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Picture This
Using projection technology like Pablo Picasso used a paintbrush, eight exhibitors transform their booths into immersive masterpieces of light and drama. By Charles Pappas and Kelli Billstein
Photo: Pinpoint National Photography
Photo: Pinpoint National Photography
Photo: Pinpoint National Photography
Photo: Freeman
Photo: Freeman
Photo: Freeman
Photo: The Iona Group/Relentless Inc.
Photo: George P. Johnson Co.
Photo: Patrick Snee
Photo: Idea Man Studios
Photo: Idea Man Studios
Photo: Idea Man Studios
Photo: Line 8 Photography
early 30,000 years ago, a tribe of humans in ancient France huddled around flaming torches in a dark and dank cave to watch what archeologists think may have been the world's first use of projection. Clad in leather and fur, the Stone Age audience watched Paleolithic presenters wave flaming torches in front of rotating disks made of carved bone and painted with animal imagery. The spinning disks mixed with the flickering flames to project the illusion of fighting rhinos and marauding lions in the theater of stone.

Painted bones and burning torches may have been the latest in projection technology for the Flintstones, but now they've disappeared along with the mastodon. Replacing them, however, are tools and techniques as futuristic as "Total Recall" and as cool as the next iPhone: digital light processing, handheld projectors, holograms, and, perhaps the coolest of the cool, projection mapping, where specialized software and projectors can turn virtually any surface in the world, no matter how odd its shape or coarse its texture, into a stunning display surface.

At the recent 55th Grammy Awards, for example, Carrie Underwood appeared in a dress that at one moment appeared to be a butterfly's wing, next a bouquet of roses, and then a fireworks display. The dazzling special effects were created by the country-western singer's platinum-hued "projection dress." Made of satin, tulle, crinoline, and thousands of sparkling Swarovski crystals, the 4.5-foot-wide show-stopping outfit became a billowing movie screen on which a nearby digital projector displayed the kaleidoscopic images.

Ultramodern as it is, Underwood's cinematic couture accents something that hasn't changed from the Stone Age to the Silicon Era: the desire to transport your audience by using light to paint spellbinding sights. To show what we mean, EXHIBITOR rounded up eight companies that used projections to promote everything from corn to helicopters. The records of what they did may not be around 30,000 years from now, but they just might last in attendees' memories as if they had been carved in stone.
Firing on All Cylinders
With a whopping 80-percent share of the microprocessor market for desktop and notebook computers, Intel Corp.'s circle of influence extends through the technological world like the Roman Empire's did through the ancient one. So when the Santa Clara, CA-based semiconductor manufacturer wanted to spotlight its pivotal role in education, health care, and technology leadership at the 2012 World Congress of IT, the company created its own circles of influence – literally.

When attendees approached the Intel exhibit, they encountered a trio of 15-foot-high cylinders looming like a cathedral's bells over the 30-by-50-foot booth. While visitors gaped at the giant round structures that measured 15 feet in diameter, Intel staff invited them into the booth, where they queried them about their professional interests. Based on visitors' responses, staff led them to one of three custom-designed 46-inch Samsung Thermal Touch monitors positioned directly under the cylinders.

Each monitor was designed around a different aspect of Intel programs and technologies: "Ignite Possibility," "Inspire Innovation," and "Inside Our Technology." While the two outside cylinders spun slowly above them, booth visitors selected a video that subsequently appeared on-screen. Inside the curved column overhead, six VariLite 500D washes and nine VariLite 2500 spotlights illuminated a captivating sequence of still images corresponding to the video.

While similar to the other cylinders, the middle one didn't rotate because it had a slightly different function. When a video was selected on its matching console, a Barco HDX 18K projector – mounted on the cylinder and facing down at a 25-degree angle – displayed the video on the tube's interior surface as well. Immersive and absorbing, Intel's presentation ran circles around the competition.

Creativity Cubed
Like the song goes, it's not easy being Green – especially if you're in an industry that helps generate as much as 55 million tons of waste each year. That's part of the dilemma Panasonic Corp. of North America faced at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Committed to becoming the electronics industry's most eco-conscious company by its 100th anniversary in 2018, the Secaucus, NJ-headquartered firm wanted to show off its Green plumage.

Drawn to what the company dubbed the "Green Innovation Theater" by its array of fabric cubes and rectangles that resembled an abstract cityscape, attendees sat on a semi-circular assemblage of benches positioned in front of the presentation area. After a host hopped up on the 16-by-6-foot stage and quickly introduced the presentation's theme of creating a sustainable, but not diminished, quality of life, the lights darkened and five 12,000-lumen projectors began painting the boxy, fabric structures. As the presenter narrated the visual action, a medley of moving and static images that underscored the company's quartet of Green themes – "Creating energy," "Storing energy," "Saving energy" and "Managing energy" – flickered over the cubes and rectangles.

Once blank and inert, the various projection-mapped surfaces came alive in a rainbow of radiant shades, with vibrant azure skies and milky clouds lazing over futuristic cities thick with emerald-green leaves. The paradisiacal pictures morphed into imagery of the technologies that will make such eco-friendly dreams a reality. Images of solar fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, sun-powered raceways and bridges, and even videos of Panasonic's Green experimental vehicle tearing across the brutal Australian Outback spilled over the stark-white projection surfaces like cool water pouring over a river's banks. Finally, the 10-minute presentation depicted images representing the environmentally safe cities the company is helping to build. Using projection mapping to drape pictures of these Green communities over the rectangular forms on stage, Panasonic showed attendees the shape of things to come. What the Truck?
When Navistar Inc., a manufacturer of heavy trucks and diesel engines, wanted to demonstrate the many ways that its new Loadstar truck could service customers from a variety of industries, it turned to Freeman and Inspired Exhibits Inc. – and some projection prestidigitation.

At the 2012 Mid-America Trucking Show, the Lisle, IL-based company's 98,000-square-foot booth space included a theater that sat 1,100 people. Inside this arena, Navistar's new 22-foot-long, 18,000-pound Loadstar truck made its grand debut. Like a supersized Egyptian mummy on wheels, the truck was completely wrapped with a white matte material, and hoisted by a crane and positioned onstage in front of a curved, 92-foot-long, 15-foot-high screen. A total of 30 presentations were given over the course of the three-day trade show, and during each "reveal" booth visitors watched as the enshrouded truck functioned as a blank canvas onto which a total of 14 projectors mapped varying truck exteriors.

For example, the exterior of an aircraft refueler was projected onto the Loadstar while the cinema-sized screen behind the truck flashed images of a bustling airport. Backed with a pounding soundtrack inspired by the music of The White Stripes, the projections then shifted to map the exterior of a concrete pumper onto the enveloped Loadstar. For each and every new scenario, the images displayed on the background screen behind the Loadstar changed accordingly, showing the truck at various locales: industrial parks, airports, quarries, and more rough-and-ready environments. As such, one single Loadstar vehicle was reincarnated into many – thanks to a few transformative lighting tricks – giving trade show attendees priceless insight into the several possible uses for Navistar's newest vehicle. Corn Star
In the 19th and 20th centuries, exhibitors of food products displayed their wares by arranging them in fantastical forms, like salt sculptures of Lot's wife, butter busts of President Theodore Roosevelt, and fruit facsimiles of the Liberty Bell. Even corn, the grain domesticated centuries before the Great Pyramid was built, was fashioned into a medieval palace at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.

But just as corn has entered the new millennium with genetic modifications, so have the methods of presenting it and many other agrarian products. Just ask DuPont Pioneer. When the Johnston, IA-based producer of hybrid seed corn and soybeans wanted to show off its latest corn and soybean seed at the 2012 Farm Progress show, it turned to a technology as visionary as its own: lasers and holograms.

Farming out some of the work to Coppinger Exhibits Inc. and Trade Show Holograms, the company installed a freestanding, 8-by-10-foot, silver-colored kiosk branded with a DuPont Pioneer logo. Floating cloud-like above the kiosk, a laser-powered holographic projector measuring approximately 4-by-6 feet displayed two successive presentations, one about corn and the next on soybeans.

Looping continuously and running 30 seconds apiece, each section started with text touting the products' greater yields and resistance to the ages-old scourge of pests and disease. After a few moments, the words extolling the products spun and melted together, emerging finally as a floating seed. The seed then transformed into a mature corn or soybean plant, concluding with the harvested plants collected into a wagon or a storage bin. Accompanied by music and oral narration that reinforced the products' benefits, the holographic presentation seeded the ground for DuPont Pioneer to reap high-yield sales. Curtain Call
Looking to add a dose of stroboscopic drama to its 80-by-110-foot booth at CES, Motorola Mobility LLC and its experience-marketing agency, George P. Johnson Co., draped a multimedia curtain in a semicircle around an interactive product showcase and projected a barrage of images upon it. The 160-foot-long, 19-foot-tall curtain comprised 3,800 translucent tubes, through which attendees could pass.

From inside the semicircle, visitors watched an ever-changing light fair of videos, clips from Motorola TV commercials, brand messaging, and product animations as the footage flashed across the plastic tubes. The images were cast from seven different 22,000-lumen-powered projectors, which were suspended 22 feet in the air and 36 feet from the curtain. The nonstop motion of the multimedia installation created a large-scale spectacle that engulfed attendees even as it entranced them. The Great Wall
Hyundai Motor Co.'s 122,700-square-foot corporate pavilion at Expo 2012 in Yeosu, South Korea, was projection-mapped poetry in motion. As attendees entered the company's central theater on the pavilion's second floor, the room was cast mostly in dark shadows. While visitors found their seats on the floor inside the darkened space, overhead beacons followed them like fairy godmothers of fluorescence. With each step, the computer-controlled projections made it look as though attendees' footsteps were casting flickers of light as they ambled across the theater's dark floor. No one noticed for long, though, because soon a 148-by-24-foot gray-white wall inside the space came to life.

Comprising 3,375 Styrofoam bricks, each powered by a customized actuator and motor, the wall at first looked like a dormant slab of industrial cement. Then the partition began thrusting varying numbers of the individual 12-by-12-inch bricks in and out with the speed of a video on fast forward: Geometric shapes formed and reformed. Diamonds blurred into orbs that mutated into promotional messages that finally morphed into a profile view of Hyundai's latest model. Then, a profusion of poetic clips were projected onto the walls, creating conceptual scenes of Hyundai vehicles coursing across lakes of burning magma, swimming through oceans of surreally blue water, and rolling across picturesque plains. By the time the presentation ended and the amazed attendees left, Hyundai had become much more than just another brick in the wall. Launch Pad
At the annual Heli-Expo show, exhibitors compete to sell the latest in helicopters and whirlybird-related equipment. In 2012, for instance, 650-plus-companies displayed more than 60 helicopters to a throng of nearly 20,000 attendees, creating a dogfight in a highly combative, even cutthroat, market. For Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., that crowded runway of competitors meant the Hurst, TX-based aviation company wanted a smooth landing at the 2012 show for its new helicopter, the 525 Relentless.

Assisted by Global Experience Specialists Inc. (GES), the company constructed an 85-foot-diameter stage in the center of its massive 40,000-square-foot exhibit. Attendees – their curiosity stoked by a billowing 30-foot-tall backlit curtain shimmering like fabric flames – gathered around the circular stage. After an opening speech by Bell CEO John Garrison, the lustrous curtain was pulled back, revealing a striking, 24-by-30-foot white-painted wood surface.

At that exact moment, six projectors began creating the illusion of the 525 Relentless fighting fires and crime, then zooming over sweeping primeval canyons and wild timberlands. Moments later, the projections morphed the wooden structure into a realistic façade resembling actual hangar doors, which then seemed to slide apart with a flourish, revealing an 18,000-pound Relentless in bumblebee shades of yellow and black. Hailed by Flying Magazine as the "Most Spectacular Aviation Product Launch Ever," Bell Helicopter's 15-minute-long reveal left the estimated 2,000 attendees who viewed the presentation flying high. Catch the Wave
To pay homage to the technology that swims through computing devices and seamlessly links them, Intel's exhibit at CES took the form of an interactive wave. The company teamed up with design firms 2LK Design Ltd., Foghorn Creative, and The Taylor Group Inc. to construct a 208-foot-long structure that crested at 20.5 feet. Covered with fabric panels upon which a deluge of projected colors emitted from 129 theatrical light fixtures, the towering wave glimmered with a firefly-like glow and pulsed with images of creatures stranger than any Darwin could have devised.

Attendees interacted with the radiant and rippling wave by approaching an input station where they placed their palms – or any other similarly sized objects such as cellphones, wallets, or jewelry – to be scanned and then translated using Intel's breakneck-speed algorithms into what the company called a "life form." The freshly minted forms were then displayed via 27 video projectors. Rendered into 17.6-megapixel animations, the digitized figures appeared on the walls as amorphous creatures squirming and squiggling against each other like inhabitants of an extraterrestrial aquarium. With the rest of the exhibit focusing on the Intel processors that power objects such as smartphones, tablets, and ultrabooks, the massive wave put the magic into the machine, while the projected beings added life – or rather life forms – to the otherwise static space.E

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