Tattoo Artist: Ross Ashton's Projections at Edinburgh Castle

Using Scotland’s famous Edinburgh Castle as his projection surface, Ross Ashton of The Projection Studio in London designed his fifth Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo, which celebrated its Diamond Jubilee for three weeks in August. More than 250,000 people attended this 60th anniversary of the world’s largest tattoo, a display of military bands from around the world, as well as gymnasts, singers, dancers, and the famous Scottish Massed Pipes and Drums.

“We start talking each year in March,” says Ashton, noting that retired Scottish Army general Euan Loudon now produces the event. “By then, they know what the acts are going to be, and we give them something relevant in terms of imagery.” Special celebrations in the past, such as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar or a tribute to Scottish poet Robert Burns, required more specific content.

This year, highlights included the visual support for bands from Jordan and New Zealand. “For the Jordanian Army, I created a montage of etchings of the archeological ruins of Petra to transform the castle into a piece of Jordanian architecture,” says Ashton. For the traditional Haka Maori war dance from New Zealand, he used images of a Maori mask surrounded by silver ferns, the country’s national plant.

Ashton created these two projection sequences in black and white, collaborating closely with lighting designer Gerry Mott, who added color to the images with his lighting palette. Ashton used Adobe Photoshop to create the 6"-square slides that comprised more than 22' of scrolling images used in four 6kW PIGI projectors, three of which covered the 328'-wide by 98'-high (100m x 30m) castle surface, while the fourth projector accented special, smaller areas. Karen Monid, Michael Barry, and Andy Murrell installed the projection system, and Monid programmed the projections using OnlyCue control software.

Why PIGI slides rather than video? “We have a very large area to cover, and for such large-scale images, PIGI provides a more cost-effective way of filling a very large surface and doing interesting effects. It’s a question of scale,” says Ashton, who notes that the audience was seated on three sides of an esplanade, and a lot of the projections were concentrated on a gatehouse that juts 100' out from the castle that everyone could see. “Not everyone had a direct view, so I tried to create images that did not disenfranchise those people sitting on the sides,” he adds.

“The Tattoo is always a visually exciting spectacular, broadcast around the world by the BBC,” notes Ashton. “My role is not to overwhelm the spectacle but to support it. This year, our army is in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and part of the message was that these troops still need our support.”

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