I’ve seen quite a bit of projection mapping over the past few years, but I’ve never seen anything quite like these clips of Heartcorps’ “Riders of the Storyboard,” a live, immersive installation/performance that was presented last January as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier line-up.

Here is the trailer for the 13-minute piece in which live performers interact with animated characters through the use of projection mapping:

And here is an extended excerpt from the show that illustrates how they’re blending live performance and theatrical staging with animation. A video clip is obviously a poor substitute for an immersive animation experience, but even from this clip, it’s possible to see that some amazing things are happening in the piece:

Dandypunk, one of the artists responsible for the installation along with Darin Basile and Jo Cattell, spoke with Kent Bye’s Voices of VR podcast about producing “Riders of the Storyboard.” The main takeaway for me is when the interviewer Bye points out that even though Heartcorps’ show is pushing the edge of what’s possible with projection mapping technology, what they’re really doing is “laying the groundwork [for] what…a lot of the entertainment experiences with augmented reality are going to look like in the future.”

Right now, projection mapping and augmented reality (ar) technologies might be best described as being in the spectacle phase, kind of like where cinema was a century-and-some-change ago when a film of a locomotive pulling into a train station or an elephant being electrocuted was considered exhilarating entertainment. But it won’t be long before these technologies mature to the point where artists and storytellers can begin using them in a more ambitious and meaningful narrative fashion, just as artists started to do with film in the early part of the last century.

When that happens, animation will undergo the biggest paradigm shift in its history. If animation up through now has been all about projecting images onto flat screens of varying shapes and sizes, then animation for the next hundred years will be about experiencing it all around us – less passive staring at screens, more engagement and interaction with characters.

The form of these future immersive projects is yet undefined, but animation has already taken steps in this new direction. Videogames have acclimatized us to controlling animated characters rather than viewing them from afar, and projection-mapping has pushed animation beyond the 2D screen. New technologies will continue to transform the animation experience in the decades to come, and “Riders of the Storyboard” offers a tantalizing preview of where it could all be headed.

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