In November 2010, I was lucky to be part of a great team to work on a large projection mapping project in Mexico City. The project was a celebration of Mexico's independence, and was produced by a great french company called "Les Petits Francais". The project was at a massive scale, more than 50 projectors covering over a hundred meters of old, highly detailed buildings.
The easy thing to do on a project like this, would have been to just show a bunch of imagery on the buildings and call it a day.
However Christophe Bertiaux, the creative director on the content side, who had put together a stellar team (Base80, Valkaari, Francois Simerey, Ugo Casanello, among others), was adamant about one thing : we were not using the buildings as screens.
Christophe comes from an theater background, where people are constantly inventing tricks to create depth and magic on stage. What I learned from him beyond anything else was that every medium requires a certain type of approach. You don't design for projection mapping as you would for LED walls, or as you would for a 16:9 screen. In our case, the goal was to make use of the language of full 3d projection mapping, and never use the buildings as flat screens.
I have been somewhat spoiled by this rigorous approach to the idiosyncrasy of each medium. For example, I can't agree with anybody who would call the recent projection on the Empire State Building "projection mapping". It was straight up projection, and the Empire State Building was the equivalent of a very large flat screen.
The point I'm getting at is that in a lot of cases, agencies, creative producers and the whole class of "immersive media" practitioners tends to get obsessed by a technique, the new thing that's out there, and then use it in a rush without thinking of the true potential of that medium. This is of course true of tons of other creative fields, but in the case of the experiential world, it is important to point out, just because of the sheer amount of effort and money that gets wasted to produce mediocre installations.
We live in a fast paced environment, and we all have the best intentions of producing high quality work, and we all get briefs for projects that are due yesterday with budgets as low our kid's public school's cafeterias, but this should not prevent us from giving things a good think. And one guideline we should try to keep in mind at all times is point # 4 of this manifesto : avoid the "awe of implementation". Don't just do it because you can figure out how to connect a kinect to a touch screen to a lidar scanner to a motion tracker to a fingerprint sniffer to a generative bubble maker. Why are you using these technologies? What does it mean for your audience? What will they get out of it?
Now, do we have time to think everything through? Can we infuse all of our work with meaning and depth? Probably not, but if we can't, let's not pretend that work is our best work and let's definitely use the right nomenclature for it...
On the other hand, if you spend 15 minutes on a site like Creative Applications, you will find tons of projects that define themselves in somewhat obscure language, describing their objectives with words one would want to keep inside PHD dissertations about circuit board configurations and byzantine philosophy. Two sides of the same coin.
Somewhere in the middle there are beautiful, meaningful, inspiring projects by artists like Mathieu Briand, Golan Levin, Casey Reas and others. These artists use technology but not just for itself, they master it to decompose it into a thousand mirrors that they hold up to our face.
Let's hope that our ever growing experiential environment takes more cues from that level of art than it does from empty exercises in technology that warrant a 5 second "oh what' that", followed by a "where's the bar?".
PS : for those of you who are reading this, and who maybe wonder where you can learn about the "language" of each medium, try this blog, where Mr Sorkhabi explains some of the concepts of the experiential field with clarity and precision