Published: Nov. 8, 2021


Four years ago, EO Rafelson became fascinated by a high-end kaleidoscope he purchased at an art fair. 

Now a Creative Technology and Design senior at the ATLAS Institute pursuing an engineering degree, Rafelson has fabricated a high-tech kaleidoscope for his capstone project as well as developed a way to project the patterns generated onto a planetarium dome.

Rafelson’s CTD capstone project, “Kaleideo,” was presented at Fiske Planetarium on Nov. 9 for two free shows: “Reset,” intended to be a “grounding experience” with slow, ethereal scenes and “Recharge,” a faster, more uplifting show. 

“The audience never sees the same thing twice, and all the visuals are produced in real-time,” said Rafelson before the show.

Rafelson creates such unique images by using high-end mirrors as well as kaleidoscope cells which contain items floating in viscous liquid, and manually controlled LED lights that illuminate the kaleidoscope’s inner cells at different angles. 

“The coolest thing about the project is that all of the visuals are created physically as opposed to digitally,” Rafelson said.  

Teaching Assistant Professor Sheiva Rezvani, who teaches the yearlong capstone course sequence, said Rafelson's project is exceptional.

"Kaleideo is one of those projects that comes along that doesn’t just exceed expectations; it creates a whole new sensory experience that in its inception becomes a new art form in itself," she said. "EO has worked all year to create a new visual instrument of which he is a master. I am so proud to have been involved. I can’t wait to see how his career and creative practice unfolds."

From solo to group experience
Before looking through a high-end kaleidoscope, Rafelson thought they were toys for children. But after becoming enchanted with his art fair purchase, he wanted to find a way that those same visuals could be shared simultaneously by a group, instead of one person looking through a tiny hole.

Rafelson’s kaleidoscope is filled with beads, blown glass, glitter, crystals, gears and “miscellaneous magic,” he says. Instead of using household mirrors where light travels through glass before being reflected, he used front-surface mirrors, which reflect light directly from the mirrors’ surfaces, allowing a more seamless array of symmetrical images.

In children’s kaleidoscopes, each time the end is turned, the pieces of colored plastic move suddenly through dry cells, but Rafelson fills cells with silicon oil so everything moves in slow motion. 

Several fader sliders control various modes and colors of LEDs that are built into the kaleidoscope and illuminate the objects from the inside, while a light bucket lined with a strip of LEDs allows other lights to enter from different angles. 

He digitally records the visuals with a smartphone camera using an enclosure he fabricated. Using special software to move the live footage from his phone to a computer, the image is compiled by a second software program that streams imagery to the digital projector. 

Each of Tuesday’s sets at Fiske included a short introduction by Rafelson. Performances were about 20-minutes long, followed by an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and interact with Kaleideo. 

“My primary goal is that the audience experiences a state of awe,” Rafelson said.  “And depending on which show they came to, I hope they experienced being reset, recharged or both.”