We tend to think of computers and computer servers as things to work on or that handle our email. Of course, computers are used in almost every industry and walk of life these days and live entertainment is no different.
Back in the days before sophisticated computer control of things like lighting and projection, the best you could hope for was a synchronized video projected onto a flat surface and moving lights. Now we’re well into the realm of mixed-reality projection.
One of the most impressive live tricks these machines can pull off is something known as projection mapping, but what exactly is projection mapping and what can it do?
Wonderland Made Real
Before I go into what these control servers can do, let’s talk about what projection mapping is in the first place. Although the results of projection mapping are amazing, the actual concept behind it is very simple to understand.
When you watch a movie on a projector it’s a 2D image projected onto a 2D surface: the screen. While the projectors used in projection mapping can still only project a 2D image, the image is projected onto a 3D object. Sometimes with multiple projectors from many angles.
The trick is to use clever mathematics to distort the 2D projection so that it maps perfectly onto the 3D object. This way you can create magical visual displays that were simply not possible before. Of course in the past we used pre-recorded videos for a similar effect, but this method was way more limited than modern projection mapping.
What’s in the Box?
From coolux, Pandoras Box Version 5.3 media system from coolux delivers media control, playback, warping, blending, show control, interaction, broadcast multi-track audio, and media storage across a wide range of solutions.
So what exactly do you get when you invest in one of these box servers to run your live shows? In principle it’s no different from any computer server of similar specs, but of course there is specialized hardware and connections included that, with Coolux’s control software, open up a world of possibilities.
We shouldn’t be dismissive of the specifications though. These box servers are no slouches when it comes to specifications. Anyone who has a love for the latest and greatest gadgets can appreciate the sheer technical power of these server boxes.
Oodles of RAM, multi-core Xeon processors and powerful Quadro GPUs mean that you can do real-time rendering of your projections. Which also means you can tweak the projection to fit different circumstance and see a real-time preview to make sure it looks the way it should. So you better believe that those high-end components are needed.
When you have a product that’s still in the prototype phase or you don’t have a true model to show at your trade show, projection mapping can come to the rescue.
I especially like this projection onto an actual Mercedes. While this demo is only mean to look pretty, you could do a lot of practical things with it. What if you wanted to show the car with different colour options? What if you only have a clay model, but still wanted to show the car as it would look? There’s a lot of scope for creative applications when it comes to showcasing physical products.
Obviously you can also just use this technology to generally spice up the trade show stall, it doesn’t have to be a direct product application. The projection systems themselves are now so compact that you can put something together with very limited space and pull in the crowds.
When I talk about stage shows I’m really including two different sorts of shows into one: music and theatre.
We’ve been used to fantastic light, laser and video shows at concerts for decades, but high-end projection mapping can really bring the music to life like never before. This is probably the closest we’ve come to letting musical acts reproduce the experience of a creative music video.
For me the real treat is seeing projection mapping applied to theatre or stage magic. It bridges the gap between cinematic CG and theatre. Just look at this next demo video.
Pretty awesome, right? Now imagine the sorts of live plays you could put on with this technology at your beck and call? It’s a brave new world for any sort of live performance.
Architectural Projection Mapping
While these entertainment-centric applications of the technology are impressive, I like one much more practical use just as much. Look at this video of an architectural model brought to life with projection mapping.
Imagine pitching a new building to a prospective client using this technology? This is so much better than paper renderings or even high-quality 3D models on a computer screen.
But, if you can project onto a model of a building, what’s stopping you doing it with an actual building? The answer is nothing and there are few things as jaw-dropping as an outdoor projection mapping spectacle. Just look at this example from Dallas.
There are lots more great videos like that on YouTube and I promise people will not forget whatever you’re promoting for a long time after pulling of something like this.
Jack of All Trades
It’s easy to get hung up on the flashy rendering and projection mapping aspects of box servers such as those from companies like Coolux, but they do way more than that. Everything from the sound to the traditional lighting can be controlled and programmed using the hardware and software of the system.
It turns all those separate systems into a cohesive whole that acts together in a fine and precise ballet of audio visual power. None of this comes cheap of course and so it’s not like the average person is going to buy something like this just for fun. Well, unless you’re this guy:
If you have deep enough pockets you can not just keep up with the neighbours but blow them out of the water. If you budget for neighbour-related showing off is more limited, have a look at these neat gadgets too.