Post image for Mapping MC Escher

Mapping MC Escher

by gabemott on September 29, 2012

I visited the Escher museum in The Hague last year, immersing myself in 3 floors of his drawings. His mathematical sense of space and impeccable creations of worlds that could only exist in a tessellated universe conjured in me the notion of a 4th dimension.MC Escher Holding Sphere

Following the successful ArT=Mixx “Abstract” at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center,the theme of the next ArT=Mixx was announced to a room of artists as “Black and White”, and I could swear, the producer of the show, gave me a smirk-full side glance. No Colorbox, no color. In comes, projection mapping[1].

Essentially, we had 6 weeks to create our first projection mapped performance: meaning (1). design and build a set and (2). learn new software. All in addition to producing artwork that told a story.

First the set: Inspired by the now famous Amon Toben ISAM performance, we built a set of “crystal towers”, 8 in total, all of varying sizes but sharing the essential shape of two front vertical walls at 90 degrees to eachother and a top surface facing towards the projector.

Crystal Towers

Second, the software: MC Escher arrived on my computer screen continuously as I googled for black and white imagery. To understand how thrilled I was to discover new dimensions of Escher’s work as I re-mapped his impossible objects and tesselated worlds  onto three dimensional crystal towers, it helps to understand how projection mapping is a completely new medium.

Madmapper simple example projection mapping

The first thing I did was buy a license to Madmapper.

The possibilities are limitless. At the facing corners, three surfaces converge to a single point, those corners suddenly become highly activated. This was different than a painting or video, this was sculpting. The artistic real estate value at the corners skyrocketed. Each polygon I stretched, I was amazed at how the converging points would change the entire piece based on a few pixel movements.

The ways to approach projection mapping are vast:

  • create the same image on all surfaces
  • cast one image across everything
  • put the entire source image on to all the left facing surfaces as you see the grid used in the picture
  • a true mathematician could tell you the exponential possibilities… (Surfaces * Angles * Prisms * Sources)
Escher's geometry seamed to map perfectly to the tower surfaces.

Escher's geometry seemed to map perfectly to the surfaces.

Mapping a flat surface onto three surfaces, you miss the fourth space. Note in the image at right, highlighted in blue, how the roof fits onto the tower. But then, in the yellow and magenta polygons, we are closing a missing gap. Despite quarter chunks missing from his original work, I was continually in awe at how well Escher’s drawings lined up on the projected surface; drawing squares that fit new surfaces created new ways of seeing his work.  I found that matching seems were easy to line up. It fit.
His artwork was made for this.
Escher projection mapped
Every Escher image I tried came out on the projection mapped surface as more and more intriguing.
But where does this go?
How could you improve upon Escher? You can’t.
Escher projection mapped Sphere reflection
It began to feel like a futile effort, while revealing, endless in its pursuit. The whole thing needed to come down in splintered pieces like the fractal it was.

Enter: Sparkles the Unicorn

While on Oahu with my parents, I came up with the idea to sketch the set with pencil and project that on the crystal towers. Then at the Honolulu Contemporary Museum I found in the gift shop a puzzle of tessellated Escher lizards. “These need to be animated, crawling up the towers,” I thought. The first video I shot was of my dad, acquiescing to absurd requests to crawl on the floor while I filmed. Somebody had to climb the towers.
When I got home to Camp Awesome, it was immediately apparent that it would be my neighbor, Sparkles the Unicorn.
Escher vs Sparkles the Unicorn
The destruction came later.
Escher destruction
As did the resurection.
MC Escher Resurection
The complete video is embedded above or is available on my vimeo page.
Thank you’s go out to every single person that helped create this event and those who attended. Mahalo.

“MC Escher vs. Sparkles the Unicorn” played at ArT=Mixx July 28th, 2012 hosted by the Maui Arts And Cultural Center.

Musical Score: Flashdrive
Produced by: Gabriel Mott

Sparkles: Scott Provonsha

Design and Build of “Crystal Towers”:
Jaisy Hanlon
Toben Lindell
Trevor Arnhiolt
Gabriel Mott

Josh Meredith
Reece Pottorff
Dana Fulton
Peter King

Art=Mixx Event Production:
Neida Bangerter
Trevor Arnholt
Toben Lindell
Rusty Conway
Gabriel Mott

After Effects
Cinema 4d
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop

Hardware: on projector 40,000 lumen Christie
Macbook Pro

And for the short video of the entire event, thank you Reece Pottorff:


[1] Projection Mapping is the practice of sculpting video content to match the surface geometry it’s being projected on. Imagine instead of a projection screen, a cube with surfaces  facing the projector at varying angles, with the computer calculating distortion within polygons to create stunning effects.

The essence of projection mapping is outlining the perspective that the projector has of the stage. In the screencapture at left, what you see is a simple model of 3 connected solids with flat surfaces (technically three interconnected  Irregular Rectangular Prisms). Every rectangle created on the left source image is broadcast in the correct proportions to any shaped polygon you create on the right image (representing the projected output).

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

glenda callahan October 9, 2012 at 2:53 am

The 3D projection mapping “process for creating tailor-made projections for specific objects” allows the focus of a video image to be specifically adapted in line with the various surface characteristics of a façade. In this process, the diverse material and constructional qualities of a façade are programmed into a mask on the computer screen and the specific images are then adapted to the various areas of this mask. The result is that when it is projected onto the actual façade, the image is perfectly adapted to the façade structure which, in turn, becomes the architectural stage set for a theatrical performance.


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