Between our countless Monday Mapping videos and the viral-like videos of buildings that come to life with projection mapping technology, we decided it was time to help pull back the curtain and reveal a few tricks of the trade. You may remember when I first experimented with the concept of projection mapping by turning my parent’s house into a Gingerbread House, here’s the video of that:
But that was only the beginning. Since then, the team at Orange Thread LIVE Events has worked with a variety of clients and other partners to create some stunning projection mapping events. Within these events, we’ve seen the mapping process a time or two. In this article, I hope to break down the technology behind the technique, while inspiring us to find a way to implement this technology into your environment this Christmas!
Step 1: Site Visit & Survey
Every single time large-scale projection is involved in a project, you will want to make sure that you do your homework. In this stage, measurements, placement, shadows, and scope will need to be defined. In the example of our team partnering up with Meptik to transform the Nashville Symphony Center (The Schermerhorn) into the Plaza Hotel in NYC, we had no less than four visits to fine tune our math and work out the plan.
In this stage, I recommend doing the following:
- Narrow your scope. Where are you projecting, what are you NOT going to project and how complex or simple is your story going to be?
- Take a lot of measurements. Do you know the size of the building or object that you’re going to project on? What is the distance from where projectors will be to where the object will be? What is the focal distance? How much cable do you need to get the right power, internet, signal etc?
- Document the area with great pictures. If you’re doing this outside, make sure you take far more pictures about the surrounding area than just the front of the building. Do you know how you will stabilize your scaffolding? Where will your cable paths be? How will you load in and load out? What is the security or accessibility like for the public? Parking? Sidewalks, barriers, trees and other objects that may impede your light, where are they?
- Get a Perspective Photo. This will be the photo that you will use to mock up your content with in the next stage, and prepare your 3d Rendering from. Before you take this picture you want to be as close as possible to the angle of your projector source to eliminate issues down the road.
Step 2: Light and Pixel Planning
Now that you’ve narrowed your focus of the projection mapping project and determined the size, shape and dimensions of your canvas, it’s time to go to the computer and start crunching the numbers. When our team projection mapped the Schermerhorn, the guy doing our calculations used Barco’s X-Agora software. Unfortunately this software isn’t available to purchase anymore, but gave our team insights into the brightness, shadows, pixel density, and allowed us to see the metrics of various projectors on the building. By creating a 3d rendering of the front of the building, we were able to let the computer tell us what projectors we needed.
Whenever you are projection mapping you want to know the foot-candles or lumens per square foot, to measure the strength of your light. This and pixel density (size of each pixel) are the biggest factors in a weak or underwhelming projection mapping setup.
In this case, we chose to go with four 22,000 lumen HD Projectors to get maximum brightness and quality without having to triple-stack or try to align 6-8 projectors. In the picture above you’ll find that our original thought was to use a single placement of 3x projectors. In the end, we went with 2x double stacks.
Step 3: Content Development
Now that the math of projection mapping is behind you, it’s time to start crafting the story. In this stage, we know our template, because we’ve built the rendering in the previous step and we know our budget limitations from a gear standpoint. Let’s start animating!
When I created the content for my parents house, I leveraged a lot of the library from TripleWide Media producers to fill in the gaps and tell the story. I didn’t have time to do too much custom stuff, so I wanted to find building blocks that I could edit and work around. Here’s a screenshot of how I would edit to the template.
For the template I used when I projection mapped my parents house, I simply used Photoshop and ProPresenter 6 to lay boxes and shapes on various parts of the house, so that I was building a live template. At the end, I screenshot my final result showing where various windows, arches, shutters and doors were on the house. This gave me a map to edit and animate while I was in the comfort of my living room.
As long as you re-align your projection to your map, if you’re doing this the poor-man’s way without fancy projection mapping software, your content will align perfectly. This Christmas you may want to project onto a nativity scene, or behind your three-dimensional set design. If that’s the case, this method will work flawlessly for you as well.
Pro tip: use a lot of TripleWide Media content to help offset your time and save you money. Check out these great categories below:
Step 4: Setting up
Now that you’re past the most time consuming part, it’s time to recruit the rest of your team and begin setting up. Once you run your cables, power your projectors and sort out which output is for each projector specifically, you’re ready to start mapping.
The first part of this is typically aligning all of your projection together. By using this alignment grid, you can both double stack and/or edge blend your setup so the result is one clean and seamless visual image. In this photo below you’ll see how our team slowly worked through each quadrant as we mapped the projection mapping on the Nashville Symphony Center:
In your setup process, please ensure that you take the time to create a safe, weather-proofed environment. During this process it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the event and the image that you forget to tie things down, safety the structure or appropriately dress the cables to look clean for those who may pass by.
If you need help with this process, or gear rentals, our Live Events team would be happy to help. Connect with them here.
Step 5: Presentation
In this step you’ll make those final on-site tweaks to your content, projection and media servers to fine tune the end result. This is where the magic begins to take place and everyone is mesmerized!
Here’s a final result of the Projection Mapping our team did on the Symphony Center that I’ve been using as an example this entire time to see the end result: