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Projection Mapping on the Venetian Hotel

Feb 10, 2013 6:53 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

Projection-mapped install is an entertainment and advertising platform

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Because projection-mapped content requires very precise alignment of the projectors, AVDB also designed and built a track and dolly system to hold the projectors so they could be slid in and out of a locked position for service. Audio playback is through a L’Acoustics central cluster. Turner says it sounds beautiful, and that L’Acoustics (like Christie) was invaluably supportive. However, due to architectural and sightline limitations, the speakers could not be configured for stereo, and therefore could not deliver on the stereo and pan mix that was the sound artists’ intent. People see the show from far right or far left and not from the center of the lagoon and hear a mono mix from a stereo source.

The centerpiece of the control architecture is the Alcorn McBride V16 Pro, which controls the MediaMatrix audio distribution, the D3 video/mapping players, the projectors, and the two tri-signs above the building. The audio is not embedded in the video, though both sound and picture play off the three D3 players (a master that drives two projectors, a slave that drives the other two, and a redundant player that can switch in to cover either master or slave in the event of a failure). The signal is DVI out to fiber for the 750ft. run from the control room to the projectors, and back to DVI in.

The D3 player does not just play the media, it holds the 3D mapping data files of the building which are used to exactly apply the imagery to the building. That mapping data can be shared with other content creators to allow them to design content specifically for the building. That could be for a show (the Venetian has done two so far) or potentially for an advertising client who wants to rent the system and the façade for brand marketing—digital signage writ large.

While the Venetian install had many elements in common with other architectural projection systems, there were a couple of unique features for the site. One of those elements is an iPad-like (it’s a PC) wireless control system that allows operators to control the entire projection and audio system, as well as some of the lighting and legacy CobraNet-connected BGM/bell tower systems from anywhere in the plaza. (Luckily, the original CobraNet programmer was still onsite to help pull that part off).

Also unique is the way the system uses two Tri-signs at the top of the hotel. Working with the manufacturer at the artist’s request, a method was designed to toggle the signs (which normally display an ad for the Venetian’s Tao nightclub) to a neutral beige tone that matched the building as the shows start. This allowed the artist to treat the signs as a projection surface, a seamless extension of the building architecture.

While projection mapping is not new (and if you go back to the original days of son et lumière, it’s quite old), it is still a niche with only a handful of world-class content creators. “And the industry is still on the learning curve on these systems,” Turner adds. He means that not just technically but also in terms of how to best use the technology and the platform it provides, especially when it comes to a fixed installation. Brown-Cestero says that now AVDB has clients who are conceiving the system as an advertising platform and revenue stream; new Las Vegas zoning regulations expand the percentage of a building façade that can be used for advertising, which helps make that a feasible goal.

Two Tri-sign billboards at the top of the building
double as projection surfaces; in this image they are the top balconies of the “Marco

Two Tri-sign billboards at the top of the building double as projection surfaces; in this image they are the top balconies of the “Marco Café.”

“It is very high impact,” Turner says of technology and the current Venetian show Winter in Venice, which opened in December and has been described as “monumental.” “It stops traffic. And the YouTube videos don’t do it justice.”

The Content Creator: Ross Ashton, The Projection Studio

Ross Ashton is probably most famous for his projection creations for Buckingham Palace, Windsor Palace, and the 2012 London Olympics. In the U.S., he has performed transformations on the New York Public Library and Dartmouth College, as well as two shows for the Venetian—Carnivale and the current Winter in Venice. His work—often combined with that of sound artist Karen Monid—has been seen throughout the world, at some of the one-of-a-kind events, historical commemorations, fashion shows, rock concerts, and festivals.

Born at a time when nearly every village in France entertained tourists with son et lumière (sound and light) spectaculars, Ashton trained in photography and theater, and spent 4 years with ETC, Paris. He’s worked in both slide and video projection, and done mapped projects with both ("slides are still very bright and relatively inexpensive compared to video"). He began specializing in high power projection in 1992; 10 years later, his Buckingham Palace piece for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee helped bring projection-mapped spectaculars into the British consciousness.

His storytelling is most often historical and his images often come from historical photographs. His software toolkit includes Photoshop, After Effects, and Cinema 4D. To map the building, he laser scans it into an exact 3D replica mode through the software in the D3 graphics engine/player.

"Most of my work is a celebration of the historical, of the building and its place in history. If I can possibly use a real photograph, I do. I invent as little as possible," he says. Video, he says, allows you do more things, some of them reenactments such as blowing in up a castle to invoke Oliver Cromwell and the English civil war.

"And yet everything we do is completely non-destructive," he says. "We can take a building and reimagine it for night into a different building and then put it back for the daytime. For the visitors, it’s two different experiences and yet we have not altered it in any way."

For playback, Ashton says he doesn’t like to be too precious about things. He knows and likes the Alcorn and Dataton products, most of the large-format projectors and the high-end speakers. Though his company can—and sometimes does—specify the system design, he likes to work with local integrators and suppliers to build systems that will be comfortable for the local end-user to operate and maintain. Next up: the Venetian’s spring show.

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