Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Projection Mapping Revolution

ABOVE: Chimelong Ocean Kingdom includes projection mapping on the park’s signature whale shark sculpture. Photo courtesy of Christie.

An insider’s guide • by Jeevan Vivegananthan

[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]T[/dropcap]he growing power and sophistication of digital projectors, and the software that drives their content, are creating a revolution in projection mapping. Once primarily limited to 2D surfaces, the technology is being employed on widely varying and irregular surfaces ranging from mountains, buildings and scale models of cars to events including live concerts and theatre productions.

Projection mapping uses specialized software and other technologies to warp and blend projected images from a single or multiple projectors so they fit perfectly and seamlessly onto irregularly shaped surfaces. Unlike the familiar flat 2D screen, the technology requires a careful “mapping out” of the surface where the image will be shown. Special programs are then used to construct a virtual model upon which opacity templates help to “mask” the exact shapes and positions of the different elements of the space. The coordinates relating to the placement of the projected objects on the surface are then defined. Finally, the proper lens is selected and the optimal position of the projector is determined. If more than one projector is being used, the images from each projector also need to be coordinated and positioned to create a seamless display.

Going Big

While projection mapping can also “go small,” as well as indoors, the most spectacular examples are usually found outdoors where they can be done on a massive scale. In the best instances, the transformation of common, everyday objects into lively, animated images can be startling and awe-inspiring. For theme park visitors, they are often the highlight of their experience and cap off an exciting day at the park.

An excellent example of this is the impressive projection mapping display conducted on a gigantic whale shark sculpture at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, China. The theme park, which opened early last year, is divided into eight themed areas, each representing a part of the ocean. One of the park’s most popular attractions, the highly entertaining “Glamorous Sky Over Hengqin” show, plays nightly to packed crowds. It features spectacular lighting, audio, video, fireworks, and acrobats. Projectors throw visuals onto the 216-foot high whale shark sculpture, creating a dazzling spectacle.

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Where to Start

Before rushing off to purchase several new projectors, it is important to recognize that projection mapping is simply a tool to achieving your vision. The best presentations take into account numerous factors, including artistic vision, ambient light levels, audience size, viewing angles, type of content being displayed, and the type of surface on which your content will be displayed – whether brick, glass, sheetrock, wood, or water. The color of the surface being projected upon is also important, since that will affect the color of the image.

To make the most of your available surfaces, the type of content you use is equally important, since some content works better on certain surfaces. Another consideration is that the more complex the image, the more difficult it is to achieve a perfect “marriage” with the projected surface. While it is easier to control these elements indoors versus outdoors, in either situation, the diverse elements of your “canvas” can be overwhelming for someone new to the technology. Therefore, it is best to work with an experienced partner who can help you carefully plan your presentation to ensure the best use of both the content and the available surface.

One of the latest and most inventive uses of multiple surfaces is the “Wonder Full” tonight show at Marina Bay Sands, located in the heart of Singapore’s financial district. Considered Southeast Asia’s largest outdoor display, the show’s main “canvas” is composed of three cascading hotel towers topped by the extraordinary Skypark, an elevated park that sits atop the three towers. Illuminating the skies twice nightly from Sunday through Thursday, the show uses seven high-definition 3DLP® projectors. To achieve the desired effect, 30 multi-colored moving searchlights were placed on the waterfront’s Event Plaza, Skypark, and the Artscience Museum’s “Rain Oculus,” a curved roof that collects rainwater and channels it into a pool. The projectors, enclosed in customized floating barges, display the
imagery and graphics onto three floating water screen vessels spanning approximately 6,500 square feet.

Transforming the Commonplace

When creating a projection mapping display indoors, it is important to recognize that room setup will vary from venue to venue, so a thorough study and measurement of the space is vital. Ideally, you want to project perpendicular to the surface. You also want to ensure that audiences get as unobstructed a view as possible. Unlike most outdoor settings, where the surfaces are large enough and even high enough to be observed by almost every member of the audience, indoor settings sometimes have to deal with architectural elements that may obstruct the view. In such cases, creative placements of the projector(s) or a change in the position and shape of the surface can be helpful.

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An excellent example of an effective, large-scale indoor projection mapping display was produced in Colombia, South America, as part of a tie-in with the premiere of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” The rental-staging company, Big Video, delivered a stunning presentation on the façade of the Calima shopping mall in Bogotá, bringing a 213 by 66-foot area to life using eight projectors. The projectors were installed 26 feet high on scaffold structures with a throw distance of approximately 85 meters. The video, lights and sound were synchronized using a multimedia processor, which also managed the geometric correction and edge blending.

The presentation lasted for seven minutes and contained fragments of the movie and promotional contents from the sponsors. The projection mapping display played four times each night over the course of three days, drawing an average of 350 spectators per show.

A Little Help from Friends

While there are no limits to the level of creativity you can realize with projection mapping techniques, it still comes down to having the right artistic vision, working with knowledgeable partners to design and map out the presentation, and using the right projectors, lenses and software to deliver a unique and memorable presentation.

If you are new to projection mapping, this may also mean resisting the urge to undertake the entire project without assistance. Knowledgeable partners will help you avoid mistakes often made by novices. They also can contribute to the creative development of your desired content, design and preparation, to help you achieve your goal of putting on a performance people will remember. • • •

Jeevan Vivegananthan is Senior Director of Product Management, Global Market Solutions, Christie. (

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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