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LED light painting: Geeks creating works of art through tech

No matter if you’re part of the art or geek scene, light painting has become a recent trend blending the two. The medium has evolved to something more than just waving flashlights in front of a camera with a long exposure. It requires an understanding of photography as well as the hardware and software that make these projects possible.

The trend of using a “light wand,” or and LED RGB light strip, began with a group of artists that wanted to map urban WiFi signals. This project created a visual landscape of technology we couldn’t see before, giving perspective on something we use everyday. After the release of art group’s video, it branched out into something else entirely—geeks and artists alike were creating floating pixelated images.

The LightScythe project was one of the first to be directly influenced by the art initiative. But rather than mapping WiFi signals, he used the concept of the light wand and a camera set to a high exposure time to create floating images and text. To anyone not aware of the tech behind the trick, it seems as if the future of holograms is already here. In reality, it’s a light stick being slowly moved across a designated space while a camera takes a photo at a long exposure setting.

The hardware behind it all can be easily ordered from any online electronics shop: A 2 meter programmable LED RGB light strip, acrylic tube to put it in, receiver to hookup to the light strip, laptop (with and Xbee link) to send images to the receiver, and a battery pack to power the light. To execute the entire operation, the LightScythe developer used Arduino code (which is usually coupled with one of its programmable boards, but it’s uncertain if he used the board as well).

Another user who became interested in light painting, but through the LightScythe, continued the evolution of this art form with the development of a more elegant system. He utilized a MicroSD to store bitmap images, so no receivers or laptop required out in the field. This user also outfitted an LCD screen to his box, which displays battery life, how wide the Bitmap is, and how long it will take to display the entire thing. In order to prep the bitmaps, he used a matlab script to plot everything out. For the non-programmers, there are other light stick DIY projects that use spreadsheets to plot out images. The board and code used in this version were all Arduino.

This geek meets urban art scene is only a fraction of what viewers can expect to see. Just a little while ago, there was an art initiative to “Snake the Planet.” A group took the classic arcade game Snake to the streets via a 3D projection mapping, which allowed them to create custom levels on buildings thanks an open source toolkit called openFrameworks. All possible through supportive open source communities and the viral nature of the internet. I can’t wait to see what’s next.


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