A permanent cliff-side projection has been executed to mark the arrival of Qiddiya in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but it wasn’t without its challenges, discovers Simon Luckhurst
Every project manager likes to make a grand statement to draw attention to their latest and greatest creation. This normally entails getting everyone together at the new site and hosting something symbolic like a ribbon-cutting ceremony. As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabi continues to find ways to put itself on the global map, a new large construction named Qiddiya is set to be the country’s new sports, art and entertainment capital. This ambitious project is all part of the Kingdom’s 2030 vision. Due to open in 2023, Qiddiya focuses on five ‘cornerstone’ aspects – Parks and Attraction, Sports and Wellness, Motion and Mobility, Arts and Culture, and Nature and Environment – in addition to a new community boasting 5,000 residents.
In order to celebrate Qiddiya, the management has pulled out all the stops. A first major realisation was revealed to the public with a giant mountainside projection on the Tuwaiq mountains during the closing ceremony of the Dakar rally 2020. Initially, the Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC) reached out to Martin Professional ME with the request to visualise a Qiddiya logo roughly 100m2 on the face of the iconic mountain cliff. Martin Professional ME suggested the use of Barco projectors.
‘Qiddiya approached us with a requirement to project their logo on the cliff. After the demo and mock-up, they were amazed by the results of the Barco projectors and we proposed a bigger-scale, permeant installation concept for them,’ explains Martin Professional ME project manager, Ahmad Zaim.
An onsite mock-up was built for QIC using two Barco UDX projectors to demonstrate their technological capacities. The results were said to be so convincing that the decision was made to extend the UDX projection coverage to 440m wide. Projection mapping specialists at Barco’s Middle East offices then joined forces with the design team of Martin Professional ME and executed a comprehensive projection study and high-resolution laser scanning of the mountain. Ultimately, 84 Barco UDX-W40 projectors have been used to transform the mountain surface into a dramatic backdrop. The resulting projection mapping covers a total area of approximately 32,000m2, making it the largest permanent projection mapping in the world.
Commenting on the launch of this spectacular project, Michael Reininger, CEO of Qiddiya, said: ‘We received a great reaction when we first used projection to illustrate the potential of Qiddiya at our Ground Breaking Ceremony. This inspired us to create an enhanced and sophisticated light show that uses the latest audiovisual technology that once again highlights how Qiddiya is set to become the Kingdom’s capital of entertainment, sports and the arts.’
After being scanned by Martin Professional ME and Barco, the data was fed into a computer model and used as the base for the content projection and the calibration to map the content. ‘This model was the basis for putting everything together,’ furthers Züger. ‘We then delivered the software that handles the calibration, together with a set of camera sensors that were placed to calibrate the cameras via visual feedback. It was, for us, a very big hardware deal since we needed to ensure the smooth operation and performance. But we are fortunate that we are quite old in this market when it comes to auto-calibration, so we have encountered a lot of awkward, difficult and different situations. However, it took a lot of work to complete this big mountain and in a very short time frame.’
VIOSO’s Anyblend projector calibration solution is used for aligning the projectors and double stacking and mapping the content precisely on the complex surface of the cliff – including the automated re-calibration using permanently installed multiple calibration sensors.
In addition to the awkward projection surface and tight time frames, the Qiddiya management threw another curveball the teams’ way. The idea was that the 3D projection would serve two points of view – one centrally during the Dakar event, while the rest of the time it would be viewed by motorists passing by.
‘The mountain is like a big corner,’ explains Züger. ‘So you can have a projection on each side and that is quite simple to achieve. But Qiddiya wanted it to be right on the corner, where both sides come together, and from a very specific point of view. All of the content needed to look undistorted, like you were viewing a flat screen and not a bumpy mountain.
This is particularly challenging to execute and gave the team some headaches. ‘It took some time but we managed to warp and align everything in such a way that this specific effect, it’s called the POV effect, was working perfectly. Originally, none of us really believed it was a good idea. But when we saw the final footage made from that specific point of view, it was clear that actually these guys had had a very bold and smart idea. It just took quite a while to get a good idea made from creative minds into the mindset of technical people.’
Martin Professional ME allocated a team of 15 specialists to implement the project. After a thorough examination of the cliff and its surroundings, using technologies such as drones and 3D laser scanning and modelling, the 84 projectors were distributed across nine different locations using nine marine containers that have been fabricated to meet the operational requirements of all projectors.
‘One of the main challenges was the dusty, desert environment and the interconnectivity of both power and data of the 84 projectors in such a setting,’ explains Zaim. ‘In addition to that, the calibration and mapping of such a large number of projectors on an irregular curved surface was not an easy job, especially when the time frame for the whole project was set to 60 days only. We realised that there will be some serious challenges ahead of us, but our team worked day and night to break all the walls we hit during the implementation.’
Having now reached completion, the result has not just been rewarding for all involved but has also taught the teams some valuable lessons. ‘Seeing those 84 projectors producing a single blended image on the cliff for the first time was a breathtaking and unforgettable moment,’ commented Zaim. ‘It was all worth it.’
‘We were so proud to get 84 projectors all aligned pixel-perfect onto the cliff face,’ adds the VIOSO CEO, ‘but, in the end, it was about the POV effect. This was a real learning experience.’
Technology can be a massive help, and undoubtedly was on this project, but it doesn’t change the reality that projecting complex imagery on an irregular surface from a distance in the Saudi Arabian desert could only be achieved throughout close team work, tenacity and some out-of-the-box thinking.
‘We were amazed at the final outcome after all that work and supervision from the Martin, Barco and VIOSO teams,’ concluded Martin Professional ME regional sales manager, Bilal Assidi. ‘It’s very difficult to put into words but this truly marks the start of something big, not just in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East as a whole. We are looking forward to the coming challenges where projects like Qiddiya will be a regular scene in the Kingdom. From here, we have already looked ahead and have put our foot in, to pursue projects of this size and possibly work with the likes of such big companies like Barco and Vioso again.’
The projection mapping spectacle at Qiddiya is a permanent installation that runs every night. Martin Pro is continuing to work with the Qiddiya management on future projects and promises that the ‘best is yet to come’.