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Pixelstick lets you paint with light

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November 26, 2013

A close up of a deathly lady (Photo: Bitbangerlabs)

A close up of a deathly lady (Photo: Bitbangerlabs)

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What if creating the illusion of a ghost walking next to you was as simple as waving a light stick in front of a camera? Pixelstick is a new light painting tool developed by Brooklyn-based Bitbangerlabs, that allows anyone to create incredible images with the aid of a camera set to take long exposure photographs. Capable of reading images created in any image editing software, the digital light rod displays the desired image a line at a time, letting you create visuals in real world settings that can feature anything from floating graffiti to video game characters, blinking heads or brilliant swirls of color.

Resembling a really fancy light saber, the 6 ft (2 m) Pixelstick contains 198 RGB LEDs in its aluminum frame and a controller that accesses uploaded images from an SD card. Since every pixel is represented by a single LED, users can create a light painting that's anywhere from one to 198 pixels in height. All they need to do is switch to the long exposure mode in their camera, load images they've made in Photoshop (or similar software) into the light stick, start the camera and walk through the frame a few times while holding the Pixelstick.

"The device will read the image you've selected and display it one vertical line at a time as you move with it," Stephen McGuigan, one of its creators, tells Gizmag. "The whole process can be as quick as a few minutes."

A scene from a video game (Photo: Bitbangerlabs)

Though it's said to be easy to create skeletons invading the living room, ribbon rainbows and other complex patterns, the makers say that the technology also allows complete novices to create animations easily. Users will need to upload the desired animation into Photoshop, export it frame by frame as individual image files and load the series into the digital stick. Then it's all about repeating the exercise of waving the stick in front of the camera over multiple exposures, until the Pixelstick is done displaying all the images sequentially.

"The long exposures get stitched together into a video that can be exported as a GIF," explains McGuigan. Using the technique, artists have created bobbing ghosts, a bouncing trampoline, pulsing cubes and more. Wearing a really dark outfit renders the person operating the stick invisible within the image or animation. With a little bit of extra work, it's also possible to create really complicated effects.

"We mounted the camera to a cart, ran away from it holding Pixelstick, moved the camera forward a few feet, and repeated," reveals Duncan Frazier, the device's other creator. "It stitched together into this really compelling first person view of a ride through Brooklyn streets at night, as if you were riding on a rainbow carpet."

It's easy to spin or twirl the Pixelstick to create cool images (Photo: Bitbangerlabs)

Light painting has been around for a long time, from the late 1800s in fact, but many light painters have been limited to moving only one light source in front of the camera. Though a few artists have invented their own equivalent to the Pixelstick, they've mostly been DIY efforts requiring aspiring light painters to build their own.

Bitbangerlabs has started a Kickstarter project to bring Pixelstick out into the market. The battery-operated device doesn't require any special knowledge to use and makes it easy for beginners and experts alike to create high resolution images and animations in full multi-color.

"There's really no limit to what can be done," enthuses McGuigan. "That's the beauty of light painting; there's no wrong way to do it."

The company has already exceeded its funding goal by more than four times at the time of writing. Backers will need to pledge at least US$300 for a Pixelstick, which is about $100 less than the planned retail price. Pending no unforeseen hickups, the first units are expected to ship in May 2014.

Check out a video of Pixelstick in action below

Sources: Bitbangerlabs, Kickstarter

About the Author
Lakshmi Sandhana When Lakshmi first encountered pig's wings in a petri dish, she realized that writing about scientists and imagineers was the perfect way to live in an expanding mind bubble. Articles for Wired, BBC Online, New Scientist, The Economist and Fast Company soon followed. She's currently pursuing her dream of traveling from country to country to not only ferret out cool stories but also indulge outrageously in local street foods. When not working, you'll find her either buried nose deep in a fantasy novel or trying her hand at improvisational comedy.   All articles by Lakshmi Sandhana
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