Brand theatrics

Projecting animations on to buildings or other surfaces is a sure-fire way of attracting attention at a relatively low cost, as more and more brands are discovering. Laura Snoad shines a light on the latest techniques for creating eye-catching visual experiences

Whether it’s photographs of cats that ’has cheezburger’, or the Charlie Sheen-inspired ’#winning’, news travels fast in the world of Internet memes. It’s not surprising then that big brands want to promote new products with similar speed, and in persuance of this goal commission impressive visual stunts with the intention that they go viral. Enter the relatively new discipline of 3D projection mapping, a form of motion graphics that fits a projected animation on to the surface of a building or object.

Anna Watkins, managing director of marketing agency Fullsix, which has commissioned projection mapping for Adidas, says, ’Brands are looking to leverage new and emerging technologies to surprise and delight consumers. 3D mapping enables a marketer to differentiate the brand by creating a memorable, inspirational experience at a relatively cost-efficient price.’

UK-based interactive arts and technology collective Seeper claims to have notched up more hits (2.5 million) than any other projection mapping project for its AC/DC vs Iron Man 2 campaign, commissioned by Sony Music to promote the film’s soundtrack. For the project, the craggy surface of Rochester Castle was shuffled and warped to reveal Iron Man’s looming silhouette before finally crumbling, all to the sound of AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill.

Whether the project involves weaving tulips amid columns for the Asia Winter Games in Kazakhstan, or creating a bionic Angel with an 8m wingspan for the opening of the Oakley store in London’s Covent Garden, Seeper begins each project by storyboarding, just as in regular animation projects. Founder Evan Grant says, ’We start by creating a graphical score, a waveform, that sets the emotional tone of the piece.’

Joanie Lemercier, creative director of ’visual label’ Anti VJ, says, ’We form an abstract narrative. Members of the audience are given leads to reconstruct that narrative, but we leave a lot of space for the imagination.’ After two to four weeks’ research into the chosen building and its location, Anti VJ creates an exact digital render of the structure using a range of methods, including photography, laser scans or accessing CAD models and blueprints from the architects.

Three-dimensional software is also used to develop textures and complex effects. To launch Samsung 3D TV, Netherlands-based consultancy Nuformer designed a 3D projection for the Beurs van Berlage building in Amsterdam. Part of the brief was to create a 3D underwater Eden, which alone took four weeks to render. Nuformer managing director Rob Delfgaauw says, ’We used special 3D software to work out how the water would fall, the speed of its fall and what it would do when it hit the floor.’

Beurs van Berlage’s Neo-Classical columns may have added depth to the final projection, but the smooth white surface of a modest Californian building used for a private commission in August 2010 was ideal for very high-spec 3D modelling and animation. Nuformer morphed the facade into a Rubick’s Cube-like row of revolving blocks, then an African jungle cabin, before that was blown away like a silk scarf to reveal a US metro station.

London-based motion graphics consultancy The Darkroom similarly used projection mapping to envelop a sober building with exotic textures, transforming the Kursalon building in Vienna into a weathered Cuban ’Casa Mojito’ for Bacardi.

Fiddly historic organs in the Netherlands’ Breda Cathedral and multiple layered screens at performances by Mexican Electronica artist Murcof have likewise both worked as canvases for Anti VJ.

Mapping newcomer Superglue projected on to the unusual surface of a Toyota Auris, using a web of seven projectors that together emitted 2500 frames of 28m pixels to create an intimate show in a darkened Shoreditch tunnel.

One of the Toyota brief’s main challenges was projecting on to the very different textures of the pearlescent car, asphalt road and rough concrete curb. Superglue had to up-spec the environmental projections considerably, and blend them with the animated car skin seamlessly, first using a digital 3D representation with rendered textures, then a mock-up at exact proportions.

Superglue technical creative director Simon Cam says, ’[Projection mapping’s] earlier doctors tend to be technical in nature rather than established production companies or animators, so they can be deficient on the visual side.’ But Cam argues that as the discipline becomes more mainstream and more animators and designers take up projects alongside software developers, visuals and narrative are set to improve. Cam says, ’What some projection mapping suffers from is that there’s no narrative and it just becomes a pretty light show.’

True to the Toyota campaign’s message of ’Get your energy back’ a reference to the Auris’ hybrid technology that recycles energy while you drive the two-minute film depicts the car’s skin robotically peeling back before emitting and receiving floods of azure light.

Alongside improved visuals and narratives, interactivity is what the pioneering companies are beginning to explore. Anti VJ is experimenting with wind sensors that trigger animations, and both it and Seeper are testing the precise body-tracking offered by Microsoft Kinect.

Seeper’s public-facing projects fund a strong research and development arm that constantly seeks new technologies and collaborations to keep the ’wow’ factor in its work. R&D ensures the meme does not become passé and as Grant says, ’Cutting-edge technologies and innovation encapsulate what brands are looking for, though this is not why we do it.’

Links to online projects

Adidas is all in, by Superbien

Déshérence, by AntiVJ

Building in California, by Nuformer

AC/DC vs Iron Man 2, by Seeper

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