Projection mapping has become a phenomenon in creative industries such as advertising. However, project mapping is not a new concept and dates back longer than you may think.
If you’ve ever tried searching for “projection mapping,” you’ll find that all recent information is still pretty new (around two to three years old) and that is because project mapping used to be referred to as “Spatial Augmented Reality.”
The first documented instance of projection on a dimensional surface was in 1969 at the unveiling of the Haunted Mansion ride in Disneyland. The ride had a number of fascinating optical illusions, which included a disembodied head, performing busts, and Madame Leota.
The next project mapping event occurred in 1980, with the mesmerizing film installation, Displacements, by artist Michael Naimark. In the film installation, an American-inspired living room was installed in an exhibition place. Michael Naimark filmed three performers from a camera in the centre of the room, slowly rotating it. After filming was complete, the room and it’s contents were painted white, and a projector replaced the camera, projecting the images in the same exact location. This resulted in everything looking 3-dimensional, except the actors, who appeared ghostlike during the production of the film.
Disney was not only one of the first users of projection mapping, but they also have the earliest documented patent, Apparatus and Method for Projection Upon a Three-Dimensional Object, in the realm. The patent describes the method for digitally painting an image on a three-dimensional object.
Projection mapping became popular when it started being used in academia. It all began with The Office of the Future, which envisioned an office where projectors would be able to project onto any surface. Instead of always working from a boxed, unimaginative computer monitor, we would be able to experience and work with augmented realities, right at our desks. We would be able to video-chat with life-sized projections of our co-workers or business partners. This would provide a new, innovative way to create and solve problems.
While known for many achievements, such as inventing the Minority Report Interface, and being Chief Scientist of Oblong Industries Inc, John Underkoffler made an incredible contribution to projection mapping. In 1999, John Underkoffler introduced the I/O Bulb (Input/Output), which was a projector with a camera.
Moveable projectors were explored further with the introduction of smart-projectors, that were aware of their position, through a wide range of the sensors. They were particularly useful in warehouse inventory and maintenance.
Between 2005-2006, Oliver Bimber, a German computer scientist, explored projection mapping onto paintings.