Augmented reality and projection mapping for beginners

Posted on September 2, 2014


Augmented reality (AR) has been such a slow-build that it feels like it has been around forever. Smartphone technology has been on the brink of bringing commercial AR technology to the masses for the past three or four years, without really delivering a killer app.

Look for a widely-used AR application on any smartphone and the chances are that outside the ‘well-known’ browsers such as Layar or Junaio, anyone would struggle to name an alternative. Tales abound of virtual shopping apps where you see how outfits look without having to try them on, whizz-bang animations or historical films that play when you hold your smartphone up at a certain location or over a photograph printed in a newspaper. AR has been given the lead in everything from reviving tourism to the humble newspaper.

And it may well happen soon. In the meantime there are people playing with AR in exciting ways that have nothing to do with out and out commercial gain. Artists have been using the technology, in the form of projection mapping, to create live music performances and interactive arts projects that re-mold perception and teach others about this dynamic technology.

Mapped out
Look at this introduction to the technology from Dane Luttik on Vimeo. VJs and other performers have been using projection mapping to flesh out music performance with 3D effects. His short film includes work from Anti-VJ, Legoman and Joanie Lemercier – who is running a workshop for 12-15 year olds at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva. Joanie’s project is a simple but really effective one which uses a drawing of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull and projects light and graphic effects to reproduce its eruption.

Horse Play
Artist and inventor Dave Lynch is part of the Jam Jar Collective and his projects include the awesome ‘The Horse In Motion‘, a mobile projection re-work of English photographer and inventor Edweard Muybridge‘s motion capture of a running horse. Dave frees it from the static screen and projects it running through the city. Incidentally, in 1874 Muybridge shot and killed his wife’s lover, Major Harry Larkyns, yet was acquitted by a jury who considered it justifiable homicide. Quite a character.

Dave has also built his own laser projection system that he calls the zoopraxiscope. Project Nimbus – as he calls it – is capable of reproducing images on clouds from the ground or aircraft. Five years of work and research has gone into developing Nimbus, including collaboration or conversation with sailors, weapons experts, artists and scientists.

Intriguingly (and perhaps a bit scarily) the ideas for this large scale moving image project project came from a US military paper written by Robert J Bunker. In the paper, Bunker talks about producing holographic images to scare criminals, opposing armies and civilians into submission or, literally, to death. What Dave liked about the idea was its potential use as a non-lethal ‘weapon of mass communication’: a way to show symbols of hope and powerful ideas.

ISAM: Amon Tobin
Brazilian musician Amon Tobin is renowned for his high tech collaborations. Interactive websites, video game soundtracks and projection mapping are just a few of the projects he has cooked up besides producing and releasing several incredible albums on British record label Ninjatune. In 2011 he released the album ‘ISAM’ and with it a radical stage show built around a central sound booth.

Rather like an ultra-futuristic update of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ it consisted of intricately sculpted white blocks which were used as a projection wall for 3D graphics, film and effects. Audience members were transported to outer space, into the bowels of a gigantic machine and showered in rippling waveforms, energy pulses and galaxies of stars. Here the Ninjatune crew provide an insight into how the project was put together.