Projection Mapping uses everyday video projectors, but instead of projecting onto a flat screen (e.g. to display a PowerPoint), images and animations can be mapped onto any surface, bringing 3D objects to life.

Barnsley Museums Learning team worked with Year 5 students from Jump Primary School to animate and project the internal workings of the Newcomen Beam Engine onto the external wall of its building at Elsecar Heritage Centre.

All students achieved Arts Award Discover as a result of the work they carried out during the project.

See our ‘How to guide’ to create your own animated projection maps in the Classroom.

colourful projection onto side of building at night

Working with creative artists Wayne Sables and Steve Pool, students used iPads to draw and animate their own versions of the engine, before using projection mapping software to produce the final product.  The students’ work was showcased at a celebration event at Elsecar Heritage Centre.

A film of the final piece can be seen here.


The Newcomen Engine

The Newcomen Engine was the first commercially viable steam engine, paving the way for the Industrial revolution. Built in 1795 to extract water from the mines below, the Newcomen Beam Engine at Elsecar is the oldest of its kind in the world, still in its original location.

arcihve photo of beam engine

Newcomen Beam Engine c.1920, Barnsley Archives

beam engine

Newcomen Beam Engine, Barnsley Museums

The Engine could extract up to 600 gallons per minute – that’s 20 baths full – and ran until 1923 when it was replaced by electric pumps.

It can be visited by the public today, but only during pre-arranged events or tours, and only during summer months when the Engine can safely operate. Housed inside its original stone and brick surround, it can be difficult to envisage how the whole thing works – the space inside is very limited and stretches over three floors.

The project aimed to solve this difficulty by demonstrating how the Engine works as a whole, through animating and projecting its internal workings onto the building.


1.     Finding out about the engine

32 students from Jump Primary visited Elsecar Heritage Centre to tour the site and see the real Newcomen Engine in action. Led by experienced staff, students were able to go inside the recently restored Engine building and discover what makes it work. They also saw a working model of the Engine to see more clearly the processes which power it.

The students discovered the Newcomen Engine was powered by atmospheric pressure. Steam was drawn into a cylinder which was then condensed, creating a partial vacuum. Atmospheric pressure than pushed a piston into the cylinder, allowing water to be drawn out of the mine.


2.     Creating the animations

The Museum team and the artists then spent four days in school – two days each with half of the class at a time. After recapping their knowledge of the Engine, students worked in pairs using the TagTool app on iPads to practice their animation skills. Once they (very quickly!) mastered the process, they imported this diagram of the engine which they could then draw around and animate.

engine diagram

The app allowed them to build up the different parts of the engine in layers, animating each one in turn in a manner similar to the way the actual engine parts would have moved. Once this was complete, the background photo was deleted, leaving only the children’s colourful and animated artwork behind. Pupils also compiled a list of key words associated with Elsecar and the Newcomen Engine and used the app to animate these as well.


3.     Projection mapping

students lying on fllor looking at projection on ceiling

Students then used Dynamapper, a projection mapping app, and practised projecting their creations onto the wall of the school hall. This can be done with any type of projector. A number of objects were positioned against the wall including gym apparatus, tables, musical instruments and cardboard boxes to give them distinct surfaces to map onto. By moving items around in the app, students could target their projections to a particular surface and create different images around the hall.

student filming another student on a tablet

In-between creating their own projections, students also used the iPads to make ‘newsreel’ video clips of the history of Elsecar, recording key events from its past, as well as talking about their experiences of the project.


4.     The final piece

A celebration event was held at Elsecar Heritage Centre, attended by pupils and their families as well as local stakeholders. The finished projections were beamed onto the external wall of the Newcomen building, accompanied by a soundtrack representing the Engine. This is now available for use at future events and for school workshops to demonstrate how the Engine works. A film of the projections can be seen here.

A ‘making of’ film documenting the project process was also created.

This project has brought a complicated scientific process to life for a new audience, and has made the Newcomen Engine, a world-famous piece of industrial archaeology, more accessible to a wide range of people.

The challenge of demonstrating more clearly how the engine works was met through creative use of digital technologies and animations that would directly appeal to children and young people.

The ‘making of’ film and ‘how-to’ resource has also ensured that this project is replicable in other settings – the choice of object/machinery to animate is not limited to the Newcomen Engine – schools can choose a classroom object or something of local interest to focus on.

The project was funded by us here at Waterloo200 and WE Great Place.

With thanks to Wayne Sables and Steve Pool, the digital artists who delivered the project. The soundtrack for the films was created by Andy Seward, as part of the Newcomen Dig Project. Music by Andy Seward and Luke Carver Goss, with words by Luke Carver Goss and pupils from St Pius school, and vocals by Tegwen Roberts. Recorded and engineered by Andy Seward. With thanks to Peter Tomlinson, Ged O’ Brien and Stuart Palmer.