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Reinventing the Wheel

(October 2010) posted on Thu Oct 07, 2010

MetroMedia Technologies develops mechanized billboard for Ford Motor Company.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Paula Yoho

In addition to the base billboard, “We also had to print out an extra piece of vinyl for the actual wheel itself,”says Redmond. “The same vinyl was used again, printed on a separate piece of vinyl that ended up getting applied to the disk that would spin.” CBS Outdoor installed the flat image
and, from there, the project took on a whole new level of complexity.

“When it came to installing the motor, the wheel that spun, the fogger, and all the machinery that went with that—we managed all that,” says Redmond. “The motor, smoke machine, and control box were all behind the billboard, so we had to know, even before the base vinyl went up, where the stanchions go, where’s all the framing on the billboard, etc. The motor couldn’t just mount to the back of the board, so we had to create a two-inch tubular frame that the motor was going to mount to, and then mount that to the steel frame of the billboard.”

The location of the hole where the wheel’s spindle came through to the back of the billboard had to be in an open area in order to avoid the motor and all the other mechanical pieces.

“We had to work with the agency when they were designing and laying this thing out to say, ‘Okay, the center point has to be x amount of feet up from the bottom of the board and x amount of feet over from the right, and it has to be dead nuts right there. So when they blow up the image, that’s where it needs to sit. All of that had to be planned ahead of time.”

Getting all the mechanical timing worked out was a challenge as well. The motor to power the wheel needed to be big enough to start the wheel and keep it spinning, and a brake had to be incorporated to stop the wheel after every one-minute interval in action. And the fogger, which added the illusion of a smoking tire, had to produce a believable quantity and density of smoke. Part of the challenge included being sure there was enough fogger material to last from mid-day Thursday through Sunday evening.

Ultimately, a 55-gallon drum of fogger material was mounted to the back of the board. “Not only did you have the framing that housed the motor and the fogger machine [behind the billboard], but you also had the tubes going from the fogger machine to this giant 55-gallon drum,” says Redmond.

Even the positioning of the car on the graphic had to be calculated up front. “We had to know which way the prevalent winds blow, because we needed the smoke to blow from the rear wheel out the back. If you look at the board, you can see that the front end of the car is on the left side of the board and the rear wind was on the right side of the board and that’s because the winds were coming from the west.”

The design of the moving wheel also had to be precise: “The wheel itself had to be on a disk that was a very thin carbonate, which mounted to an aluminum piece,” says Redmond. “When it spun, we didn’t want it to wobble and warble, and we didn’t want it to look like a pizza.”

The design team solved this dilemma by positioning the wheel close enough to the board to prevent it from shaking. “There was a flange that we had to mount right where the spindles were so that, as it spun, it didn’t lift the vinyl off the board or tear the vinyl in any way,” he says.

A lot of work went into the job, which was only on display for a long weekend. “The controller box that controlled all that has been used since for a variety of projects, but, for the most part, it was a one time gig,” says Redmond. “But we were able to take away with us the learning of how to make something like this work.”