If you are a venue that lends itself to projection or a supplier with a potential client that is open to new ideas, how do you develop a projection mapping project? Depending on the particular circumstances, there are a few things to look out for.

What do you want to achieve?

The first question to ask is what one wants to achieve with the projection mapping. Will it be used as a tourist attraction? Is there an actual story that has to be told or are we talking about a purely visual entertainment experience?

In traditional mappings, buildings and monuments are used as a canvas to create a new projected reality. This often involves playing with the architectural outlines in order to seemingly morph buildings or to animate them with characters or graphic design.

In immersive experiences, the building's inner contours are often dissolved to create a new environment. The recent craze for art-related experiences is a good example. In the best cases, the spectator can lose themselves in the experience, unable to pick apart the individual elements (notably, "Where are the projectors?"). Putting the visitor in the heart of the event fundamentally changes the perception and set-up.

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How the Location Can Shape a Project

Projection mappings onto landmark buildings continue to be a major attraction. These range from the pearls of architectural heritage to bridges, chimney stacks and dams. As the projectors have become progressively more powerful and reliable, project managers have been able to develop shows that are increasingly impressive. Yet the same technology can be used to create smaller experiences in museums, shopping malls, fashion shows or permanent projections on monuments.

Laurent Lhuillery of Light Event Consulting often works with historic monuments in France and elsewhere. He confirms the importance of the location to find the "story" that can be told. "If you go for something purely spectacular," he points out, "the spectators can tire of it. If you go deeper, visitors can find something new every time they see it." This opens the door to repeat visits, either in the same season or the following year.

Is It Better to Rent or to Buy?

Projection mapping is now used for a wide range of projects. They consequently often use very different funding structures determined by the size and nature of the projects, as well as the needs and resources of the partners. Each model comes with its own constraints and potential. Although venue and location managers predominantly rent equipment for the duration of the occasional show, some of the locations with permanent mappings are increasingly buying their own equipment.

The reasoning is that they will be using it for long periods of time per year and over a number of years. "The Lyon festival is over three days," explains Lhuillery. "The hotels are full for three days and after that, it's over. In Chartres, however, we run things over 200 days a year. We own all the equipment. So, when we renovate, we simply renovate the artistic aspect."

From Design to Set-up

Graphic design is a vital part of the whole experience. But for the professionals, it is the visible part of a far more complex iceberg.

It all starts with a goal, such as illuminating a monument, animating a town center or reinventing an artist's work for a museum or exhibition. Designers then sit down and start imagining the result using detailed plans of the building. In addition to actual images and a storyline, they have to decide how it fits in the overall project. Specialized software within modern media servers integrates all necessary data about the object to be illuminated and the surroundings.

The previsualization shows how the light will fall on certain angles and what the content will look like from different perspectives. This saves lots of time and effort during the set-up itself.

The next step? Choosing the right projection tools.

The 5 Elements of Stunning Projection

The five key elements in projection are brightness, color, resolution, processing and reliability. Each has an enormous influence on the overall impact.

  • The brightness determines the ability to "cover" a building or surface with an image, transporting the spectator into the storyline. This is particularly true if there is any ambient light, such as streetlights or a sunset, to deal with.
  • The color renders the projection livelier and more appealing. It also helps cover the color of the surface.
  • The resolution multiplies the number of details, with greater resolution obviously improving the overall experience. Nobody wants to see individual pixels.
  • The processing quality means that the content is played out smoothly, without visual artifacts and synchronized over many projectors to create a single canvas.
  • Mapping projects are live events, even if they can be repeated. Hundreds - and sometimes up to tens of thousands - of people turn up and expect a show. In this context, there is zero room for false starts or drops. The projectors must be totally reliable and if necessary easy to adapt or service.

And then there are a few technical considerations that at first glance seem like low priorities but when multiplied by 100-plus units start to hold more value. These are things like weight, heat and power consumption.

3D imaging naturally adds some extra challenges to the projection. The surfaces of 3D objects can vary in form, color, structure, etc. So how can you choose the right projection technology for your project? Everything you need to know to make sure your mapping is successful.

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The nature of projection mapping is that great ideas need great execution. The potential gains are currently high - but so is the investment. The tools and services must meet very high standards of quality and reliability to deliver the maximum impact as well as smooth, continued service over time.

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