3D Projection Mapping and its Impact on Media & Architecture in Contemporary and Future Urban Spaces

Summer 2011: v.07 n.01: Under Fire: 3D Animation Pedagogy

Daniela Krautsack
On behalf of Purdue University

When advertisers like Ralph Lauren describe their recent 3D projection mapping installation as a “collision of fashion, technology, art, commerce, and architecture”, how is this intercreative event to be evaluated and leveraged in a commercial way that makes it work for their business? The following analysis presents an overview of the current development in 3D projection mapping technology, compiles expert peer opinions, and demonstrates the benefits and challenges of contemporary public space media performances, installations, and campaigns that industry experts and the wider audience in the on and offline world has been observing and is still talking about. This paper aims to open a discussion of how to optimally use cutting-edge technology, such as 3D projection mapping, in the public space of our global cities; optimal in the sense of allowing a dialogue between citizens and stimulating their visual perception of the culture they live in; optimal also in the sense of efficiently communicating with a captive, media-savvy but hypercritical and message-overloaded audience. This analysis leads to a list of recommendations on how to go about influencing the look and feel of our future city’s urban space.

The history of projections dates back to the 1840s when powerful electric arc-lights were experimented with for the illumination of public monuments in Paris [1] The idea of projecting not just a beam, but pictures and texts as well was a logical next step. In the United States, a magic lantern or “stereopticon” projected slides outdoors on screens, blank walls and even public monuments from the 1860s. The views were said to be projected to a greater size than the largest panorama, and the magnificent horses and wagons used for transportation provided additional pleasure to thousands. While projections in 1866 were used to publish election results, 145 years later projections are mainly dedicated to art and advertising purposes [2]. Often the announcements of the results were accompanied by fireworks, evoking a much older tradition for public celebrations. Spectators were encouraged to turn from passive bystanders into active participants. The projections screened questions and thousands of spectators screamed the answer [3].

Globalization has seen many of the world’s major cities entering a constant competition for cultural, creative, and commercial supremacy. In the 21st century, the digital domain is playing a key role in upgrading cities to a new level of advancement. The digitalization of cities has a very physical nature. Buildings, public squares, transport hubs, and parks provide the right digital infrastructure to thrive [4]. Concrete walls are brought to life, and since many buildings are spacious and not simply flat structures, creatives from all over the world realized that media façades should have a spatial effect. When displays take up the entire three-dimensional space of a building, it could lead to problems with the occupants. There are already concepts that include the room lighting of a building into the projection. As long as there are no occupants in the house, projection into the depth of the building is possible. More common, so far, are 2,5D projections. 2,5D means that media facades are not restricted to only one surface but flow around edges of buildings (Galleria Store [5]), extend to spherical surfaces (UNIQA [6])or allow spatial effects (NOVA installation inside train station in Zurich[7]) [8].

The 3D projection mapping “process for creating tailor-made projections for specific objects” allows the focus of a video image to be specifically adapted in line with the various surface characteristics of a façade. In this process, the diverse material and constructional qualities of a façade are programmed into a mask on the computer screen and the specific images are then adapted to the various areas of this mask. The result is that when it is projected onto the actual façade, the image is perfectly adapted to the façade structure which, in turn, becomes the architectural stage set for a theatrical performance.


 Figure 1 & 2: 3D Projection Mapping performance during Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France (2010) Artists: 1024 architecture (Photos: Daniela Krautsack)

Figure 1 & 2: 3D Projection Mapping performance during Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France (2010) Artists: 1024 architecture (Photos: Daniela Krautsack)


 Figure 3 & 4: 3D Projection Mapping during Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France (2010), Artists: Students from five French schools. (Photo: Daniela Krautsack)

Figure 3 & 4: 3D Projection Mapping during Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France (2010), Artists: Students from five French schools. (Photo: Daniela Krautsack)

Discussions among expert peers indicate that 3D projections are currently considered as the most unique form of catching the attention of the crowd in the public respectively urban privately owned space; unique enough that the technology will generate its own viral buzz and discussion. David Lauren of Ralph Lauren, is convinced that 3D not only changes the way movies work, but also changes the way advertising will work. And that it already changes the way we think about architecture [9].

Merging the Metiers of Media and Architecture
Projection being part of a merge between media and architecture gives space a meaning and forces it to speak as a means of communication for the commissioning institution or advertising client. As media architecture is a hybrid form combining features of the digital as well as of the physical space, both meanings simply reflect the fact that it is no longer possible – and no longer useful – to determine which of the two sides is “more important.” Does the media aspect support the physical appearance of the building or is the building – its shape and its facade – simply a function of its communication goals? The projection has some forerunners in theatre performances, baroque festivities or sacral buildings but the existence of contemporary projection methods marks a decisive step as the surface of architecture became permanently changeable and a means of communication that goes beyond the “symbolic” way of communicating which has always been a part of the perception of architecture.

A commissioned team of designers makes the building “talk.” What are their motivations – those of the designers, the building owners, and other stakeholders, to create media architecture and to make it talk? It is appropriate to see it as an artefact of a web of interactions that pervades different levels of human life: living and working in this architecture, commissioning, planning and building it as well as walking or driving in the city and looking at it. It is necessary to see the whole ‘interactive sphere’ around the building itself in order to understand that it is not a neutral channel for communication but is itself an expression of the message that is being conveyed.

The work of interdisciplinary starchitects, such as Zaha Hadid, for example, strongly addresses the issues of architecture and movement. What will have to improve is an early possibility of “mediatectonic” intervention in the initial design process.

At an urban scale, strategically deploying projections makes the night-time city landscape editable. When the background is completely dark, only highlighted features remain visible while other characteristics blend into the background. 3D projection mapping techniques enable creative developers to recast spatial cues in moving images [10]. Eisenstein describes an effect which he links to electrification: “All sense of perspective and of realistic depth is washed away by a nocturnal sea of electric advertising. Far and near, small (in the foreground) and large (in the background), soaring aloft and dying away (…) these lights tend to abolish all sense of real space, melting into a single plane of colored light points (…).” [11]

Many examples from architecture and art illustrate how strategically placing light in the city at night expands the design and also advertising opportunities for urban displays. The following examples do not exclusively portray 3D mapping technology, however they provide a provocative cornucopia of intercreative and interdisciplinary ideas for displaying light in various contexts:

Interacting with Facades through Body Movement – Focus Art
Body Movies by Lozano-Hemmer are interactive projections that composite shadows of people currently in the plaza with portraits taken on the streets of the city [12].
You Tube // Body Movies

Interacting with Facades through Body Movement – Focus Advertising

Blue Dragon is a game software title; in the game, the protagonist’s shadow becomes a dragon when he fights. To promote this, the advertising agency focused on the primordial human experience of shadow-play. Magnified shadows of ordinary people were projected in town and created a system whereby the participants could play with their own shadows. A person’s shadow was projected as a giant shadow image, which suddenly changed into the shape of a dragon. The “shadows” are not real shadows, but rather projections of images captured by a video camera and manipulated with a specially-developed C++ program [13] and then cast onto the wall by four powerful projectors. The technology enables the “shadows” to morph into various shapes featured in the game [14].
Link YouTube // Big Shadow

Interacting with Facades through Communication Devices
The public art project xtual healing [15] creates an outlook on how SMS technology formed an interaction between the audience and the creative content.
Link TXTual Healing

Blurring the Line between Real and Virtual with Innovative Technology
Adding the factor of invisibility awakens the curiosity among participants by withholding information. The Image Fulgurator [16] is a device for injecting hidden content into other people’s photographs the moment they are taken. The flash from a nearby camera activates the device, which then projects arbitrary content into the scene, just long enough to show up in the picture, but go unnoticed by the photographer. Asked about the controversy of unwanted marketing messages on photographs of passers-by, the artist and inventor Julius von Bismarck states in an interview with Wired: “I see it as a piece of media art. It could be a dangerous attack on media. But if people do shit with it, I feel bad.” The presence of encoded information needs to be clearly communicated to ensure maximum impact to avoid restriction of access [17].
Link Image Fulgurator

Transforming Architecture into 3D Advertising Canvasses
BMW used 3D projection mapping on two identical, adjacent buildings of Sun Tec City in Singapore at a traffic intersection, allowing the audience sufficient space to gather and watch the event. The 3D animation was based on the style and video footage of the BMW TVCs. The projections were executed on May 5 and 6, 2010 only as part of a special event for the top executives of BMW Asia and their business associates [18].
Link YouTube // BMW Joy 3D

 Figure 5: 3D Projection Mapping for Bacardi in Vienna (2011), Artists: The Darkroom (Photo: Daniela Krautsack)

Figure 5: 3D Projection Mapping for Bacardi in Vienna (2011), Artists: The Darkroom (Photo: Daniela Krautsack)

Bacardi hired UK company The Darkroom to design the first ever projection mapping to be shown in Vienna in May, 2011. The campaign brief requested that the projection incorporate Cuban heritage, the cocktail Mojito and a club feeling. Vienna’s Kursalon building, a party location, was chosen to bring the ‘Bacardi Togetherness’ campaign to life.
Link YouTube // Bacardi

Adding Another Dimension to 3D Projection Mapping

In November 2010, the digital 3D projection mapping technology made Ralph Lauren’s flagship building, one in the US and the other in the UK, seem to suddenly disappear, then reappear, block-by-block, before they each opened up like a dollhouse to unleash a 3D parade of four-story tall models, a virtual polo match, and gigantic Ralph Lauren products. As a collection of perfume bottles appeared, the air was filled with Ralph Lauren’s fragrance, adding another dimension (3D –> 4D) to the experiential performance. The objective of the astonishing and luxurious show was to communicate the brand’s dedication to digital innovation and to celebrate the launch of the company’s “digital flagship store” in London.

A cross-disciplinary team of about 150 people worked for months on the eight-minute video. First, architectural renderings of the New Bond Street and Madison Avenue stores were created using 3D scanners and human modellers. Then physical replicas of the stores were built on a soundstage where real life models were shot walking in front of the façade. The film was then pulled into a 3D software environment where a team of animators designed and inserted the over-dimensional visual effects. Finally, video projectors were positioned, so that the projections of the finished 3D film, created at a larger resolution than IMAX, lined up accurately with the real building [19]. The budget of a similar complex multi-dimensional projection mapping production shows seven figures, and therefore requires serious planning to achieve maximum impact on image, perception, brand building, and sales.
Link YouTube // Ralph Lauren Experience
Link YouTube // Ralph Lauren Making Of

Using Innovative Ambient Media
Sony promoted the new ACDC Iron Man 2 soundtrack with 3D projection mapping onto Rochester Castle in England. Selected quotes by the audience reveal the enthusiasm for the creative execution of the music clip. Video platforms, such as Vimeo and YouTube function as a multiplier of eyeball exposure.
Link Vimeo // ACDC Vs Iron Man 2

The Worry Lines of 3D Projection Mapping
Discussions among citizens about media facades on the one hand led by city officials, and on the other led by hand creative industries, show the current debate: the critics would like to ban media facades in order to protect both “the city” and “architecture.” Another group seeks out opportunities to “enhance” the cityscape with as many “utilization windows” as possible, aiming to optimize the presence of advertising screens in public space. From an architectural perspective, none of these approaches is helping, but rather hindering architecture in its current process of media-based and increasingly geometrical transformation. Constructive discussions to advance interdisciplinary collaborative work between architects, media experts, artists, scientists, and the city authorities must address aesthetic and technical details as well as the question of content [20].

There is an unavoidable question about how to command the attention of the public with increasing use of 3D projection mapping. The experience in other advertising metiers has shown that the power of a performance or event diminishes the more often it is seen. Project managers also face the challenge of how to convert temporary 3D projection stunts into long term support of traffic online.

The Criteria of Success

• Some expert peers believe that 3D projection mapping might not achieve the aspired results – neither in cultural metiers nor in marketing – if the content lacks a compelling narrative or multisensory way of storytelling. Others disagree. The currently most talked about multi-dimensional projection case by Ralph Lauren spotlights the core brand values and brand’s lifestyle sphere by aesthetically portraying their product portfolio. Neither the catwalk nor the product presentation requires storytelling in this case – the performance is purely based on aesthetics and represents a role-model for merging art, technology and the element of promotion for the advertiser’s products.
• In other cases, however, will the pioneer use of new technology alone not guarantee a powerful consumer experience and a subsequent viral buzz? The projected content needs to reflect a strong idea to create a connection and interaction with the audience.
• The optimal setting does not only depend on the architectural site that is screened upon. Building pre-event buzz amongst end consumers is mandatory as well as linking the 3D experience to Internet and e-commerce sites. Some projects will aim for an interaction between architectural site, audience, and web content through mobile communication devices, both in terms of creative involvement, and modes of marketing their products.
• Investing in cutting-edge technology means knowing the trends and what is next. Studying the global cultural sphere and following intercreative and interdisciplinary collaborations and trend reports is advisable.

The Future
Many of the current commissions still arise from situations in which a city, an institution, or an advertising agency are looking to maximize the impact of an event. Future efforts might move away from such event-based work and focus on the creation of more performance based interventions that arise from overall city branding concepts. The context of future projection work could be tailored to the social context of the urban district and directly refer to the history and visions of citizens in local communities.

Decreasing energy consumption is one challenge of the future. Media facades of the future could contain all the technology necessary for measuring environmental data, communicating with each other and even changing their own position. In the future we might be confronted with swarms of intelligent pixel drones, flying displays that change their form and position according to events in the environment [21].

Stores could become hubs for interactive experiences that create both digital and physical connections with consumers. The aim is to interact with the consumer in a way that will blur the lines between the virtual and the real. Ways to interact might be based on the usage of sensors and communication devices, movement of body parts, heart rate recording and neuro-imaging methods.

The massive development of consumer generated media in web 2.0, and within that, the boom of social networks like Facebook, allows for the assumption that there is an enormous potential for applications which create social networks around media architecture, and which thereby will lead to further penetration of physical and virtual space. New media formats will be created which will use a high level of interdisciplinarity on the part of the designers, and which have the possibility of producing very innovative urban experiences. Especially the social and urban aspects of media architecture need further engagement, and defy an all too technical description [22].

The currently temporary nature of 3D projection mapping projects might transform into permanent installations when architectural sites morph with media facades.

Does the 3D projected mapping experience enrich our cities or contribute to the pollution of our already intensively used urban space? A generic answer is difficult to give as the project’s quality is determined in the concrete, individual case. The best way to form an opinion is to take a hand in something and use one’s own creativity, knowledge and sense of responsibility to contribute to the development of meaningful projects. Nobody knows everything in this area – there are a lot of new things to learn and it is easier to do so by facing criticism and by looking for conflict.

The industry’s focus should lie on a collaboration of architects and media designers, light industry experts and facade planners, media and telecommunications experts, scientists, city planners, urban politicians, and city dwellers.

Recommended Sites


1. W. Schievelbusch, Disenchanted Night, (University of California Press,1995) 54 – 55
2. C. Kronhagel, Mediatecture, (Wien/New York: Springer, 2010) 24
3. Election Day in New York, The Century Magazine, Vol. 53, No. 1 (1986), 12
4. T. Barker, H. Häusler,Media Facades – History, Technology, Content, Avedition (2009), 6
5. http://www.syahdiar.org/galleria-hall-modern-architecture-design-in-west-seoul-south-korea-by-un-studio/view-galleria-department-store-modern-exterior-facade-design.html
6. Uniqa tower, Official Uniqa Group Website: http://www.uniqagroup.com/uniqagroup/cms/de/img/Tower_pink_tcm52-306325.jpg (accessed May 20, 2011)
7. The Coolhunter Official Website: http://www.thecoolhunter.net/design/20 – scroll down to 3D LED Light – May 2 2008 (accessed April 3, 2011)
8. Gernot Tscherteu, Martin Tomitsch Media Architecture Biennale 2010, Media Architecture Institute (2010), 10-23
9. Business of Fashion Official Website: http://www.businessoffashion.com/2010/11/digital-scorecard-ralph-lauren-4d-projection-mapping.html – BOF Team, 11.11.10 (accessed April 5, 2011)
10. S. Seitlinger, D. Perry, W. Mitchell, Urban Pixels: Painting the City with Light, Boston: CHI 2009 Art Creation (2009), 840-841
11. Sergei Eisenstein, The Film Sense. Translated and edited by Jay Leyda, (New York: Harvest Book, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1942, 1975) 98
12. Rafael Lozano Hemmer, Body Movies official website: http://www.lozano-hemmer.com/videos.php?id=body_movies – Rotterdam, 2001
13. Florida Institute of Technology on C++ programs: http://cs.fit.edu/~mmahoney/cse2050/how2cpp.html – Matt Mahoney (accessed April 3, 2011)
14. GT Inc Tokyo, creator of Big Shadow Interactive Game: http://www.bigshadow.jp/judge/ (accessed April 7, 2011)
15. Paul Notzold, Official Website “TXTual Healing”: http://www.txtualhealing.com/blog/?page_id=2 (accessed April 7, 2011)
16. Julius von Bismarck, Official Website “Image Fulgurator”: http://www.juliusvonbismarck.com/fulgurator/ (accessed April 3, 2011)
17. D. Offenhuber, The Invisible Display – Design Strategies for Ambient Media in the Urban Context, Ambient Information Systems, Seoul, Korea (2008)
18. Publicis/NuFormer, Vimeo “BMW, Singapore, May 2010″: http://vimeo.com/groups/projectionmapping/videos/12168628 (accessed April 3, 2011)
19. Business of Fashion Official Website, “Digital Scorecard”: http://www.businessoffashion.com/2010/11/digital-scorecard-ralph-lauren-4d-projection-mapping.html (accessed April 3, 2011) http://aspirelondon.com/blog/articles/london-ralph-lauren-4d-experience/
20. C. Kronhagel, Mediatecture, (Wien/New York: Springer, 2010), 111-112
21. Gernot Tscherteu, Martin Tomitsch, Media Architecture Biennale 2010 Mai, Vienna 2010, 22
22. Ibid., 23