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Projection Mapping
The New Art of Illusion

by Joe Shepter

“To some people it’s about using the lines and architecture of a building,” says Evan Grant of Seeper. “For me that’s one part, it’s about making the building responsive, creating a sense of depth and making things come in and out of it. It’s a trick and an illusion, and it’s very powerful.”

Grant likes to divide the creative possibilities for projection mapping into two categories: performance and installation. (We like his division, so we’ll go with it.) A performance piece takes the object and integrates it into a story. Two years ago, for example, Klip mapped a car at a tradeshow, and then created an experience that saw it driving through a surreal landscape.


Visual design and projections by Obscura Digital. YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011, Sydney Opera House.

Installations go one step further. These projects turn an entire area around an object into an interactive space. A simple version of this is Obscura’s interactive pool tables at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. As you knock balls around them, sensors pick up their movements and apply graphics to the surface of the pool table (creating a watery surface with waves, for example).

It gets much more intense. The more advanced projection mapping projects today involve multisensory experiences. They surround visitors with directional sound effects (a projection creates an explosion that tears off a chunk of a building, and the sound seems to come from that very location). They hit visitors with fans to simulate a wind storm; or even turn them into musical instruments based on their location and movements.

A good example of this is Seeper’s recent “freezing” of a building in London for Ford. The firm began with a video map that “created” a huge ice field over the building. An ice climber started up until he was “frozen.” Visitors then “freed” him by shooting “lasers” at the building. Each “shot” broke off a chunk of “ice” that “fell” to the ground, where real dry ice was released and fans blew cold mist out at the audience.



Kip Collective transformed an Art Deco façade for Motorola’s Motoblur Hotel; while its “Lean Forward” campaign for MSNBC brought messaging to buildings in multiple cities.

It sounds like the perfect advertising dream—huge, immersive and memorable—and for many it is, but there are a few caveats. Projection mapping is expensive. Building-sized projectors usually require their own generators, and the people who do this kind of work don’t come cheap. Like any medium, it has its limitations, including a curious and (to us) attractive one. Almost all of the companies that do this today profess to be art collectives. They’re not always inclined to take directions literally, and if you’ve got a tight deadline, you need to trust them to get it right.

“For us a big thing is maintaining the integrity of our ideas,” admits Grant. “People come to us as artists as much as a production company.”

But whether our cities will someday be bathed in light, or projection mapping will prove another fad, it’s already made us realize that our boring living rooms don’t always have to stay that way. And that’s maybe the most intriguing possibility of all. CA

http://image.commarts.com/Images1/5/8/3/38586_54_0_MTYyNTQ2OTg1MTI4ODQwMzI1Nw.jpgJoe Shepter
Joe Shepter is a freelance writer specializing in travel and interactive media. He has worked with Adobe, Oracle, Whirlpool and Coca-Cola, among others.