The one who won the actual race at the Kentucky Derby last weekend was not the horse who caused the biggest Internet stir. That horse has his roots in Falls Church, a digital brooch named Lawrence that colorful NBC Sports “fashion and lifestyle reporter” Johnny Weir wore on his lapel during the lengthy TV event.
The brainchild and product of the Falls Church-based Viget, a digital agency, Lawrence was devised as the first-ever Twitter-powered brooch that glowed as Lawrence galloped on live TV whenever any viewer would send a Twitter message including the “hashtag” of #WatchMeNeighNeigh.
Over 4,000 such “tweets” activated Lawrence during the telecast, including 155 per minute at peak times when Lawrence galloped the fastest as a result.
Andy Rankin and Brian Williams, Falls Church residents who founded Viget as a digital agency in 1999 and operate out of their growing company’s headquarters above the Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant in downtown Falls Church, came up with this novel idea after chatting with NBC Sports representatives at the annual South By Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this year.
According to their website, they subsequently proposed this to NBC: “At the Kentucky Derby, Johnny Weir gets attention. Lots of it. The NBC on-air personality has a style all his own, and his yearly derby fashion – especially his accessories – has become a talked-about event. But what if his ensemble gave others attention? Instead of just getting a response, it could capture it? These were the questions we posed to NBC Sports as we created the first-ever Twitter-powered brooch for this year’s Run for the Roses.” An intensely collaborative effort with NBC Sports resulted.
“We are normally more involved with software development, but this involved hardware,” Rankin told the News-Press this week. Rankin and Williams, who said they initially started their business in Falls Church because of the location but then moved here, themselves, for the schools, are active in the local community. Rankin is a member of the Planning Commission and Williams is on the Economic Development Authority.
Weir, who came up with the name of Lawrence for the steed on the brooch, also has a Falls Church connection, having authored an exclusive weekly column for the News-Press recently for over a year.
“The initial idea was to develop something for Johnny to wear on his hat, but the design of his hat this year was not conducive for that. So we developed the brooch,” said Ben Travis, the communications representative for Viget. He said the ideas were generated from Falls Church, while Justin Sinichko at Viget’s office in Boulder, Colorado actually designed and built the brooch.
Sinichko posted online a detailed description on how the brooch evolved. It had to be small (3.5 inches across), thin and as light as possible. In its final form, it had a long pink tail attached that matched the five-foot pink ponytail on Weir’s hat. The wires were run through the inside of Weir’s jacket, so that none of them could be seen on the air.
In his posting, entitled “Building a Magical Brooch for the Kentucky Derby, NBC and Johnny Weir,” Sinichko wrote, “Using Fusion 360, I began by approximating the shape of a horse and working out key motion paths for the legs, head, and tail. During these early steps I took care to design and constrain each component of the model so it could be altered later. This type of changeability is most easily accomplished using parametric modeling – something that is as much a feature of some CAD utilities as it is a design methodology. Parametric modeling, paired with rapid prototyping technologies, facilitate quick design iterations.”
He continued, “At Viget we use 3D printed components in production hardware products. As a general rule we try to use our LulzBot Mini for anything reasonably sized that may need replicated. This is especially true for intricate components that are otherwise a bear to painstakingly tool by hand. We’re familiar with 3D printer tolerances, limits, and bake these into our designs. These considerations include specifically sized gaps between moving components and part heights that divide evenly into the layer-heights found in our production slicer profile.”
Weir and NBC Sports announcer Bob Costas were highly intrigued by the project. No one at Viget seems to know why Weir came up with Lawrence’s name, and Costas asked for and was given the brooch used in the telecast. Viget is having another one made to display in its headquarters in Falls Church.
The Falls Church office features a six-inch blue star that was made for fun out of the Boulder office (growing with now 55 employees, Viget has a third office in Durham, North Carolina), in honor of the Blue Star Pub that used to be located at the site in the old days. Anytime someone tweets the hashtag, #viget, the blue star lights up.