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Projection Mapping and the Law: What Advertisers Should Know

Sean Peek
Sean Peek
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 01, 2022

Projection mapping is a great form of advertising. However, it's important to understand the associated legal issues.


Projection mapping can be an impressive, high-impact advertising technique. By turning common objects like buildings and stages into interactive displays, consumers can be immersed in an ad, which definitely makes a memorable impression.

This proposition isn’t cheap, so before hiring an agency that specializes in projection mapping, or before your next event, it’s important to understand what goes into planning this type of ad as well as some of the legal issues. 

What is projection mapping?

Projection mapping is a technological feature that projects video that represents your brand onto surfaces. This allows everyday objects of varying shapes and textures (including people) to act as projection screens, creating immersive visuals and effects. Some popular projection mapping effects are optical illusions, creating the appearance of movement on a static object and enhancing the target mood of an environment. There is no limit to which structures or materials can be used as canvases, as long as the software used to develop projections can account for lighting and texture. This means projections can be almost any size and displayed just about anywhere, giving advertisers a large range of flexibility for ad storytelling.  

How does projection mapping work?

Projection mapping uses software to spatially map media onto a three-dimensional object. The specifics of the projection space, like its color, lighting and texture, affect the adjustments and calculations the software will use to form optimal media. So it’s important to know exactly where you intend to project your ad before working on content. Even a wall is 3D, with fine textures and shadows that need to be considered.  

Once the space and content have been determined, projection mapping software’s preproduction process fits media onto a 3D model of the area where it will be projected, recreating the way the projection will function with a real object. This allows production teams to test the projection and make modifications or adjustments before presenting it to a real audience.

FYIFYI: The projection mapping production process can take eight to 14 weeks. Consider this in your planning.

Types of projection mapping

  • Planar projection mapping: This is the most basic kind of projection mapping: projecting media onto a flat surface. Extra dimensions can be added by angling the projection. 
  • Spherical projection mapping: This is a projection within a sphere in all directions, 360 degrees, involving multiple projectors and sophisticated video output to make all parts of the projection look seamless.
  • Panoramic projection mapping: This is similar to spherical projection mapping but doesn’t use a whole sphere. This is usually used to create a horizontal, wide-screen projection.
  • Vying: This is a projection method that manipulates video and images in synchronization with something else, like music.
  • Interactive projection mapping: This complex method takes light and motion capture feedback from objects and participants to change the projection in real time.

Examples of projection mapping

Projection mapping has amazing capabilities. Here are some noteworthy examples of how organizations have used it.

  • Sydney Opera House: This projection took advantage of the building’s unique architecture. By projecting on its exterior, the facade projection was created.  
  • England’s rugby team: This projection, part of the Wear the Rose campaign, was a beautiful encouragement for fans to pledge their support to the team.

  • Live tattoo video mapping: Using human bodies as canvases, this projection mapping created the illusion of ink forming into tattoos right before the audience’s eyes.  

Did you know?Did you know? Projection mapping is frequently used in Disney theme parks. The memorable “Disney magic” is a blend of technology and creative ideas.

Cost of projection mapping

The costs of projection mapping tend to vary based on the size of the projection space and the quality and features of the media content. According to ON Services, the average cost of a mapping projection is $10,000 per minute. A lower-end or smaller-scale projection may cost $150,000, but larger or more intricate projections can cost over $1 million. While this may sound expensive, keep in mind that these projections are often effective marketing efforts solicited by major organizations and require a large production team to create.

Consider these factors when estimating the costs of projection mapping for your business.

  • Surface area: One of the top factors in the price of projection mapping is the surface you choose to project on. Larger surfaces will require more equipment, which means a bigger budget. Surface area also plays into space usage costs. If you are using a large public or private building, you may need to pay for the cost of using the structure as well as the permits required to do these projections in public spaces.
  • Size and type of projection: Projections are not all created equal. The type, size and complexities of a projection will vary.
  • 2D or 3D: You must choose a 2D or 3D projection. While 3D is often the first choice, thanks to its highly realistic properties, 2D is a great option to save some money. This is because 2D involves less rendering, which makes the process less expensive.
  • Return on investment: No matter how much you are paying for your projection map, you should consider the ROI. For instance, if you are using your projection map at an event that will allow you to acquire lots of new customers, the ROI may be worth the marketing costs. While this is not a way to lower initial expenses, the projection map could eventually pay for itself. 

What to consider before you invest in projection mapping

Permission from owners

The first required permission for your projection mapping ad must come from the owner of the building or structure you intend to use as a projection space. You may also have to get permission from neighboring properties if the projection equipment will be set up there.

Permits from the local government

Because projection mapping is still a novel way to display visual media in a public space, you should be prepared for local governments not to be familiar with it. Projection mapping could legally be considered cosmetic lighting, OOH (out-of-home) signage or a live event that requires a stage permit. The local government may not allow such productions outdoors at all.

“Municipalities … love to hold on to their idiosyncrasies, and certainly, each jurisdiction will use its own terminology and categories,” said Brian Wassom, a practicing attorney who focuses on copyright and trademark law. “Understanding the terminology and subtleties of each jurisdiction’s ordinances, and how those subtleties can be used to one’s advantage, is where good lawyering comes in.” 

Public safety

The unique visual aspects of projection mapping raise hypothetical questions about how your production could have an unintended negative effect on the public.

Will making a building appear as if it’s crumbling at night, for example, stun passersby and cause them to become terrified and perhaps even injure themselves? Could automobile drivers or cyclists seeing your event’s imagery become distracted and cause an accident? Could the lights from the projectors impair the vision of those inside or around the building?

Copyrights

You and the production company need to be aware of any possible copyright issues with a building or public structure onto which you plan to project your image. Creating a 3D graphic model of the building or physical subject in question without the permission of its owner, or without a license to do so, could be considered infringement.

Should you do guerilla-style projection mapping?

Using guerilla tactics to display an ad with projection mapping should be considered carefully. “Risk is inherent in any guerilla marketing campaign,” Wassom said. “It’s all about realistically ascertaining that risk ahead of time so as to accurately judge whether the risk is acceptable.” 

After all, you don’t want your projection mapping efforts dismantled. 

“Any company that offers unpermitted or ‘guerrilla’ mapping services is likely not following local code, which means without legal protection,” said Matthew Nix, director of development at Chicago Projection Labs. “It is possible to have the event shut down and equipment confiscated at any moment.”

Bottom LineBottom line: You should always research local codes and permissions before putting your projection mapping into production. Legal consequences or negative safety perceptions can harm your marketing efforts.

Conclusion

You should work with a production company that has experience executing projection mapping events and securing the necessary permits and permissions. The initial burden may appear to be on the production company, but because both parties (you as the advertiser and the production company as the vendor) can be liable, it’s imperative that both sides understand what is expected.

“Define precisely what is to be done: where, when, how and by whom,” Wassom said. “The advertiser should expect to bear the risk of what it requests, but defining the engagement precisely allows the advertiser to be very direct in requiring the vendor to bear the risk of anything falling outside those parameters.”

Business.com editorial staff contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: Sharon Wildie / Shutterstock
Sean Peek
Sean Peek
business.com Contributing Writer
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.