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Projection Mapping: What It Is and Why Businesses Love It

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor
  • Projection mapping is a technological innovation that lets you overlap video onto any surface, such as a building or road.
  • Projection mapping uses a pre-production process to fit images into a 3D model of a building to give the appearance they are painted on.
  • In addition to a projector, you'll want to look into projection mapping software to bring your marketing vision to life.

In an effort to connect with your heart, mind and wallet, big brands are working hard to pack every minute of your day with ads and multimedia. One marketing tactic in their toolbox aims to create emotional and long-lasting impressions around events.

Some events are more memorable than others – perhaps due to stunning graphics, 3D or 4D experiences or interactive installations you enjoyed there. These remarkable experiences may have been the result of projection mapping.

What is projection mapping?

Projection mapping is a video projection technology in which video is mapped onto a surface, turning common objects – such as buildings, runways, stages and even water – into interactive displays. These surfaces become a canvas, with graphics being projected onto a surface, playing off of the surface's shape and textures to create a delightful experience of light and illusion.

"Projection mapping immerses consumers into an experience," said Paul Whitney, executive producer at bluemedia, a Tempe, Arizona-based media company that specializes in experiential activations for some of the world's largest brands. "And research has shown that millennials, in particular, would rather invest in an experience than a product."

When projection mapping first kicked off, it was limited to flat walls. Today, companies that use it – often enterprises, but not exclusively – can think far bigger and more creatively. They're no longer limited to structures or specific materials.

"Today, we have more flexibility than ever," Whitney said. "The technology has grown tenfold. Back in the day, many of the things we did were not possible, but [modern] software allows us to do cool things."

Whitney mentioned the example of a fashion show: Rather than using 30 mannequins with 30 outfits, projection mapping could be leveraged to show a variety of outfits on two mannequins. Companies can now take on 360-degree dome projection, create immersive theatrical experiences, deliver showstopping concert experiences and deliver far more memorable impressions than traditional forms of media allow.

How is projection mapping done?

If you want to use projection mapping, follow these steps:

  • Select your canvas. The first step in projection mapping is to choose your canvas. This can be anything that allows your projection to come to life. People tend to choose canvases such as stages, buildings and translucent backdrops.

  • Plan the lighting. Once you have selected your canvas, you will need to use software to calculate the level of brightness, pixel density and shadows, as well as create the metrics to be used for the projection.

  • Develop content. From there, you will design the template for projection and animate the projection to create a concrete version of the visual story you are seeking to tell.

  • Set up. Once you have completed the development of the projection, it is time to set things up. To do so, you go to the location and use an alignment grid to ensure your projection will be clean and seamless.

  • Finalize the presentation. Lastly, you will finalize your presentation by making the final tweaks to your content and projection. You can then test out the projection to decide if you want to make any additional changes.

What is projection mapping software?

Once you choose or create the object that will be projected, you will use special software to bring your vision to life. This specialized software is used to spatially map a two- or three-dimensional object. The software mimics the real environment the object will be projected on and can be used to create projection mapping ads, tell stories at events and more. Moreover, it can interact with a projector any type or any sized image you desire to onto the surface of your chosen object. This helps artists and advertisers who wish to add optical illusions, extra dimensions, and the illusion of movement on objects that were once static.

The nuts and bolts of projection mapping

Projection mapping is not cheap. Activations can easily range from $150,000 on the lower end to more than $1 million. This cost takes into account the creative gurus, engineers, on-site resources and logistics it takes to pull it off flawlessly.

Also, plan for some lead time – eight to 14 weeks, depending on the experience.

Enterprises are willing to pay for the experience when they've amassed the participants, social media followers and brand recognition that make the return on investment possible. They rely heavily on social media to piggyback on the event experience, creating massive buzz that reaches far beyond the event location.

"Activations can be permanent or semipermanent," Whitney said. "But brands will get 10 times more media when they create these immersive experiences."

Whitney has spearheaded projection mapping experiences at the Super Bowl, the famous Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood and a life-size Noah's Ark in Kentucky.

As for the skeptics who question whether the investment is worth it, Whitney said they just have to "see it to believe it."

What are some examples of projection mapping?

Now that we have gone over the various aspects of projection mapping, let's look at some examples of these projections:

  • The Sydney Opera House. Using the exterior of the building as a backdrop, the creators of this projection designed an epic experience now known as the "Facade Projection."

  • "Wear the Rose." This projection was designed to support the English rugby team during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. "Wear the Rose" was filled with beautiful projections of roses in various shapes, sizes and arrangements.

  • "Ink Mapping." This projection was the first-ever live event of tattoo video mapping. During this event, people were used as canvases, and various images of moving art and tattoos were projected onto their skin.
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