Hackagong 2013.

This past weekend I competed in Hackagong, a 36 hour weekend where participants work in small teams to create something awesome. This year I created geolight, two nested 3D printed geodesic domes and lights that create beautiful shadow patterns all over the room where geolight sits. 1014144_10152078072159992_1907096354_n


In less than 24 hours I moved this project from a thought to a computer model to a physical tangible object to a shapeshifting shadow machine. Most of it was possible through 3D printing. Having the ability to turn thoughts into reality so quickly is intensely satisfying and gratifying!

This picture sums me up pretty well. Sketchpad, iPad, mac, slinky, lights. coffee, pear, earphones, glasses, analogue watch and hemp jumper.


Before going into hackagong I knew I wanted to make an object that could be used to create shadows, and would probably involve the beautiful patterns created by a geodesic dome. As of friday night my plan was to make a hand held full geodesic dome which would have a light inside that could be used to create cool shadows. As I was cycling towards hackagong (I was right near north gong station) the thought came to me that it would be much more interesting seeing the shadows of two objects interacting. I have previously played with lights and shadows, and one of my favourite things it the huge change in scale, and also our brain's ability to determine depth from a 2D image. I wanted to put them together by projecting shadows onto the celling and walls of any room.


I started to draw a quick sketch (on pen and paper) of what I wanted to 3D print. I talked to  Chris (the build ambassador at Hackagong) about the dimensions I could print in and the feasibility of my project. He gave me the dimensions and thought my idea was cool and would work. I jumped back on the computer and started to build the geodesic domes as 3D models in sketchup. I found a great instrucable with instructions on how to build the model, as well as downloadable examples. I opened up the V1 example. I built the model into an enclosed object that could be sent to the printers. I downloaded an .stl exporter for sketchup and after fiddling around with the model, I took it over to Chris to have a final run through before we printed. He changed the scale and rotated it so it would be printed upside down as this would need less support materials and be faster.


And then we printed it!


I chose to print my first 3D printed object with blue sparkly plastic. Have to make the first thing rememberable! Bucky would be so proud.



In total it took about 4.5 hours to print. As you can see in the photos, the printer doesn't just print the object, but also a support structure that is used to hold it all in place while the object is printing.


The next step for me to remove the support structure. With a little patience and a little pair of pliers, I managed to break free the dome from the supports. Pretty cool stuff!


It was then time to work on the next, larger dome.

My plan was to make a V1 dome for the smaller inner dome and a V2 for the larger outer dome.

To move from a V1 to V2, all the triangles are split into 4, and then pushed out so all the points are equally spaced. The more triangles, the closer the object resembles a sphere.

hello world

I finished the model and then sent it to Chris the wonderful printer ambassador. I had to wait my turn as other teams were using the printer. We loaded my model into the software and it said that it would take 9hrs to print. Chris ummed and ahhed, but I convinced him to let me print it overnight, starting at 11.30pm. The condition was set that if something messed up with the printing, I wouldn't be able to reprint.

Sure enough the printing stuffed up :(

The ambient temperature of UniCentre in the middle of the night in the middle of winter was too cold for the 3D printers. The plastic didn't adhere to the base plate and started to peel off the plate. Less than 20 minutes into the print, it had to be abandoned.


It was sad, but all the teams who were printing started talking to each other as we waited for our objects to be produced. A guy called Daniel from a team sitting near me thought my idea was really cool, and said that he had a geodesic dome at home that I could borrow for the weekend. Great news! His team mate had gone home to get some things, so would be bringing the model back at 2am.


While I was waiting I did a bit of soldering and coding with my strip of LED lights. My plan was to use a BlinkM LED, but I couldn't find any in wollongong. I have ordered one from littlebird so I can further develop my idea. I used my trusty strip of 60 rgb leds, but I would like to use BlinkM because they can retain their programming of an internal circuit board and run of battery power. The strip lights are great for a concept, and soon enough lights were working and flashing and making cool shadows.

Around 2:30 am, a beautiful 1V geodesic dome appeared on my desk. Made out of recycled tin cans, it was just the right size. Thanks Daniel!

I went to find a dark space to try out the domes and shadows. Marc the IT guy came on the search with me. As we wandered around, we gathered a group of hackers jacked up on red bull... the first dark space we found was.... (no judgement) the guys bathroom downstairs. So, yes, we all hopped into a dark bathroom at about 3 in the morning and started to play with some coloured lights. It worked really well, but the situation was just a bit weird. We left and took over the HQ room, turned off all the lights, popped some bean bags on the ground, and turned on some Mission Control. Perfect. The lights came on and shadows were cast over the roof.

It was magical.




I created some wonderful effects that simply do not translate to photos. The roof becomes a giant surface for shadows to loom over you. Beautiful patterns of dozens of triangles spread across your vision and suddenly it feels like you are in a completely different space. My favourite part of this, and what I want to keep on exploring is the sense of depth that our brains create from the movement of the shadows. If you close one eye and move your head, you can still gather depth information by the way things move. In a (2D) movie, your brain can still figure out depth even though that information isn't actually there. What I find really interesting is that the shadows created by geolight can give you enough visual information to determine the physical shape of the object casting the shadows, even if you can't see the object itself. The nested domes create irregular patterns and confuse the eyes. By using multiple lights and different colours, you can change the number of shadows, how they intersect and the colours of the shadows.

After about two hours of experimenting with shadows, it was time for bed (5am!).


I packed up my stuff and cycled home in the freezing wollongong air.

I sleptwalked through a shift of work, and then returned to hackagong in the afternoon of the sunday to present what I had done to the judges and other teams. Lots of people were impressed, some of the judges thought it was a very interesting a unique use of 3D printing, and some people just didn't get what I was trying to do.

I guess the problem of not understanding lies somewhere in the middle of us. I need to work on how to explain the weird concepts and oddities that I am working on, and I would like other people to be more open to weirder things. I do kind of like it though, that what I am trying to do is difficult to translate into words and pictures, and it becomes something that you need to see in real life.

One of the judges asked for the business potential of geolight. I didn't really have an answer and I hadn't really thought of trying to sell it. I am putting the models online for you to print and the code too (see below). It is fairly simple and I would be keen to see what other people can do with the general structure of creating 3D shadows. Later in the evening when I put photos up on facebook a few friends asked if I was planning to sell it, and they would buy it, so yes! There is business potential. I think it needs a little more work before I would sell it, but it does seem like something that could sell: a 3D printed ambient light. At least in this sweet stage where 3D printing is 'cool' and not quite mainstream. I could go along a arduino open source type route: you can buy the assembled model, or download the files and make your own.

In the end, I didn't win any prizes for the geolight, but I had heaps of fun creating it. It gave me a taste of 3D printing and I want more! It is so easy to see how this technology is going to radically change the world. The experience of moving a thought to a physical tangible object was extremely gratifying, and being able to show what I was trying to do rather than explain what I am doing as I work towards making something was fantastic. I really want to get my hands on a 3D printer, because once you start printing, hundreds of improvements come to you. This is what is so exciting about making things with a 3D printer, the turn around time is relatively short, and the cost of the materials is also relatively low (and is only going to get lower. Exciting times.


Where to from here? Rework my model and print it again, make sure the big one prints out this time :)

More lights. More shadows. More objects. Work on programming lights into controllable patterns. Print bigger objects (for a larger scale of shadows) , make 3D objects that create 2D illusions. Scale bigger. If instead of projecting shadows on the inside of a room, imagine giant depth bending shadows on buildings. Im coming for you VIVID. ;)


LUTS - Living Under The Stars

This is an essay that I wrote for an assessment task for media arts. The assesment was supposed to be writing about the materiality of an artwork on Cockatoo Island for the 18th Sydney Biennale, but instead I wrote it on the materiality of LUTS - The planetarium I was working on with Keg de Sousa. This is the essay turned into a blog post so you can click on things :)

What exactly is LUTS? Well, it is a planetarium. A mini, Buckminster Fuller inspired, inflatable planetarium. If you have seen Keg’s (Schm/G)Igloo, then you have a basic idea of the shape. An inflatable dome that from the outside is around 3 or 4 meters tall and 7 or 8 meters across. There is a small entrance way on the side of the dome that you can crawl through. Opposite the entrance (on the outside of the dome) is a small fan attached to a tube connected to the planetarium, constantly pumping air into the walls of the dome. The dome is a double skinned, so when you are inside it is similar to a jumping castle, rather that being inside a big balloon. When you are inside the dome, hundreds of twinkling stars meet you, placed all throughout the inner dome. They lightly twinkle all around you, then after a while they all fade to black and different constellations all across the ‘sky’ light up one by one. After a few constellations light up, all the stars go back to their regular twinkling.

Thinking about the different ‘objects’ used in LUTS is an interesting experience both as an audience member and also someone who work on it and has had quite a bit of behind the scenes time with the work. The work has two main parts to it, the LED stars, and the dome itself.

The dome is made out of a black plastic material that Keg described to me as “similar to the material that they make sails out of’. The material is quite light, but doesn’t let any air through. It is flexible enough to fold the whole planetarium into a box, but once air is being pumped into it, it can hold itself up. The design of the dome is probably more important than the material that was used. A hemisphere broken into 12 sections (longitude lines). The sections are sewn together and air is allowed to pass from one section to another. To get into the planetarium, you have to squeeze through a small hole in one of the sections. The entrance was is a certain height and of a certain size that lets people know that they can go inside, and the slight glow from the lights draws people in too.


The location of the entrance is also important, if it were placed on the floor (seen to the left), the dome would struggle to maintain its shape and would probably collapse. The right picture shows the position of the entry.

The lights were the part of the project that I worked on the most. Most of my time during the project actually involved me soldering the LED’s prongs to wires that went down the inside of the planetarium that were going to be connected to Arduino chips (small computers) to control the flashing of the lights. The first wire we were using was some craft wire that Keg had brought back from a recent trip to America. Rolls of red and blue wires were quickly soldered together and ended up creating a massive tangled dread lock of wires. Keg’s original plan was to group all the wires together and make them go down together in one thick tube down one of the 12 seams. Keg was worried about the weight of the wires pulling on the dome might be too heavy. A problem we encountered early on was forgetting to mark which blue positive wire went with which red negative wire.  We spent an afternoon following the 3m+ stretch of wire from LED down to its end point, trying to untangle and match the positive and negative wires together.  A few trips to Jaycar later and Keg had a new, lightweight wire that was used for telephones. This wire came as two wires connected to each other (for positive and negative) which sold both the problem of the heavy wires and sorting through the matching wires. These lightweight wires now flow directly from the LED down the inside of the planetarium to the base, where they make their way to one of 3 Arduino computers.

This was a really interesting experience as it was one of the first times that I had really thought about exactly what was going on behind the scenes of an artwork. The wires are just as much a part of the work as the dome itself, without them there would be no lights. But the audience does’t see or think about the wires. The choice of wire that was used played a key part in the artwork. It is really interesting how this is an aspect of the work that is hidden (as are the computers that drive the lights).


There were 2 different types of LEDs used for the planetarium, ones with large bulbs that focused the light, and slightly smaller dimmer LEDs that spread the light at a wider angle. All of the LEDs were white, but some of them varied in temperature, so there are some that are a more yellow hue, some with a cooler blue hue.

The LEDs were programed to twinkle and fade between 7 different shades of brightness. When we inflated the planetarium and turned on the lights, something odd happened. The lights would twinkle normally, but when they were supposed to go completely off, some would stay just the tiniest bit lit, no lighter than a glow in the dark toy. But they weren’t completely off. This wasn’t something programmed in. The computer was sending the message to the light to turn off, but somehow a small amount of power was still going through and it managed to make them glow ever so slightly. Rather than worrying or try to fix this ‘bug’, Keg decided to embrace the seemingly innate ability of the LEDs to represent far away stars.  The final effect is amazing. Bright constellations flow across the sky, while tiny stars glow in the distance.

The bulbs of the LEDs are visible, while the prongs and wires are hidden behind the material as mentioned above. The LEDs are held in place by poking the prongs through the material and letting the material of the dome hold them in place (see the diagram to the left). The materiality of the dome allowed the led prongs to be pushed through, but was strong enough to hold the weight of the LED and the weight of the wires attached. Fun fact: over one kilometer of wire in inside the planetarium.


The first time we inflated the dome , uploaded the ‘twinkle’ code to the Arduinos and turned on the lights was an amazing moment. The lights all flicked on and started twinkling. “Wow” I said. “Yay!” said Keg. It was beautiful. Twinkling lights were all that could be seen. The dome is covered in them. It is large enough to stand in, but small enough to take up your entire view. All your vision is taken up by the black material and (more importantly) the twinkling stars. Keg called Lucas [Abela] in to have a look. “Beautiful, well done Keg!” he said as he leaned over to give her a kiss. “Rory and Danae helped too!” said Keg. Lucas leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Danae can get hers next time”. When Danae came over later that night, Lucas continued with his celebratory kissing spree.

It is hard to comment on the audience reaction to LUTS for two reasons:

  1. Everyone that I saw look at it was involved in making it
  2. It hasn’t been publicly shown! (Opens in Brisbane on the 24th of August) [At the time that I wrote this, It hadn't opened. You can see it now!! More info here.]

But from my own experience I know that it is a totally surrounding experience. You are not looking at a painting or a picture on a wall, you are inside the art.

Once it was working I spent a long time just sitting in it, watching the stars and the constellations move. It is really beautiful, peaceful and very reminiscent of looking at the real stars in the night sky. The only other person who has seen the work was Dodo the Husky. He didn’t seem to be amazed as the rest of us.



Working with Keg on the planetarium was a wonderful experience that I learned a lot from. Coming from a computer science back ground, everything I have generated has been digital. Everything has had a file format attached to part of it (are file formats a digital medium?). Seeing Keg’s process drawings revealed to me how much thought and effort needs to go into creating something for the physical world. Working out if the black material and air pressure could support the weight of all the wires, what was the best way to position the wires so they were invisible to the audience? Where should the entrance be placed? Size and location were also key in creating and perfecting the audience’s experience. All the materials used served a purposes, and the nuances of the materials provided something that couldn’t be generated if other materials were used.

Day 27

Currently working on a video for media arts, here is me sitting at my computer doing some final cut work:

All glitchy! I used You Glitch, a cool bit of software art made with open frameworks.

Here is a bit of the video that I'm working on, also in glitchy mode:

Full video is due on tuesday, so hopefully I will have it uploaded soon so you can all have a look!

Day 14

Yesterday afternoon when I should have been studying, I decided to get my creative on. After yesterday's post touched on Sol Lewitt's Cube without a cube, I wanted to take the idea and do something else with it. What if instead of a cube without a cube, it was a cube without a cube without a cube. How many layers of 'without a cube' could I go?

I sketched this down after a few false starts:

What do you see? A cube without a cube with a cube? Or a cube without a cube in a corner of a cube? Try rotating the picture!

So after playing with that, I thought I would try some stuff out with the scanner. Here are some interesting results:

[gallery link="file" columns="4" orderby="rand"]

Today I also went to the Illawarra Fly, highly reccomended. Took heaps of nice photos... I'll upload the rest on a day when I don't have anything to blog about :P

But for now, here is a photo of me and my friend Jess.

Day 13

It came from the web.

Here is some really cool tape art by a Slovenian design collective called multipraktik. I really like duct tape as a medium to work with (haha... wow... never thought I would type that). It has so many constraints and I do really enjoy working with it. In duct tape stuff I have done before, I have only used one or two colours in stuff before, and I enjoy forcing just the two toned effect. Multipraktik have used a whole bunch of colours of tape and they have gotten some really nice effects


Here is a video of me and some duct tape art I did a while ago based on Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #356 (cube without a cube). Currently all my walls are duct tape free, just sitting there waiting for something to be put on them. Another great thing about duct tape is its size. It forces you to work on a large area, often in a more visible space. It is different to a drawing in a book, it is always there, always visible. Anyway, here is some animated duct tape art I found on tumblr..

I don't know who made it, so let me know if you do.



Another thing I found today is this stop motion by Ian Robertson

Kind of reminds me of a video I made almost a year ago.



Film Work

Hello hello,

I have finished my first assignment for media arts this year, check it out above. We had to make a 1 min film using film (the medium). It is a silent work, but I added music. So, if you want to watch it with no sound, mute your computer :)

Let me know what you think!

Duct Tape

I had duct tape on my wall up until last week, but then I took it down. Here is a video!

Turns out I couldn't deal with an empty wall, so I put up this....

More duct tape!

It's based off a Sol Lewitt wall drawing (i forget the number... three hundred and something) cube without a cube.

Well, it has less than a week to live before my inspection next Wednesday. House owners just don't appreciate modern art!


Here is some other cool duct tape art!


Still motion

I found this on This Is Colossal, 2,000 tennis balls suspended in the Mustang Art Gallery in Spain. The balls are suspended giving the illusion of a stroboscopic motion. Currently in Media Arts we are studying film, as in the medium of film. I think that this art, while clearly not film, this artwork provides an interesting correlation.

We see a frame by frame play of the movement of the ball bouncing around. While the still photos of this artwork are really interesting, the video above is amazing. I would love to be able to visit this gallery and walk around the balls. One of my favourite parts of The Polynomial is the ability to pause the game and fly around the paused universe. It's kind of like that bit in 'The Matrix' where Neo dodges bullets as the camera flies around him. This gallery would be just like that!

Anyway, check out this really interesting video about strobe lights.

Future of media arts

Yesterday's post was very text heavy. Here is a super interesting video to give you a break.

Golan Levin's AMA Video Uses Experimental 3D Cinema from FITC on Vimeo.

This is a really interesting interview, done all online. Questions were asked by the reddit community and then Levin responded in a video. They video was filmed with a Kinect sensor and a DSLR. The DSLR provided the colour while the Kinect provided the 3D shape. Then the filmmakers used custom openFrameworks software that aligns and combines color video and depth data into a dynamic sculptural relief. From this they could then move a virtual camera around 3D space.

Anyway, apart from the technical side of the video, a really interesting look at art + technology right now and the future.

The Polynomial

Blogging! Here we go! The Polynomial is a game I guess. I like to describe it as an iTunes visualizer on meth. Stars form galaxies that change and morph in time to your music. You can fly around and shoot things that float around the universe.

From the website

The Polynomial is a 3D musical 'space shooter' game, with non-shooter mode and built in fractal editor. Visuals are generated mathematically and animate to your music or microphone input; there are 4 music-driven animators and 38 arenas to choose from. You can create your own arenas using built in editor, and you can save your fractal images at any resolution. There are many parameters you can change for entirely new, original look; the number of combinations is astronomical.

I'm not normally a fan of dubstep, but the polynomial thrives on it. There are lots of things that I enjoy about the polynomial. Here they are!

  • Indie. Does it make me a hipster that I like it because it is indie? Possibly. I like the fact that one guy created this. One guy distributed this. We are at a really interesting point with game development, we have kind of cycled back to the roots, really small teams making what they want and distributing it how they want. With the internet and other online services (I'm looking at you, app store) it is now super easy to get out your product. That said, finding it is harder.... I'll talk about online stuff later..
  • The editor. Eff yeah. The editor makes me so happy. I love it when games give you the chance to create your own stuff! I think that is part of the huge appeal of games by Will Wright (The Sims, Sim City etc). I have heard stories of him coming up with the idea for Sim City after he was building cities for another game he was working on. Anyway, I'm getting distracted. The editor, amazing part of the game.
  • Music! Why isn't this further up! I love love love that this game reacts to music! So good! More stuff should react to music!

The polynomial can be downloaded for PC, Mac and Linux. There is a free demo and the full version has a 'pay what you want' model, with a minimum of $8USD (well worth it).