Video mapping is an art as well as a science, especially when it comes to mega projects on the scale of the opening ceremonies for this winter’s Olympic games in PyeongChang, South Korea. This massive task was accomplished by the team from ETC Audiovsuel led by Patrice Bouqueniaux, video director and veteran of several such games.
ETC Audiovisuel was contracted by Panasonic for this project, as Panasonic is a top sponsor for the Olympics, and provides the projector system used for the opening and closing ceremonies. The general producer of the ceremonies, overseeing the artistic and creative teams, is CHEIL, Samsung’s marketing agency, and of course, a crew of many, many people is required to realize such a grand event.
Bouqueniaux says this event reveals an evolution in mapping styles, “Less realistic and more abstract, closer to real-time media generating. Let’s say a more modern style, less illustrative. To do this, we need to change the way we think about our ‘instrument,’ the video projection system. As when you create a new musical instrument, you offer new possibilities for music creator, it’s the same for the video setup,” he says.
“To summarize our way of thinking, let’s start with a bit of history,” Bouqueniaux continues. “Sochi was two towers of projectors, each one mapping the whole stage. Rio was four projector towers with the same concept—each one able to create a full image. PyeongChang is five towers. This installation is driven by the shape of the venue, a pentagon, and also to offer five directions of ‘light,’ as video is not only dynamic images, it’s also light, and an image is only the memory of light.”
To offer a maximum of flexibility in PyeongChang, the ETC Audiovisuel team was able to manage the light level output of each tower individually, as if you were playing with light. “That is, I think, a new era in video projection mapping far beyond the only illustrative way. Also as the projection was mixed with AR (Augmented Reality), the geometrical mapping style creates a very nice mix between a virtual world and the real world,” explains Bouqueniaux.
To achieve this, there are two models of Panasonic projectors for the ceremonies: 65 PT-RZ31K/RQ32K high-brightness compact 30,000-lumen projectors, used with AV-HS6000 Series Broadcast Grade 2ME Live Switchers2, plus 10 PT-RQ32K 4K HD projectors for special objects projected during the show. The media servers are ETC Audiovisuel’s OnlyView version 6, a full 3D system, which was also used for Sochi and Rio.
This is the first time a show like this was done by ETC Audiovisuel fully in 3D, in order to automatically manage the video mapping in movement, on all of the parts of the set, including stage lifts and the scenic bell element. “In the past, we usually only had a few elements in 3D,” says Bouqueniaux. “This time it was all done in 3D—we imported all the scenic elements in 3D into the media servers with automatic mapping for the elements so that the content remains perfectly and dynamically aligned with the objects in realtime.”
Bouqueniaux has been on site in Korea since December 26, 2017 and will remain until March 22, 2018, after the closing ceremonies for the Paralympic Games. His crew of 22 faced some challenges, such as working in an outdoor venue, in one of the coldest spots in Korea, where they could only rehearse at night, as during the day, they can’t see the video, and temperatures dropped to below zero degrees Fahrenheit at times.
“It was a human challenge, as well as for the video gear,” Bouqueniaux points out. “We have projection booths in containers with heating, but also need ventilation to cool the projectors when they were on, and had to make sure things weren’t ever frozen. Luckily, it worked out. There was no failure in the Panasonic gear.”
To get the best possible graphic presentation, the images need to be dynamic and very clear. “We put holes in the glass of the projection booths to make sure the image was not seen through the layer of glass,” explains Bouqueniaux. “The holes created wind, so we had shutters, but the light of the projectors arrived directly on the ground from the projectors on the five towers, which required a very precise calibration of less than a centimeter.”
In addition, every 20 pixels had a different size, as they moved from the center of the field toward the edges. “There are all different size pixels to create the overall image,” Bouqueniaux points out. “When the alignment is correct, it works very well. Fifteen degree angles were not considered acceptable 10 years ago. Everything is more precise today with the advanced projectors.”
Another innovation this year: short videos shown before the various segments of the show. “We send them to the Olympic Broadcasting System in 4K, and to screens in the stadium,” adds Bouqueniaux. ”It’s complicated for the operator to switch back and forth manually from the video subjects to the live coverage, so there is a media timeline in the media server, for automatic remote control of the Panasonic switcher from the videos to the live coverage.”
Augmented Reality (AR) was also in play for this show, something already used in the handover ceremony to Japan in Rio. “Part of the show was in augmented reality, which entails adding objects computer graphics with a camera angle like that in reality, or adding objects to a broadcast that was filmed live,” says Bouqueniaux.
“This time, there are several moments during the show, such as when stars were creating constellations, a cupola was added as if the dome was the top of the sky in augmented reality,” says Bouqueniaux, pointing out that the AR can only be seen by viewers watching the broadcast or on screens in the stadium, not in the live show. “AR is a new technology that will develop more and more. It’s an extra layer added for the television viewers, and can now perfectly match the same camera angle as the live show.”