Watch Two Artists Make A Forest Magically Glow

Bringing a new, fairy-tale life to a regular old forest with some new technology.

When two artists headed to the woods for six weeks, armed with cameras, they weren’t in search of standard shots of nature. Instead, photographer Tarek Mawad and animator Friedrich van Schoor were looking to add some extra optical magic to the forest.


“We always wanted to create a project in the forest because we were fascinated by its silence and atmosphere,” write Mawad and van Schoor, who used real-time projection mapping to make trees, mushrooms, and frogs magically glow.. “It is a great place for inspiration, so we spent some time there beforehand to focus on the idea. What inspired us most was the phenomenon of bioluminescence, which is mostly found in the deep-sea. We wanted to recreate this effect and bring it into the forest.”

Using a digital projector, a laptop, and some motion graphics software, the artists temporarily transformed plants and animals with amazingly realistic-looking patterns of light. “Basically everything you animate will be only projected onto a defined area, which causes the illusion of the plant glowing by itself,” Mawad and van School explain.

In the last few years, projection mapping has been more often used on flat surfaces like the sides of buildings (as in this giant game of Tetris on a skyscraper). But that’s quickly changing as the technology improves and designers start to explore new areas.

“Technically, it was a totally different workflow than we were used to,” the artists say. “If you project onto a building, you’re able to create the mask and do the animation at another workplace. But for this project, the objects we projected on were about to grow or to move–that’s why we had to do everything on location and we had to keep it simple.”

After taking photographs of each plant or animal, the artists created digital masks for the projections. They tried to make the light look as realistic as possible. “When we first projected onto a mushroom, we were wondering why the footage was blurry,” they say. “The reason for that was that the mushroom are absorbing light, so it looks like it’s creating the effect by itself. That was perfect for our purpose.”

The end result was a fairy tale-like video that the artists hope may change how people see the woods.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.