Nature Re-imagined – Projection Mapping and the Bioluminescent Forest

At times when considering topics for blogs, I may refer to information from articles and whitepapers that I read on a weekly basis. I’ll put the topics on paper and when I see something that I consider worth writing about, it eventually becomes a published blog. For this blog however, my idea came from a recent visit to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. In a walk around the marine life section of the museum, I came upon an exhibit that showed bioluminescence in certain types of sea life and was fascinated by what I saw (as in the image below of a bioluminescent deep-sea jellyfish).


It was at that moment that I turned to the person I was there with and said this would be a tremendous blog topic if I can relate it to AV. And with a little research, I came up with this one.

Imagine a process where trees, plants and small forest creatures could appear as if they were bioluminescent like certain sea life organisms. Photographer Tarek Mawad and animator Friedrich van Schoor are two such innovators who together created a forest environment as described above giving trees, plants and certain wildlife these light emitting tendencies. Mawad and Van Schoor worked to replicate the bioluminescent qualities of animals like jellyfish (which generate their own light using chemical reactions) with projection mapping. While we’ve seen examples of projection mapping on many different types of surfaces and objects (including faces), it seems that digital artists are getting progressively more innovative as the technology continues to evolve.

Bioluminescent-Forest 1

Mawad and van Schoor create a mushroom growth glow and flicker effect in the forest.

The artists spent six weeks in the forest taking in the silence and natural occurrences in nature. They accentuated the natural appearance of the forest by creating luminous growth and wildlife in what would be referred to in this project as the Bioluminescent Forest. This involved using software to create animated video projections that were programmed to cast moving images of light across these irregular nature surfaces.

Here are three images that were produced through projection mapping technology:

Bioluminescent Forest by Tarek Mawad and Friedrich van Schoor
Bioluminescent Forest by Tarek Mawad and Friedrich van Schoor
Bioluminescent Forest by Tarek Mawad and Friedrich van Schoor

According to van Schoor: “What inspired us most was the phenomenon bioluminescence, which is mostly found in the deep-sea. We wanted to recreate this effect that is seen on animals and bring it into the forest.” Mahwad and van Schoor spent six weeks camping in the forest in Pirmasens, Germany, to create the film. They used eight different locations, staying for around five days at each. All the effects that were created were done so live, without any intervention or post-production.

forest 1

biolum 4

“As nature is growing and constantly changing we had to work fast. That meant spending about four to five hours on creating each projection and filming it,” van Schoor explained. Mahwad added “With projection mapping one needs the equipment to be fixed and stable in one spot. With mossy ground under our feet, even placing a camping chair became a problem. It took literally three times longer than in a comfortable working environment.”

There is no doubt that what Mahwad and van Schoor created here with projection mapping is an important step in the continued advancement of a revolutionary technology. What began for me as a viewing of a marine life museum exhibit (displaying bioluminescence), became an experience which led me to research and relate it to audio visual, and in turn something that utilizes this trending technology in spatial augmented reality.

Here is the Bioluminescent Forest.

(Scored by Berlin-based composer Achim Treu)

Here is a link to the Bioluminescent Forest Project.