10 Years of Projection Mapping

Our origin story and what Wikipedia can’t tell you about projection mapping.

Projection mapping, videomapping, augmented reality, 3D mapping… we’re sure you have heard these terms before as the medium has grown in popularity over the past few years. What is projection mapping and how do we at Mr.Beam use it? This blog takes you on a journey through our projection mapping history.

 

Projection Mapping

Mixing physical space with a tailored virtual identity.

Projection mapping is a technique that uses a projector to transform objects and spaces, of all shapes and forms into a display surface for video projection. This allows you to add a digital layer on a physical surface. Surfaces can be manipulated through the light and colour of the projection by mapping out the physical facade to add digital layers that fit pixel perfect on the chosen surface. Specialized software can map two- or three-dimensional objects that are designed in a virtual program.

This technique allows us to add extra dimensions, and movement to existing objects. Projection mapping’s older, initial name was ‘spatial augmented reality’. And it’s also known as videomapping. Whatever the name is, the principle remains the same: shining light from a projector onto a 3D surface as opposed to a flat surface and mixing the physical space with a tailored virtual identity.

The first experiments with projection mapping are actually really old, considering it’s popularity for only the past 15 years. And none other than Disney was the first to experiment with this rather new technique on a commercial level.

They projected a speaking animation onto a mannequin’s head for their Haunted Mansion ride in 1969, creating an optical illusion. This effect was created by filming their employees with 16mm film and then projecting this film onto busts of their faces. The next one to experiment with projection mapping was Michael Naimark, with his immersive film installation Displacements in 1980. In this installation, a rotating camera filmed two actors in a living room. The living room was then painted white and the camera exchanged for a projector, creating a rotating projection mapping.

Projection Mapping 10 Years Mr Beam

Setting up projection mapping

 

Interior Projection

An ever-changing interior using only 2 projectors.

Inspired by the principle that Michael Naimark used, the very first projection mapping work of Mr.Beam arose: our starting project ‘Living Room’. In ‘Living Room’, we created an ever-changing interior design for an all-white Ikea furnished room.

The white furniture serves as a canvas for various animation designs that are projected with only 2 projectors onto the space. Back in 2010, projection mapping wasn’t a popular medium yet, so Living Room received lots of attention and put us on the map as a creative studio. This project was a result of experimentation and simplicity and set the tone for our approach as a creative team.

Living Room Project Preview

 

Exterior Projection

Transforming form and function into something immersive and surprising.

Projection mapping transforms ordinary objects and buildings into mesmerising digital realities. Using the facade of a building to tell it’s story or creating a new realm on existing architecture is a beautiful way to communicate with your audience. For our project Old Masters, New Heroes we used the Ridderzaal building and its history as inspiration to convey the memorable events that took place in this location. Visitors were taken on a journey through time, being educated and visually stimulated at the same time. For 800 years, the Binnenhof has been the centre of power, heart of the democracy and the fundament of freedom. Nowhere else in the world has a government centre been operational for 8 centuries with such a strong connection to monarchy, art and culture.

Another way to use a building as your projection mapping canvas, is to completely transform it’s form and function into something immersive and surprising. This is the case with Insert Coin, a project we did for La Fête des Lumières in Lyon. We transformed an ordinary post office building – La Poste – and created a huge videogame experience in collaboration with Bandai Namco and their iconic video games like Pacman, Tekken and Little Nightmares. The story is told by our protagonists Amy and Ike, who are sucked into an old arcade machine they found in their basement. You’re following their adventures as the architecture of La Poste becomes an immersive experience.

Ridderzaal Beach Scene

Ridderzaal Ferris Wheel

Ridderzaal Escher

Ridderzaal Sailing Boat

 

Interactive projection

The dialogue between humans and virtual reality.

Interactivity has become an important part of digitalization, allowing you to get even closer and becoming part of something bigger, rather than just being the spectator. There’s a dialog that occurs between a human being and a virtual reality, created by a computer program. In terms of digital art, this means that the artwork will achieve its purpose when a person is involved.

This creates numerous creative possibilities in the realm of art and technology to communicate. A beautiful example of this is work of the artist Zach Lieberman. His work revolves around art, science, technology and poetry. In Reflection Studies for instance, you can explore a simulation of light bouncing off shapes while playing around with different objects. We find it interesting to integrate different media together to create a new artwork.

In our interactive piano installation Keys of Light, we combine music, technology, projection mapping, and architecture, which allows participants to explore their interactions and co-create the work. Every key triggers a visual element that is projected on the environment, whether it’s a building or a tree. Music is transformed into light and the piano player can actually manipulate his surroundings.

Another cool way to use playful interactivity is to integrate a learning aspect. This way, a younger audience is introduced to information in a contemporary fun way. For Mauritshuis we made an interactive projection mapping installation, where the most influential old Dutch paintings were presented on the facade of the museum. As an audience, you were able to interact with the artworks by moving on a motion-tracking surface.

Keys of Light on Ghent Facade

 

360 Projection

Transforming an entire space to create a whole new reality.

Transforming an entire space and creating a whole new reality is one of our favourite ways to use projection mapping. Being able to manipulate a room and really immerse the viewer in an unforgettable experience. One of the first projects we did where we covered the whole space was during Light Festival Ghent. Our visual storytelling transformed the architecture into an immersive surrounding, that tells a story about a lonely and segregative physicist and takes the audience on a journey through the realm of his mind. Another project where the full space is being transformed into a 360 immersive experience, is our permanent installation for Museum Boerhaave . The floor, ceiling and attributes in the museum are used as our canvas, to take the visitor on a journey through 500 years of European science: from nature, anatomy and biology, to the laws of physics, mathematics and technical discoveries that shape our lives today. This is an exciting and contemporary way to implement digital art into history and informative exhibitions. 

Boerhaave museum projection

 

Crossovers

Collaborating with other disciplines for new perspectives.

Using projection mapping in collaborating with other disciplines, often creates unique and artistic experiences. A multidisciplinary approach, that offers new perspectives and surprises the audience with a unique show.

Because of the characteristic of our medium, we can transform spaces into other realities, making it an interesting contribution for theatre productions and other performing arts to look out for collaborations. We created such a digital backdrop if you will, for the theatre show Wild Geese. Our goal was to amplify the movements of the dancers and visualize the story, creating a new reality.

In order to capture the visual and cultural essence for the designs, we studied various Chinese art forms and adapted our style to align it with cultural history, which resulted in an immersive storytelling performance, merging projection mapping and choreography into a ‘live graphic novel’.

One of our personal crossover projects is Morphosis. In this artwork, dance, music, projection mapping, and architecture all meet in one performance. The transformative character of the Metaal Kathedraal building and its ever-changing function inspired us to create this interdisciplinary piece.

 

Brand Experiences and Advertising

Collaborating with artists to create unique experiences.

In 2020, projection mapping is considered a well known art form and is also popular in advertising. Living in a media-saturated world, people are looking for ways to cut through all the information and catch the audience’s attention. What better way to interact with your audience than through engagement and inspiration? And what better way to create inspiring experiences than having artists collaborate with companies in doing so. It gets customers involved and stimulates interaction. Digital media is an indispensable tool for companies to create brand awareness and ultimately attract new customers.

Over the years, we have collaborated with different brands to help them envision their story and create unique experiences. For the CES convention in Las Vegas, Bose introduced an experiential space to visualize the future of their brand. We designed a transformative environment, using projection mapping on one single block in a room. This block served as a centerpiece of the set, where the visual story was told. 

Sometimes a brand wants to showcase its product in a special manner. What’s more special than being invited to a VIP dinner hosted by Canon on an exclusive location in Amsterdam, where the room is transformed into one immersive experience? That’s what you can call a dining experience! For this occasion we transformed the ceiling of the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, into a projection mapping event with dreamy colors and organic motion graphics, creating a sense of dining underneath the milky way.

Bose and Canon Immersive Experiences

 

Mr Beam 10 Years Conclusion Wonder and Excitement

The medium has grown over the past ten years, transforming musea spaces, live stages and changing the meaning of brand experience. It offers a multitude of creative possibilities both in the art as the business world.

The developments within the industry allow us to blend physical environments with digital worlds, creating alternative realms and bringing us closer to the concept of its initial name: spatial augmented reality.