Transforming Buckingham Palace

How NorthHouse Creative used projection mapping to create an unforgettable visual experience for the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
By Helena Swahn

Commissioned by BBC Studios , live event specialist NorthHouse Creative conceptualized, designed and created a visual extravaganza that brought Buckingham Palace’s iconic façade to life in celebration of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee last June. 

NorthHouse used Cinema 4D, Redshift, After Effects, Unreal and more for the two-hour and 30-minute show, which included projection-mapping the Palace, LED screen visuals and broadcast graphics that were watched live by thousands and viewed by millions around the world. 

Collaborating on Visual Experiences

Based in London, NorthHouse Creative was founded by Creative Director Tom Bairstow in 2011 and is known for doing award-winning design and direction for music and brands, as well as live shows for Coldplay, Beyonce, Hugo Boss, the Super Bowl, UEFA Euros and many others. 

“We have a great love for visualizing audio, and most of our work has been in the music industry,” but we’re also passionate about design, film and technology and we love exploring new ways of creating visual experiences for audiences in a variety of real and virtual spaces.”

NorthHouse collaborated with Diana Ross and other performers at the Platinum Jubilee. 

NorthHouse landed the Platinum Jubilee project after several collaborations with the BBC, including the 2021 EarthShot Awards, where NorthHouse projection-mapped Alexandra Palace for a Coldplay show. 

Explaining that the Jubilee project was their biggest collaboration to date, Producer Alice Ryland says NorthHouse drew inspiration from British artists, the history of The Queen’s reign and The Queen herself to create contemporary looks that reflected the spirit of the Jubilee weekend.

NorthHouse meticulously planned every aspect of the projection show. 

NorthHouse worked closely with BBC Studios throughout the project, but Bairstow notes that his team was given a lot of freedom to develop their ideas and underpinning concepts. “Our vision was to use the amazing architecture of Buckingham Palace as a 3D canvas that would be transformed by out designs to evoke an emotional response from the audience.”

Projection mapping was handled entirely by NorthHouse, and there were a few sections with very specific briefs, including the Prince of Wales’s speech. The team also collaborated with Duran Duran, Alicia Keys, Diana Ross and other artists, Ryland says. “We developed dozens of ideas for big moments, assigning moments to artists, such as the liquid platinum pouring over the palace, which was perfect for Alicia Keys.”

The liquid pour for Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” was created with Cinema 4D, Redshift, Notch and other software.

Unpacking the Process

Because of the varied performances and themes, NorthHouse often needed to move between toolsets because “it was never a case of one size fits all,’ says Lead Motion Designer Lydia Caplan.

Playing with depth was central to the design concept, but the complexity of choreographing a visual narrative across a 360-degree canvas formed by three interconnected stages posed significant challenges.

We had to contend with the scale of the building, the viewing angles of the broadcast cameras and the live audience,” Caplan recalls. To do that, the team built a virtual set in Unreal to test their projection design. 

Cinema 4D and Redshift were also used throughout the project. “Cinema 4D is so essential to us that it’s second nature to leap inside to begin creating and Redshift allowed us to hone the lighting and test rendering as soon as we got the animation down,” says Motion Designer Sean Bone. “Using the render view alongside tweaking lights, materials and camera settings meant that iterative design could be refined at an astounding rate.”

Foliage growth was an essential part of the terrarium transition for Green Future scenes in the show. 

To bring the projections together on location, NorthHouse worked with the team at Creative Technology, who were responsible for the 32 projectors and Disguise server set-up.  

Reflecting on the show, Bairstow says it was an honor to play a part in the celebrations of the late Queen’s life and legacy. These days, NorthHouse is back to work on an eclectic slate of projects, including a large-scale projection in Dubai and “Encanto at the Hollywood Bowl,” which is available to stream on Disney Plus.

Helena Swahn is a writer in London, UK.