece where you could look at it almost as if it were in an art gallery. No two brands were alike, so as a team we go to translate each brand’s story to the screen. It was a great example of what you can do if you have the freedom to partner with brands and work through different iterations of ideas together.

Has Pepsico already asked for more of this digital content?

Arnold: We’re already talking about new iterations for next year. Since Pepsico has a lease on the screens for five years, there are a lot of different things we could do and we’re excited about the prospect of working with them more on this. We’ve also talking about where else this type of digital advertising could be used in the city, maybe expanding it through the Fulton Street Subway Station.

Daley: Digital signage is really changing. It’s not all about active viewers. There are tons of passive viewers going by every day, but of course it’s great when you see people walking and they stop because they want to enjoy the piece. You have to be able to understand what you’re trying to do with the space itself, and we’re very well equipped to do that.

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.