LUNAR Festival of Light

How MP-STUDIO used 3D and projection mapping to transform a city’s center into an open-air artistic event viewed by thousands.
By Meleah Maynard

When Bulgaria held its first festival of light in Sofia in May, more than 500,000 people came out to see the city’s center transformed into an open-air gallery by artists from Bulgaria and around the world. 

Sofia-based MP-STUDIO, in partnership with Festival of Lights International Productions , organized the festival while also serving as its main artistic team. 

We talked with MP-STUDIO Founder and Art Director Marin Petkov about how his studio, and artists from Australia, Bulgaria, Germany, India, France, Spain and Sweden, used C4D, animation, projection mapping, light installations and more to turn iconic buildings, parks and squares into breathtaking artworks. 

How did MP-STUDIO become the main organizer and artistic team behind LUNAR?

Petkov: We participated in the Festival of Lights in Berlin in 2015 and won the video mapping championship. It was our first time participating, and it was amazing to see how many people were at that festival. Later, after we won a second time, we became a main partner of Festival of Lights International Productions, and I became the art director of the Festival of Lights.

Now we do the Festival of Lights in different cities around the world, and it made me think about how much I’d like to do something in Sofia where I was born. We started working on that idea in 2020, but the pandemic ended those plans, so we decided to wait. Once we could start again, our goal was to have at least 13 to 15 light installations, and we achieved that. We hope that next year we’ll do even more.

We’ve done some projection mapping and light installations here, but nothing on the scale of this festival, so we invested a lot in helping people, and the government, understand what a light festival is and how it could be good for culture, tourism and the economy. 

It’s also a good way for people who are not experienced in light art to show their work, so we organized small championships for local artists. Next year we hope to organize a video-mapping championship for artists from different countries. 

Tell us about some of the installations MP-STUDIO created.

Petkov: We had 13 installations this year by 14 artists from three continents, including us. We named the festival LUNAR, which means moonish, because fairytales are revealed when the moon comes out.

One of our shows was for the European Parliament and the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria. It was called “Imagine” and featured young people and the inner voices they have that influence life’s decisions. It was meant to send a message for the importance of our choices, but also to send a message that the world needs peace and Europe stands behind Ukraine and against the war. 

A couple of the others MP-STUDIO created were the hologram light installation CyberFlo , which was about protecting the environment, and the show  “Wildlife Depends on Our Habits,” which kids loved because there were a lot of animals. The installation was supported by Mastercard and DSK Bank (part of OTP Bank), as they wanted to increase awareness on the endangered species and beauty of the nature related to their efforts to protect it.

The largest projection during LUNAR was called “eXperience.” It was a static artwork competition that many Bulgarian artists participated in. It was on the façade of the National Palace of Culture, a really huge and interesting building. The theme was based on three topics: Motions, Xplore and eFuture, and it was very hard for the international jury to select the featured artworks because they were so good.

Describe your process for getting the projection mapping right?

Petkov: We always start by doing photogrammetry to see how many projectors we need for specific buildings and where to position them. We do that by calculating by square meter. Then we know what each projector’s point of view should be and we do our modeling.

Cinema 4D is our main tool for production, and we also use After Effects and Premiere. We take all of the scans and bring them into Cinema 4D where we remodel each building. Next, we do the texturing and prepare all of the cameras before moving on to figuring out how to create the illusions for different scenes. 

When we’re doing the mapping we use two different tools, Resolume and Millumin, and we sometimes test how things will work in Unreal Engine. When we do that, we model everything in C4D and then import the entire scene into Unreal to test it. 

There was an educational aspect to the festival. Tell us about that. 

Petkov: We felt it was really important to show young people in Bulgaria some new technologies for creating digital art and music, which is why we had Jonas Pilz here from Maxon demonstrating how to use Cinema 4D. We also had workshops on projection mapping because that’s our strength. 

We really wanted to inspire people and help them see what they could, so they could understand the possibilities and even change their direction in life to do something different. One of the students we met is now doing an internship with us, which is great. It was really exciting for all of us, and a lot of people asked us if we’ll be doing it again next year. We definitely will and we’re already thinking about it because time is ticking. 

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.