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OBSCURA DIGITAL Shines 940,000 Lumens in the Desert

Earlier this month Obscura Digital used TouchDesigner to once again raise the bar of large scale architectural mapping and projection design, this time for the 40th Anniversary of the United Arab Emirates National Day Celebration at the Sheikh, Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

The sheer scale of this production was mindboggling with 49 projectors used to project on a total surface measuring 19,474 square meters which included 4 minarets and 12 domes necessitating "detailed accuracy of 3-D mapping and content quality on incredibly complex geometry of flat walls with intricate hand carved details and arcades with rows of columns."

Interactive developer and artist Mary Franck who worked on the project for the duration had this to say: "It was certainly a dream projection-mapping job: incredible architecture, all white marble, completely artistic and cultural content. It was absolutely an honor to be a part of it.

We pulled it all altogether in record time. We have done projects of huge scale (the Coke building) and architectural complexity (Sydney Opera House) before, but this building is both exceptionally large and exceptionally complex. We were able to draw in the best methods from those jobs to make a TouchDesigner calibration and playback system for 20 channels of mapped video.

Things were actually pretty smooth on site-- we'd been able to anticipate what we would need. Although the days were oppressively hot, the weather and dust weren't problems.

To pull of mapping the complex geometry of the mosque we pulled many late nights, calibrating until the dawn call to prayer. Sequestered in the control room, in abaya and hijab, I didn't get to see the audience reaction, which I'm sad to have missed, but there was an air of real excitement and national pride."

In a recent article from Create Digital Motion Obscura's Barry Threw had this to say about the production of the show:

All of the mapping is done with TouchDesigner.

The first step in the pipeline is getting some sort of model of the structure involved. In this instance, we used a laser scanner to output a 3d point cloud of the building. This point cloud then needs to be turned into a mesh, and then we re-topologize it into a simpler mesh that can be easily handled in realtime. There is a high degree of skill necessary in this process.

At the same time, the physical projector locations have to be decided upon. This depends upon the actual map of the building and surrounding area, where we can get access to, and what kind of structures we are allowed to build. This particular job was easy in terms of obstructions of the surrounding area, but difficult because of the sacred nature of the site. All of our projector towers had to be well designed with facades to match the mosque architecture.

The projector placement and physical production aspects are a behemoth tasks in themselves. Number and placement of projectors has many variables, but in general, maximum brightness, full area coverage and optimal resolution are the major ones.

The art design process is another concurrent pipeline. After the 3d model and general projector spec’ing is complete, a template can be made to render the content, which has previously been put through an extensive creative process. This is output as video, in our case using a currently-proprietary codec called FireFrame, which are then textured onto the 3d model.

Projector calibration is basically a two-step process.

We typically use stacks of projectors to achieve higher lumens over the projected area. So the first stage is converging stacks of projectors to make a single, clear image.

Secondly, physical projector extrinsics must be calculated to match a virtual camera in our 3D world. We are currently using a technique that I’m lovingly referring to as “Sain-O’Neill Extrinsic Trilateration,” or SONET. Basically, it involves triangulating the projector and projection centroid placements based on other known onsite architectural features.

This gets you fairly close with careful application, but a number of post-3D and 2D transformations are used on the geometry to account for the fallible nature of the physical world to which we are chained. There is also a separate group of procedures that are used in the instances where a blend between two channels are necessary, and the one that we use is dependent on the architecture.

And finally, here are a few more pertinent details from Obscura's UAE Event Fact Sheet:

Equipment used / number and types of projectors / lumens / power:

  • 44 projectors on the mosque (24 x 20K lumens + 20 18K lumens) = 840,000 lumens
  • 5 projectors on the fort (5 x 20K lumens) = 100,000 lumens
  • 940,000 lumens total
  • 49 projectors x 3.2kW x 60 hours = 9,400kW total show (Mosque and Fort)

CO2 Offsetting plan:

  • 9,400kW = 12,878 lbs of CO2 = 6 tons of CO2
  • (1.37 pounds CO2 per kW / 2204 pounds = 1 ton of CO2)
  • 6 tons x 5 trees per ton = 30 trees

Equipment rigs

Custom-built projector enclosures based on floral designs that match the mosque

Architectural mapping / scanning components

Obscura laser scanned the surface area of the mosque to generate 3-D models.

Incredibly complex geometry: flat walls with intricate hand carved details (all mapped); arcades with rows of columns; domes ranging in size from the "small" 7m ones on the sides of the main gate to the 37 and 46m main domes of the prayer hall; all four of the 107m minarets.

Storyline of the show

A cultural and historical show inspiring the continuum of Sheikh Zayed?s vision that the Mosque be a place for his people, their heritage and all of humanity.


Taking inspiration from artwork on the interior of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and creating a projection show highlighting Geometry, Organic flowers, 99 names of Allah, architectural details, celestial cycles of the moon and Sheikh Zayed's vision.

Artwork, motifs, and designs incorporated into the show

3-D Animation for the Mosque and the Fort

Mosque: Palms, Pentagonal Geometry, Gardens of Paradise, Qibla Wall, The Mehrab, Architectural Motifs, Night skies and Cycles of the moon, Humanity depicted with the Earth

Fort: Imagery of the Rulers of the UAE, History and Early UAE History Early pearl trade, desert dunes, The 7 Emirates, Bedouin, date palms, agriculture, camel races, falcons, celestial navigation, cycles of the moon

All photos courtesy Obscura Digital.