(L to R) Pedro and Emma Lopez
Emma Lopez and her husband, Pedro, co-founded Ava Animation & Visual Arts, based in Mexico, in 2010, and by 2011, were hired by Adaimy Studios and 3D Mapping Factory to work on animations for the façade of Armenia Opera House.
Flor Tabasco Stage Design in 2015
“In 2011, you couldn’t find examples of projection mapping,” says Lopez. “There were just a few, and we had to figure out how to project onto this round building. Even now, there are few books and resources on projection mapping techniques. We had to learn by trial and error and merge the animation with the technical. In order to make it 3D and still have these optical illusions, we had to imagine the round building as a roll, and we had to unroll or unwrap it to make a flat surface for the animation, and then wrap it again. We had no idea if it was going to work,” she quips. “After tons of trial and error, we did it, and the results were amazing.”
Amsterdam Light Festival, 2015; courtesy of Ava Animation
Since then, Ava Animation has specialized in creative applications for projection mapping techniques around the around, including Canada, Mexico, U.S.A., Lebanon, Armenia, U.A.E, Netherlands, Japan, Russia, Romania, Switzerland, Spain, and Chile. Their award-winning designs have collected various recognitions: third place at Moscow’s 2014 Circle of Light Festival 2014; first place at the 2015 Amsterdam Light Festival; second place at the 2016 Kyoto Okazaki Mapping Festival in Japan; second place at the 2017 Latin American Design Awards in Perú; and second place at the 2018 One Minute Projection Mapping Competition in Nagasaki, Japan.
Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, Romania; courtesy of Ava Animation
Ava Animation worked on their first permanent installation in 2016. “It was a $1 million USD project funded by the federal government in Mexico,” says Lopez. The team specified six projectors and two media servers. Since it was a complex, asymmetrical building, the team spent three to four months planning and building the structures. “The initial projection was inspired by Mexican folklore to make different parts of Mexico stand out. We did research on the most memorable things in Mexico such as a certain kind of embroidery, pottery, or handcraft that people would instantly recognize and connect with. We wanted the audience to see a part of themselves.”
Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 2015; courtesy of Ava Animation
The installation was not only an artistic success, but an economic success. “It opened the eyes of the tourism department to see how projection and art could positively impact the economy of the area,” Lopez says. “The whole time, the hotels were booked and the restaurants were full with people waiting for the projection. You would see the vendors on the street thanking you for doing the projection, and there were some even some taking pictures of the project and putting them on mugs and making their own merchandise for the event. People really started to make it their own. It's changed the whole dynamics.” Three years later, the installation has seen seven different versions of content. “This is the one of the most rewarding experiences that we have had,” she adds.
Burj Khalifa in 2018; courtesy of Ava Animation
Another memorable moment was when the studio lit up Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, in March of 2018. “It was an amazing opportunity. The building is lined with LED screen with 70 kilometers of cable going across,” she explains about the challenging project. “But it was still a great experience because you could see people on social media sharing your work on the tallest building in the world. It was quite unbelievable.”
Yuri no Sato Flower Park; courtesy of Ava Animation
However, the projects that Lopez and her husband enjoy the most are the ones that they do for children. Ava has collaborated with the Projection Mapping Association of Japan on five permanent installations across the country. “Each project wanted the same thing as in Mexico,” explains Lopez. “They wanted to show what was most important or most characteristic in the area and showcase it through projection and to draw people in.” One of her favorites is Yuri no Sato Park in Fukui, Japan. “The flower park has 10,000 different species of lilies, so we had to research different kinds of lilies and how best to portray them. It's fun because we test the projections with our own kids as an audience, so if they like them, we think it is going to be a success, and it was!”
Gallier Hall in New Orleans; courtesy of Ava Animation
As creative director and projection designer at Ava Animation, Lopez is skilled in her craft, and yet, she receives pushback from the male-oriented industry. “When we send work to festivals under my husband’s name, we always get approved,” she says. “But when we submit under my name, they ask me to prove my skills and show a portfolio, or they might say it is too colorful or flowery. It’s so strange because it is the same thing, right? I think sometimes they find it hard to believe you actually know what you know and what to do. It is something that is there against women in the industry.”
Niigata History Museum in Japan; courtesy of Ava Animation
Lopez has important words of advice for any aspiring women in the industry: “Never compromise your mission. I know that these projects cannot be done by one person, and they may require a different sense of purpose and vision. You don't need to change who you are because who you are may be what the world may be needing right now. Perhaps your work will make even a few people have a different experience that maybe white lines and really sober projections are not doing. There's definitely a need for people who think differently.”
Santa Rosa permanent installation; courtesy of Ava Animation
Ava Animation often includes color, nature, and culture in their projections. “We always use local culture and try to bring it in a modern way so that the audience can themselves be reflected in the building,” Lopez explains. “Our intention or goal is to make an emotional connection with who is actually the audience not the people who are judging the festival. We want to make a connection and transform the event into an experience that they can take something out of.”
Palace of Parliament in Bucharest; photo by Dan Mihai Balanescu
Expanding its potential, Ava Animation recently opened a new office in Toronto, Ontario in Canada where they’ve already begun working on a project. “We are showcasing the work of recent graduates at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology and transforming the wall of the venue to create an immersive experience,” concludes Lopez. “It's definitely really interesting because we are working with different styles of animation, but it is more of a personal and emotional experience because it's giving back to our alma mater where it all started.”