New (mis)Use For Lithophanes: Miniature Diorama Backgrounds

What’s better than a well-lit photo of a 3D-printed miniature? A photo of the miniature in a mini diorama, of course. [OrionDeHunter] shows off a clever technique that has something in common with old-timey photo stages and painted backgrounds, and (mis)uses 3D-printed lithophanes to pull it off. What [OrionDeHunter] does is use a curved and painted lithophane as a stand-in for a background, and the results look great!

Lithophanes are intended to be illuminated from behind to show an image, with thin areas showing as lighter and thicker areas darker, but when it comes to high contrast patterned images like brick walls, the same things that make a good lithophane just happen to also make a pretty good 3D model in the normal sense. No 3D scanning or photogrammetry required.

Here is the basic process: instead of creating a 3D model of a brick wall from scratch, [OrionDeHunter] simply converted an image of a brick wall (or stairs) into a curved lithophane with an online tool. The STL model of the lithophane is then 3D printed, painted, and used as a swappable background. When macro shots of the miniatures are taken, the curved background looks just right and allows for some controlled lighting. It’s a neat trick, and well applied in this project. Some sample images demonstrating how it works are just under the break.

Lithophanes were originally made using marble or thin porcelain, but a modern spin has been put on the technique with 3D printing. Enterprising hackers have even discovered ways to add color, too.

Hackaday Links: June 21, 2020

When Lego introduced its Mindstorms line in 1998, in a lot of ways it was like a gateway drug into the world of STEM, even though that term wouldn’t be invented for another couple of years. Children and the obsolete children who begat them drooled over the possibility of combining the Lego building system with motors, sensors, and a real computer that was far and away beyond anything that was available at the time. Mindstorms became hugely influential in the early maker scene and was slowly but steadily updated over the decades, culminating with the recently released Mindstorms Robot Inventor kit. In the thirteen years since the last release, a lot has changed in the market, and we Hackaday scribes had a discussion this week about the continued relevancy of Mindstorms in a time when cheap servos, microcontrollers, and a bewildering array of sensors can be had for pennies. We wonder what the readers think: is a kit that burns a $360 hole in your pocket still worth it? Sound off below.

Are you looking for a way to productively fill some spare time? Plenty of people are these days, and Hackaday has quite a deal for them: Hackaday U! This series of online courses will get you up to speed on a wide range of topics, starting tomorrow with Matthew Alt’s course on reverse engineering with Ghidra. Classes meet online once a week for four weeks, with virtual office hours to help you master the topic. Beside reverse engineering, you can learn about KiCad and FreeCad, quantum computing, real-time processing of audio and sensor data, and later in the year, basic circuit theory. We’ve got other courses lined up to fill out the year, but don’t wait — sign up now! Oh, and the best part? It’s on a pay-as-you-wish basis, with all proceeds going to charity. Get smarter, help others while doing it — what’s not to love about that?

Speaking of virtual learning, the GNU Radio Conference will be moving online for its 10th anniversary year. And while it’s good news that this and other cons have been able to retool and continue their mission of educating and growing this community, it’s still a bummer that there won’t be a chance to network and participate in all the fun events such cons offer. Or perhaps there will — it seems like the Wireless Capture the Flag (CTF) event is still going to happen. Billed as “an immersive plot-driven … competition featuring the GNU Radio framework and many other open-source tools, satellite communications, cryptography, and surreal global landscapes,” it certainly sounds like fun. We’d love to find out exactly how this CTF competition will work.

Everyone needs a way to unwind, and sometimes the best way to do that is to throw yourself into a project of such intricacy and delicate work that you’re forced into an almost meditative state by it. We’ve seen beautiful examples of that with the wonderful circuit sculptures of Mohit Bhoite and Jiří Praus, but here’s something that almost defies belief: a painstakingly detailed diorama of a vintage IBM data center. Created by the aptly named [minatua], each piece of this sculpture is a work of art in its own right and represents the “big iron” of the 1400 series of computers from the early 1960s. The level of detail is phenomenal — the green and white striped fanfold paper coming out of the 1403 line printer has tiny characters printed on it, and on the 729 tape drives, the reels spin and the lights flash. It’s incredible, all the more so because there don’t appear to be any 3D-printed parts — everything is scratch built from raw materials. Check it out.

As you can imagine, the Hackaday tip line attracts a fair number of ideas of the scientifically marginal variety. Although we’re not too fond of spammers, we try to be kind to everyone who bothers to send us a tip, but with a skeptical eye when terms like “free energy” come across. Still, we found this video touting to Nikola Tesla’s free energy secrets worth passing on. It’s just how we roll.

And finally, aside from being the first full day of summer, today is Father’s Day. We just want to say Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, both those that inspired and guided us as we were growing up, and those who are currently passing the torch to the next generation. It’s not easy to do sometimes, but tackling a project with a kid is immensely important work, and hats off to all the dads who make the time for it.

 

Millennium Falcon Docking Bay Doubles As Table

A glass table makes a perfect display case for showing off whatever’s important to you, but if you want keep the dust off of your treasures, closing up the sides is probably a wise move. It might not be a bad idea to put some lighting in there to make sure everything is easy to see. You might as well make the lights RGB and remote controlled, so you can fiddle with the look from across the room. Of course, you could go all in and just make the thing a diorama…

It’s not hard to imagine the line of thinking that convinced [Erv Plecter] he should turn a simple glass table into a docking bay for a model of the Millennium Falcon, and looking at the final results, we think it was the right move. With an incredible attention to detail, what started out a generic looking table and rather modest toy, have been combined into an interactive display that could woo even the staunchest of Trekkies.

If you’ve ever considered lighting a model, this project is an excellent example to follow. The Hasbro toy that [Erv] started with certainly wasn’t what you’d call studio quality; the little lighting it featured wasn’t even accurate to how the ship appears in the films. But with some reference material, fiber optic cables, and enough Arduinos to drive it all, the final lighting is truly a marvel. We’d say the engine is our favorite part, but those tiny lit panels in the cockpit are hard to beat.

While the Falcon is clearly the star of the show, the docking bay itself is certainly no afterthought. The back-lit panels, with their inscrutable Imperial design aesthetic, look fantastic. The addition of small details like crates and barrels, plus the glossy black PVC sheet used for the floor, really brings the whole scene to life. It’s almost a shame that the ship itself is so big, as a smaller model would have left more room to toss in a few Stormtroopers and droids out on patrol.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody augment a “toy” grade model with additional lighting effects. While the scale miniature aficionados in the audience might turn their nose up at some of the artistic liberties taken on these low fidelity models, we think any normal person would be blown away if they saw them in person.

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Halloween Hacks: Diorama-rama

The folks down at LVL1, the Louisville hackerspace, are throwing a Halloween party. To showcase his building skills, LVL1 member [JAC_101] put together a Halloween diorama featuring the inner workings of Doctor Frankenstein’s laboratory.

There’s a bunch of really neat pieces that make this build great. First up is the LVL1 plasma sign. This sign is four circuits pumping a high voltage charge through Xenon flash tubes. Instead of a bright flash, a very Halloweeny Xenon plasma shoots though the tubes. The sign is constructed from four disposable camera flash circuits.

A few flickering-LED torches light Dr. Franenstein’s lair while the monster is a McDonalds happy meal toy wrapped in surgical tape and painted with UV reactive paint.

In the interests of repurposing existing materials, a plasma disc belt buckle was taken from [Seven of Nine]’s regeneration chamber LVL1’s rave supply cabinet and provides a suitable ‘mad scientist’ aesthetic. A bit of EL wire was thrown in for good measure along with some black lights to activate the UV paint.

While Frankenstein’s lab is missing a hilariously oversize knife switch on the wall, [JAC_101] still pulled off a great build.