Fun with Fungi: shimeji is world’s smallest projection mapping

These days it seems no surface is safe from projection mapping, where video imagery is projected to transform a building or structure. While it’s already very familiar in the world of entertainment like at concerts and performances, projection mapping has also been used on famous pieces of architecture in Japan, like Tokyo Station, or old castles and temples.

Projection mapping typically takes as its subject a giant building that doesn’t change form and can be seen by lots of people. But this time it’s different. This was an attempt to create the “world’s smallest” projection mapping — on a shimeji mushroom!

In the past we have seen music videos using projection mapping with robots and pico projectors, courtesy of Rhizomatiks (Daido Manabe and Motoi Ishibashi), as well as projection mapping onto grains of rice by the AR Three Brothers. But this is the first micro projection of its kind to be seen in public by a lot of people.

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Over two days on April 27th and 28th, Nico Nico Douga, Japan’s popular video-sharing website, held its second Nico Nico Chokaigi fan event at the Makuhari Messe event center. One of the exhibits which got a lot of attention from visitors was Simejection Mapping, the projection mapping onto a roughly 6cm-tall shimeji mushroom at the booth for search engine Baidu.

At the core of the shimeji exhibit was a popular kana-kanji conversion software used on Japanese language input apps for Android smartphones, called Simeji. To promote the new version of Simeji the makers released an April Fools’ video that was well received, which then lead to this Simejection Mapping project. It was shown live in the venue, as well as being tried out around 4,000 times, including by regular visitors.

The April Fools’ Day promotional video
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The video projected onto the roughly 6cm-tall shimeji mushroom
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The team behind the exhibit (from left): Keita Ono (producer), Naonori Yago (art director), Takayuki Rokutan (planner, creative director, Mujuryoku Inc), Rin Yano (designer, Baidu), Masahiko Adachi (programmer, Baidu)

What is the concept behind Simejection Mapping?

​(Yano) Simeji is a texting app that we developed. It converts hiragana into kanji. It started from trying to change characters to Nagano prefecture shimeji.

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What character conversion from a shimeji look like!

(Yano) A shimeji is a living thing, so we saw character inputting as resembling spores, and this lead us to think of the kanji text output as fungal. The things connected by nodes to the overall process form clusters. We thought of several versions and the movement of the spores was important, so we planned very precisely the distance and range in order to bring out a strong sense of floating.

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The design versions for the video footage projected on the shimeji

(Yano) Shimeji express the joy of living things and type conversion!

How did the Simejection Mapping work?

Simeji is a kana-kanji conversion software used on Japanese language input apps for Android devices, an indispensable tool for the many users currently enjoying the boom in smartphones. Simejection Mapping then was an interactive artwork that demonstrated the quality of the software.

(Rokutan) With Simejection Mapping the converted text characters are reflected in the projection video. All we decided first was that we should show something that’s interactive. From this we had shimeji + projection mapping = Simejection Mapping, and that created what we have now.

(Adachi) ​When you input kana text into a smartphone, the Simeji cloud conversion service converts it into kanji characters and then returns several conversion options to your handset. The mapping made use of these conversion options to create projection video.

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At the venue you could use smartphones to input text on the screens.

(Rokutan) For example, if you input “ame” you get the kanji characters for “rain”, “sweets” and “heaven” [all can have the same reading of ame] and these are then expressed like mold. How many or how few the number of conversion options you have and how interesting the conversions are is what makes this so special. It’s something where unless you try it out, you won’t know how interesting it is. It’s fun to see not only correct conversion results but also input errors and how you get things wrong.

(Adachi) ​At first someone suggested shooting down characters with a gatling gun, but then by adding shimeji to “projection mapping” we had a phrase that led us to the most Simeji-like idea, where we would convert what was inputted onto a shimeji mushroom.

There are around 60 kinds of geometric patterns that can be projected onto the mushrooms. The system emphasizes the fun in how the different patterns link up, so it can stream patterns one after the other in a pre-determined edit.

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Different shimeji projection patterns

Simejection Mapping

Pocari Pickles: In order to preserve the mushrooms they were pickled in the sports drink, Pocari Sweat. During a day the mushrooms would be sprayed with water and replaced several times.

Shape: The makers bought around twenty packs of shimeji from a Shibuya supermarket that came from five different produce areas. They lined them up and then chose the most typically “shimeji”-looking one that they could replicate.

Ideal Form: When testing it out they used a 3D printer to create the “ideal” shimeji.

What was important was a shape that was common as a shimeji and that also had good proportions. The slightly larger mushrooms that you can buy in any Japanese supermarket seemed the most appropriate. A bromide print was made of the shimeji with the ideal proportions and then the designers went “mushroom-picking” — looking for the shimeji that matched this. This turned out to be mushrooms from the Shinsu no chikara brand.

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The “ideal” shimeji mushroom

For the exhibition at the Nico Nico Douga event, time was tight so the focus was just on projection mapping that was as small as possible, but in the future the team want to make a permanent installation and a system where you can view the mushroom from 360-degrees.

Mujuryoku Inc was a central part of producing Simejection Mapping but what does the company do?

(Rokutan) It’s a design company set up by people working in the advertising industry. Ad work is very interesting and there is lots you can experience. But however good the ad is, one day it will finish and it will be lost, and this is really sad. We wanted to create things that didn’t end, that could continue for a long time.

Current Mujuryoku Inc is running the Smile Meter, a system for measuring comedy, made by analyzing the volume of laughter from audiences at comedy events and then digitalizing the degree to which the gag worked. Comedians are then checking this after gigs to review their performance. Considering the timing of the gag and choice of joke, they can then try again at another gig to get the audience involved. The project is full of new discoveries each time, with the comic timing differing between manzai stand-up and comedy skits.

Populated by creative talents under thirty, Mujuryoku Inc is also expanding laterally into a variety of spheres, including the service industry, music-related areas and even wedding ceremonies.

(Rokutan) ​For Simejection Mapping as well, when the first idea came to mind, so too did the face of someone who can make it happen, and then they got involved and the work proceeded. This brings in more people and concepts, so the ideas evolved and our network of people expanded.

Not only advertising, Mujuryoku Inc wants to expand its partnerships with people who agree with their way of working.

Simejection Mapping was just a two-day event project but was so popular the organizers ran out of their distribution merchandise on the first day. The event promoters and marketing staff were shocked by how many visitors were flocking to the booth. Though these days you can see all kinds of stuff easily online via YouTube et al, it seems there are still things that if we don’t see for ourselves in the flesh, we won’t truly experience how cool they are.

Visitors at the event said that the mushroom mapping was a total mystery. We can also surely expect further things from the kana-kanji conversation software that lay at the heart of the experiment.

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Simeji

Simejection Mapping