PMC Interview Series: URBANSCREEN – Bremen, Germany

UrbanScreen Projection Mapping ProjectileObjects
PMC Interview Series: URBANSCREEN – Bremen, Germany

There are many great examples of projection mapping spread across this website in this featured series we are going to focus on some of the creators of those works.  The first group to get back to us is URBANSCREEN an artist collective and creative company based in Bremen, Germany. We reached out with a questionnaire to better understand their process when it comes to projection mapping. Comment with questions that you would like to ask and check back for more featured articles like this in the near future.

We ended up with a setup of 21 interconnected projectors and more than 20.000m2 projection surface.

Q: What is URBANSCREEN and how did it all start?

URBANSCREEN is an artist collective and creative company based in Bremen, Germany. Since 2005, we’ve been working in an interdisciplinary team of architects, media artists, musicians, cultural scholars and technical specialists from various fields – people who came together because they found themselves sharing ideas and visions for art projects. Together, we develop site-specific media installations for public spaces, including architectural projections, augmented sculptures, media façade concepts and virtual theatre.

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Q: Walk me through your creative process, from the moment the client contacts you to the actual show.

The projects we’ve been working on have all developed differently – sometimes we receive an inquiry from a client for a specific building or event, sometimes we discover a fascinating architecture ourselves and try to find ways to get our hands on it. The most important part – aside from sourcing obviously – is the moment when we get in touch with a space for the first time. Since our work is highly site-specific, our perception and understanding of a place is the main trigger for the creative process. We try to experience every architecture, object or space as an individual character, we ask ourselves: If this house could talk, what would it say? Once we start a production, we organize our collaborative work in alternating phases of free exploration and well-structured constriction. Naturally, our work is always a mixture of creative and technological challenges – part of it is to invent solutions for supposedly impossible tasks. Luckily, we’ve got a great network of ingeniously nerdy engineers and technicians who support us all the way.

Q: How much does do these experiences cost?

You can’t calculate one standard budget, since all productions come with their individual requirements. But of course our projects aren’t cheap. The technical setup alone can be very expensive. Moreover, we work in a consistent collective of ten people that make their living with art – this is why we can’t work without reasonable fees, even if we’d sometimes love to support small projects, like independent art festivals for example.

Q: What tools do you use?

Of course there’s a great deal of software involved – 3D Studio Max, After Effects, Photoshop etc. But we also try to work with haptic elements whenever possible. For most of our projects, we build small scale models to gain a better preview possibility. A computer screen sometimes just can’t deliver the impression you need to have, especially when we deal with complex architectures. One could say that our studio is a combination of a garage, a computer room and a playground.

Q: What is the hardest part of the process?

One important and still unpleasant part of this process is to prepare yourself to let go of beloved ideas and visions in order to crystallize the conceptual and aesthetic essence of a piece.

Q: For outdoor events what issues have come up and how did you solve them?

Weather, temperature and vandalism are some issues occurring in the framework of outdoor installations. To protect the technical components, we use customized outdoor housings with integrated climate control. This can be an expensive item in the technical budget, but is very important for sure.

Q. In your opinion what is the next big thing in projection mapping, show design, creative, etc.?

Everything related to kinetics is definitely a big issue. For example, moving head projectors hold an enormous potential for new forms of virtual storytelling and spatial installations. We ourselves engaged in a research project called „Searchlight“ (http://www.urbanscreen.com/searchlight/ ) a few years ago.

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SEARCHLIGHT | moving head projector | research study from URBANSCREEN on Vimeo.

The technologies are developing rapidly and the possibilities in this field become more and more exciting. For object related projection mapping, robotics seem to be the next big thing. People do crazy, technically highly sophisticated stuff with moving sculptures or screens and motion tracking.

Q: Do you have internal R&D?

Yes, we always try to find time for research and exploration projects. Sometimes, one of our team members comes up with an idea and invites the others to play around with it. For example, a few years ago, we initiated an internal contest for mappings on self-built objects. In this process, we developed the basis for our augmented sculptures – hybrid media installations composed of two dimensions: a physical object and a custom fit virtual guise. The research project climaxed with an exhibition we held our studio. Today, augmented sculptures are a crucial part of our portfolio. And it all started just for the fun of it.

Q. What was your favorite project?

There are so many great projects we realized, you just can’t pick one favorite. The most interesting ones are always those where you have to develop whole new ways of creative thinking. For example, our permanent installation „320° Licht“ in the Gasometer has been a major challenge and therefore incredibly exciting. There was this enormous vast space and we were confronted with the possibility to fill it with our art – fantastic and a bit scary at the same time. In the beginning, we weren’t even sure if the installation would be possible at all. We ended up with a setup of 21 interconnected projectors and more than 20.000m2 projection surface. An immersive experience, not only for the visitors, but also for us, every time we enter the space again.

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320° LICHT | SPATIAL EXPERIENCE from URBANSCREEN on Vimeo.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to do for a project?

There were a lot of weird inquiries, often related to advertising. It’s a common phenomenon that people want a video mapping because they hope to have a huge show, a major event. Sometimes, these wishes seem to lack a connection to the product or enterprise advertised for. These ideas can become unintentionally funny at times. In those cases, we try to encourage the people to rethink their campaigns. Some of the craziest ideas have been developed by ourselves though. Some years back for example, we made a production with leaf-cutter ants (http://www.urbanscreen.com/insektion/). We built a small scale facade model out of leaves and the let these little destroyers deconstruct it. A very funny and fascinating project – but there were moments where we couldn’t help but ask ourselves „Oh man – what are we doing here“?

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Insektion | facade projection from URBANSCREEN on Vimeo.

ProjectileObjects
Cornelius is an award winning video director and VJ, using projection mapping, cinematography & motion graphics to expand the human visual experience. His VJ name and company is ProjectileObjects. (projectileobjects.com | @Pro_Objects)