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PROJECTION MAPPING

Turning a wall into a moving canvas

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

People who took in the evening celebrations marking the reopening of the Tokyo Station building in September saw a dazzling array of 3-D images on the outer walls.

From a steam locomotive spewing smoke that appeared as if it was about to leap from the renovated building to huge musical instruments, including trumpets and drums, that undulated as if they were alive, the images turned the station building into an animated canvas.

The visual effects were created with a technique called “projection mapping,” an imaging process gaining wide attention in the arts, entertainment, advertising and other industries worldwide.

Following are questions and answers on projection mapping:

What is projection mapping?

Often called three-dimensional projection mapping, the technique differs from the projection of images on two-dimensional flat surfaces, such as screens.

Projection mapping involves high-tech projectors that display computer graphics “mapped” on buildings and other three-dimensional objects, mainly stationary ones. Such projections can be animated and constantly transformed.

Projection mapping first appeared in Europe in the early 2000s and eventually spread worldwide, in part via video images on YouTube.

In the early stages, projection mapping projects were small in scale and not suitable for a large viewing audience.

“In the beginning, only young artists knew about projection mapping. It wasn’t until much later that ad agencies started to use the technique,” said Noboru Nakatsugawa, a curriculum director at the art school Digital Hollywood Co., which started teaching projection mapping last year.

What public events have witnessed projection mapping?

The past few years have seen several large events involving such imagery, including the 2009 celebration of the Eiffel Tower’s 120th anniversary. Moving images projected on the tower created the sense that the structure was twisting, and that it was a stack of iron ruins.

A projection mapping performance was staged last October at the multi-spired Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, Spain, as well as at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

Projection mapping has also been used in business promotional events.

In October 2011, Nike Inc. projected a basketball player on a water fountain on a lake in the United States as part of the pitch for its new Jordan Melo shoes. A month later, Nokia Corp. used projection mapping on Millbank Tower in London to promote its Lumia 800 smartphone.

During recent motor shows, a variety of colors and designs have been reflected on plain white auto bodies to demonstrate the range of a vehicle model lineup.

The technology is opening up new opportunities for theatrical plays, because one plain fixture can be transformed into various stage settlings that don’t need to be physically changed for every scene.

The two-day Tokyo Station event that started Sept. 22 was Japan’s first large-scale attention-getter for projection mapping. However, many entertainment sites have also introduced the technique.

The La Cittadella shopping complex in Kawasaki projected Halloween images on its building in 2011.

The Tokyo Midtown complex in the Roppongi district celebrated its fifth anniversary late last March with a projection mapping performance.

Visitors to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture can see a projection mapping show every night.

In terms of scale, how big was the Tokyo Station event?

The renovated 120-meter-long and 30-meter-high station building on the Marunouchi side was turned into a huge canvas involving 46 giant projectors with 20,000 lumen lamps. Each 10-minute show entailed five segments, created by five individual producers.

The preparations, which took almost three months, involved some 100 workers, according to Daisuke Moriuchi, a senior producer in charge of the event at NHK Enterprises Inc.

“I tried to express with the show my awe and respect for the representative building in Tokyo, its 100 years of history and the feelings of those who have used the station during those years,” Moriuchi said.

The designated viewing area for the event drew 10,000 people, but many more saw the spectacle from the street.

How was projection mapping created?

Various factors have been in play, particularly advances in high-luminance projectors and computer software that can create fluid images.

High-luminance projectors were originally developed for use as simulators for such functions as military training and 3-D design work, including for automobiles, Moriuchi said. The large projectors have also found favor with movie theaters and are used in large-scale events such as investor gatherings.

Developers started focusing on high-luminance projectors, now capable of boasting 35,000 lumens, because their conventional low-luminance counterparts can’t project clear images on colored surfaces.

What about the time, costs and challenges involved in projection mapping projects?

Every project is different, so there is no constant.

Large-scale events can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to prepare, including designing, creating content and procuring equipment, and can cost between ¥500,000 and ¥15 million, according to the website of Ashurascope Installation Co., a Japanese projection mapping firm.

Weather can also be a critical factor if the event is staged outdoors.

In the event of large-scale shows involving bright lights and loud acoustics, organizers have to secure approval at the local level.

Safety is another key concern, especially ensuring that of the audience as well as that of anyone in the vicinity who could be distracted by a highly conspicuous event, especially one staged in the center of a city.

One of the six projection mapping shows at the Tokyo Station event was canceled because officials decided there were too many onlookers outside the designated viewing venue.

In late December, the Tokyo Hikari Vision projection mapping event, which also used the Tokyo Station building, drew such huge crowds that organizers decided to cancel the week-long show on its fourth day.

The Weekly FYI usually appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp