Digital Signage: New horizons for projection mapping

Photo by Matthew K. Firpo, Magna Carta; courtesy AOIN

By Peter Saunders
Projection mapping has the capacity to transform any object into a colourful screen with motion graphics, three-dimensional (3-D) animation and video. Driven by a new generation of digital projectors, the technology can cover not just flat walls and traditional screens, but also irregular shapes, objects and entire building façades, with dynamic graphics.

How light excites
One reason for the popularity of projection mapping is how light influences human emotions and moods. At the University of Toronto (U of T), a series of studies exposed participants to a variety of light levels while they judged a variety of sensations, such as taste. The results showed high levels of brightness correlated to heightened responses. In the brighter room, for example, participants favoured spicier flavours of chicken wings, along with feeling better about positive words and worse about negative ones. Bright lights, it turns out, excite the brain in many ways.

Public venues have long used lighting to great effect, from light-diffracting chandeliers over the dancefloors of the 1920s to the mirror balls of the disco craze in the ’70s to the laser light shows of the ’80s and ’90s. Projection mapping is the natural progression of this trend, allowing entire environments to be ‘painted’ with immersive imagery.

From niche to mainstream
Disney actually pioneered 3-D projections back in 1969 with the Haunted Mansion display at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., where plaster busts appeared to come to life, talking and singing to onlookers. The high costs of producing such effects, however, kept the technology out of the mainstream for many years to come.

Today, with more affordable high-lumen projectors, mapping has become increasingly common. Digital Light Processing (DLP) projection technology has been succeeded by brighter liquid crystal display (LCD) technology and, similarly, bulbs are being replaced by lasers. As the projectors have become smaller and lighter, they can more easily be transported and placed almost anywhere, including stacked and linear-linked configurations for seamlessly edge-blended panoramic and towering images.

At the same time, advanced software has been developed to simplify the process of creating images and synchronizing them with sound. And even reasonably priced notebook computers have sufficient power to render, host and serve up such multimedia content.

At the 55thannual Grammy Awards in 2013, singer Carrie Underwood’s specially made dress served as a projection mapping surface.
CBS screencap

The great outdoors
Large-scale outdoor projections have perhaps garnered the most attention. Last fall, for example, Toronto’s Casa Loma—a Gothic Revival-style estate that has become a major tourist attraction and special event venue—was visually transformed for a Halloween attraction dubbed ‘Legends of Horror.’

Throughout the month of October, Liberty Entertainment Group commissioned video jockey (VJ) Scott Guy, lead video technician for EMD Show Systems, to projection-map Casa Loma’s 8,631-m2 (90,000-sf) exterior façade with a themed mix of graphics and video content, developed by Toronto-based Big Digital Studios.

Legends of Horror’s storyline featured such famous horror characters as Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Guy used AV Stumpfl’s Wings Vioso software to map the surface of Casa Loma, calibrate the characters’ images to the architecture and then display them on it via four high-definition (HD) digital projectors.

“It is definitely the single biggest project I have ever worked on,” he says.

“We were blown away with the vision and couldn’t wait to bring the castle to life,” says Michael Girgis, co-founder of Big Digital.

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