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The newest project from the innovative duo that delighted the Internet with Le Petit Chef, Le Petit Chef – Bouillabaisse and Le Petit Chef – Dessert are back, but this time it’s not 3D projection mapping on a plate that they’ve cooked up.

The brains behind Belgium-based Skullmapping are Antoon Verbeeck, who has a background in fine arts painting, and Filip Sterckx, who takes care of the directing and animation.

The duo remain surprised that their 3D projection mapping chef videos became the online sensation they did, but are more than happy to give the public more.

In Gallery Invasion, the team has swapped the plate for a gallery wall, showing a monkey escape the confines of its frame, hopping from painting to painting ­– much to the delight of invited guests.

“This project was presented in the gallery of Antoon (right underneath the Skullmapping studios) in our hometown in Leuven, Belgium,” Filip tells CIE.

The projection ‘performance’ was showed to a limited audience who were filmed in order to capture their reactions.

“For us this is first and foremost a research and development project, so we made this to show what is possible with this technique,” says Filip. “The video in this case was more important to us than the live experience, but we intend to recreate this type of project on a larger scale for a larger audience. Since we travel a lot, we spend a lot of time in airports and almost all of them have huge white ceilings, so that would make a great canvas for a projection to travel across this huge surface. Or imagine a projected full sized King Kong climbing a high building and jumping from one to the next!”

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The project has two origins: a conceptual one and technical one. In the early days of Skullmapping, the duo experimented with projecting on Antoon’s paintings.

“We started to fantasize that it could be fun if one of the subjects could escape out of the painting by making use of projection mapping, but we never followed up on this initial idea,” Filip recalls.

“As far as the technical side goes, I directed a commercial project in Hollywood some years ago where we had a very elaborate setup with a lot of projectors and had the camera mounted on a motion control system – which is basically a big robot that can be programmed to execute specific camera movements very precisely. Afterwards I started to think that instead of putting a lot of projectors all around in order to have projections everywhere the camera turned, we could have mounted the projector on the motion control head along with the camera.”

The idea of dynamic projection stuck with Skullmapping until meeting members of the Dynamic Projection Institute at ISE in Amsterdam.

“Some weeks later, we got in touch with them and asked them if we could loan their Mirror Head to create this project. We basically started to look at all the paintings Antoon has made over the years and brainstormed on how we could connect them in a story,” he continues.

“Antoon has made quite a few paintings with monkeys, so we decided early on that this would be a great protagonist because he could jump from painting to painting and move around in the gallery with ease. We thought it would be fun to feature a miniature character as we did with Le Petit Chef, that sprays a tag on the monkey’s painting, causing him to come alive. Because of the difference in size between the monkey and the miniature graffiti artist, you get a ‘King Kong‘ type of story, in which the monkey chases him around the gallery.”

How Is It Done?

“We used a Panasonic PT-VZ570U projector, which had the MH12-VZ75L Mirror Head from Dynamic Projection Institute mounted in front of the projector’s lens. This is basically a mirror that is motorized and programmable and that can rotate 270 degrees, as well as up or down. I used the MDC-X media server from Dynamic Projection Institute to control the Mirror Head and programmed it so it followed the same movement as I had prepared in my animation. We used this projector since it has a wuxga resolution (1920×1200), the right amount of lumen output for this type of project (4,800), and a black value that is quite close to actual black. Typically when you project black, you see a grey rectangular shape projected, which in this case would result in a black rectangle that moved over the wall along with the animation, which would break the illusion of course.”

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Filip created the space using 3D software, then moved the paintings in specific positions according to the story. Skullmapping asked the sound designers at Roundhouse to pan the sound when the action moves from left to right, and later placed a speaker on each side of the room so that the sound moves around in the gallery together with the animation.

“The spotlights on the paintings is the way Antoon likes to light his paintings, so I mimicked this in the projected animation,” he adds. “Technically this was a big challenge, as I had never worked with the Mirror Head before. This project also pushed what had been done with the Mirror Head, as so far it has been mainly used for moving around graphics or videos, not for a complex animation with characters that need to be in very specific places at very specific times in order for the illusion to work. I was in close contact with the guys from Dynamic Projection Institute during the development of this project and they helped me out every time I had technical problems I wasn’t able to resolve.”

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Another challenge was the animation of the monkey itself. For characters, Skullmapping works a lot with motion capture, but for this project the team were concerned that viewers would ‘see the human’ in the monkey’s movement.

Skullmapping had a unique solution to that problem. “We got in contact with Nicolas Vanhole who does parkour; he turned out to be an excellent monkey!” says Filip. “It did leave the audience amazed at how this is done. We’ve all become used to seeing mapping projects on all types of objects, but to see characters moving freely over multiple walls, ceiling and even floors with just one projector and a discreet setup is quite magical.”

Le Petit Chef Travels To Abu Dhabi 

Aside from working on Gallery Invasion, Skullmapping has been kept busy in the UAE at the 5-star luxury hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, which is displaying Le Petit Chef for the next three months across three separate tables.

“It is an honour of course to have our project in this esteemed hotel,” Filip enthuses. “This project has been installed in quite a few hotels and restaurants all over the world now, but we don’t always go personally to set it up. In this case we did, and it is very rewarding if you can see it for yourself. The restaurant’s bookings have increased significantly because of our project.”

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