2021. 11. 2.

Projection mapping in cities. A simple question: why?

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The projection mapping market is estimated to be worth USD 2.8 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 7.9 billion by 2026. Retail is playing an increasing role, but media and culture remain the main applications. Projections onto landmark buildings continue to be a major attraction.  What is driving the growth of projection mapping worldwide now and into the future? The reasons for using spectacular images and video projections in a public setting are numerous and varied.

Bringing a vibe to the city

Laurent Lhuillery is well placed to talk about the situation in France. He is an alderman for the French city of Chartres, home to one of the most successful recurring projection mapping events, Chartres en Lumières. He also consults on other projects through his company Light Event Consulting. He has seen increasing numbers of cities take the plunge. “The approach of the elected representatives is like, ‘We have a beautiful heritage. We see that mapping works in such-and-such a town. Why wouldn't it work for us?’” he says.

“It brings a vibe to the city. People discover a heritage. Visitors come, develop the tourist activity and obviously boost the local economy.” The projections create an extra reason for visitors to come, hopefully spend a night or at least eat at local restaurants. “In some cases, we’ve seen local tourist activity increase by a factor of five,” adds Lhuillery.

Following the success of Chartres, other towns have developed their own one-off projections into a permanent local attraction. Puy-en-Velay in Auvergne has now become a major tourist destination every year thanks to Puy de Lumières.

Lavish projections for special occasions

On the other side of the planet, China is also known for often spectacular public events. Major sporting events, anniversaries and special national occasions are accompanied by lavish projections. WB Show’s introduction to the mapping market, for instance, was a request to illuminate the Yu Garden in Shanghai, where presidents Emanuel Macron and Xi Jinping were due to meet. “This launched us into the world of Chinese public events,” says CEO Antoine Métais. “Afterwards, we did some additional commissions from Chinese authorities, including the lighting of the largest silos in Asia using Barco projectors.”

Audience looking at the projection mapping for the Pujiang lighting show on the 80,000-ton silo at Minsheng Road, Shanghai, China, with Barco UDX projectors

Given the growth of public projection mappings in China, WB Show chose to open an office and invest heavily in the country. “We’ve crossed it ten times and have a very good understanding of the local contexts,” he adds. “We know, for example, that they want to achieve high internal growth and night tourism will be extremely important in this respect.” Over the past years, cities like Beijing and Shanghai – and other cities worldwide - have been developing more night tourism activities to draw in young locals and encourage local tourists to stay overnight.  

Reinventing heritage

In North America, Moment Factory also sees domestic tourism as an opportunity to bring visibility to heritage sites. Their Aura project in the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal stands out. The award-winning show from 2017 enabled visitors to explore the building before watching a stunning projection.

More recently, they have been running “SuperReal”, a spectacular celebration of digital art, in a Cipriani venue just opposite the bull on Wall Street, New York. “The minute we walked into the venue we were like, ‘We need to do a show here’,” according to NYC office director and producer Jamie Reilly. “We wanted to bring this incredible architecture to life and push it into the 21st century.” By organizing a projection mapping show inside the venue, which is typically reserved for private events, the people of the city get the opportunity to access and rediscover their heritage in a totally new light. And the development of ticketed events inside these kinds of venues can also help finance their upkeep.

Using projection for regional development

Antoine Manier manages a French association, Rencontres Audiovisuelles, that started out promoting video art in the late nineties. This led them to organizing workshops, the only cinema theatre devoted entirely to short movies and a projection mapping festival (which has also grown into a touring event in the region of Lille).

Although the festival has a clear artistic mandate, it also fits into the context of a post-industrial northern France. “The idea is really to accompany the sector,” explains Manier. “We are supported by the European Union, the state and [France’s] Hauts de France region to do this and so accompany the artists. It's not just the festival. We carry out research work with the Polytechnic University of Hauts de France. There is training and residencies, there is an international side.”

“Projection mapping is an art form that really reaches all audiences,” he says. “With short films, we have a hard time attracting a really broad audience. With mapping, it happens straight away. We reach the general public as well as moviegoers.” Running a popular festival, meanwhile, provides a public profile for the other activities. At the end of the day, the region is seeing a great tourist attraction that also brings with it job opportunities for local inhabitants, the development of a local knowledge pool and the creation of an identity for the region.

The flexible attraction for different applications

Why are so many event organizers and venues choosing projection to tell their stories? There is no single answer to that question, as the applications are as diverse as the locations where they are held. From (inter)national tourism to regional development, projection mapping is proving to be flexible, powerful and a big attraction for audiences.

How do you go about creating such a project? Check our other blogs in this series where we'll look at the new business models that are emerging, the technological aspects and how to go about creating a project.


Click here for more about Barco’s projection mapping solutions.