Shining A Light on the Dark Art of Projection Mapping

Being in the experiential technology industry, we’ve watched Projection Mapping become a hot trend in entertainment. But what does that really mean and what all goes into creating these magnificent spectacles?

Our long-time systems programmer and AV expert, Barry Mendelson, describes projection mapping as projecting an image onto a surface with content that fits the aspects and shape of a structure.

Projection mapping can take many forms...and prices! Simple Projects can be around $10,000 while more complex projects can be around $1.5M or more. This all depends on factors such as the structure size, projector size, image quality, preferred brightness, type of media servers being installed, duration of the show, and whether the spectacle takes place indoors or outdoors.

The process starts with a 3D scan of the building or space. Then, a 3D model is produced and the media is mapped onto the space on this smaller scale. Next, the video servers are installed and configured to get the content onto the surface in real life. If the projectors are outside, they will need to be stored in weather-protected air-conditioned huts to keep them dry and cool. Then, the fun starts. Our team reviews the show second by second, making sure content is perfectly aligned and adjusting as needed.

Barry’s meticulous projection mapping work can be seen on display at some of his favorite projects, Planet Word and the National World War II Museum’s Expressions of America .

Expressions of America showcases cutting-edge Panasonic outdoor projection technology on a colossal 90-foot, 360-degree structure. This massive, month-long installment involved meticulous alignment and beam coordination to ensure an optimal viewer experience. With this show being outdoors, Barry and the team had to work under the veil of darkness, starting from 3 pm to 2 am. Keeping the extreme humidity of New Orleans in mind, our Technology team worked very closely with manufacturers to solve the unique problem of dense fog forming inside the projectors to ensure a crystal-clear view of the content, no matter the weather.

Planet Word, on the other hand, featured an interior projection mapping experience, albeit in a historical building that came with its own challenges. The voice-activated Word Wall experience comes in at 22 feet tall and 40 feet wide, with 2,005 3D letters fabricated out of foam and plywood. Thanks to projection mapping technology, including a brand-new short throw projector by Panasonic, the Word Wall appears sentient — projecting animations in response to visitors’ speech getting smarter each time. Not only did this installation take several days of meticulous alignment, but due to the foundation of the 159-year-old building it lives in, the projectors must be recalibrated once a quarter due to vibrations from a nearby train station.

For those aspiring to delve into projection mapping, Barry suggests starting by learning about media servers and shadowing experienced practitioners. He recommends 7 Sense, a media server company providing comprehensive documentation, courses, and opportunities for hands-on experience. With dedication and exploration, the realm of projection mapping awaits those eager to create some experiential magic.


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