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Projecting Trompe l’oeil at the Barbican

Christie Pandoras Box and laser projectors transform foyer wall.

United Kingdom

Museums & science centers, Performing arts

Christie D13H​D-HS​, Chris​tie Pandoras Box

Projecting Trompe l’oeil at the Barbican

Projecting an image of a fake pillar right next to a real pillar is challenging, and even more so when you must do it onto both a pebbled wall and air vent, without compromising image quality or realism. Adding to the pressure is that this project is a high-profile artwork in a public space at London’s Barbican Centre, co-commissioned by The Lumen Prize, the world’s leading award for digital art. This was the challenge faced by Tim Bifield, technical manager, the Barbican.

Rachel Ara’s Trompe l’oeil at the Barbican comes to life with Christie Pandoras Box and Christie HS Series projectors


The trompe l’oeil was created by Rachel Ara, artist-in-residence at London’s V&A Museum, and is based on the iconic architecture of the Barbican with the projected corridor created by 3D-trained architects. It was chosen by The Lumen Prize partly because of Ara’s interest in the technology that is provided by Christie’s long-term partnership with the Barbican.

For months during the Center’s open hours, the projection was shown in high ambient light by day, with a content change in the evening. With the projectors on different levels this required perfect blending.

For this installation, a combination of Christie® Pandoras Box® and laser projection from the omni-directional Christie HS Series overcame every challenge for Bifield, and, at the same time, gave the artist the canvas and tools she needed.

​Blending and Warping

Christie Pandoras Box was used for blending, blanking, pre-programming content and remote color management and the results were remarkable.

“With the challenges of projecting a pretend corridor and wall, next to a real wall, the blend has to be spot on or the effect is lost,” explained Bifield. “The good thing about Christie Pandoras Box, especially Version 6, is you can use the Integrated Warper Tool in the main manager/preview area and open a mesh or grid on both projectors (on their outputs) to match all lines and squares. You do that by lining up FFD points and the mesh points as well. This means on Christie Pandoras Box you can get a really precise match. I did it (all) in about 25 minutes - the whole thing.”


The second challenge was having an L-shaped beam cut into the projection space. “On Christie Pandoras Box, we were able to do blanking on the 1DLP® projectors,” explained Bifield. “You can have numerous graphics or video layers. We just created black squares and layered them on top of the final artist’s image and moved them to where the beam cutouts were located.”

​Pre-programmed content change and natural fades, months in advance

The Christie technology gave Rachel Ara complete creative freedom and was easy to use for Bifield’s team. Christie Pandoras Box could be pre-programmed to switch content, and also to fade it, so in the evenings, people see content with the imaginary walkway lit up. “Rachel sent us daily sunset times and, on Christie Widget Designer, I scheduled the on-and-off times for daytime and nighttime content at the start and end of each day (for the duration of the install) - a few months ahead. This means we can set it just once and you don’t have to be there afterwards.”

Bifield was able to make the content change slowly and naturally. “I used Widget Designer to create custom script buttons that trigger the content to change. Instead of just changing immediately to different nighttime content - which can look a bit ugly - we were able to put in a fade. The result is that for over a minute you just see the lights in the pretend corridor turn on slowly. It’s really subtle. I only know of Widget Designer that can do this.”

​Omni-directional Christie HS Series laser projectors overcome high ambient light

The project used two Christie D13HD-HS laser projectors; each placed on different levels. Completely omnidirectional, Christie HS Series and its full suite of lenses were ideal for the complexities of this project.

“We used a 0.84 lens on the one level – with a throw distance of 7 meters (23 feet) -and on the lower level, 1.5 – 2.0:1 lens with a throw of about 10 meters (33 feet). Ideally, you want to align projectors so they are shooting straight or at the same angle, even if from different distances, square them and level them out as much as possible on a horizontal plane. We did this with a special wooden base and adjusting the feet of projectors. Get the physical right first and then do the digital,” explained Bifield.

James Belso, Christie’s UK sales manager, who manages the partnership with the Barbican, specified the Christie HS Series projectors early on in the relationship with the Barbican as ideal for the open foyer spaces and multiple art installs.

“The HS Series is perfect for use at venues such as the Barbican with its open areas, high levels of ambient light, low maintenance, and tricky access,” said Belso. “Because art installs are often blended, you need consistency as well as excellent color for this installation.”

Bifield also said his team can adjust contrast easily and color match the HS Series projectors, for example if particular color changes were needed in the RGB range. “We also have the ability to control the HS projectors because they have an IP address. It is a useful feature and with Widget Designer we can control it remotely. So through Widget Designer, we can access the HS projectors to turn them on and off, or make any other adjustments,” Bifield added.

Christie Pandoras Box and the HS Series have been used separately and together for numerous installs. The first foyer installation, Numina by Zarah Hussain, won The Lumen Prize which led to further involvement with commissioning this piece at the Barbican.

Whether turning the lights to managing the world’s largest live shows in real time, Christie Pandoras Box and Christie Widget Designer are almost infinitely scalable. Individually or collectively, both can control input from multiple sources, create numerous effects, and run any content or output with speed, ease and automation. Contact Christie so we can tailor a solution for your organization.

About Rachel Ara

Rachel Ara is a data artist with work in numerous galleries and recently featured on the front cover of the financial Times. This piece was chosen by the Lumen Prize/Barbican commission panel and the brief was for an architecture inspired piece. For Ara’s witty artwork, an orange hairpiece dances in the wind in perpetuity around the Barbican Estate, echoing the iconic scene from Sam Mendes’s American Beauty. The title itself a play on the phrase Trompe L’oeil - [Deceives the Eye].


Photography provided by: Max Colson

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