Why projection mapping?

If you have listened to any of the Magical DLP podcast episodes you will know that I LOVE Projection Mapping. But why do I love it so much? Before I reveal all let’s start by explain what projection mapping actually is and how it works.

You need a projector, a video source, something to project on to then you’re ready to go. That’s it right? Well kind of. Projection Mapping is the art of mapping digital images onto a building, object or person using a projector. It can be as simple as projecting shapes onto a wall or as detailed as making a building warp and change shape. Projection mapping can be a standalone show or one simple element of a much bigger performance.

Since a young age I have been interested in lighting. Every weekend I would help my dad operate the lights in our local theatre. This involved setting up the equipment and operating it. The best part though was messing around before the show. At the time only big companies and a few schools had projectors, so getting the chance to play around with the projector my dad had was amazing. We would both create simple graphics and animations that would then be projected behind the bands and artists that were playing each night. This interest in lighting and technology made me geek out when going to see professional performances and then when I watched Disney Dreams! for the first time then WOW, it blew me away!

I love the fact that Projection Mapping can bring any surface to life make it look like it’s alive. Once the hardware is installed then theoretically the elements being projected can be updated in real-time and never be old. There have been so many great uses of projection mapping in the Disney Parks and I bet there are many more great things to be done!

Being a Disneyland Paris fan has amplified my love for Projection mapping and of course the biggest use of Projection Mapping tech is the amazing Disney Dreams!

Disney Dreams! wasn’t the first time Disney Imagineers used Projection Mapping in Disneyland Paris. It was used in 2004 during the Phantom Wedding, a Halloween celebration. This involved projecting a story onto a white “sheet” which was covering the whole of Phantom Manor.

This was a basic type of Projection mapping as the white “sheet” was a basic canvas to project onto and they didn’t need to measure the finer details of the Phantom Manor show building.

Another major use of Projection Mapping tech in Disneyland Paris was for the opening of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction, which opened in Walt Disney Studios in 2007.

The Imagineers upped their game for this one. The whole show building was surely “mapped” using lasers and computers as the videos and animations interact with the different features. Although it was the main feature the opening ceremony also featured actors and a wider storyline making this a more immersive event than the Phantom Manor show.

Disney Dreams! wasn’t even the first time Imagineers used projection mapping during a night-time show. Projections have been projected onto water screens and castles. But Disneyland Paris was the first park to put all of these elements together into one big spectacular.

In April 2012 Disney Dreams! opened to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris. Featuring projections, lasers, lights, flames, water fountains, water screens, music and fireworks it became the jewel in the Disney Parks night time line-up. I won’t go into the details of the show as we discussed it in detail on the podcast (listen here) but I will talk about my favourite bits.

As mentioned before I love that projection mapping can bring its canvas, in this case Sleeping Beauties castle, alive. This is done very simply but amazingly in the Hunchback of Notre Dame scene. It really does feel that Quasimodo is swinging and climbing on the castle. The same goes for the more action packed Genie scene. As he sings Friend Like Me the whole castle is moving and changing, the towers of the castle turning into rockets are my personal favourite. They interact so well with the fireworks.

Disney Dreams + Light'Ears

Now to the future, what will Projection Mapping look like at Disneyland Paris look like in the near and distant future?

Over the last few days rumours have started to intensify regarding a new night-time show in WDS park. This is something I have personally called for in the past on the podcast and on Twitter. We were then treated to a picture of the Imagineers testing the projectors on the Tower of Terror.

This test got my mind spinning, is projection mapping on its way? What will it be? Will it include fireworks and music? So many questions. Within 24 hours some of those questions had an answer. Star Wars: Season of the Force was filming some promo footage in the park and ED92 tweeted some pictures from behind the scenes confirming the project.

Overall I am so excited for this new night-time spectacular and really hope it brings the Walt Disney Studios to life at night, a time when the park looks so beautiful (the concrete is hidden in the dark). I am a little upset however as I feel Tower of Terror will only be used as a canvas. I don’t think we will see the intricate animations on the tower which sees it being warped and changed. The building won’t come to life but will only be used as a surface to project big videos on. I love Projection Mapping as it can be used to change a building, object or person, making a window shake, look bigger, and interact with the story. I might be wrong but my guess is the show will want guests to forget it is the Hollywood Tower Hotel that they are projecting on to. Maybe this is a good idea as Star Wars and the Twilight zone don’t really go together.

Another element of Projection Mapping that is coming soon to Disneyland Paris is the fantastic final lift hill scene on Big Thunder Mountain. The fuse will be lit and you will race up the lift hill as it sparks its way to the top and then explodes.

Before I get carried away and write forever I best discuss the next step in Projection Mapping. We already have projections on animatronics at Disneyland Paris on the Grim Grinning Ghosts in Phantom Manor and on Buzz Lightyear’s head in the queue for Buzz Lightyear laser blast. I see technology moving on so we see live real-time projection mapping on character’s faces and/or bodies in stage shows. How cool would it be to see characters transform before your eyes during the parade? Another amazing future use of Projection Mapping could be to integrate the use of drones carrying screens (Disney have already submitted patents for this) to expand the possibilities during night-time spectaculars. Flying spaceships and super heroes would make great use of the IPs that Disney now own.

As you can probably tell I could write pages and pages about this topic but I wouldn’t want you to fall asleep at your computer or smart phone.
Projection Mapping is the past, present and future of entertainment in Disneyland Paris and long may it continue!

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