Projection mapping – How to turn any surface into a clever display

Typically, projectors are used to create bigger images on a lower budget than using traditional display. But, projectors have far more flexibility than this, and be used to bring objects to life thanks to projection mapping.

Rather than projecting onto a flat surface, projection mapping is used to project an image on to a 3D surface, bringing buildings and objects to life. If you were to project a 2D picture onto a 3D, you’d usually end up with a distorted picture, or the final image overlapping the edges of an irregular shape. Projection mapping uses software, which adjusts the image so that it is layered over the 3D surface perfectly.

How does projection mapping work?

The smart thing about projection mapping is that it doesn’t require any special projecting hardware. In fact, any projector will do, provided that it’s bright enough to deliver the final image. For smaller, in-store demonstrations, for example, the portable ASUS B1MR would be suitable.

Next, you need a surface to project on. Any 3D surface will do, but brighter surfaces are easier to work with, as they reflect more light; projectors will struggle with dark surfaces.

Finally, you have the projection mapping software, which lets you adjust the projector’s output, letting you crop and set the final image, adjusting it to fit the real-life 3D object in front of you. This has to run on a connected PC, such as an ASUS mini PC, and adjusts the projected image on the fly.

Projection mapping software typically works by letting you create layers, so you can choose different videos or images to fit different parts of the object. For example, you could project different things onto each side of a cube.

Simple animations and video patterns are easier to deal with, but complexity increases if you want more detail, such as perfectly aligning a talking head with a shop mannequin.

For those that want to experiment with projection mapping, the free VPT tool can be used to create some stunning works of art.

What can projection mapping be used for?

Projection mapping has tonnes of uses. At the Lumiere London festival, held in January, projection mapping is used to bring buildings to life, animating the surface of famous landmarks or, as in the image below, painting Westminster Abbey with light.

London Lumiere

At the Roman Baths in Bath, projection mapping is used to fill in the blanks for the Gorgon’s Head, even adding colour to the image to give visitors an idea what the stonework would have looked like when new.

Roman Baths projection mapping

Projection mapping can also be used to bring mannequins to life, overlaying video of a real person over the dummy, such as this example at Newark airport.

Audi used projection mapping at its Q1 car launch to bring the static car to life as an exciting, fast-moving display.

Essentially, projection mapping turns any surface into an incredible display, whether you want to show more information, display clever advertising or just bring your products to life to attract attention. Free tools can be used to create some great displays, but commercial software and dedicated projection mapping companies may be required for more complicated displays and ads.

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