Projection artist and digital art specialist Ross Ashton of London based The Projection Studio has created three new eye-catching son et lumière shows for Colchester Castle, UK, comprising a giant projection onto one of the Castle’s internal wall, accompanied by dynamic soundtracks created by sound artist Karen Monid.
Ashton was approached to produce the show following his work at Caerphilly and Norwich Castles plus numerous other heritage projects where his video projections have brought building histories to vibrant life in colourful, accessible, informative and highly entertaining narratives.
The brief was to produce a WOW factor and something memorable that would whet visitors’ appetites to discover more about the Castle. “We were really thrilled to be asked to work on the project,” explains Ashton, and as soon as the research began, they discovered plenty of interesting facts and fascinating information that could be woven into the three video pieces.
“The challenge was picking a selection of historical moments that would best translate to large format projection and also encapsulate the scope and breadth of the Castle’s story in a short timeframe,” he says.
The three AV segments are each three minutes long: The first explores the early origins of the building and its life as the Temple of Roman Emperor Claudius and its destruction during the Revolt of Boudicca; the second details the site being re-developed as a Norman fortress; and the third is an overview of the Castle’s activities and uses from the medieval era to the present day.
All the content was produced by The Projection Studio, with a lot of the original materials sourced from the Castle Museum’s own extensive archive. The 3D animations were created by Sang Gun Kim and the 2D work was completed by Thierry Noyer under Ashton’s art direction.
As well as storyboarding, scripting and producing the three stories, Ashton designed the projection system, which has a Panasonic PT-DW17K at the centre, fitted with a .6 short throw lens. The projector is attached to the ceiling via a bracket and projects an impressive image 15 metres wide by 10 metres tall.
The projector was chosen for its compact size and the fact that it utilises four bulbs - so if one fails, the show can continue until it is repaired – and also for its quality and cost-effectiveness.
The physical installation was completed by Sysco AV.
Karen Monid created a bespoke sound piece to accompany each different story, working extremely closely with Ashton’s team and the Castle staff, matching many effects and sound elements to the visuals happening onscreen.
The harmonious combination of visuals and sound really give the pieces an added resonance and impact, making the whole experience super-immersive.
For the first story, Monid included a recording of a Latin prayer from the period being recited by a scholar in ancient languages, adding some subtle musical enhancements of her own and the sounds of Roman Colchester.
The second Norman story features a soundscape of medieval construction, accompanying the images of the frenetic castle building period, including a scene where the actual wall utilised for the projection is erected brick by brick. Much of the sound detail for this piece was inspired by the pictorial action being created.
For the third show, the technique changes slightly becoming more abstract. Following a timeline, it journeys through high energy stylistic soundscapes to take the Castle from medieval to modern periods via a series of key episodes – including its years as a prison. The audio adds atmosphere – with battles, incarcerations, etc., and uses spoken text, some of which is derived from local archive documents. All of it is underscored with modern rhythms as a thread of continuity joining the whole piece together.
The challenges included making the sounds authentic to the period to give viewers an instant snapshot of what was happening. The installed sound system is highly directional further emphasising certain audio effects that jump right out of the projected picture from the exact spot that the action is taking place.
The son et lumières opened last week after the Castle had been closed for 15 months to allow a £4.2 million transformation to take place funded by various organisations and has already received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the public.