Projection and Art: Sparking creativity

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ArtScience Museum in Singapore lit up by Panasonic projectors at night

Hurrairah bin Sohail tries to ascertain what makes projection so particularly suited for artistic pursuits and discovers the steps manufacturers are taking to keep the artists’ creative fires burning.

As competition among display technologies intensifies, all parties involved are now beginning to focus on their comparative advantages and are starting to become specialised. In recent times, projection has become increasingly employed for art.

Mike Garrido, senior product manager for enterprise at Christie, explains why this has come to be: “Projection has a scalability factor that allows for flexibility. It can be as inviting as a character on a table cloth or as grand as the Empire State Building. It’s both a canvas and a brush. It’s the artist that has the vision and the desire to share it that is most intrigued by projection."

Tan Tiong Leng, head of department for professional displays at Panasonic, agrees: “I believe that projection gives the most flexibility to artists when they are looking to implement digital art. Other popular mediums of content display such as LED videowalls or flat panel displays will always have a fixed physical appearance and hence constrain the appearance of the artwork content, whereas projected images consist only of light which can be used to cover and transform every and any form, shape and size of surface.”

Mark Wadsworth, vice president of global marketing at Digital Projection, adds: “Demands from the market have seen large-scale projection become more than just ‘big TVs’ and today’s technologies allow creative artists and entertainment specialists to deliver a wow-factor. It is important for the projection to place as few restrictions on the artists to put on a truly mesmerising show. The creative process should be impeded as little as possible. From a projection point of view, if the projector can be pointed at a canvas, and installed correctly in the right environment, then there really aren’t many restrictions.”

More and more, manufacturers are tailoring their projectors to suit and match the needs of artists. Wadsworth from Digital Projection says: “Reliability and brightness are key issues here, along with projector size. These requirements were met through the development of our singlechip DLP M-Vision Laser 21000 that brings near-3-chip image quality and unsurpassed brightness to a compact, single chip projector. Similarly, our Titan Laser 37000 brings ultrahigh brightness built on the foundations that the live events and mapping companies want.”

Tan from Panasonic says: “A consideration that we constantly look into is the longevity of our projector units and their ability to preserve image quality over time. It would be disastrous if a digital art installation were to be in tatters just months after the installation due to uneven aging of the projectors or misalignment due to lamp changes or other maintenance activities.”

He adds: “Our latest laser projectors are designed to be filterless and are also kitted with hermetically sealed optical light engines. Such features allow the units to operate maintenance free for 20,000 hours.”

Feedback from the artists that employ projection for their art is continuing to be incorporated into future designs. Garrido from Christie says: “Lately, requests from artists have been about latency. The ability for the projection system to put in as little delay as possible has been the latest trigger point with artists.”

Digital Projection also has something in the works which Wadsworth hints at: “The size and weight to brightness ratio is a critical requirement – who wants to be rigging huge 200kg projectors all day? This is something that we have taken on-board and our current development track has some really exciting products that look to address this issue.”

Projector manufacturers also realise that their products do not exist in a vacuum. Wadsworth says: “We have an excellent relationship with not only the media server companies, but right through the chain to companies such as the graphics card manufacturers whose technology is critical to the media server. We often share knowledge and best practices with all these companies, they are often keen to test the latest projection technology and we are always willing to test their servers with our projectors.”

The resulting benefits of these trials and tests are passed on as Wadsworth continues: “This close collaboration ultimately makes the life of the integrator a lot easier, as any issues that may arise have been ironed out before they even get their hands on the kit."

The importance of working well within the systems deployed for art was understood by Christie and the manufacturer responded accordingly. Markus Zeppenfeld, product manager for content management and processing at Christie, says: “Christie acquired the Pandoras Box media server product line four years ago for exactly this reason. Amending the product range with media servers to streamline the customer’s workflow, including Christie Mystique, was a logical step. Creative installations become easier when projectors, alignment tools and media servers talk together for blending and warping applications.”

Better integration between projectors and media system components is expanding the horizon with regards to what can be achieved in the realm of art with projection. Zeppenfeld from Christie says: “The workflow is important as projects sometimes only become possible and affordable when they can be realised in a reasonable time frame. Using Christie Mystique as an alignment tool helps to prevent manual measuring and adjustment, while Pandoras Box multi-user workflow enables the customer to work on several tasks simultaneously to reduce the onsite programming time.”

Manufacturers believe they will continue to provide artists the projection tools to keep exploring the outer limits of their imagination. Wadsworth says: “Our projectors are designed to be as flexible and reliable as possible, and the embedded software has also evolved to include more advanced warping and blending capabilities that allow fine adjustments ‘on the fly’ to compliment server based warping technologies that are specifically designed for this type of application. I think the added fine-tuning technology in the projector, teamed with the lightning fast development of the ability of media servers, has allowed the creative artist to come up with even more amazing pieces of artwork.”

Tan from Panasonic adds: “With the use of solid-state laser illumination, high frequency response optical engines and ultra-high-speed camera tracking, we are constantly elevating live performance tracking and mapping to the next level. We recently showcased the capability to map and track live motion with a response time of less than 0.002 seconds at CES 2019 and we envision a future of performance art where the fluidity of the performer’s movements can be perfectly combined with the digital art content.”

Garrido from Christie concludes: “The improvement that I would like to see more of is interactivity. Having a projection mapping installation that is being viewed by thousands of people with interactivity through a phone or tablet allows for the content to be manipulated. It would mean a different show every night as well as being truly freeing for an artist to open up their creativity to the masses."