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How Is Projection Mapping Done?

How Is Projection Mapping Done?

We all know the regular video projection that entails projecting images (in motion or otherwise) onto a flat surface.

However, unlike the regular video projection, projection mapping can be used to project visuals and audio-visuals onto absolutely any surface.

It creates a surreal effect and transforms objects of different shapes and sizes into engaging and interactive displays.

If you’re an artist or a creative, you must have wondered how projection mapping is carried out. In this article, we’ll learn about the process and discuss the three types of projection mapping.

Projection mapping uses a concise production process to fit images onto a 3-dimensional model; be it a building, car, landscape, or other complex artwork.

It even projects onto structures that involve fluid stimulation like water and in some cases even sand!

This makes it ideal in advertising. Recently, it has been the rave in concerts, gaming, exhibitions, theater and a wide variety of things.

Process of Projection Mapping

3D projection mapping on church at The Cathedral

You may ask, how is projection mapping done?

Generally, it is a setup between the object to be projected on, the projection mapping software for modeling the visuals to be projected and of course, your projector(s) setup.

1. The Area, Object, or Canvas

Choosing a suitable surface or object for your background is often the first step in projection mapping.

It determines the mapping of coordinates of the objects in relation to the display and placement of the projector(s).

If you want the illustration to properly align and integrate with the surface, you must take the area into consideration. After studying the surface texture, the seamless 3D effect is gotten by projecting light and shadows onto the right places.

This is why it is important to select a projection surface, depending on the effect you are aiming to create.

Surfaces can range from simple objects in the house, to large buildings, landscapes, and complex structures.

I picked a few of the examples I felt best portrayed the ingenuity of varying objects as canvas:

a. The terraform table

Tellart designs topographic sandpit table that lets you move mountains

Terraform table by Tellart can be found at Victoria & Albert Museum, south Kensington London.

Its canvas is sand.

Projection mapping is done in a giant sandpit, making it look like a vast rugged landscape; it forms mountains where the sand is in a mound and forms lakes, valleys or rivers where it’s in a hollow.

What gives it the wow effect?

The machine has a learning algorithm feature that allows it to reconstruct the display based on any changes made in the pit.

Ergo, if you move a little bit of sand, you change the topography of the area. Users can create snowy peaks, extend forestry, or form a lake! Not an easily forgettable experience.

b. Wear the rose

Wear the Rose - O2 Projects Support for England Rugby on to Roof of The O2

This is a popular project by O2 and Projection Artworks, and the canvas used was the entire roof of a stadium.

In celebration of the Rugby World Cup in September 2015, they joined forces to pull off the largest projection mapping display the world has ever seen.

They used a total of 68 projectors, and roughly 122 moving headlight fixtures, and transformed the roof of the stadium into the English rose emblem.

According to the O2, the show was so spectacular it could literally be seen all the way from outer space.

2. Designing the Visuals and Content to be Projected

This is the technical as well as creative part of projection mapping. Here, software comes into play; these software enable you to create the visuals that will be morphed onto your chosen surface.

The software helps with mapping the coordinates of objects, the XYZ orientation, positioning, and geometry. Integrating 3D models into the software would help design complex projection mapping shows, creating larger than life imagery and illusions.

Some software that come highly recommended include Madmapper, Lightform, and HeavyM amongst others.

Examples of amazing visuals and interactive content in projection mapping:

a. Dr. Blighty at Brighton pavilion

Dr Blighty projections at Brighton Festival

Produced by Nutkhut, Dr Blighty was one of the highlights of the 2016 Brighton Festival. It was a free production that transformed the Brighton Pavilion, on England’s south coast, into an Indian scene.

Its colorful morphology and specially commissioned soundtrack made it quite a spectacular show.

b. The box

This video was designed by GMUNK and Bot & Dolly. A person is seen engaging with a morphing set, while unfathomable shapes form and interesting animations and graphics are also revealed.

It is obvious that a lot of work went into designing the visuals which are projected on two moving rectangular flat boards controlled by robots.

3. Setting Up the Projector(s)

This is pretty much the final stage in projection mapping. The actual projection!

The number of projectors you would need depends on the scale and nature of what is being projected.

You might need just one or hundreds of projectors, set up strategically to create the desired results.

The projectors may be static or in motion, allowing for geometry correction and seamless blending of multiple projections. This is usually the target during set-up, so that there can be proper alignment between the virtual content and the physical objects.

Examples where impressive projector set-up comes into play:

a. Borderless

teamLab Borderless, Digest Movie / チームラボ ボーダレス、ダイジェスト映像

A breathtaking dream world was crafted in the Digital Art Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo by TeamLab. Using projection mapping technologies, different concepts and scenes flowed together to form one ‘borderless’ world.

Hosted in a vast, 10,000 square metre space, the installation was brought to life using 520 computers and 470 projectors.

b. Speed of light

This projection mapping setup was a small one. Sharp and Jenkins’ Speed of Light film was tagged as the world’s smallest action chase shot on camera. With hand-held micro projectors, a chase between the police and a criminal was on display.

They used an iPhone as the video source, and projected on all surfaces in their office. Tom Jenkins and Simon Sharp created an interesting chase.

They showed that projection mapping doesn’t always have to be large scale.

3 Types of Projection Mapping

Projection mapping comes in two forms:

  • 2D Projection Mapping: here, the projection mapping is done on flat backgrounds like walls, screens, or ceilings.
  • 3D Projection Mapping: in this type, visuals are projected onto objects which may be curved or have irregular shapes. 3D in particular is capable of creating astounding effects by wrapping visual content around geometry with control software, letting images take on physical form.

However, projection mapping is technically grouped into three types.

1. Object Projection Mapping

As the name implies, it is projection mapping done on objects to amplify and enhance their display. Object projection mapping is mostly used in exhibitions.

For instance, cars, mannequins and sculptures can be used as models to display several designs.

Attention would be paid to details, in order to highlight the unique features of the designs on display.

2. Interior Projection Mapping

galaxy projection mapping in a room

This is often used when creating an immersive projection environment. Basically, it bears some semblance to virtual reality but has a more organic form.

Immersive projection mapping is perfect for when you want to show your audience the interiors of a new real estate project, or take them into a view of the galaxy, or on some fantasy trip.

Interior projection mapping can be interactive, engulfing the user into a world more or less surreal (like in the Borderless project). If done correctly, the experience can be unforgettable.

3. Architectural Projection Mapping

3D projection mapping on the Bolsoi Theatre

Architectural projection mapping is inarguably one of the most common forms of projection mapping there is. We create magnificent effects which are larger than life using building structures of different designs, sizes and shapes.

You can just highlight a portion of the structures such as domes or impressive 3D extrusions. This is enough to lock down the attention of your viewers and leave a lasting impression.


Is projection mapping expensive?

Mapping content onto an object comes with its own set of technical, creative and budget challenges.

While it is generally done on a large scale and considered expensive, there have been instances, where it was done on a budget with equally exquisite results.

Also, technology in the projection mapping industry is expanding. There is now a greater possibility of pulling off projection mapping at lesser costs.


In all regards, projection mapping is a fast growing concept as industries and individuals alike are seeing it as a new kind of media to reach their target audience.

It is one concept to take full advantage of and have fun with, while expressing and creating with the goal of impacting.

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