Made on Earth — On-Demand Rainbows

Craft & Design Technology


It’s not obvious what the Rainbow Machine does at first glance. The machine’s arm of colorful flashing LED patterns gives it the look of a carnival gate or a giant’s wand. But a long-exposure photograph turns the motion of the machine’s arm into a vibrant rainbow.

Reid Bingham and I (Sean McIntyre) debuted the Rainbow Machine as a light-painting photo booth at the outdoor light-art festival Bring to Light: Nuit Blanche New York. One after another, groups of friends posed for 10 seconds in front of the machine while the LED arm painted the rainbow behind them. With an initial flash, the group was crisply captured in the photograph.

The flash was also my cue to rotate the machine’s flashing arm 180° in the air. The group blocked the LEDs traveling behind them, cutting out their silhouettes from the photograph’s light-painted rainbow. Their rainbow photo immediately showed up on the on-site monitor.

By the end of the night, we accumulated 186 photos, all of which were uploaded to a Flickr account and given away for free.

A year prior to this debut, Reid and I met working on an art installation at a Brooklyn warehouse party. Inspired by light-painting projects and artist Alexander Kurlandsky’s Robo-Rainbow (see MAKE Volume 26, page 69), we combined Reid’s LED art with my programming background to create the Rainbow Machine. We wanted to build something that everyone could enjoy in a variety of settings.

Reid and I continue to upgrade the Rainbow Machine. A new feature translates JPEG images into complex patterns of blinking lights on the machine’s arm. Our next challenge is automating the arm’s movement.

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