Projection Mapping: A Layman’s Guide

At some point, either in-person or through videos on the internet, you may have seen projection mapping at work. Projection mapping, as the name implies, is done by overlaying a projection onto a 3D surface. An example of projection mapping at play is during the 2019 Vivid LIVE music festival at the Sydney Opera House. Design collective Universal Everything illuminated the façade with hand-drawn and CGI illustrations that matched its complex architecture. This was achieved by mounting projectors in specific locations so the projections align perfectly with the Sydney Opera House’s sails. Another example is the Van Gogh, The Starry Night exhibit at the Atelier des Lumieres in Paris, where they used over 128 projectors in various orientations to seamlessly project Van Gogh’s most iconic works throughout the entirety of a 3000m2 warehouse.

Projection mapping creates a unique experience when coupled with the 3D structure on which it’s projected on.

From art to advertising, projection mapping creates a more immersive and novel sight for consumers.

How it’s done

At its most basic, projection mapping only needs three elements: a projector, a computer with the projection mapping software installed, and the surface you’ll project onto.

The process starts by creating the projections themselves. For most artists, this can either be CGI or hand-drawn animation. Once you have your raw footage, you can use the projection mapping software to “map” these images and videos to fit the shape of the 3D object you plan to project on. After that, it’s just a matter of connecting your computer to the projector and making adjustments as needed.

As mentioned previously, projection mapping utilizes well-placed projectors to align the projection exactly with the building or surface. It doesn’t always have to be a large-scale project. Some artists and event planners use a singular projector ceiling mount to achieve the desired effect.

What is it for?

Projection mapping is gaining popularity as a novel advertising format. More and more businesses are using projection mapping in events because of the mesmerizing effect they create. People are constantly awed by these displays and document them to post on social media, generating hype around the brand or the event. 

Retailers are also enjoying how projection mapping helps them cut costs. Instead of 20 mannequins to showcase 20 outfits, projection mapping can demonstrate 20 different outfits on a single mannequin. Retailers also use projection mapping as a security protocol. Having only the projections on the storefront display instead of the actual product can help prevent theft.

Additionally, projection mapping is also gaining prominence in the art world. Theatre productions are taking advantage of it to create more elaborate but inexpensive backdrops, while visual artists are using projection mapping to create more immersive and interactive exhibits for their patrons.

Projection mapping is only one of the many examples of how technological innovations shape how we view the world around us. It will be interesting to see how these projects become more impressive and creative, especially when used in conjunction with other innovations like motion sensors, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality.