Self-backlighting Volumetric Display


(iteration 1, Gain), 2016

projection on paper and wood

20' x 8' x 4' (610 x 122 x 244 m)


🎨 Artist / Designer


πŸ“Schnitzer Gallery

MIT Student Center

Cambridge, MA


🎊 Opened June 2016


πŸ’‘ Conceptual Development

βš—οΈExperimental R&D

πŸ– Schematic Design

πŸ–± Design Development

πŸ’» Systems Design / Testing

🦺 Installation

✨Projection Mapping


$ #,###


Harold and Arlene Schnitzer, and the Council for the Arts at MIT


The immaterial world beyond, filtered through the grit and grain of the surface.

This installation employs a new strategy for giving depth to planar projected images. Images are projected onto velum. The translucent paper acts as a screen, capturing most of the projected light and reflecting it back to the viewer to produce a clear image. The translucent paper also allows some of the light to pass onto the wall just a few inches beyond the surface. The light that passes through becomes diffused, giving a soft glow behind the brighter in-focus image in the foreground.

The result is two separate planes that together sustain a parallax effect, creating the illusionistic suggestion of light emitting matter in the gap between paper and wall – just beyond the surface.


The given site – the Schnitzer Gallery at MIT – featured a large wall box for showcasing art pieces. While unsightly on its own, empty, the depth and size of the box made it perfect to retrofit to produce the desired halo-parallax effect. All it needed was a layer of velum.

Vertical members were necessary to support the velum and keep it from warping, and to hide the seems between rolls. A 3D model and cost chart were made to study the compositional and cost differences between installations with vertical members placed every 12, 18, 24, and 36 inches according to the available sized of velum. Ultimately a spacing of 24 inches was chosen for the resulting proportions, which most closely resembled Japanese paper wall paneling.


The process of testing the halo-parallax effect and exploring its impact across various types of video clips was an integral part of the work. Dozens of video clips were tested on the unique projection surface once it was complete. Clips included stock footage, archival footage, custom animations, CGI renderings, and real-time generated visuals – a balanced sampling of every type of video.

Ultimately the video content that would be put on display needed to best demonstrate the halo-parallax effect, while also appealing to the eye. The haloing was most apparent in content and areas where contrast was highest, as bright spots were situated next to dark spots where haloing was most visible. As a result, most color clips were also eliminated.


Eventually it was a desaturated clip of a wave of particles resembling an equalizer that just stuck out. The clip – which was generated using a tool meant to allow video jockeys to visualize music at raves – offered high contrast, locked frame, and a depth of field blur that somehow heightened the illusion of depth within the shallow display. Even more, the particle waves evoked The Great Wave off Kanagawa, helping the piece lean even further into the Japanese styling that had already emerged from the paper wall paneling in the design phase.


As a last touch, a filter was added to reduce the resolution of the equalizer waves clip. The filter helped to emphasize the piece's focus on the differences between digital video and physical reality by oscillating between the more convincing full-resolution image and the blocky lower resolution images associated with digital content.

The filter also helped to highlight that the heightened physical presence brought about by the halo-parallax persisted even when the resolution of the video was reduced.

Waves Beyond

Photographic print on aluminum

Dimensions vary


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