Why have a museum when you have a moving canvas? The ability to make real objects pulse, fold and rupture has made projection mapping a rapidly growing art form – and new techniques are blurring the lines between the virtual world and the real one. While the medium is liberating, it brings with it certain challenges.
For Lalindra Amarasekara, a Colombo-based visualist, his days are defined by his ability to combine art and technology. When asked about the most difficult aspect of his field, he says, “The hardest part is always the next project. Trying to keep it fresh and exciting with each project is always hard. It is also what drives me.” To learn more, read on.
What was the initial inspiration that led you to projection mapping?
I was always drawn to things that trick the senses. During my pre-teens, this fascination led me to study magic and the art of illusion. I became a performer and enjoyed exploring methods to entertain by appearing to do the impossible. Later I studied to become a computer programmer. What I wanted to do was to develop creative applications. However, the jobs I got was mostly to build enterprise applications and I diverted from programming for a while.
Then, while looking for tools to play and mix video I stumbled upon projection mapping. With this I found the almost perfect combination to put my own curiosity and skills I’ve learned to use. I believe this is what gave me roots to find projection mapping as a medium for illusion.
How did you study to develop your art or was it purely through self-learning?
As much as I wanted to study projection mapping, when I first started to experiment I didn’t have access to much resources. Whenever I had access to a projector I always spent time studying how the light falls on different objects and textures. I spent countless hours looking through techniques for producing content to fit these objects and textures. Making mistakes and learning from it was probably my initial learning process.
Walk us through your creative process, from the moment the client contacts you to the actual show.
As projection mapping is still somewhat new to our region and most of our clients, I spend a lot of time educating on the possibilities and limitations of the medium. Once we have established this understanding we proceed with the brief. If projection is not the best solution we may even recommend something different. Once the brief is understood our job will be to develop a concept that will play well with the medium. This will include summarizing the story and drawing up style frames.
Since our work is very experiential, the space and audience dispersion has to be considered in our process. Wherever possible we produce visual storyboards and 3D simulations to have a feel of what the audience will typically experience. What follows is the stage of content production. On most projects, I will work with a team of individuals with varied skills. The team may consist of illustrators, 3D artists, coders, filmmakers, musicians etc.
If the project is complicated we will build prototypes of the structure and space and test our content to ensure we are getting the expected result. The final stage will be integration and programming where the content is loaded and the hardware installed and calibrated for the show. This is the most exciting part of the whole project but, pre-planning is what makes the final product good.
What tools do you typically use?
I believe the tools are only as good as the work you are willing to put in, regardless of the tools. I prefer to build and work with customized tools. Hence, my go-to application is TouchDesigner as it is a powerful platform for content production, rapid prototyping, building custom tools for projection mapping and show control.
For live visual performances, I would use Modul8 with customized modules and MadMapper for projection mapping and lighting control.
For corporate productions, we would work with a reliable server system designed to handle a large number of outputs and control sources like Dataton Watchout.
Could you give us an insight into the technical aspect of your art?
You have to be a skilled technician if you are to be successful at projection mapping. Understand the projector and how it works is very important. How color is created by a projector is very different from how an artist uses color on a canvas.
Understanding the viewing angle versus the projection angle is very important. We have to be mindful of where the audience will have the best experience from. The content has to be created with this in mind. The position of the projectors also will also depend on this.
You did some interesting work at the Colombo Museum. How long does something like that take?
This was a 10-minute show done to celebrate Vesak which is a Buddhist festival of light. We chose the Colombo Museum for its central location and colonial architecture which was ideal for a projection project.
The project itself took 4 weeks to complete which was a very tight deadline. We went through the whole process of scripting, storyboarding and testing multiple times to ensure the best possible output. We also had very limited hardware resources at the time and had to creatively improvise right through.
How do your personal inspirations make it to your work?
Simplicity is what inspires me. I admire artists who work with minimum lines and strokes to create powerful imagery. I believe simplicity is universal. People find it easy to connect when they see less and they experience more. When I work on a project I start with a single shape – a square, circle or triangle is used to convey an idea by simply changing how it moves and behaves.
Learn and collaborate more. Produce better-integrated experiences which use not only projection but all elements of scenography, light, sound and other special effects. At the moment I am working on a few collaborations with multidisciplinary artists to create a completely new audio-visual experience in the near future.
Images by Cyber Illusions.