Projection mapping — using projectors to map video onto any surface — has traditionally been associated with “spectaculars” such as concert backdrops, advertisements, and art shows. One of the most frequently cited examples is the 2010 AC/DC show at Rochester Castle, which concluded with the castle’s apparent collapse, a feat of optical illusion on a grand projected scale.
In A/E/C audiovisual circles, architectural projection mapping is akin to a sophisticated light show. As the equipment behind it grows less expensive and the technology more accessible, however, projection mapping is experiencing a surprising renaissance, with applications extending into the design phase of architecture.
We sat down with TEECOM Senior Design Engineer Magnus Kemp, who has designed projection mapping systems for New York’s Radio City Music Hall and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, to talk about trends in projection mapping and its potential use in architectural projects.
Why should people be interested in projection mapping right now? What’s happening to make it suddenly more interesting?
We tend to think of projectors as a dying technology, because in the corporate setting they have been supplanted by monitors, especially as huge monitors have gotten better and cheaper. But in many respects 3D mapping is in its infancy. The impetus for the current renaissance is the advent of easily accessible mapping tools. For a few dollars anyone can get an app that you can plug into your projector and map a scene with very little training. This is opening up new possibilities in the corporate setting, but also in the domestic setting.
What are some ways architects might consider using project mapping in projects?
Projection mapping is an inexpensive way to model design elements. We just had an inquiry from an architect who is working on a site that has 40 buildings. The architect has a virtual model of the site, and what they’re interested in doing is projecting that virtual information onto a physical model. Doing this would enable them to reproduce different lighting, different times of day, different finishes on the buildings. We can even show the fiber ways between the buildings, which is exciting to us at TEECOM. For finishes, you can include textures and windows and roof surfaces, and you can very easily change everything with the click of a mouse. It’s a very powerful tool for helping clients envision design, and cheaper than physical mock-ups.
What about as an element of the built environment in the finished project?
The key thing about projection mapping is its ability to turn a surface into anything you want. For the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, we designed a projection mapping system that turns the exterior of their planetarium sphere into a “a surface for visuals beamed by high-resolution, refrigerator-size projectors,” as Metropolis magazine put it, which would allow the sphere to be turned into a moving model of the Earth, or Mars, a brain, or anything the museum’s scientists could imagine. It looks as if content for this part of the project has been put on budgetary hold, but the infrastructure is in place when they want to do it.
In essence, the interior projection for the planetarium, which Blair Parkin and I also designed, is also projection mapping, because it involves 3D mapping the interior of the dome and designing for blending and warping of the images. Blair and I got into projection mapping through planetarium design — that and our work with flight simulators.