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How Projection Mapping Is Changing the Ad World

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
Editor Staff
Updated Jan 23, 2023

Projection mapping is transforming buildings into works of art.

  • Projection mapping is an innovative marketing tool that transforms everyday objects into life-like pieces of art. Digital projections are used to create synchronized effects and animations.
  • Projection mapping costs an average of $10,000 per minute when used with 3D videos. The expense is higher after development and equipment fees are factored in.
  • Check with your legal team before arranging projection mapping events. You may need local and building permits to operate the medium.

Projection mapping transforms skyscrapers, sculptures or ordinary objects into glowing, kinetic art. Many shows using this digital projection method are promotional affairs. Target hired Chicago Projection Mapping, a production firm that specializes in this visual medium, to design a Halloween/Dia de los Muertos theme installation that played at the Nokia Plaza at the L.A. Live entertainment complex. It used 11 projectors that brought “Skeletown Square” to life through character animation and choreography, synchronized lighting effects, and an original musical score.

Another production company, WorldStage, gets a lot of work to do projection mapping on buildings to promote the property, or events or services related to it. They did such an assignment for the Ralph Lauren Men’s clothing store in New York City.

How projection mapping is used

Regular outdoor projection is merely projecting images onto something, such as the flat surface of a building. “Projection mapping” requires a preproduction process during which images are fitted onto a 3D graphic model (of the building). When these images are then projected onto the actual building, they “wrap” over the physical features of the building, appearing as if they are painted on – or part of – its structure.

Projection mapping is also used on a smaller scale in the advertising sector: for example, to project images of virtual clothing onto mannequins, or images onto apparel, shoes or automobiles to simulate changes in the color and texture of these things.

How projection mapping has evolved

When this novel way of projection first appeared in the mid-2000s, the focus was on its visual-art and live-music show aspects. Now production companies working in projection mapping incorporate cinema-style narratives. The show tells a story through animated visuals and music.

“Clients that use projection mapping as a cinematic storytelling experience tend to have longer audience engagement and wider social reach,” said Matthew Nix, director of development at Chicago Projection Mapping.

Costs of projection mapping

According to On Services, projection mapping costs an average of $10,000 for each minute of 3D video content. Additional fees apply, too, including development time and the cost of equipment rental. Projectors, servers and media storage devices are needed to provide projection mapping. To cut costs, 2D may be considered in lieu of 3D video.

The legality of projection mapping

Check your local laws before arranging projection mapping. Stage permits may be needed depending on where the projection mapping is used. Also, you have to confirm with a copyright lawyer that your design is not infringing on any copyrights. You must also have permission to use the lot or building where the projections are being displayed.

Misconceptions about projection mapping

Since the last decade, advances in digital projection and computer technologies have lowered the barriers to projection mapping. But a big misconception that production companies in this field encounter from clients is that it can be done cheaply. It’s not simply a matter of plugging a notebook into a digital projector and pointing it at a building.

For a promotional campaign centered on projection mapping, the event can involve several production departments: creative, equipment setup, legal, onsite crew, programming, sound, etc. If the client’s vision is very elaborate technically, costs can begin in the low six figures.

Since many projection mapping events can approach the complexity of a Hollywood movie or TV production, significant prep time is required. Nix of Chicago Projection Mapping recommends, “For clients wanting to incorporate projection mapping, realistic timelines and preliminary creative conversations make the biggest difference in delivering an awesome end product. Three to four months is a good minimum timeline.”

Another misconception many clients have is that existing or stock media can be used for projecting, to save on costs and time. Often, new content has to be created, or existing images or video need to be reworked so that it will fit onto the geometry of a building’s (or object’s) surface where it will be projected. Otherwise, the visual, animated effects won’t look as effectively “real.”

“Some clients have existing content that may require editorial changes, and some clients need new or different content created to fit the scope of the mapping project,” says Jim Richardson, director of business development and special projects at WorldStage. “While our focus is on the technical production, we partner with several content creators so the end client can experience a positive turnkey experience. Communication between the technical and the creative parties on these projects is critical.”

What’s next for projection mapping in advertising?

Interactivity likely will be the next stage in the evolution of projection mapping. A person would manipulate projected images in the environment of an installation by approaching them or touching the projected surfaces. This experience would be similar to virtual reality but without the person having to wear a headset. “There are new platforms that allow audiences to use sight, sound, touch and wearable tech to affect mapping in real time,” said Nix.

This suggests that projection mapping will become even more important as a high-tech tool for advertisers. Nix explains why. “We live in a media-saturated world, but we still need ways to cut through the noise and hold our audience’s attention. Projection mapping takes that attention back by creating huge and powerful visuals that demand to be seen.”

Image Credit: Alexander Tolstykh/Shutterstock
Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks Staff
Chad Brooks is a writer and editor with more than 20 years of media of experience. He has been with Business News Daily and for the past decade, having written and edited content focused specifically on small businesses and entrepreneurship. Chad spearheads coverage of small business communication services, including business phone systems, video conferencing services and conference call solutions. His work has appeared on The Huffington Post,,, Live Science, IT Tech News Daily, Tech News Daily, Security News Daily and Laptop Mag. Chad's first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.