How to create stunning light installations and projection mapping projects

By Vicky Prior

In recent years, the UK has tripped the light fantastic with a number of Illumination Festivals. These involve both large and small scale light installations and projection mapping projects. A light installation involves a space, indoors or outside, being filled with coloured lights, often set to flash on and off in a choreographed piece set to music. Projection mapping involves projecting images and video onto buildings, objects and even people.

The magical effects that can be produced with light installations and projection mapping are big crowd-pleasers. The audience wonders how such technical wizardry can be accomplished. This guide seeks to demystify some of the software and equipment involved, so that you can create your own spectacle.

Projection mapping and pixel mapping software

To complete this kind of work, you need specialist software. Most of the software on offer exclusively works with projection mapping, but there are a few programs that do both projection and light mapping. This is also known as pixel mapping. As Wayne always advises, work within your budget, but if you can get comprehensive software that does both types of mapping, do so. We’ll explore some of the software Wayne uses in the following sections.

For quick learning – HeavyM

If you want a quick start in projection mapping then the easiest software to use is HeavyM. Made by a group of French artists, HeavyM is very user friendly, with the interface being built around drag-and-drop. It is particularly good for creating geometric shapes or other simple visuals that can interact to the beat of a song. HeavyM software also comes with its own peripheral equipment. Purchase the Olga kit for a 3D geometric installation that can be easily projection mapped onto using HeavyM.

For more information, check out  Wayne’s course on projection mapping using HeavyM. 

For advanced features – MadMapper

If you need more complex features, or a piece of software that easily handles both projection and pixel mapping, then Wayne recommends MadMapper. Created by Garage Cube, a group of Swiss artists, MadMapper allows you to projection map onto any surface. The only limit is your imagination. After mastering the interface, for which I suggest checking out this course from Wayne, you should be able to pick up advanced features with ease.

Other equipment

Obviously, when working with software you need a laptop or computer to run it on. You also need a projector for projection mapping (yes, the clue is in the name) and LED light strips for light installations. So far so easy, but what size projector do you need? How many light strips?

As far as lighting goes, that depends on how you’ve designed and choreographed your installation. Bear in mind that you might need multiple laptops to control lights over a wide area. And do a risk assessment on all those cables!

For a projector, the bigger the surface you are projecting onto, the bigger the projector. So to project onto the side of a building, you will need a very large projector. Wayne recommends one that projects at around 10,000 lumens (lm). Lumens is the unit used to measure light.

The projector will need to be connected to your device running the software via HDMI or VGA. Inside the software, select the connection type so the media can be sent to the projector. It is the same process in both HeavyM and MadMapper.

For pixel mapping, LED light strips that have been designed specifically for this task are needed. Wayne prefers the Garage Cube brand, but any DMX lighting strips can be used. The lights are connected through a DMX USB Pro hub, again, tell the software what connection you are using so it can link to the hardware. The pre-programmed visuals will be sent to the lights and you will be good to go.

Siphon or Spout

To share images or videos from software programs that are not specific projection mapping tools, you need to link that program to the tool. You do this using a program called Syphon (for Mac users) or Spout (for PC). Both programs stream the images in real time.

In order to learn projection mapping or how to build light installations, you need some software, some basic equipment, and a great imagination. Follow Wayne’s courses, and then have a play. You’ll be creating beautiful pieces of illuminated art in no time.


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