Gobo projection is a very effective technique that uses light to produce videos, images, decorations, scenographies, and so much more. It’s easy to handle and very cheap.
1 – Gobo: a short history
The ancestor of the modern gobos made its debut in theatres. It was a plain metallic template used to promptly hide the scene projectors controlled by the director: the acronym GOBO stands for “GO BlackOut”.
At some point, somebody realised that, by making a hole in the projector, they could project a small light dot, and that, by cracking it, it turned into a blade of light. And so, the cap became a pierced matte box projecting a “manipulated” light.
And over the years, technology did the rest:
– new materials, such as glass, have replaced the old sheet steel;
– aluminium, silicon and titanium coatings have brought suggestive effects with them;
– super effective projectors have been created.
Today, a rotating disc contains more than one miniaturised gobo, and allows motorised and remote controlled image changes. Thanks to everyday innovations, gobo projection is becoming more and more magical, prodigious and easy to use.
Isn’t it curious how an object invented to darken has become a tool to make light?
Its name is the same, but its function has been overturned.
2 – Gobo’s thousands of applications
Nowadays, the number of fields where gobo projection can be used is huge and increases every day: from advertisement in shops to safety warnings in factories, from the enhancement of monuments to Christmas lights, from artistic projections to corporate ones.
With gobos, you can make a coatroom sign, colour the slope of a mountain, project an image 100m away, or draw a building’s volume.
Or you can decorate a restroom door with flowers, convey a magical “water effect” on the way to the spa, paint the cypresses on the boulevard in pink, or fill the pool with tropical fish!
You only need two ingredients to employ light: a little bit of creativity, and a plug. Nothing more. Oh, and gobos, obviously.
3 – Pros for event planners
Gobo projection seems to be tailored for today’s events. Meaning, moments of great emotional intensity, with strong communicative needs towards a public who is looking forward to being engaged in unusual experiences.
An event, due to its nature, is short lived, with little time for setting up and dismantling. Often, it takes place in venues that cannot be altered (historical buildings, high-class hotels, parks…), or that, on the contrary, have to be improved or enhanced because of their ugly facades, massive walls, embankments, bare or impersonal spaces.
Gobos are the protagonist here, because lights fascinate without contaminating a space, and, at the end of the event, the room can go back to how it was, ready to host another event.
Everything happens without having to hammer nails and plugs into the walls, without heavy trusses or scaffoldings which work at night but show all their metallic bareness in daylight.
Gobo projection is even more useful in prestigious contexts where plasterworks, tapestries, statues or paintings cannot be removed or altered. Projecting light solves the problem.
You assembly the gobo, you plug it in, and point the projector. The images can be reproduced on Venetian plasterworks, on ancient wooden floor or coffered wood ceilings — with the approval of both supervisors and safety officers, and much to the owners’ relief.
4 – Gobo projectors
As gobos kept improving, so did projection technology, with the aim of making the most out of its materials and making its management as efficient and easy as possible.
Modern gobo projectors are very complex on the inside but very basic on the outside, easy to assemble even outdoors, with powers and optical lens fit for every need and a perfect rendering in terms of image clarity, sharpness and balance.
Electrical absorption varies from the 27 watts of indoor led projectors, for small and close-up projections, to the 1000 watts of outdoor architectural ones, for gigantic and long distance projections. There is a whole range of models and performances in-between, to meet pretty much every demand. For instance, in a 400-seat space, a projector ranging from 150 to 600 watts is more than enough – depending on the brightness of the space – for a projection measuring up to 8 meters in diameter. Furthermore, to improve and simplify its set-up and its performances, a vast selection of accessories is available.
5 – How much does it cost?
Gobo projectors can be rented or purchased, and both options are really cheap.
A few examples:
– renting a projector with fixed lens costs about €150 per day. For longer periods of time, there is a significant price reduction. A month-long rent – typically at Christmas time – costs around €1000, including the accessories for wall or pole mounted systems and rainscreen cladding.
– purchasing an average (400 watts) projector fully-equipped to project indoor “full colour” gobos (for instance in an auditorium or a convention hall) costs about €1400. More power (at least 600 watts) and a rainscreen cladding are required for outdoor uses: in this case, the price increases to €2400.
– in addition to all this, there is the cost for personalised gobos, which ranges from €45 to €200 each, depending on the number of colours required.
The biggest suppliers have a categorised catalogue of gobos, which can be immediately purchased at really interesting costs.
6 – How do gobos coexist with video mapping?
Gobo projection is a mature and consolidated technique, which is why it’s reliable and cheap.
In regards to emotional performances, video mapping (or digital video projection) is undoubtedly more fascinating and immersive, and, in terms of effects, it can do even more — although all this often turns out to be less useful than expected.
In regards to the costs, gobo projection triumphs over video mapping: the ratio between the two techniques is 1 (gobo) to 10 (digital). The price of the lamps, the most expensive component in a gobo projector, is one-third of that of a video projector, and its average duration is double.
Nevertheless, both realities are becoming more and more complementary in this new frontier of experimentation. My company has recently experienced this in Rocca di Vignola (MO) with the project “Sogno o son deste”. Thanks to the combination of the two techniques, the ancient Medieval bleachers’ decorations have been recreated virtually with really captivating outcomes.
7 – In conclusion
In any type of event (from conventions to weddings, from conferences to parties in parks), gobo projection conveys modernity and originality, and, if used wisely, triggers an uncontrollable and extraordinary WOW effect — which is, together with staying on budget, one of the main ingredients for the planner’s success.