Motion-tracking projector puts a laser show on moving faces

The new mapping system is fast enough to keep up with dance duo AyaBambi.

Updated ·2 min read
Prosthetic Knowledge

The combination of face-mapping and video projections makes for a trippy experience. The technology transforms the human face into a canvas for digital art. When a bright red lightning bolt appeared on Lady Gaga's face during her David Bowie tribute at the Grammys last year, the projection mapping technique went from niche studios to a mainstream audience. Now, the studio behind that performance has dropped a visual experiment called Inori to demonstrate the pace and precision of a new system.

Nobumichi Asai, creative director of a Japanese visual studio called WOW, is a new media artist who is known for experimenting with face-mapping and video projections. A couple of years ago, he created Omote and projected virtual makeup onto a model's face. As the video gained momentum on the internet, he was brought in to repeat the task for Lady Gaga's David Bowie tribute. What made the performance unique was that instead of using the projection system in a controlled studio environment, Gaga's face was mapped and transformed live in front of a massive audience for the first time last year.

To create Inori (which literally translates to "prayer" in Japanese), Asai's studio worked with TOKYO, an award-winning production company in Japan. The collaborators brought in a special high speed projector built by Ishikawa Wantanbe laboratory at the University of Tokyo to create a system that could keep up with a fast-paced dance performance.

To highlight the speed and artistic capabilities of the projection system, the collaborators roped in AyaBambi, a renowned Japanese dance duo that toured with Madonna and posed for Alexander Wang. The technical crew combined the performance of the projector, which runs at 1,000 frames per second, with 3D mapping for depth measurement and 2D tracking that has less than ten milliseconds delay to match the face and hand movements of AyaBambi's performance.

While conventional projection mapping systems struggle to keep up with basic movements, the system built for Inori not only keeps up with complex dance movements but also opens up a world of visual possibilities for performance art.