Projection mapping: 5 questions to ask yourself before starting a project

Projection mapping is art on a massive scale – the transformation of a familiar object or structure in a way that makes people stop and stare. Great projection mapping projects are a successful combination of powerful ideas, the right technology and expertise, paired with flat or complex surfaces and structures to create a great effect.

The technology is primarily used to illuminate a building, sculpture, or 3D object without affixing any permanent physical components to the structure. As an example, a projection-mapped show on a church can highlight the building's beautiful architecture at night while leaving it untouched by technology during the day. This process can range from a single projector projecting onto a flat surface, like a building’s facade, to complex applications with multiple projectors on large, 3D surfaces, like a statue.

Want inspiration for your projections? See our pick of the most mesmerising projection mapping demos and the best street art. In the meantime, read on to learn about the five considerations you should bear in mind before embarking on a projection mapping project.

Projection mapping: the top 5 considerations

Wondering if projection mapping could work for your next large-scale artistic project? Here we outline five key questions to ask yourself.

01. Is projection mapping the right choice for your project?

Projection mapping

Bright images are projection mapped onto Magic Castle at Lotte World Magic Island in Seoul, South Korea (Image credit: d’strict)

There are many factors when considering projection mapping for a project. Will it be a one-time event, or a permanent installation? If it's a permanent outdoor installation, environmental factors like snow, rain and winds can impact both the quality of the projected image and the ability to projection map year-round, so a pod or enclosure for the projectors might be required.  

Also, think about where the projectors will be mounted in relation to the projection surface and in relation to the audience. Whether it’s an adjacent parking lot or the top of a neighbouring building, determining where to unobtrusively place projectors, as well as a power supply, is important.

Additionally, consider the size and shape of the surface you’d like to map onto. A smaller surface may require only one projector, while larger surfaces, such as buildings and statues, will require multiple projectors.

02. What surface will you use for projection mapping?

A miniaturised Parliament Building is projection mapped with the Canadian flag at Toronto’s Little Canada

A projection mapping on a miniaturised Parliament Building at Toronto’s Little Canada attraction. (Image credit: Carbon Arc, Inc)

The ideal projection surface for projection mapping is lighter in colour to allow the content to shine brightly when projected. Projecting on dark brick or a dark surface is not recommended because it will greatly impact the brightness of your content. 

In certain applications, where projection on glass is required, a special film can be applied to the windows. This will still allow light to come through during the day but will act as a reflective surface when projected on. For surfaces that are less than ideal – whether dirty, discolored or non-uniform – software is available to compensate for these imperfections, to deliver a more consistent projected image.

03. What will be the content in your project mapping project?

Projection mapping of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral

Projection mapping of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral as part of an event to mark its impending launch   (Image credit: ULA)

Content creation is often one of the most important aspects of projection mapping that can sometimes be overlooked early in the process of determining if projection mapping is the right solution for the application in question. The complexity of the projection mapping, and the fidelity of the content, can have a large impact on the overall budget and time required to put together a projection mapping project. A common mistake for new people looking into projection mapping is not correctly accounting for content.

04. What's the right technology for your projection mapping project?

Projection mapping on the Statue of Equality in Hyderabad

The 216-foot-tall Statue of Equality in Hyderabad illuminated by eight Christie Crimson Series laser projectors (Image credit: Tricolor India Schauspiel)

Projection mapping can be done with a single projector, or with multiple projectors that are stacked and blended with the intention of creating a large, bright and seamless image. The best way to ensure content looks as intended is to make sure the projectors are bright enough, with a wide colour gamut to reproduce real-world colours. RGB pure laser projectors, which produce a colour gamut that approaches the Rec. 2020 colour space – closest to what our eyes can see – are extremely bright, making them ideal for projection mapping projects.

Additionally, media server software can be used to playback content, with additional features including show control and timeline programming. An image processor can be used to manage content for more complex projection mapping shows. For any company looking to do projection mapping for their own use, it is recommended to work with an experienced integrator that has an established portfolio of successful projection mapping applications. The integrator will be able to provide everything that is needed on a temporary basis through rental, or on a permanent basis through purchase.

05. How will you keep your projection mapping looking as good as it does on day one?

The most magnificent projection mapping displays leave the audience spellbound. To create and maintain this sense of wonder, the projection system needs to be calibrated and maintained. For projects that require multiple projectors, the projectors need to be aligned and calibrated so that the image appears seamless. Over time, projectors can be bumped, or moved out of place from sound or mechanical vibrations. Software and camera-based solutions are available to easily align projectors and quickly recalibrate the image if it shifts or moves, so the guest experience remains magical.

To learn more about creating a memorable projection mapping experience, visit Christie's website (opens in new tab) or reach out to them to discuss your next project.

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Joel St-Denis is Director of Product Management at Christie, a California-based global audio visual solutions company that specialises in innovative AV solutions and display products. With more than 20 years of experience in software, video and projection, he joined Christie in 2007 and has since successfully launched and supported several product and software releases, meeting the technical and business requirements for fixed and temporary installations. Christie projectors have been used to create numerous projection mapping shows around the world and the company excels at helping customers tell compelling stories through the medium.