Category: Ephemeral model

light painting

Alex Kesselarr Running-with-Fire-III

Alex Kesselarr Running-with-Fire-III

Alex Kesslaar makes fire and light painted photographs. This technique is somewhat related to ephemeral modeling because he is using long exposures and blending them together. Kesslaar’s exposures are longer than the panopticon camera’s exposures so he is able to paint with a small light source. Some of the photographs appear to be blended together because the light breaks in places. The break represents the brief moment when one exposure ends and the next begins. Others appear to be single, long exposures.

Ephemeral models use short exposures that are three seconds apart. The regular cadence of short exposures allows the designer to move materials and model a space. Three seconds is long enough to allow the designer to move into a new position and short enough to allow them to remember where they have been.

interrogating methods

I have been testing some modeling methods with the photographs I’ve collected so far. My classmate, Lane Rapson, developed a script in Grasshopper for Rhino that interprets photographs into 3D surfaces. I am using it to test how photographs can inform volume and surface. This is one of the first tests. This Rhino model interprets five frames that contributed to this blended photograph. I converted the original frames and used Grasshopper and Rhino to blend them.

Three point wall photos blended in Rhino

worm's eye view

perspective of five frames blended in Rhino with Grasshopper

perspective of five frames blended in Rhino with Grasshopper

” …it is the possibility of shifting our attention from the object to the experience of the object and in so doing reconceptualizing architectural design as the design of architectural experiences.”

Dr. Julio Bermudez in Visual Architectural Experiences

Dr. Bermudez makes a strong case for digital, virtual environments as a tool to enable designers to design architectural experiences instead of architectural objects. He argued, in 1994, that traditional representation methods of architecture fail to adequately represent temporal phenomena. Time, in particular, has been difficult to represent.

“… there remains the fact that the nature of our media and techniques of representation have generated and supported a structural weakness in how we deal with the phenomenology of architectural orders”

Dr. Julio Bermudez in Visual Architectural Experiences

He argued for the use of immersive, 3D, digital environments as a tool to design experiences. Seventeen years later, there are a plethora of 3D virtual reality tools available to designers. I am in no way an expert on 3D virtual reality environments. However, I have used one laboratory. The tool helped me experience my design with my body. Still, I was viewing and experiencing the design within the constraints of the environment. I wore a head band that placed two screens in front of my eyes. Once my eyes adjusted to the resolution of the screen I could trick my brain into seeing beyond them as just two screens. I was limited by the room as to where I could walk. The lab worked well, but I was experiencing my design through the filter of the lab.

Ephemeral models allow us to quickly and easily model experiences in real time, with real occupants under controlled circumstances. The blended photograph is the visual remnant of the experience of ephemeral modeling.

I’ve summarized my current thoughts on the history of similar photographic methods by Etienne-Jules Marey, Eadweard Muybridge, László Moholy-Nagy and Annie Halliday. Included are ephemeral models from the most recent modeling session with Elizabeth Turner and some tests of how to transform this information further.

Process, research and tests


20110327_libraryWallPinch by Laurie McGinley

20110327_libraryWallPinch, originally uploaded by Laurie McGinley.

Elizabeth Turner is a classmate who is working with Great River School for her Master Final Project (MFP). She is also a friend who sits right next to me in studio. On Friday morning we were talking about our projects and other exciting topics when she said, “I want to model my design with your camera.”

Elizabeth recruited four students and our MFP coordinater, Gayla Lindt, to help us model her project last night. You may view more photos from this session on Flickr.

Blended image of an ephemeral model made with a 18’x5′ piece of white ripstop nylon, a Lowell Omni studio light, a two tube fluorescent shop light and eight people. Model designed by Elizabeth for her Master Final Project work at Great River School.

Many thanks to Gayla, Elizabeth, Abby and four amazing students for helping make this model. Thanks to Amber for the use of the fabric.

from camera to model

I made models out of illuminated materials, time and blended photography. I have been making them as a test of a photographic tool I made to understand an architectural space. I thought of the idea for this tool last summer but I didn’t know how to build it. I spoke about it with my dad and he built it. None of this would have been possible without his help. The tool consists of a digital camera with a fisheye lens, a motion sensor and an Arduino.

Nikon D200 motion lapse camera set up

camera set up

The camera is set to respond to motion. If the sensor detects motion it signals the Arduino to run the following program:


  1. pause one second
  2. trigger the shutter and make one photograph
  3. pause three seconds
  4. trigger the shutter and make one photograph
  5. pause three seconds
  6. trigger the shutter and make one photograph
  7. pause three seconds
  8. trigger the shutter and make one photograph
  9. pause three seconds
  10. trigger the shutter and make one photograph

If the sensor still senses motion the program is repeated. If not, the camera stops taking photographs. The camera has been running since November 21, 2010. Between then and March 1, 2011 the camera was only triggered between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. The sensor was located on a column about 25 feet from the camera. On March 1, 2011 I removed that restriction and moved the sensor closer to the camera.

The result of this experiment has been over 100,000 photographs of the same view. Until March 13, 2011 I was observing activity the camera captured. I used the auto blend function in Adobe Photoshop to merge multiple photographs together. The process of finding interesting packets of photographs, loading them into layers in Photoshop and auto blending them resulted in blends of activity.

On March 23, 2011 I decided to begin using light and time to explore ideas of space and transparency. The camera is in shutter speed priority mode and it is set to 1/15th of a second. That means that after dark the photographs are almost completely black. If there is a light on in the space below the camera it has a strong contrast with the surrounding area. I began by collecting light tools and moving them around the space. Knowing that I would blend the photographs together later helped me understand how to make models with simple illuminated materials and time.

individual frames

individual frames

blended photograph

blended photograph

inverted, blended model

inverted, blended model


20110322_threePointFlex by Laurie McGinley

20110322_threePointFlex, originally uploaded by Laurie McGinley.

Blended image of a model made with a 18’x5′ piece of white ripstop nylon, a Lowell Omni studio light, a two tube fluorescent shop light and four people.

This image fascinates me. I can’t exactly explain why the right half of the frame is red. My best guess is that it is an artifact of the Photoshop script that blends the photos together. The light source for this series is on the right side and was very bright. Maybe the contrast in the intensity of light between the two halves of the frame contributed to the red color.

Many thanks to Amber, Dan and Erin for helping me make this model.

Inverted, blended image of a model made with a 18’x5′ piece of white ripstop nylon, a Lowell Omni studio light, a two tube fluorescent shop light and four people.

I inverted this image after I blended it. The result of inverting a photograph made after dark in Rapson Hall courtyard is that the illuminated materials, the fabric in this case, appear as solid, substantial materials. It is possible to create and experience a digital model with little more than a light and any material.

This photograph reminds me of Kenn Kotara’s screen sculptures.

Many thanks to Amber, Dan and Erin for helping me make this model.


20110322_fabricSquare by Laurie McGinley

20110322_fabricSquare, originally uploaded by Laurie McGinley.

Blended image of a model made with a 18’x5′ piece of white ripstop nylon, a Lowell Omni studio light, a two tube fluorescent shop light, four people and time.

My camera is set up in a way that photos made in Rapson Hall courtyard after sundown look very dark. As a result, anything that is illuminated appears very clearly in the photographs. The camera is programmed to make a frame every three seconds and each exposure lasts a mere 1/15th of a second.

This cadence allowed us to place the fabric, light it and move it before the next frame was made. I just edited these individual frames into blended photos. The blended result of placing the illuminated material all over the courtyard is a model.

Many thanks to Amber, Dan and Erin for helping me make this model.


20110317_shopApartment by Laurie McGinley

20110317_shopApartment, originally uploaded by Laurie McGinley.

Inverted image of a model of my apartment made with a 4′ x 3′ light box, motion lapse photography and time

I have been making models in Rapson Hall courtyard for the last week that only a blended, motion lapse photograph can portray. For this model I stood in the empty courtyard and remembered the layout of my apartment. Using a 4′ x 3′ light box, I recreated the spaces of my apartment one frame at a time.

There is a challenge in making these models out of light, time and blended photography; the model was made one frame at a time and each frame is three seconds apart. The shutter only opens for 1/15th of a second each time and I have three seconds to move into a new position for the next photograph.

Unilke light painting when a long exposure is used to represent a light moving through space, these are short exposures. A 1/15th second exposure is just long enough to be able to show a little movement if you are moving fast.

As a result, these models are created patiently over a period of time. This model took 9 minutes and 21 seconds to complete and is comprised of 187 individual frames.

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