If Oculus Rift's virtual reality reigns supreme as the most mind-melting of today's visual-based technologies, the surreal, immersive art of rearranging surfaces beyond recognition known as projection mapping must run a close second. Perhaps they're even neck and neck.
But projection mapping remains limited. Much like film, it requires lots of projected light and a sufficiently dark surrounding atmosphere, to say nothing of the cost of its operating systems, especially high resolution projectors.
Then last month, we were introduced to Omote. With its facial-based projection mapping, Omote signals the maturation of the technique by opening up a new creative realm, one that effectively downscales the technologies behind building-sized projection mapping to the human face. Now, like fellow projection mapping startup Lumenous, Paris-based Digital Essence is hoping to bring the trippy tech to the masses with HeavyM Software, a ready-to-use projection mapping tool.
Currently in beta, HeavyM is set for an official release sometime within the month, with Digital Essence expressing the grand ambition of fashioning it into the "world's largest projection mapping community for DJs, VJs, geeks, and amateurs."
If all goes as planned, HeavyM's interactivity should set it apart from other projection mapping software. In initial version, HeavyM users could only use the synchronization effect with music, as it was the easiest feature to implement. But, for professional projects, users will be able to synchronize HeavyM with motion capture technology and live tweets, with more native interactive plugins coming in the future.
Founded a few months ago by engineers Etienne Mathé, Arnaud Berthonneau, and Romain Da Costa, Digital Essence specializes in interactive projection mapping for professional customers. After taking on several mapping performances for, as Berthonneau described it, corporate events and live concerts, the trio really wanted to take the technology out of the big event arena, and place it in the hands of average users.
"Our vision is to democratize the technology and put mapping in locations and places where it's normally not possible," Berthonneau said. "So we like to do mapping on small volumes because its easy to integrate it in an event. In order to go further in the democratization, we decided to launch a ready-to-use mapping software and called it HeavyM."
Berthonneau said the creation of HeavyM was also a response to the current projection mapping process, which isn't exactly streamlined or easy. Inspirations included the mapping tool Madmapper and the creative group 1024 Architecture, perhaps best known for mesmerizing projection mapping-based architectural installations.
But, for amateur motion or graphic designers, projection mapping can be difficult. That's because it requires both technical and artistic skill. A user first has to become proficient with software like Adobe Photoshop or After Effects, to create loops and video, and then store the clips in a complex mapping software like Madmapper, which allows users to draw the area of projection.
Such software is powerful, but it might also require course work, and must be paired with software like Modul8, for video mixing and compositing, or Resolume, for real-time VJing. Digital Essence wanted to avoid this with HeavyM, and as such, HeavyM is limited in how users can map areas for projection. But effects and loops are nevertheless at their fingertips.
Basically, you can drag, drop, or click on to add to the projection mapping zone you want to define. You can also synchronize the visuals with music, since all loops and effects in HeavyM are sound reactive.
Users can import videos straight into HeavyM, but only in the .mov format at the moment. Any projector with VGA (Video Graphics Array) or HDMI connectors will work with Heavy M. From there, users can map video onto square, triangle, and basic point-to-point surfaces.
If the surface is irregularly shaped, you can use the point-to-point button. It's currently a very basic option, though, so it might not be be attractive to more professional motion designers working with projection mapping.
Digital Essence is still fine tuning HeavyM's beta, but they noted that its current iteration favors clickable symbols over text. The idea with the symbol-based user interface, according to Berthonneau, is that a child can use the simplest of HeavyM functions.
While all of this sounds pretty awesome, Berthonneau said that HeavyM has a few limitations. Currently, the software is limited in terms of video management (clip organization, and the like) and clip manipulation. Users may also encounter limitations if their project demands a very fine level cutting area. But I'm told future HeavyM releases should take care of these issues.
It's a tall order to make any ready-to-use projection mapping tool the backdrop to the world's largest projection mapping community. But Digital Essence just might have a decent shot, considering no other startup is doing anything remotely similar. This type of community would be a great resource for both established projection mappers, and those looking to make their mark in the field.
Beyond mere community, the real goal here is to create a marketplace where users and contributors can meet, post videos, loops, and modules, and make them available either for free or for sale.
"We believe that a collaborative model can be very interesting," Berthonneau said. "If we provide a basic version that is powerful and interesting for people, we think they may become involved in its development and improvement."
Whether the base tool for that community is HeavyM remains to be seen. It very well could be. But for now? The writing just isn't yet on the proverbial wall.