Scientists use lasers to project movie onto clouds

Scientists use lasers to project movie onto clouds


Scientists use lasers to project movie onto clouds

A green ghost rider appeared in the sky over the British city of Nottingham when scientists started testing a newly developed projecting device which allows the beaming of moving images directly onto clouds for the first time ever.

The image of a galloping horse rider was projected onto the clouds from a distance of 50 meters by a special laser-based projection system mounted on an aircraft.

From the ground, the green and white lights hovering above the city of Nottingham probably resembled a distant storm, but from the window of a Cessna 172 aircraft, the shape of a man on horseback could clearly be seen galloping across the darkened troposphere.

This green night rider is the result of three years of hard graft by artist Dave Lynch, scientist Mike Nix and maker Aaron Nielsen, pushing the boundaries of art and science.

Together they pulled off a world first in June when they managed to project moving images directly onto clouds from an aircraft.

And while fighting the elements, failed kit and lack of cash in their quest to see the rider in the clouds – a work they call Project Nimbus – they’ve discovered the real importance of collaboration.

Project Nimbus used a laser version of the zoopraxiscope, a device designed by pioneering 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. So it was only right that they should also use his famous image a galloping horse, Horse in Motion, for the display.

“It was amazing,” said Lynch, who spent hours searching for the “right type of cloud” as he shot the video and Nix operated the zoopraxiscope. “After an hour of flying and almost giving up, we had come up above a cloud layer into peaks, swirls and canyons stretching out like an ocean, giving us the conditions we never thought we would see,” he says.

Gods of war

The journey started in 2007 when Lynch was studying for his master’s degree and came across a military paper entitled Non-lethal Weapons: Terms and Reference by Robert Bunker detailing work on weapons since the Vietnam War. One of them involved projecting an ancient god onto the clouds over an enemy city (whose public communications had been seized) in order to terrify the citizens.

Lynch was inspired by the idea, but soon found his early experiments in 2007 with a converted 16-millimetre cine projector with a laser light source impractical due to weight and power requirements.

After experimenting with projecting moving image loops of swimming dolphins from vehicles, he came across Muybridge’s work and ended up projecting the famous horse onto the streets of Leeds. By 2012, funding from the AND festival and the arts incubator Octopus Collective kickstarted three years of research into developing a modern zoopraxiscope.

In the 1870s, Muybridge was commissioned by a rich racehorse owner to study animal motion. He captured photographs of horses running on a track using multiple cameras and fast shutter speeds, and put them into discs to project from his zoopraxiscope. The iconic moving images that resulted, Sallie Gardner at a Gallop or The Horse in Motion, clearly demonstrated that the galloping horse takes all four hooves off the ground at the same time.

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