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Light Barrier – Millions of calibrated light beams create floating phantoms in the air


Created by Kimchi and Chips and commissioned by FutureEverything and the British Council, Light Barrier is the latest installation by Seoul based duo consisting of Elliot Woods and Mimi Son. First shown at New Media Night Festival, Nikola-Lenivets Park (4–6 June 2014), the installation creates phantoms of light in the air by crossing millions of calibrated beams; creating floating graphic objects which animate through space.

A fascination with natural light drove the technique of the impressionist painters, they explored new qualities of colour and the trail of time. Kimchi and Chips’ study of digital light discusses a new visual mechanic, their installation adding to the visual language of space and light. As the artist’s inquiry deepens, brush strokes become descriptive like code, detailing reality and allying light with canvas.

Elliot and Mimi created a system that creates truly volumetric projections which can define 3-dimensional forms in space. This is different to ‘hologram’ and fog screens which are planar images. The principle is quite simple, trying to cross over 2 or more beams of light in smoke and create a bright spot. If the same cane be achieved with ~100 beams being crossed over, then the effect starts to become interesting, as the brightness of the cross-over becomes significantly brighter than the approaching beams.

The duo used curved mirrors to split one projector into many. For each point on a curved mirror, the reflected light off of it travels in a different direction. Each curved mirror takes a part of the projection image, and redirects each pixel into a different outgoing directions. This makes each curved mirror into a low resolution (highly distorted) projector. Each reflected pixel travels along a unique path through the space, coming from many different locations which creates a Light Field Projector, where it is possible to control a large set of light rays with differing position and direction.

A set of projectors are positioned directly above the a set of mirrors set on a 45degree slope. This way, the light incident on the mirrors is travelling vertically downwards, and the light reflected is generally horizontally out towards the audience. The paths of the incoming and reflected rays do not significantly cross over, this helps Mimi and Elliot during calibration as the incident rays don’t get in the way of the calibration, and they can concentrate on the reflected rays only. When a beam of light passes through haze, a part of it is scattered along every step of its journey, so this scattered light is observed and the path of the beam becomes visible. Especially with haze machines (rather than smoke machines, dry ice, etc), most of this light is scattered in a direction close to parallel with the direction of the beam. For example with a laser show, any lasers shining at the front the audience will be much brighter than ones shone from behind the audience, or shining up/down. Following this principle, the beams shone downwards from the projectors to mirrors become less visible than the beams shining out from the mirrors towards the viewer (this conveniently counter-acts the effect the curved mirrors have on dispersing and therefore dimming the reflected beams).

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Calibration routines measure things and give you a mathematical model of what’s going on in your system. They give you a mechanism you can use to construct your intended result, cancelling out the variations and inaccuracies in various parts of the system. A good calibration routine, Elliot tells CAN, measures something close to the result so they do not measure the physical geometry of the mirrors or the calibration of the projectors in order to calculate the path of each pixel ray travelling through space, instead they simply measure the path of each pixel as it travels through space, which is exactly the information they want to know.

The project will exhibited in Seoul in September as part of the Da Vinci Festival. The duo are also looking into working with 200 pico projectors for this install. This would be much higher resolution and clearer, since each projector would be higher resolution, and the projectors themselves can be packed more tightly. Imagine 200 pico projectors driven from 200 raspberry pi’s.

Many thanks to Elliot and Mimi for providing such detailed information to CAN. We are extremely excited about the recent work of Kimchi and Chips and are following closely…

Project Page | Kimchi and Chips

Artists: Mimi Son & Elliot Woods
Sound Design: Junghoon Pi (
Production Designer: Onjeong Rhee
Video: Mimi Son, Elliot Woods, Alexander Delovoy, Алеся Мятлева
Special thanks to Lidia Khesed and Tom Higham

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