Creative Technology lights up National Gallery for 200th anniversary extravaganza

Creative Technology lights up National Gallery for 200th anniversary extravaganza
Creative Technology has delivered a one-off projection mapping experience for the National Gallery, celebrating 200 years of the institution.

The project was led by Will Harkin, special project manager, Creative Technology, who was tasked with delivering a celebration of the gallery’s history through a complex projection mapping experience for audiences in the very heart of London.

Production company Invisible worked with Creative Technology and content house Visual Edge to create the experience, approaching Harkin and his team to deliver this unique projection-mapping experience. 

Speaking exclusively to Inavate, Harkin says: “I had already concluded a projection study for the National Gallery’s building, so we were able to go up there, present it and the National Gallery felt that a projection mapping experience would be the best way of telling the building’s story. Projection mapping is a great way to explore the building’s history up to the present day, with a celebration at the end.”

This project required a unique approach to deliver a stunning display within a short timeframe, relying on Panasonic projectors paired with emitters and cameras to deliver a flawless setup in record time.

Harkin clarifies: “We used Panasonic RQ35s. These are a real game changer for us in projection mapping, as it overperforms. It’s a very bright projector with great image and colour representation, you can carry them around easily, and this is our go-to projector for our mapping jobs.

“We used 16 projectors on this job, and it covers most of the building. We had problems erecting towers on the outside due to public access and ongoing building works in the area, which was challenging! It’s one of the busiest places in London.” 

For Creative Technology, this project represented the fastest line up that the company has undertaken, calibrating and setting up every single aspect in one night.

Harkin explains: “The biggest challenge is the time constraint – Usually we would have some breathing space, but we needed to get it nailed on the night, with a challenging location with the amount of people around you. We installed emitters onto the building; ideally, we’d have lots of depth and spread with emitters but that was hard to achieve due to access restrictions on site. We can now run simulations of the cameras and the emitters, which is very accurate. We had eight emitters on this project placed low, attached to the lower section of the building which gave us great simulation results.

“The system is calibrating projectors outside of the area of information as well where emitters are not present, which is very cool. We couldn’t do this before, and this is the latest tech that we are using! The simulations allow us to know whether the system would work with great accuracy. Buckingham Palace was the last of the great manual calibrations for us, and it took all night. When you’re using cameras, you can calibrate all of that with 20 seconds per projector. You can do that a lot quicker and to a level of precision that you can’t achieve by hand. You end up with an incredibly sharp and bright image! You get a crisper image and that you can do it much quicker.”

Creative Technology used VYV’s Photon’s structured light autocalibration feature, SLAC, to line up the projectors.

“The server, in daylight, can project reference patterns on buildings and through a series of long exposures, allowing the cameras to see patterns that you can’t see with the human eye. It can then gather data during daylight so that, once you get to sunset, you’ve got enough data to perform a calibration.

“This is something that has been developed for Disney theme parks. It runs in the background and hides these patterns in video, so that it can be constantly looking at these patterns and running calibrations. If a projector goes out of set tolerances, it will then apply a new calibration in real time. If you have an installation running for a year, it will constantly be recalibrating itself to keep itself sharp.”

The celebration took place from 10th to 11th May 2024 at the National Gallery in London, celebrating the past, present and future of the historic institution.

Harkin closes: “It's all about creating that iconic image that stands the test of time”, says Harkin, “In 100 years people will hopefully still be looking at that picture from that moment. We all know that this needed to be right, and that there are a lot of challenging with building work and public access, so we aimed to give them as much as possible.”

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