Tokyo Olympics Used Projection Mapping In Novel Ways, But The Most Stunning Visual Wasn’t Quite Real

August 9, 2021 by Dave Haynes

If you watched any of the Olympics in Tokyo on broadcast TV or online you would have seen some stunning visual effects.

The one that hit me was the projection mapping introductions for the highest profile track events – the 100 metre sprints for women and men.

The stadium was darkened and the full length of the sprint track was projection-mapped down to each lane, and each finalist profiled with dedicated visuals.

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before. While projection-mapping is increasingly a part of many pro sports and even college sports events in enclosed arenas, those tend to be canned and run for full seasons. This track “show” had visuals prepared ahead of time, but the built in the introductions to each runner.

I can’t find any video online of the intros, which likely owes to the licensing police of the International Olympics Committee. But a version of this – done on a full track in Qatar two years ago – will give you an idea if you did not see it. The “show” starts about 5 minutes in …

World Athletics organized the projection-mapping, using the Panasonic projection system installed at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

It creates 3D images of the world, zooming in to the Tokyo skyline, and then the name of each athlete in the final is projected on the track when he or she is introduced.

World Athletics Event Presentation Manager Florian Weber said it took 20 hours of rehearsal to get the impressive introduction for the women’s 100m just right.

“We’ve created a Hollywood-style introduction for our athletes because they are the stars of our show and they deserve this kind of attention,” he said.

“We’re also in the business of entertaining the fans and this is one of the tools we can use to grab their attention.

“But we can only do it in a modern stadium like this one that has the technology we need, including the ability to turn the lights up and down in an instant.”

The closing ceremony – from the clips I saw – also had projections on the centre of the stadium pitch, using gorgeous swirling colors.

There was also a stunning bit that had thousands of little light orbs pouring into the stadium from the roofline, then rising up and gradually forming the Olympics rings over the athletes who were on the stadium floor.

The work was done by Montreal’s Moment Factory, which has an office in Tokyo, and this is a video, from French Canadian TV, that shows the key moments.

I looked at that part and wondered how the heck they did that. Turns out they didn’t. It was CGI’d into the broadcast. The athletes didn’t see that. You can see in the tweet below that if athletes looked at the big LED board off to the right they’d see how the FX was merged with the real time broadcast.

I guess that would be called real-time AR. Whatever the case, it was still stunning – like much to most of the stuff that comes out of Moment Factory.

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