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Creativity Bytes: A Brief Guide To Architectural Projection Mapping

Read this and sound like an expert. Well, sort of.
March 16, 2011, 5:12pm

Here’s a quick reference guide that will seek to explain the trends, terms, and movements of the brave new media world of art and technology. So you can skim, digest, and be a pseudo-expert next time you’re cornered at a Speed Show exhibition in your local cybercafe. Because, hey, life is short and art long. This week: Architectural projection mapping.

So, what is architectural projection mapping?
A cousin of augmented reality, it’s the projection of 3D motion graphics in real-time onto the surface of a building or structure. The result is the exterior of the building appears to come alive with animated forms, transforming into a dynamic construction. The projections are meticulously mapped to fit the specifications of the building and sound usually accompanies the display.


Where did it come from?
The act of suspending your disbelief to watch moving images, and the application of projecting these, has its roots in cinema, but it also adds the collective thrill of large gatherings, felt at public events like a firework display or free concert. There’s also something of the club visuals to them, especially when they are synced with accompanying music, except that these visuals have progressed beyond the flat surfaces. It combines these visual experiences with video mapping techniques pioneered by groups like Kilp Collective, plus a dash of video art, to provide mass public audiovisual immersive experiences. Over the last few years it’s become a popular way to wow crowds at celebratory events of all kinds and because of the slack-jawed gawping factor it’s also a fond favorite for brand promotion.

In the beginning: Kilp’s festive-themed video mapped Christmas tree, complete with dancing Santa.

This week you're really digging…
Seeper’s The LightLine of Gotham piece which combined electrifying visuals with an exacting canvas in Frank Gehry’s IAC HQ.

Nano talk
Where next for this ubiquitous form of dynamic display? The future lies in interactive and reactive visuals responding to music, sounds, and the attending crowds. Seeper, who are well-versed in the art of the mapped visual, talk about 3D motion tracking where crowds gesticulate at the building to change and shift the design. Also, using smartphones and other devices, multiple audience members could take control of the visuals, as long as they play nicely, of course. And, perhaps most excitingly, the advent of stereoscopic projection mapping combined with motion tracking would allow people to interact with elements of the building—punching a hole in a wall and ducking as the bricks fly out at you. This’ll work by using a display screen and liquid crystal shutter glasses to create the illusion of 3D.


Describe yourself as…
A three-dimensional body on a plane.

Projection, 3D, plane, mapped, visual, sound, architecture, transformative, augment.

Seeper light-up the iconic Frank Gehry IAC building in NY.

Difficulty level

Age range

Shape shifting is a building’s prerogative.

To recap: Augmented architecture for a post-Michael Bay world.

Next week: Crowdsourced art.