Four years ago, E.O. Rafelson became fascinated by a kaleidoscope that he purchased at an art fair and the high quality of the images he viewed through it.
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 will never see the same thing twice,” Rafelson said before the show. “And everything happens live, in real time.”
Rafelson created 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 capstone course as well as the Research Methods and Professional Practice course where students develop their capstone proposals, 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. "E.O. 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 kaleidoscopes were "just a kid’s thing.” After he realized the possibilities, he had the idea that the images inside the scope could be simultaneously enjoyed by multiple people, instead of one person viewing 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 seamless array of images.
In children’s kaleidoscopes, each time the end is turned, the pieces of colored plastic move suddenly through dry cells. Rafelson filled the cells in his kaleidoscope with silicon oil so that the beads and glass pieces are suspended in an almost honey-like fluid, and 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. A light bucket lined with a strip of LEDs allows other lights to enter from different angles, which allows for different effects than having light only enter from the kaleidoscope's side or bottom.
He digitally records the movements live with his phone camera. To do this he fabricated an enclosure that his phone snaps into, which aligns the phone's camera directly in front of the kaleidoscope’s mirror system. He uses Camo software to move the live footage from his phone to a computer, as well as Resolume software to project the images from the computer onto the planetarium dome.
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 experiencea a state of awe,” Rafelson said. “And depending on which show they came to, I hope they experiences being reset, recharged or both.”