Utterly Precise Light Painting, Thanks To CNC And Stop Motion

Light painting is the process of moving a light while taking a long-exposure photograph, which creates a sort of drawing from the path of the light source. It’s been done in one way or another since at least the early-to-mid 1900s, but modern hardware and methods have allowed for all kinds of new spins on this old idea. [Josh Sheldon] demonstrates just how true this is with the light painting he did for a gum ad, showing what’s possible with a single multicolor LED under CNC control combined with stop-motion animation techniques. The rest of the magic comes from the software. [Josh] designs the animations in Blender, and the paths are then exported and used as the instructions for his self-made Light Painting Machine. The machine therefore recreates the original animation with lights and camera and not a single computer-generated graphic.

[Josh] is no stranger to light painting in this way. We’ve seen his fantastic machine at work before and we’re glad he shared the details behind his latest work. Embedded below is a concise video that shows the whole process, but if you’re in a hurry and just want to see the end product, here’s a shortcut to the results.

For those of you who would like to know more, there are plenty of details on [Josh]’s Light Painting Machine on GitHub along with a more in-depth description of the workflow and software, so check it out.

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Painting With Light And A Little G-Code

Most photographs are made in the fraction of a second that the camera’s shutter is gathering reflected light from the scene. But there’s fun to be had by leaving the shutter open and directing light into the camera. Called light painting, it can be as simple as a camera on a tripod in a dark room and a penlight spelling out dirty words – not like we’d know – or as complicated as this CNC dot-matrix light printer.

The first idea that [Jeremy S. Cook] had for this build didn’t go so well. He fitted an LED to the gantry of his 3D-printer, intending to send it G-code representing bitmaps. The idea would be to set it up in a dark place, open the shutter, and let the machine build up the image by rastering through the X- and Y- axes while blinking the LED on and off at the right time. But since the gantry only moves in one axis, he abandoned the printer in favor of his CNC router. He printed a collar to fit the dust collector shroud we previously featured, added a battery-powered LED, and affixed a pushbutton switch to the let the Z-axis turn on the light. It took some tweaking such as adding a translucent PLA diffuser, to get decent images, but in the end it worked. We like the soft look of the floating voxels, which were really helped by the later addition of a Nano and a Neopixel. Check out the build in the video below.

One thing we’d suggest is better reflection control. [Jeremy] used a black platen as a background, but it wasn’t quite enough. We suggest going none more black next time.

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Light Painting Animations Directly From Blender

Light painting: there’s something that never gets old about waving lights around in a long exposure photo. Whilst most light paintings are single shots, some artists painstakingly create frame-by-frame animations. This is pretty hard to do when moving a light around by hand: it’s mostly guesswork, as it’s difficult to see the results of your efforts until after the photo has been taken. But what if you could make the patterns really precise? What if you could model them in 3D?

[Josh Sheldon] has done just that, by creating a process which allows animations formed in Blender to be traced out in 3D as light paintings. An animation is created in Blender then each frame is automatically exported and traced out by an RGB LED on a 3D gantry. This project is the culmination of a lot of software, electronic and mechanical work, all coming together under tight tolerances, and [Josh]’s skill really shines.

The first step was to export the animations out of Blender. Thanks to its open source nature, Python Blender add-ons were written to create light paths and convert them into an efficient sequence that could be executed by the hardware. To accommodate smooth sliding camera movements during the animation, a motion controller add-on was also written.

The gantry which carried the main LED was hand-made. We’d have been tempted to buy a 3D printer and hack it for this purpose, but [Josh] did a fantastic job on the mechanical build, gaining a solidly constructed gantry with a large range. The driver electronics were also slickly executed, with custom rack-mount units created to integrate with the DragonFrame controller used for the animation.

The video ends on a call to action: due to moving out, [Josh] was unable to continue the project but has done much of the necessary legwork. We’d love to see this project continued, and it has been documented for anyone who wishes to do so. If you want to check out more of [Josh]’s work, we’ve previously written about that time he made an automatic hole puncher for music box spools.

Thanks for the tip, [Nick].

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Handheld Arduino Light Painter

Light painting is a technique which allows you to “draw” on a photograph by moving a light past the camera during a long exposure shot. While it can be difficult to master, light painting allows for some incredible effects such as text and images that appear to be hovering in mid-air. Think of it like a very slow but much cooler version of an augmented reality app.

[Reven] recently wrote in to tell us about the Arduino light painter he put together, and while DIY (and even commercial) light painting gear isn’t exactly new at this point, we think he’s raised the bar a bit with his design. With the addition of a slick 3D printed enclosure and on-board display and menu system, his light painter looks exceptionally professional for being built out of hardware he had on hand.

On his blog, [Reven] has done a phenomenal job of documenting the build from start to finish. Not only does he include a detailed Bill of Materials and the STL files so you can build your own version of his light painter, he walks the reader though his design process and explains why he did the things he did. Even if you aren’t interested in building a light painter, there’s almost certainly something of interest for anyone who’s ever looked at a pile of parts on their workbench and wondered how they were going to turn it into a functioning device.

Powered by an Arduino Uno, the light painter provides a user interface on a 16×2 LCD which allows control over not only the brightness of the WS2812 LED strips but selecting and loading different images from the micro SD card. The case was designed in FreeCAD, and while [Reven] mentions there are a number of issues which could be improved, satisfies all his design goals.

We covered the original Adafruit project that [Reven] based his code all the way back in 2013, though there’s certainly been more modern interpretations of the idea since then.

Light-Painting Robot Turns Any Floor Into Art

Is [SpongeBob SquarePants] art? Opinions will differ, but there’s little doubt about how cool it is to render a pixel-mapped time-lapse portrait of Bikini Bottom’s most famous native son with a roving light painting robot.

Inspired by the recent trend of long exposure pictures of light-adorned Roombas in darkened rooms, [Hacker House] decided to go one step beyond and make a lighted robot with less random navigational tendencies. A 3D-printed frame and wheels carries a pair of steppers and a Raspberry Pi. An 8×8 Neopixel matrix on top provides the light. The software is capable of rendering both simple vector images and rastering across a large surface to produce full-color images. You’ll notice the careful coordination between movement and light in the video below, as well as the impressive turn-on-a-dime performance of the rover, both of which make the images produced so precise.

We’ve covered a lot of light-painting videos before, including jiggering a 3D-printer and using a hanging plotter to paint. But we haven’t seen a light-painter with an essentially unlimited canvas before. We’d also love to see what two or more of these little fellows could accomplish working together.

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See Actual Microwaves — No More Faking It

Last week we saw a lot of interest in faux visualization of wireless signals. It used a tablet as an interface device to show you what the wireless signals around you looked like and was kind of impressive if you squinted your eyes and didn’t think too much about it. But for me it was disappointing because I know it is actually possible to see what radio waves look like. In this post I will show you how to actually do it by modifying a coffee can radar which you can build at home.

The late great Prof. David Staelin from MIT once told me once that, ‘if you make a new instrument and point it at nature you will learn something new.’ Of all the things I’ve pointed Coffee Can Radars at, one of the most interesting thus far is the direct measurement and visualization of 2.4 GHz radiation which is in use in our WiFi, cordless phones (if you still have one) and many other consumer goods. There is no need to fool yourself with fake visualizations when you can do it for real.

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Color Light Painting With A 3D Printer

Light painting, or taking a few RGB LEDs, a camera with a long exposure, and turning the world into Tron, has been around for a while. We haven’t seen many people using their household CNC machines for the same effect. [ekaggrat] is the exception. He’s already used a 3D printer to do some light painting, and now he’s doing it in color.

This build is an extension of an earlier project we saw that used a white LED to draw pictures within the build volume of a delta printer. Just like the last time, [ekaggrat] wired LEDs up to a RAMPS board and toggled pins with the M42 command. This build merely triples the complexity of the wiring; the RGB LED is wired to pins 4,5, and 6 of the controller board, and the shutter release button of his camera is wired up to pin 11 with an optoisolator.

The ability to blink out Gcode is one thing, getting his two-year-old daughter to stand still for 3D scanning is another thing entirely. With the data in hand, [ekaggrat] was able to run this model through a script that would generate a light painting of his daughter. You can grab the script for that on GitHub, or check out the video below.

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