Today we cast the first small pieces of resin so that we can test how the LEDs look when embedded. We used 12 different color tints, plus a control, then we illuminated LEDs from underneath. (we call the test casts "muffins")
(video of LEDs are always pretty terrible, alas) In the videos, all the LEDs are the same color for each of the muffins, so you can see how the tints affect the apparent color. We are looking for a tint that makes the flowers look good (see the still image for the un-illuminated colors) but does not interfere with the hue projected by the LEDs. A few of these tints seem like good candidates.
We have started casting simple shapes in translucent resin. Our first experiments at a reasonable scale are about 6" in diameter and 1 1/4" thick. We put LEDs in (simple, slow WS2812Bs, if that means anything to you) and looked at the color fades.
In the first image below, we show how we set up the jig to hold the LED strand and diffusion sheath. And in the second, we show how the jig holds the LED strand in the resin as it cures.
We've now made a few somewhat-interestingly shaped resin casts with LEDs in them (still the slow WS2812s...). We found for sale a silicone mold for pies that has a flower-like look. We used the same plywood jig trick to mount the LEDs in a spiral and set them in resin (see below).
Then we cast a few leaves in somewhat arbitrary shapes and with lots of different counts of LEDs in them so we have a sense of how many lights we'll need. We now have a full flower, with leaves to look at and think about. See the video for how it looks.
Next step: writing software to have a reasonable prototype of a wave passing over the flower. We're going to start with FastLED but there will be a lot of software iterations, I suspect.
First we crafted a clay mold of a petal which will then be used to create the negative required for resin casting, this will be the first of many iterations. The hand molded clay prototyping will be used in conjunction with 3D printing to help reduce production time.
Next we coated the clay in a varnish as to leave a smooth surface in the silicone mold.
Next step: Pouring silicone over the negative mold so we can start mass prototyping.
We've started thinking about different games we might play with this installation. The main story we're talking about is creating waves of light and sound that a participant creates when she walks through the field. That's a game called "waves".
But here's the thing: once we can identify and track a person's movement through the field, and link the movement to the LEDs and sound, we can do lots of different things. We're calling these "games."
Another game could be "aura". We choose one person in the field. All the flowers go dark except the flowers around this one person. As she moves, a pool of light and sound moves with her, not in a wave, but surrounding her. This pool could be of moving colors, swirling and blending across and within flowers, but always surrounding the one person. We might add a second person's aura, then more, until it's a mix of colors across the garden.
A third game is "pollinator." In this game, flowers glow in warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) and make needy sounds. When a person approaches and pauses near one flower, the flowers shift to cooler colors (blues, greens, and greys) while making gentle sighs of satisfaction. The sighs could become, ahem, more emphatic as the same person pollinates multiple flowers.
We have lots of ideas about games the flowers will play only with each other, without interaction from people. Of course we will need to play Conway's Game of Life, that seems unavoidable. But the flowers could also show patterns of requests and offerings, signaling to each other with sound and responding with light.
So much excitement about this build! It's keeping us going as we explore software libraries, LED types, ESP32 variants, I2s amplifiers, batteries, and speakers.
2017 was a great Burning Man year for me, for all kinds of reasons, but one of those reasons was the magnificent Tree of Ténéré This massive LED display included around 100,000 LEDs embedded in something like 15,000 leaves. I had amazing conversations under the tree, marveling at the scale and at the patterns.
After the artists took it down they reinstalled it in Oslo
Now called "Oslo Tree," it looks amazing by the fjord.
This means that the patterns have an irregular depth which creates a much richer, more complex and interesting pattern for the eye (relative to a flat plane).
The leaves themselves are an inspiration for our flowers.
The tree's leaves are much thinner (and vastly more numerous) than the leaves we will build for FoF. Our leaves will have a bit more diffusion, but our ideas are similar.
We're getting closer to making final production decisions for FoF. This was an opportune moment to see the Tree again, and to remember how impressive it is: routing information to more than 100,000 LEDs is a terrific feat. And the physical construction of the leaves, branches, and truck set a very high bar for our flowers.
Our lead artist Hope and materials engineer Dan have been really busy. We now have masters for the molds for the flowers. These are 3d printed in hard plastic. We will use these to make a bunch of silicone molds, and then we'll pour resin into the molds to make the actual flowers.
The first image shows the final 1/4 scale verisons of the masters. They look great! I am especially impressed by how closely these 3d objects represent Hope's originally drawn vision.
The LEDs and the diffuser sheaths will be seated inside the cast resin. In each master, there's a channel underneath for the LEDs.
This weekend we'll make the first molds, pour resin into them, and see how the LEDs look in the flowers. It's all coming together!
We now have nearly-production-ready code for the LEDs. Check out this gorgeous dimming!
This is just brightening and dimming. Of course the flowers will do lots of other things, with complex color patterns in each flower. However, the most fundamental aspect of our project is brightening and dimming as a wave passes over, and it's essential that the lighting is smooth.
We're there. Of course we can (and probably will) continue to tune this for even smoother changes in brightness. However, this is good enough for now. This smoothness means that we can use the cheaper and more available WS2812B LEDs instead of the faster but more expensive APA102 variants (like the new HD107s).