Permanent projection mapping, how a big projection can become an asset for a location

Permanent projection mapping

It was April 2015. The boys of DrawLight decided to try their hand at a bet:

Building a giant projection mapping installation right at the entrance of the nhow hotel in Milan during the Milan Design Week Fuorisalone.

They had therefore contacted me a few weeks ago. They needed to install and operate a 4-meter-long and 50-meter projected installation.

permanent projection mapping

Little time available and difficulty assured: could I pull back?

In a moment it was already the moment of the inspection!

What do I find? Large spaces (well), comfortable ceiling where to hang video projectors (very well) and … steel columns, just in front of where the structure would be born and in the middle of the light beam of the video projectors.

I’ll tell you in the technical jargon: the columns badly packed the projection.

“It would have been too easy without those columns,” I told myself, but we found a solution that I’ll tell you in a moment.

It was necessary to study a solution to control all these tools: it consisted of 9 4000 ANSI lumen projectors to be collimated and mapped on 200 square meters of three-dimensional surface, and the contents had to be loaded dynamically and had to be updated as quickly as possible.

The challenge was great, and the period certainly left no room for error, with EXPO at the door.

We had to bring out a beautiful and permanent installation ..

“Schei e paura? Mai avui”* they say where I come from.

*Money and fear? Never had them.

I immediately went to work, starting from the end: what would be the simplest and fastest way to create and export content for a structure like this?

Should I create a 3D scene with a camera for each projector and export content from this 3D scene every time? It would have been a suicide of the rendering.

What if I tried to work on UV? In the case of export from the 3D scene, the digital artist should still produce a video content to be put as texture to the three-dimensional object.

“Let’s simplify!” I decided.

Projection reference will be nothing more than the UV map of the object. A two-dimensional template of 15860×1080 pixels to be placed on any content production software and to be exported with the content.

Projection mapping

The solution with Pandoras Box

Well, the digital artist and the flow of content loading we have arranged them. Now comes the beauty: making everything work, containing costs.

I evaluated different instruments, but in the end my choice always fell on the usual suspect: Pandoras Box.

This tool was the only one, in 2015, that would allow me to:

  • work on the UV of the 3D object,
  • distribute rendering avoiding expensive signal transport,
  • automate the installation without spending thousands of euros in tools designed for home automation, such as Crestron.

The choice was then to install computers hanging from the ceiling along with the projectors. The timeline of Pandoras Box would keep the sync between all the players thanks to the network and we saved € 400 / projector for the transport of video signals.

And the projectors? How do you avoid these blessed columns that we found ourselves right in front of the projection surface?

Thanks to the UV approach and Pandoras Box this was not a problem.

A realistic installation plan and some technological creativity have led to this:

Projection mappingA special location

And the trick was successful. It took about 16 hours of warping to make everything fit, but in the end we did it.

A unique image as long as the entire driveway of the hotel, which welcomes guests when they arrive and immediately shows that they have arrived in a special location.

Everything can be managed directly by the hotel staff, who with a simple smartphone can change and choose which content to start in the morning and set on and off the whole system.

Today, as I write this article, more than 3 years have passed since the installation of this videoprojected installation. To all those who argue that projection mappings are only good for ephemeral and temporary installations, I would like to say that this installation is generating value proposition for the nhow hotel and work for us that we manage and for digital artists who create content.

It is a simple deduction indeed to understand that the hotel, which works mainly by selling the conference rooms to corporate clients, can easily include in its quotes the customization of content on the wave, giving the customer the opportunity to welcome their guests in a spectacular and customized way.

permanent projection mapping

Technical note on projection technology:

we were very indecisive about the choice to mount video projectors with laser / led or traditional lamp. To calculate costs and benefits, we evaluated options over a 3-year period and the conclusion was that traditional lamps are more efficient overall in this type of installation:

  • initial installation cost of about ¼ compared to the laser;
  • total cost of operation over 3 years (the duration in hours of the laser projector, to which the lamp can not be replaced) by more than 15%;
  • replacement cost in case of lower failure than the laser (and faults have occurred);
  • reduction of the risk of finding oneself with different type projectors after a breakdown.

About every 10 months we regularly replace the lamps, clean the floodlights and check the alignment. An operation that costs us a day of work and that allows us to keep the work in shape at 100% with the passage of time.

Despite the obvious difficulties that exist in thinking and managing a projection mapping installation, I believe that today we are only at the dawn of this wonderful technology that by now the most sophisticated ones start to call “projected augmented reality”.


I hope the article was useful to you! If so, share it with your colleagues and if you want to make a comment or ask me for a consultation do not hesitate to contact me!

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Tree of Life, the system integration that managed the icon of EXPO | Marcello Pontalto

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