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Your Shot: Vox Creative and Leviathan on Reimagining the MGM Grand’s Iconic Lion

Interactive display was born out of a competition between three experiential production agencies

Your Shot: Vox Creative and Leviathan on Reimagining the MGM Grand’s Iconic Lion

Just in time for its New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Las Vegas-based MGM Grand Hotel & Casino unveiled a high-tech, interactive installation that welcomes guests to its lobby. The project, entitled ‘Mirror Mirage’ and incorporating the hotel’s iconic lion Leo, was the result of a three-way creative challenge initiated by Vox Media’s in-house content marketing studio Vox Creative. The brief put to the three competing experiential agencies was to ‘Reimagine MGM Grand’ by designing a spectacular custom lobby concept for the property’s main lobby. Chicago-based Leviathan ran out as winners with its ‘Mirror Mirage’ concept. 

LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with members of the Vox team and Leviathan’s Jason White to find out more.

LBB> What was the initial brief like from MGM and what were you thinking when you first saw it? 

Jeremy Kirschner, Account Director for MGM Grand, Vox Media> We were excited once we received the brief, because we knew we were incredibly well-suited for the campaign. The brief was clear: MGM Grand was looking to strengthen their position as an entertainment authority while aligning with a wide range of passion points. From the start, we felt our audience was a great fit for this initiative, and we believed in our ability to help MGM Grand achieve their goals. 

Diane Kim, Creative Strategist, Vox Creative> The initial brief emphasised the excitement around technology disrupting entertainment – and how we could put MGM Grand at the centre of that. That’s why we wanted to showcase futuristic technologies from cutting edge industries that people hadn’t seen before, expanding their imagination beyond what we typically think of. 

LBB> The project was initially just an online branded content but eventually became this bigger, offline experience. Why did it end up evolving like this?

Jeremy, Vox Media> Ultimately, MGM Grand wanted something tangible to show its guests they were invested in futuristic entertainment, and they challenged us to come up with ideas beyond just branded content. That got us thinking: what if we worked backwards? So we came up with the idea of an installation first, and built an entire content program around the experiential element of the campaign. The installation idea actually served as inspiration for the content, and not vice versa. 

Diane, Vox Creative> Knowing that we would lead up to an activation, we utilised a social competition to build up as much excitement for it as possible. Looking at (Vox Media owned-network) The Verge’s own content, we saw how much The Verge’s audience loved to see futuristic technology, so we decided to root the content in prototypes of the final products. 

Check out Mirror Mirage on The Verge

LBB> You ran a competition with three production agencies, with the winner producing the final experience. What inspired this method?  

Jeremy, Vox Media> Well, we knew that nothing would generate creativity more effectively than a competition, and we already knew of multiple production companies that would be great to partner with. With the MGM Grand being the largest hotel in Las Vegas, we didn’t want to limit their choices – instead, we felt it was best to bring multiple ideas to the table and let MGM Grand decide which was best. 

LBB> Eventually you decided to work with Leviathan on the production of the experience - why was the studio right for the job? And how was the final decision actually made?

Lloyd D’Souza, Creative Director, Vox Creative> All three studios provided a unique point of view when it came to reimagining spaces in the MGM Grand. With any new interactive tech, there is a point-of-entry level that a person feels as if they are part of the experience. When presenting the three ideas to audiences on Facebook, it became clear that, for the broad and engaged audience that MGM Grand commanded, Leviathan’s concept resonated the most. We knew that if their idea was executed it would immediately attract the Vegas crowd. 

Check out Leviathan’s video on The Verge Facebook

LBB> How much guidance did you give them? Was it quite a tight-knit collaboration or was it more about letting them make the most of their creativity? 

Lloyd, Vox Creative> While we provided the initial scope of the project, we didn’t want to limit their creativity when coming up with installation ideas. One of the most productive moments of the campaign came when we flew all three initial companies out to Vegas for a tour of the MGM Grand. The inspiration born from this visit was visible; you could tell all three potential partners were invested in coming up with something unique and creative. One key point of guidance was to ‘make it interactive’. We didn’t want to just create something that people would pass by and say ‘hey, look at that’, but instead step up to and think ‘how did they do this?’ 

LBB> Jason, when getting involved in the competition, what kind of brief was given to you initially?

Jason White, Executive Creative Director, Leviathan> Well, the brief was more like a competitive ‘challenge’, to put art, technology, and immersive experiences together in a way that's never been done before. We were given an open tour of the entire MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas and the spaces available for installations, leaving each studio with a tough decision to choose a single location. Once each studio’s concept was presented, an audience would then have the opportunity to weigh in on their favourite on Facebook, culminating in a real-life version of the winning proposal at MGM Grand.

LBB> Tell us about your idea that ended up winning - what was the inspiration behind it?

Jason, Leviathan> After touring the entire space, we knew that the high-traffic lobby, with the iconic gold lion, was the ideal place for a new interactive experience that tied in perfectly with the rest of the MGM Grand environment. The idea of interactive gold mirrors struck immediately – with a vision that we could build something aesthetically beautiful and reflective, even if guests aren't engaging with it. We didn’t want any technology to be visible within the lobby, so two-way mirrors became our solution, hence the name ‘Mirror Mirage’.  

LBB> And the actual experience - what can guests look forward to? And how does it incorporate the hotel’s ‘Leo the Lion’ logo?

Jeremy Vox Media> The Mirror Mirage takes Leo the Lion – a staple of MGM Grand, and one of the most-Instagrammed places in all of Las Vegas – and layers in a unique, futuristic technology that makes the landmark even more engaging by bringing people to life via motion tracking and particle simulation on the base around the lion.

Jason, Leviathan> There's an element of surprise to the Mirror Mirage installation: as guests approach what appears to be a futuristic-looking base for the lion, they witness their movement reflected as active particles, revealed beneath custom-designed gold-mirrored surfaces. The interactive animation is effortless to pick up; the more you move your body, the more you see. We also wanted to keep the lion as the main attraction, so guests could still take their picture with him, while discovering a deeper level of interactivity beneath the surface attraction.

LBB> Technologically, how does it work?

Jason, Leviathan> Mirror Mirage is an experimental hybrid of interactive technology, animation, and computer vision. Several 4K UHD displays, each connected to a computer, run real-time animation software, all below a single layer of two-way mirrors. The exterior base of the installation houses several 3D cameras that captures guests' movement, translating into animated patterns of gold particles and casino-inspired card suits, live, in real-time.  

LBB> What were the trickiest components when bringing this project to life and how did you overcome them?

Jeremy, Vox Media> Timing was everything during this campaign. We wanted to make a splash right before the New Year, which meant we had to work through expedited timelines to get the installation up-and-running. The key to overcoming this obstacle was teamwork: Vox Creative, Leviathan, PHD and MGM Grand truly worked in lock-step, and held each other accountable throughout the developmental process. As the host of the installation, MGM Grand could not have been more organised, accommodating and helpful. This allowed Leviathan and Vox Creative to focus on the build-out, without worrying about any external variables affecting the project. It was a true case of collaboration and partnership. 

Jason, Leviathan> The trickiest component of this project was the expedited deadline! Once we were selected we had a short amount of time to fabricate and finish the structure back in Chicago, ship it, then re-assemble and install it onsite at MGM in less than 48 hours – just in time for New Year's Eve. During that time, we overcame construction challenges, which kept us up all night, and hardware failures, which sent us out looking for solutions, but all of that can be expected when dealing with fast inventions. In the end, it all turned out – right on time!

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