Projecting Fishies

A blog post by Sandra Sarmiento, Senior Design Strategist


Here at Onlea, we love all kinds of learning mediums. Recently, we dabbled a bit onto projection mapping.

What is projection mapping?

As the name suggests, it is using projection technology to “map” an image onto an object. While projection mapping isn’t new, the rise in interactive media is making it increasingly popular. Here you can find a great brief history of the technology.

For our particular project, we were keeping things fairly simple. We created three short animations that would project onto a relief sculpture at Bow Habitat Station, in Calgary Alberta, to teach visitors about Aquatic Invasive Species.


The first step was to come up with a plan!

What do you want to project? How do you want to project it? How does it interact with the audience? The plan was for most of the animation to go on the blank wall alongside the relief sculpture. Bow Habitat selected a short throw projector, which is great for having children play with the animated fish without creating shadows that could significantly impact the visibility for other viewers.

Next up in the process is to build a wireframe (mask) for the stories. You need to know what area your projector is going to cover. I also used a combination of photos and measurements of the space to create a number of masks for the working area.

Since lens distort photos, I knew I would have to do a few adjustments. First, I created a photoshop file of the image (keep a lock layer with the original!) and then linked that file into illustrator where I scaled all my measurements (10:1 inches to px). You can do it all in Adobe Photoshop, but I prefer working on a vector environment when it comes to keeping measurements. Once that’s done, resize/crop the image to your needs. I cropped my image to be the size of the wall and made sure it was 1920x1080 since that’s what the specifications of the projector are.


The photo above demonstrates the use of Illustrator and Photoshop. On the left, scaling and measuring were done on Illustrator, while on the right, editing reference photo was on Photoshop.

In Illustrator, I drew an outline of the lake, the dock, the surface of the lake, and background greenery. That way in Adobe After Effects, I could use my reformatted photo for reference, and the drawn outlines to quickly copy and paste masks.

Create masks that work for you.



As you work, test how light reacts with your materials! Colours and luminosity are going to be different on a projector than a screen. We also found that the surface of the relief sculpture actually absorbed the light and any animations projected on it weren’t really visible. As such, Bow Habitat made adjustments to the sculpture and we made adjustments to the animation to reduce the overlap. Flexibility is the name of the game!


The photo above demonstrates a Screenshot vs Projector. Notice the difference in saturation and brightness. I did a final pass to the animation after it was done to ensure the image in the projector looked exactly how I wanted it.

If you want to see what the final product looks like, head down to Bow Habitat Station next month!

If you’re ready for a more 3-Dimensional experience, I recommend 2 walkthrough examples to check out.
Example 1 and Example 2.

“We thoroughly enjoyed working with Onlea on a unique opportunity to showcase aquatic invasive species issues in Alberta at Bow Habitat Station. They were highly accommodating with our tight timelines and need for adjustments. We hope to work with Onlea in the future!”

Tanya Rushcall, Aquatic Invasive Species, Biologist, Alberta Environment and Parks

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Sandra X. Sarmiento