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I am fascinated by optics and light. I remember watching patterns of light wash across the walls in translucent circles as a kid, and how everyday household materials like mylar and old glass form ripples when sunlight hits at just the right angle. The idea for a Fresnel lens projection came about as I was perusing through the dollar store looking for materials for school. I came across a magnifier lenses, used to help with reading small text, and decided it might be helpful for my failing eyesight. Once home I held the lens up to the window and saw distorted spherical shapes that had a 3-D quality to them and decided to work with them to see what interesting shapes and sculpture ideas I might come up with.

I purchased a few cases of the fresnel magnifiers to make a sculptural wall. Then I began to tinker with them to see what I could come up with. The first rendition I created was a simple wall hanging, 9 magnifiers across and 5 down. The effect was quite interesting and I got a lot of positive feedback from classmates I was working with as well as my faculty advisors at CSUEB. The idea of projecting video was tossed out as a way of adding a media element to the piece, so my classmate Maryam and I developed a story about a female cyborg from the year 2216. We wanted the piece to look futuristic and thought the reflective quality of the fresnel lenses would contribute to our concept. The steps that follow describe how the wall sculpture was made and the materials we used. I hope this Instructable might inspire you to create one yourself or to find inspiration from our experience.

By the way - There is no messing around with fresnel lenses, even the thin plastic ones can start fires due to the refraction of light and resulting concentrated rays caused by the tiny grooves on the surface of the lenses. So if you decide to make this project, remember - no direct sunlight and be very careful about where you place the lenses during the day!

Step 1: Collect Materials

For this project you will need to buy 40 plastic magnifying sheets for reading from a Dollar Store near you. If your local store does not have them, you can order them from the online. They cost about $1.00 per sheet. This sculpture was not made with the 'proper' fresnel lenses that are found within older TV's. Those fresnels are super amazing but not necessary for this project.

Here is a list of the materials I used:

  1. 10 rolls of Scotch tape
  2. A hole punch
  3. 30 lb. transparent fishing wire
  4. A ladder
  5. A short throw projector, preferably with at least 3000 lumens
  6. 5-10 eye bolts
  7. one or two assistants for hanging the wall sculpture

Step 2: Construct the Layout

  • Layout the magnifier sheets so they are as close as possible without overlap. I created a series of 5 sheets long and 10 sheets wide. Make sure that the smooth side of the magnifying sheets are all on the same side facing up.
  • Once you have the configuration that suits you, carefully adhere Scotch tape to all of the adjacent sheets. I started taping with the vertical lines first, then completed the front with the horizontal lines.
  • After taping the front side, double check that the tape is securely adhered to the plastic by running your finger along each line.
  • Next turn the wall hanging over to the side with grooves so you can also tape the back part of your wall hanging. It helps to have newspaper or a plastic sheet beneath the lenses as you work. Do not work directly on carpeting or even a bare floor since the lenses are easily scratched and can collect small particles of dirt and dust within the grooved side of the magnifier.

Step 3: Punch Holes Into the Top of Your Sculpture

Use a measuring tape to place felt tip pen marks on the top of your sculpture. These holes will enable you to attach fishing line through the sculpture so it may be suspended from the ceiling.

Use a one punch hole-punch to create holes where you have marked the sculpture for attaching the fishing line. Measure there is a clear white or gray wall space where can attach the wall hanging.

Step 4: Connect Fishing Line & Add a Plastic Frame

  • Cut transparent fishing line to the desired length of your wall sculpture. Double the length and leave about two extra inches after counting the distance from the ceiling to the sculpture.
  • Tie the fishing line to the sculpture using the punched out holes and making sure to double the fishing line for a stronger hold.
  • Use a top knot for a secure hold at the top of the sculpture. Another option is to attach metal hooks. I found this to be very helpful when hanging the wall sculpture on my own since all the adjustments in terms of length can be done while the sculpture is on the ground.
  • For a final touch I added a clear plastic frame purchased from Tap Plastics. This holds the lenses together and keeps the structure from bending.

Step 5: Attach Eye Bolts to the Ceiling

  • Determine the best way for hanging the wall sculpture from the ceiling. Take into account the structure of the space and where you will place the projector for the best result.
  • We used a short throw projector that was hidden behind the sculpture. This placement gives an illusion that the sculpture is self-illuminated and adds a mysterious quality. If you align the sculpture and the projector correctly, a 3-D hologram effect will occur within each of the magnifying sheets in the sculpture. You can also play around with the idea of adding different layers. You will find a very interesting moray pattern when you double up the lenses.
  • Once you have decided the final form and the location where the wall sculpture will hang, use the ladder to insert the eye bolts in the ceiling using the same measurements you used for the punch holes in the sculpture. Double check that the wall sculpture will hang correctly before attempting to attach it.
  • Have a helper or two, hold the sculpture up as you connect the fishing wire from the top of the sculpture to the eye bolts.

Step 6: Set Up the Projector

  • Use a coffee table to set the projector in the space just behind the sculpture. We used an $8.00 black night stand from IKEA since it would fade into the background and also provide a sturdy base for the computer and projector.
  • Connect the projector to the power outlet and your computer. We used a Mac Mini and played our video through Quicktime on loop so the video would run continuously.
  • Test the projection and make adjustments as needed.
  • Hide the power cords or cover them with gaffer tape to make sure they are safe and out of the way for your viewers.

And Voila - sit back and enjoy the grand illusion!

Step 7: To Extend the Fun...

If you are interested in working with Arduino and adding an interactive element you can use IR sensors to make the video projection move with the visitors to the gallery as they pass in front of the image. I used 5 sensor and connected them to an Arduino that controls a Servo motor attached to a mechanism for moving the projector placed on top of a lazy Susan. I'll post more about this as I perfect the technique!

About This Instructable

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Bio: I am a multimedia grad student at CSUEB and teach digital art and technologies to adults and K-12 student teachers. In addition, I assist professors ... More »
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