Projecting Optimism: Obscura Digital and Raising Awareness Through Technology

On the 1st of August, 2015, a 400-foot tall whale swam over the heads of the people of New York City, gliding against the night sky. Dreamlike and mesmerising, the whale was one in a line of endangered animals to grace the city that night, emblazoned across the skyline for all to see. These breath-taking scenes were brought about by Obscura Digital, a tech company at the cutting-edge of projection technology, who used the Empire State Building as the canvas for the imagery that was captured by Louis Psyhoyos for the 2015 documentary Racing Extinction. Used for the final scene of the film, this staggering display forms part of a series of similar projects that Obscura have involved themselves in, taking iconic manmade structures and buildings and using them as a platform to raise awareness about the natural world.

Obscura have turned many longstanding, world-famous buildings into light displays, from the UN buildings of New York to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dabhi. The illumination of the Vatican was perhaps their most ground-breaking installation yet; the first time any art had ever been projected onto St. Peter’s Basilica. Once again, the animals were centre stage. Exotic wildlife was resplendent against the stunning building, thanks to more photography from Psyhoyos, and for one hour the Vatican beamed images of nature onto the surrounding city. Pope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis, was the patron saint of nature and ecology, and Pope Francis’ own more recent calls to action on climate change lent itself to this evening perfectly.

Though not exclusively an activist company, having taken on the task of producing displays for Coca-Cola, Youtube, Google and a number of other corporate affiliates, the activist themes run deep within the portfolio Obscura has amassed so far. Speaking about an installation in March of this year at the Starry Nites festival (in which Obscura projected onto mountains half a mile away, as well as illuminating the surrounding oak trees in fire), founder and chief creative officer Travis Threlkel eluded to this significant aspect of his work. “I’m using this voice that I’ve found to reach a lot more people than I thought I ever could with ways of hijacking the public’s imagination, because they’re encountering something that they’re not totally used to seeing, using projections and light to illuminate things that people aren’t thinking about, with deep and strong, powerful calls for environmental responsibility.” Speaking on the use of the Empire State Building as the backdrop for their Projecting Change project, CEO and co-founder Chris Lejeune described it as “a particular statement behind using a building like the Empire State as it pertains to capitalism and the environment.”

Much has been said over the years of the importance of connecting and engaging with people, in order to affect and influence societal attitudes towards conservation. This new form of spreading the message through these phenomenal installations represents a fascinating future, where new and upcoming technologies can play a vital part in our efforts to conserve the planet. We’re already seeing applications of VR technology to present the natural world to people in new ways, and of course Sir David Attenborough has long used the best cameras available at the given times in order to capture the images that have shaped and formed so much of our ideas of nature. This work is the latest tool for us in the ever-changing battle to promote conservation, and the future can only lead to further innovation and creativity.


An article by Aaron Mills