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'Immersive' digital projections transform buildings into canvases

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Visuals projected onto the Volkswagen factory by Seeper
  • Cutting edge technology creates illusion that buildings are collapsing and changing form
  • The effect is achieved by digital projection mapping, a mix of hardware and software
  • Advertising agencies are keen to use the technology to promote brands
  • Multiple user interactivity is slated to develop

London, England (CNN) -- Iconic buildings disintegrate; facades peel away to reveal other realms; and towers blast off into space. These are just some of the effects achieved by cutting edge technology known as digital projection mapping.

By mapping the contours and surfaces of a building, technologists and artists can project animations onto them, creating the illusion that they are being transformed in real time.

Brands and events companies are increasingly using this technology for stunts that will go on to have a presence online and so create a buzz.

Evan Grant is the founder and co-director of London-based interactive arts and technology collective, Seeper, which creates displays using projection mapping.

He told CNN: "Projection mapping is when you use a piece of architecture or a structure or a sculpture and you mimic that form inside of software to create a canvas, and you can project back onto it a line."

Projection Advertising's display for the launch of video game Call of Duty: Black Ops on Battersea Power Station.
Seeper pitted Iron Man against AC/DC.

"So you create this illusion of depth or transformation or just make an object differ in form," he said.

He hazarded that the technology was first researched by the military but that its recent emergence is down to artists and technologists like himself playing around and experimenting with it.

"I talk a lot about this ethos of the essence of experience, what that means is to immerse people, make them let go," he said.

"So, that's the goal in terms of our work, to try and immerse people and let them go away with really lasting images," he continued.

Seeper's recent projects included a display on Rochester Castle in the UK this year to help Sony promote hard-rock band ACDC's soundtrack for the film "Iron Man 2."

Spectators saw the castle collapse and re-build itself; transform into a digital sculpture composed of architectural lines and gridding, and even turn into a portal to another world, all timed to music from the soundtrack.

It caused a stir online, one of the reasons advertisers and brands are so keen to use projection mapping in their campaigns.

Tom Burch is the managing director of London-based company Projection Advertising, which tailors digital projection mapping displays for a variety of clients including Nintendo and Sky News.

That's the goal in terms of our work, to try and immerse people and let them go away with really lasting images
--Evan Grant, co-founder of Seeper

He told CNN: "Advertisers are always looking for the next exciting media to use, particularly with outdoors and giant-scale building projections."

Burch is reluctant to call the work that he does "advertising," preferring to think of it as a "filming opportunity" whose after effects on the internet carry the real advertising value.

Correspondingly, digital projection mapping is not cheap. According to Burch, a small-scale projection using relatively simple animation could cost in the region of $32,000 (£20,000), with costs rising steeply the bigger the projection.

The technology, a mix of hardware and software, promises further exciting avenues. "We're certainly looking at ways of increasing the amount of human interaction with projections," Burch told CNN.

Currently, projection mapping involves animations that play and run but multiple-user interactivity is now on the cards.

"You could walk past the projection, become part of it, text in or SMS in and become part of it," he said.

"The building blocks of everything are almost out there," he continued. "The task is in assembling it into a meaningful system on a huge scale."

It is easy to see the future of projection mapping being defined by advertising. But Evan Grant is keen to stress the importance of maintaining artistic control over the work that he does.

"A lot of the relationships we have in a commercial sense now are commission-based," he said: "So, people come to us because they like what we do and we put a lot of time and effort into maintaining our integrity, so I guess what I'm trying to say is we try not to sell out."

He continued: "It's more a case of using brands to enable us to do the work we want to do."


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