Diriyah 3D Projection Mapping

Visual content, Projection Mapping, Fabrication, Infrared Tracking System, VR and Miniature Set Previz

Long-term partners and collaborators Executive Visions produced this multiple record-breaking mega-project. In partnership with EVI, XiteLabs lead the Diriyah 3D Projection Mapping, key creative and other technical aspects of this monumental event. Over the course of 10 months, XiteLabs produced a world-record, largest projection mapping show on an ancient city ever produced. 1000 feet wide and 80 feet tall, and incorporating over 200 laser projectors, the surfaces of the ancient city served as a complex screen for EVI’s 25 minute show. Much more than just eye-candy, the historical show featured a narrative detailing the rich history of Diriyah – the birthplace of Saudi and the Arabian peninsula.

In addition to producing the massive 3D Projection Visuals, XiteLabs also delivered custom design and fabrication for a 50-foot projection-mapped falcon puppet that was performed live with 24 dancers and puppet poles.

To support overseas client reviews and accurate in-studio review, XiteLabs created a VR review system and miniature projection mapped set. These elements were essential to ensure clients and the internal creative teams were able to accurately and clearly review the 3d projection visuals that would ultimately end up on the massive city-screen surfaces.

A team of over 50 artists and technicians contributed to XiteLabs’ portion of the Diriyah project. These include creative directors, concept artists, illustrators, CG/Motion designers, editors, researchers, fabricators, engineers, VR programmers, 3D printing and miniature set modelers, and more.

Executive Visions flawlessly executed one of the largest productions ever, and XiteLabs was proud to be one of the many quality partners collaborating with EVI on this historic spectacular.

Photos by Suzanne Teresa and Vello Virkhaus

Project Overview Video

The largest projection mapping ever on a historic city, with over 200 laser projectors, and rich narrative historical content

To bring the story to life, the XiteLabs visual design team spent months designing a massive collection of original animated content. From the beginning, the idea was to apply dynamic visual motion to each of Diriyah’s 60+ unique surfaces. Every sequence of animated content was designed for movement and dynamic impact…a horse galloping across the city…a Formula One car racing through the vista…a rocket ship blasting skyward. Historically accurate reference was incorporated – drawings and artifacts, topographical maps, architectural studies, sociological and ecological data from Saudi Phd’s and national historians. Xite brought the entertainment aspects to the show by creating ethereal sequences – caravans traveling under moonlight, golden dust transforming one scene to the next, flight simulations across multiple desert landscapes, etc. Xite created custom 3D characters as digital stand-in for past Kings and princes, villagers, camels and other living creatures. Using motion capture sessions, Xite acted out scenes and applied these motions to CG characters which projected back onto the city walls. Ancient versions of the city were re-created, building up first from the river, wheatfields, and more primitive structures that gave way to the shapes Diriyah is recognized for today.

The content was delivered via 200+ projectors and 3D projection mapping on the myriad shapes of Diriyah’s mud walls, with an image spanning three football fields in length. The intricate structures were pixel-mapped, edge to edge, top to bottom, yielding a projection surface with 225,815,040 pixels per frame of video. The model used to develop the projection surface contained 65,000,000 polygons in the mesh, which was produced using a combination of drones and lidar scanning techniques.

In the end, the location was painted with a striking display of cinematic projection mapping to tell the visual story of the kingdom’s history. Nearly 7 billion pixels of content per second were projected, eclipsing 8 trillion pixels total for the show.

Custom Designed Carbon Fiber Skeleton, Fabrication, Infrared Tracking, Puppeing Setup, Live Projection Mapping

Falconry is a tradition in Saudi Arabia practiced with passion and joy. So much so that UNESCO has declared falconry a living cultural heritage. No portrayal of the Saudi Kingdom could be considered authentic without showcasing its historical significance. The symbolism of the falcon was extremely important, so it had to be represented in a truly imaginative way. To fulfill the vision, a massive carbon-fiber, projection-mapped Falcon was designed and created at XiteLabs. An essential character in the story line, the falcon was controlled by 24 performers, and functioned as a giant puppet (like the Lion King). With a 50 foot wingspan, it made an awe-inspiring impression. Utilizing a Blacktrax system, the falcon system was outfitted with 50+ stringers (Infrared beacons) and 20 IR cameras, allowing it to be tracked and projection-mapped in real time with ultra-precision. Multiple projectors painted the bird with beautiful, real-time content as it soared on a majestic journey across the massive city walls. The falcon’s exact position on stage was then relayed back to a Disguise GX2 media server. On the Disguise server, UV mapped, pre-produced animation content played out to multiple projectors on the falcon, in perfect sync with the projection mapping on the walls of Diryah.

The original falcon model was produced by Greg Russell and Miguel Monteagudo, and then handed off to XiteLabs’ Matt Guertin who masterminded the trellis structure of the bird, the puppet pole functionality, the wing rotation mechanism, BlackTrax stringer installation and more. All fabrication was completed in the XiteLabs workshop, where costumers wrapped the giant bird in lycra that ultimately acted as the projection surface. The finished design incorporated thousands of interlinks parts, and weighed roughly 420 pounds.  Fun Fact: a special perch had to be produced for the bird to provide a nesting place when it was not in rehearsals.

The Making of the Falcon

3D Printed/Projection Mapped Scale Model, VR System Design for International Client Review, Lighting and Content Combined Previz

XiteLabs produced a scale replica of the entire show site, complete with projection and sound, along with an entire VR review system to facilitate overseas client reviews. With a set of surfaces as complex and varied in shape, depth and position relative to the primary viewer, the Diriyah 3D Projection Mapping project warranted advanced tools for Xite’s internal reviews as well. The creative and technical teams regularly gathered around the model to review progress, discuss technical approaches to mapping such an unusual site, and emulate the viewing position of King Salman – who would be sitting roughly 450 feet away from the closest projection mapped wall.

The VR system was produced in Unreal and ported using Steam, using the same projection mapping geometry that was used in the media server for the actual show – maintaining consistency in the review and production pipelines. One VR setup in Dubai, and the other in Riyad, gave key historical decision makers the key to be able to see things in near-parity with what would ultimately be shown on the 1000-foot wide ancient city wall screen surfaces.

XiteLabs Credits:

Client: Executive Visions

Executive Creative Director:
Greg Russell

Technical / Creative Director:
Vello Virkhaus

Falcon Design, Fabrication Direction and Engineering:
Matt Guertin

BlackTrax System Design & Live Operations / Disguise Programming:
Simon Anaya

Technical Director / CG Lead:
Aaron Kaminar

BlackTrax / Disguise support and operation:
Vincent Steenhoek

Jessica Tedder and Jackie Evans