About this project
What's "light painting"?
In 1889, artist Georges Demeny created the first known light painting photograph, “Pathological Walk From in Front”, by attaching incandescent bulbs to his assistant’s clothing and taking a long exposure. The technique was groundbreaking and became the touchstone for 125 years of unique and compelling works of art. Photographers have since added colored lights and performed deft physical feats to capture interesting images, but the technology involved has remained remarkably similar to what Demeny used in that first image. Until today.
How do I start?
Light painting is a fairly simple to do. The first step is to make sure you have the right equipment. Almost every DSLR, and most point-and-shoots, have a long exposure mode. It's as simple as choosing the length of the exposure (from a few seconds to a few hours) and moving a light source within the frame. The process itself is fun and the excitement of seeing what you captured immediately can be extremely rewarding.
If you’re like us, however, as you grow to love the medium, you’ll also grow frustrated with its limitations. Pixelstick sprang from our desire to break free of these limitations. Lightpainting involves thinking creatively and trying outlandish ideas in the pursuit of amazing pictures. Pixelstick broadens the horizon of what's possible. Over many months of shooting we found Lightpainting to be more entertaining and more rewarding than ever. We were consistently amazed by what we were able to capture; we can't wait to see what you can do with it, too.
The fine detail
Pixelstick reads images created in Photoshop (or the image editor of your choice) and displays them one line at a time, creating endless possibilities for abstract and/or photorealistic art. Taking this one step further, Pixelstick can increment through a series of images over multiple exposures, opening up light painting to the world of timelapse, and allowing for animations of a scope and quality never before seen.
Below: Pixelstick in action - with Derick Rhodes of Shutterstock
Pixelstick consists of 198 full color RGB LEDs inside a lightweight aluminum housing. Pixelstick’s brain, a small mounted box, reads images from an SD card and displays them, one line at a time. Each LED corresponds to a single pixel in the image. The images themselves can be from 1 to 198 pixels tall and many thousands of pixels wide. The handle is perpendicular and has a secondary aluminum sleeve, allowing pixelstick to spin freely. Pixelstick uses 8 AA batteries. Throughout testing we’ve used Sanyo Eneloop and Amazon rechargeable to great success, never requiring more than one set for a long night’s shooting.
What do we get?
A central bracket connects the two 3' sections of aluminum housing and provides a mounting point for the handle. Over many designs we found that the perpendicular handle allowed for the most natural movement for both linear striping and more organic, abstract movements. A rotating sleeve sits over the handle and can be locked tight when not in use, or loosened allowing Pixelstick to spin freely.
The handbox not only allows you to select which image to load, but controls brightness, tint, firing speed, vertical flip, and left/right direction. There is also a port compatible with remote camera triggers (Canon C1) for wireless shooting.
The entire unit is matte black, rendering it virtually invisible to long exposures. A mounting channel runs the full length of the back. This slot accepts 1/4-20" threaded bolts, standard to the camera world, and allows you to get creative by mounting things to Pixelstick and mounting Pixelstick to things.
Sturdy caps protect each end of the Pixelstick, while cable clips keep everything snug against the housing.
The full package contains:
- LED PCBs (198 LEDs total)
- Two 3’ aluminum extrusion with connecting bracket & diffusion lens
- Handle with foam grip and rotating sleeve
- Controller box with connecting cables and clips
- Battery holder (AA Batteries not included)
- Carry bag
The Tale of pixelstick
Pixelstick began as a proof of concept using an arduino and some off the shelf LED strips. We got results, but weren't happy with the resolution of nor with the durability and usability of the actual device. We moved quickly into custom LED circuit boards, a more powerful ARM microcontroller and a sturdier design made of lightweight aluminum rather than plastic tubing. With the ability to control the density of the LED count while at the same time refining the custom aluminum extrusion, the current version of pixelstick began to take shape.
Our early controller prototypes were bare circuit boards, followed by a rather quaint wooden handbox (which we still quite like), and eventually on to higher and higher fidelity 3d printed enclosures. Each iteration performed better and was tweaked as we logged more hours with the pixelstick.
The handle went from a small stud, to a long vertical bar, and then eventually to a perpendicular tube with an attachment for spinning. We are still continuing to tweak the design as we move forward and have already committed to having a second extrusion made that will be more compatible with off the shelf nuts and bolts, so that replacements and extra hardware will be much easier for to source.
When pixelstick is funded we'll be able to start production in earnest. Our circuit board will have its final stress testing and bug checking done before we lock in one of the multiple PCB manufacturers we have lined up. Once this is set we will have an initial small run of fully assembled PCBs made to test the vendor and make sure that no issues arise on the assembly line. Concurrently, we will do a final round of 3d prints of our handbox and revised extrusion design before moving forward with the tooling for the extrusion die and injection molds. Upon receipt of our new tooling we will do trial runs of both the extrusion and injection molded components. At this point we will have all the parts to make a fully assembled pixelstick as it will ship to our backers. It is here that we will do a final check to make sure everything comes together as expected and is up to our standards. When we are satisfied we will go into full manufacture on all components and begin producing and shipping pixelstick to our backers.
What's the money for?
It's surprisingly expensive to produce just one of something. Your pledge will help cover initial costs such as tooling for injection molding, and aluminum and plastic extrusions. Additionally, the cost of manufacturing only becomes feasible when we meet the minimum order requirements for our various vendors. This means that we must have a have a certain number of Pixelsticks spoken for before we can begin the process of manufacturing them.
We have a fully functional prototype, a design that we’ve refined over months of shooting, and multiple manufacturers lined up for every phase of the project. We need only the support of interested folks like you to put Pixelstick on the map and change light painting forever.
Credits & Attributions
Risks and challenges
The Pixelstick project will require managing several manufacturers and overseeing assembly of what these factories produce into a final product. Bitbanger Labs has experience dealing with these potential challenges from our previous project, Remee, which experienced some production delays because of components shortages and minor quality control issues. While this did cause a small delay in fulfillment, ultimately we are proud to say that we delivered a quality reward to all of our Kickstarter backers. To mitigate some of these potential risks, we have created relationships with multiple vendors prior to launch, so that we are able to react quickly should any problems arise during production of Pixelstick. While no production run is without its hiccups, we think our previous experience in not only managing a large project but also keeping our backers engaged and informed throughout the process equips us with all the tools necessary to bring Pixelstick to life.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Pixelstick images are 24-bit uncompressed .bmps, and should be 198 pixels high, which allows each LED to correspond to an individual pixel in the image. The images can be many thousands of pixels wide. Images that are more than 198 pixels in height are cropped by the stick when used but the file remains unaltered. For best results, we recommend resizing all larger images to the correct height, as well as experimenting with various resampling options to get the sharpest, most accurate resize.
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