Hey! Hollywood Megahits Roll Down Streets of L.A. As 3-D Computer Graphics

LIKE the fist of a cinematic cyborg, delivering a last-minute blow to the latest villain of the silver screen, Hollywood is reaching out to help knock out Los Angeles's budget problems. While the film industry is having one of its best-ever blockbuster summers - led by such hits as "Jurassic Park" ($300 million in domestic gross), "The Firm" ($133 million), and "Sleepless in Seattle" (over $100 million) - Los Angeles County is having one of its worst, looking for ways to trim $700 million from its 1993-9 4 budget.

Enter Orion Pictures, which last week came up with a way to keep enthusiasm rolling for sequels to its own megahit, "RoboCop," by keeping tires turning for the cost-cutting Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The idea: 40-foot, street-level, mobile billboards, with 3-D, computer-generated graphics.

"Like every other public agency that depends on sales-tax revenue, we're experiencing shortfalls," said MTA spokeswoman Stephanie Brady at the unveiling of the program's first two buses last week. "So we have to be as creative as we can in exploring new revenue streams." The agency just finished trimming $117 million from its budget last year, only to face $140 million more in cuts this year.

The first ad campaign of its kind in Los Angeles County, the new rolling billboard campaign is expected to bring the MTA about $570,000 over three years while turning 100 buses into mobile advertisements for movies and other products. Denise Quon, Orion's vice president for media, said the buses are a first for Orion, and that she expects other studios to soon follow the lead in advertising big releases.

Frank Sandusky, regional manager for TDI, the advertising firm that oversees advertising for the MTA, expects several other major studios to soon follow suit because the idea takes a giant leap beyond the traditional, billboard-type ads.

"Compared to a freeway painted bulletin, this hits viewers at eye level, while moving ... the impact is far greater," he says. Already used on a small scale since November in Phoenix and San Francisco for such clients as Crystal Pepsi, the idea comes at a perfect time for Hollywood hype-sters and county cost-cutters, he adds.

If the first year goes well, a 100-bus program for two ensuing years would bring in another $400,000 in revenue as part of a contract between the MTA and a firm called TDI, an advertising arm of MTA.

Unlike normal advertisements, which are attached like billboards to the sides of buses, the new method contains photorealistic coloring placed on easily removable self-adhesive vinyl, which is applied directly to the bus's surface.

Though it appears from the outside that the ad covers the bus's windows, officials say a special window application makes the ad invisible from the inside of the bus, causing no obstruction or safety hazard to passengers or operator.

"We expect the public will like the idea and consider it fun," says Greg Davy, a spokesman for the MTA.

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