Skip to content

How to Projection Map Bioluminescence Using Lightform

How to Projection Map Bioluminescence

Kahika, a trio music group with an electronic/dub/soul style from Australia and New Zealand, recently released a music video for their EP “Mutual Gathering,” utilizing effects generated by the Lightform LFC Kit. In this post, Jon Hislop, a member of Kahika, shares how the video was made along with tips to successfully projection map bioluminescence when filming outdoors. Detailed is how the bioluminescent effects were created using Lightform’s default effects and importing custom motion graphics created in After Effects.

“I wish to reveal everything I know and learned, in the hope that projection mapping as a realistic portrayal of life-energy in nature is explored more by other creators. At certain moments in the music video, certain visuals jumped out as feasibly realistic and, I feel, escaped the monotony of appearing too digital. I hope to push this organic look further in the future.”
— Jon Hislop     

About the Group & Song

Last December, Kahika released their EP “Mutual Gathering” along with a music video showcasing New Zealand’s exotic wildlife, using Lightform’s AR projection mapping to light up the island’s lush vegetation with artificial bioluminescence. The song is ultimately about people enjoying and respecting nature. It explores the Māori concept of mana: the life-force energy that exists within all nature. In mythology, mana is gained and lost through your deeds. “Mutual Gathering” is Kahika’s interpretation that respecting nature is a way to invite more mana into one’s life. In the music video, mana is visualized as artificial bioluminescence growing and glowing, which was done using Lightform’s projection mapping. These organic forms were filmed in real-time, using Lightform to cast digital projections to create the plants’ glowing visuals.

Kahika Band Photo
Kahika band members Geo Seato, Trent Ward, and Jonathan Hislop.

Projection Mapping Preparations

When projection mapping outdoors, Jon recommends using a 3,000-lumen projector, noting that lumen criteria would suffice. “I had a 6,000-lumen projector, and despite being in a dense forest shielded by the sun, projections only gained strength in the twilight hour – one hour before sunset, and shortly after sunset. Of course, you can project at night, as I did in the second half of the music video, but some ambient light gives context to the scene,” shares Jon. When taking into account the scenery’s colors, Jon noted that neither green nor brown absorbed the light well (the two dominant colors of forests!) Hence, the twilight hour is best suited for great shots.

Useful Equipment

Make sure to use tarps beneath your setup to keep your gear safe from the outdoor elements. It’s impossible to keep your cables off the ground, and dirt inside of your connectors is stress-inducing. Gazebos are also a great way to shield your equipment from any potential rain. An additional thing to consider is the generators. “Because generators are so loud, having 50 meters of extension cable can be a great way to make sure the noise isn’t constantly bothering you while trying to relax and work in the bush. Don’t forget to pack lunch…and maybe even dinner,” shares Jon. Setting up your scene, preparing for unexpected natural elements, and perfecting your projection mapping outdoors in the midst of a forest can be time-consuming, so make sure you arrive prepared with plenty of time to commit to your installation.

Filming Caveats

The camera used to film your projection mapping project will make a big difference. Depending on your camera, the quality of your projection may not be picked up through video. As Jon put it, “Occasionally, the projection mapping effects were not fully reflected through the camera. What was unimpressive to my eyes was saved by my Fuji x100v in Velva mode and its ability to boost colors with beautiful yet natural-looking tones. For smooth pans on a budget, I recommend the Zhiyun Crane m2 or the DJI Ronin. For the smoothest possible horizontal pans, look at buying or renting a horizontal camera slider.”

Visual Tips

One of the most colorful moments in this video was achieved by scanning a dense shrub, then dropping on the Lightform effect “Digital Fade.” Voilà.

How to Projection Map Bioluminescence - Visual Tips
Adding Lightform effects to a dense shrub.

In fact, this effect, as seen on Lightform’s Conservatory of Flowers, was what convinced Jon to buy Lightform and to create this music video in the first place!

Creating Your Own Bioluminescence

Great “organic” looking effects can be easily generated by running various colorful videos (E.G., “particle fx” videos from videezy.com) through a mesh-warp and displacement map in after effects.

Digital Bioluminescence
Creating organic looking effects onto a tree.

For example, Jon used this video to recreate the same effect in After Effects. Once you import the video into your After Effects project, you can drag a mesh warp onto it (under the effects panel). Using rows and columns of three and quality between eight-ten, you can distort your video by grabbing any of the points between crossing lines. This is a simple and very controllable way to wrap your content around a source such as a tree with a stump.

Distorting your video in After Effects.

If you want an effect that is more abstract and into the realms of wild and slightly uncontrollable, using “Turbulent Displace” can create very fluid and organic-looking shapes. “There’s no wrong way to play with the settings – they’re all a lot of fun,” says Jon.

Add “Turbulent Displace” for a more abstract effect.

From here, you can animate parameters such as “Evolution” or “Complexity” to bring life to the visual. Importing your own music, you can animate parameters such as the above, or change the color with “Hue/Saturation,” and do it to the beat of the music or a strum of the guitar, similarly to what Jon accomplished in the Mutual Gathering music video by animating my mesh warp. Experiment with any of Kahika’s back catalog.

When you’re ready to project, simply export the video, import it into Lightform, and you’re ready to light up the forest. Film the results, bring them back into After Effects or Premiere, and re-align your video with your music. Done!

Final Tips

If you create audio-reactive visuals, make sure there is enough time in your video clip (of the static bioluminescent visual) before and after the part where your visual reacts to the music. Too often, the video clip repeated too quickly, and Jon wasn’t able to set up some of the filmed footage in Premiere to begin and end when he would have preferred.

Other Filmmaking Creations Using Lightform

Thanks to Jon for his willingness to share his insights on how to projection map bioluminescence. To learn more about importing custom content or how to utilize other Lightform Creator features, visit the Lightform Guide. See Kahika’s full music video and check out their latest EP on Apple / Spotify / Bandcamp.

We’re inspired to see Lightform being used creatively in music videos. Along with Kahika, many users in the Lightform community, including Kira Bursky and Jennifer Deann Scott, have utilized their Lightform devices for music videos and filmmaking. You can find more in our 2020 Retrospective: Inspiring Lightform Customer Examples. If you found this helpful or have other questions about projection mapping, we invite you to leave your comments below.

Follow Lightform

Recent Posts