Video displays in unusual shapes and places dominate Ultra Music Festival in Miami

Photo: Toams Loewy

While thousands of revelers at Bayfront Park party non-stop to a smorgasbord of sights and sounds, the rest of the city sees Ultra Music Festival as a parade of half-naked pedestrians and a massive traffic liability. But for those outside the gates, last night’s projection mapping on the nearby Intercontinental Hotel caused quite a few double-takes.

One second, the iconic building appears completely normal; the next, bricks break free and start tumbling down. Soon the entire facade comes crumbling to the ground, revealing gyrating, hypnotic line art that throbs in time to the techno music blasting at it’s base. Minutes later, a gyrating psychedelic mural paints the side of the building, which now seems to be enjoying itself to the tunes of Afrojack, Tiesto, and Avicii.

The spectacle unfolds to everyone in the downtown area, thanks to #redbullmindmeld, a Twitter hash tag that gives a clue to the spectacle’s origins. But how exactly was our city skyline transformed so radically? The answer is an evolving field called projection mapping.

Projection mapping is a term that loosely refers to the process of stitching together video in new shapes, sizes, or proportions – often, which are context aware. A demonstration at Winter Music Conference this past week revealed a stick figure painted from edge-to-edge with undulating video, seemingly transported from it’s home in the Nevada desert at Burning Man. The @redbullmia project (yes, Red Bull as in the drink) displayed on the Intercontinental Hotel was at a much larger scale, but a similar concept. Marina Rao, a local superstar VJ who performs as Psyberpixie and coordinated the Visual Beats showcase for WMC, comments “Mapping is quickly becoming a worldwide medium of digital art for both the entertainment industry and the corporate world. I’m extremely excited to be visualizing in these times.”

Inside the Ultra grounds, the festival’s main stage, where the headlining acts played, was a wonderland of video mapping excess. Twenty-one individually addressable screens made up a massive canvas for veteran VJ V Squared. But even more creative was a unique video sphere created by DJ Shadow. From inside the spherical screen, Shadow pounded out beats and samples that you not only could hear, but also see. Throughout the performance, his pod travelled all over the world and around the universe, the centerpiece of a show where video illustrates the sound and tells a story. Truly inspiring.


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