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Post #1890

Making Future Magic: light painting with the iPad

“Making Future Magic” is the goal of Dentsu London, the creative communications agency. We made this film with them to explore this statement.

(Click through to Vimeo to watch in HD!)

We’re working with Beeker Northam at Dentsu, using their strategy to explore how the media landscape is changing. From Beeker’s correspondence with us during development:

“…what might a magical version of the future of media look like?”


…we [Dentsu] are interested in the future, but not so much in science fiction – more in possible or invisible magic

We have chosen to interpret that brief by exploring how surfaces and screens look and work in the world. We’re finding playful uses for the increasingly ubiquitous ‘glowing rectangles’ that inhabit the world.

iPad light painting with painter

This film is a literal, aesthetic interpretation of those ideas. We like typography in the world, we like inventing new techniques for making media, we want to explore characters and movement, we like light painting, we like photography and cinematography as methods to explore and represent the physical world of stuff.

We made this film with the brilliant Timo Arnall (who we’ve worked with extensively on the Touch project) and videographer extraordinaire Campbell Orme. Our very own Matt Brown composed the music.

Light painting meets stop-motion

We developed a specific photographic technique for this film. Through long exposures we record an iPad moving through space to make three-dimensional forms in light.

First we create software models of three-dimensional typography, objects and animations. We render cross sections of these models, like a virtual CAT scan, making a series of outlines of slices of each form. We play these back on the surface of the iPad as movies, and drag the iPad through the air to extrude shapes captured in long exposure photographs. Each 3D form is itself a single frame of a 3D animation, so each long exposure still is only a single image in a composite stop frame animation.

Each frame is a long exposure photograph of 3-6 seconds. 5,500 photographs were taken. Only half of these were used for the animations seen in the final edit of the film.

There are lots of photographic experiments and stills in the Flickr stream.

Future reflection

light painting the city with Matt Jones

The light appears to boil since there are small deviations in the path of the iPad between shots. In some shots the light shapes appear suspended in a kind of aerogel. This is produced by the black areas of the iPad screen which aren’t entirely dark, and affected by the balance between exposure, the speed of the movies and screen angle.

We’ve compiled the best stills from the film into a print-on-demand Making Future Magic book which you can buy for £32.95/$59.20. (Or get the softcover for £24.95/$44.20.)

59 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Dom said on 14 September 2010...

    Nice work all!

  • 2. anthony said on 14 September 2010...

    Really inventive. Great stuff.

  • 3. tobias næss said on 14 September 2010...

    Great idea and impressively excecuted. Awesome stuff! Cheers.

  • 4. james said on 14 September 2010...

    just wow.

  • 5. AnthonyE said on 14 September 2010...

    Creativity at its finest. Im still trying to grasp how you guys rendered out the result of the virtual cat scan. Could you possibly elaborate on that a bit more?

  • 6. Hauke said on 14 September 2010...

    We need this as an App!

  • 7. Omar said on 14 September 2010...


  • 8. johnny green said on 14 September 2010...

    beautiful film !

  • 9. nick s said on 15 September 2010...

    Five years since the Nokia 3220’s wave messaging, this. Wow.

  • 10. Ben Hosken said on 15 September 2010...

    Just lovely. Well done.

  • 11. dotPax said on 15 September 2010...

    I totally agree with Hauke! An app would be great.
    Awesome idea!

  • 12. Masa said on 15 September 2010...

    If using in music stage will be big wow ! very cool inventive . I very love this system. from Tokyo.

  • 13. Joe Treacy said on 15 September 2010...

    Wow! Congratulations. I’m completely knocked out by your creativity…the light extrusion and the entire production!

    – Joe

  • 14. Emma powell said on 15 September 2010...

    Amazing project which makes my brain hurt! Great to see more of the process too on flickr.

  • 15. Martin said on 15 September 2010...

    Wow, this is stunning – looks like 3D holograms. Please release it as an app!

  • 17. Alex said on 15 September 2010...

    Do it with some another device then ipad

  • 18. Zaib said on 15 September 2010...

    Now that is what i call innovation

  • 19. Simon said on 15 September 2010...

    Beautiful. What’s the music?

  • 20. martin rippon said on 16 September 2010...


    Nothing innovative with this as this was already done with lasers. Nothing futuristic either, what using an IPAD and a script and then move the ipad to create a light show.

    Seriously yawn. Why not spend time in designing something new, innovative and useful that people can use instead useless piece of junk that has already been created by someone else, playgrisum.

    Design should can change people life for the better, its should improve it and not hinder it with another useless tool, we already have many of these. So “Making Future Magic”, you already using old technology and the magic has already been created before. Rethink what it is that you want to create and think originally!

    How many people life are you going to change with this? Especially when your a design company. Maybe stick with colors and drawing crayons

  • 21. Dominic said on 16 September 2010...


  • 22. Des said on 16 September 2010...

    Beautiful lighting font! Can we have some more pls?

  • 23. MrB said on 17 September 2010...

    AnthonyE – looks like they are using Cinema 4D. Theres a few ways you can get the cat scan effect – easy one is just move a `slice shaped cube` through 3d space, use a boolean AND operation in your 3d package between the slice and your scene, and bingo, you have a moving `slice` cat scan type effect which reveals your scene one slice at a time – just render out as an animation.

  • 24. red.dakini said on 19 September 2010...

    since this page is open to comments, i suppose then it applies also to questions…

    first of all, nice project. i think it´s something that could be extended into various contexts such as art installations, contemporary museums, happenings, to name only a few.

    and finally, i´d like to know if there´s some kind of paper of the project, of public access, detailing other information, technical specifications, or some kind of elaboration on the method/software utilized for scanning the cross sections of each model; so, for example, once they leave the 3D app how the outlines are projected in order to be played back as volumetric movies?


  • 25. Gandarinha said on 19 September 2010...

    “The Great Design” !

  • 26. christpoher said on 19 September 2010...

    now somebody should tell me again that the iPad is not a creative tool! Incredible good work.

  • 27. Berkan Cetinel said on 23 September 2010...

    i made some test. and figured a bit out. thank you berg london for the insparation.

  • 28. Skye said on 11 October 2010...

    This is absolutely beautiful and compelling. Great work. Please share with us teh song you used. Custom or borrowed? Would love to won it :)

    Ordering the book shortly!

  • 29. Berkan Cetinel said on 15 October 2010...


    I try to contact You Guys about the project. None of my e-mails where replied. If anyone can contact me please, it would be helpful.

    Thank you.

  • 30. Berkan Cetinel said on 1 September 2011...

    Finally I am doing the project.

  • 31. sue Gregor said on 3 December 2011...

    This is a brilliant idea. Congratulations I will look forward to seeing what you do next with this!

  • 32. matthew said on 11 May 2012...

    WOW Just brilliant and innovative!

  • 33. mona said on 12 July 2012...

    Your light painting project is brilliant!! I love it! this is the exciting stuff when we start to play with technology becoming part of our 3-D world. As an experience designer, this is the part that I am looking forward to developing further. Great job!

  • 34. lewis said on 5 December 2012...

    Hi i am doing an as level in art andi have produced light photograghy with a nikon d3000 camera, i was wondering if there is a method to this so that i can encorporate in into my own work. i think this is wonderful and i would really like to do it.

    Kind regards

  • 35. ScottNE said on 6 February 2013...

    A huge thank you for sharing this technique. I’m a college student and this is the first thing I have seen that has truly inspired me in my stop motion work. To think I was just about to get the plasticine out like everybody else. Not any more!

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