Category Archives: Piecing it Together

PIT Final: Parallax Scrolling Machine Pt. 2

Functioning planetary gear system.

Matt and I took the original prototype parts for our Parallax Scrolling Machine and made sure that the wheel could rotate and the frame would support it on the shaft we chose.


Once we verified that element of the design, we added the animation frames on the outside to see if the effect would be what we had envisioned.  We discovered that there was a significant visual difference to the arc our wheels were creating vs the left-right scrolling typical in video games and animation,



We tossed around potential conceptual solutions, and since we had continued to come back to the work of artist Marina Zurkow for inspiration (we both have her as a professor for different classes), we decided to make marine cryptozoology our subject and base our animation on the movements of waves.



When we tested our gear system, we realized something immediately.  The ratios were right, the teeth lined up, the gears were rotating, but there was nothing being driven.

The design is such that the central sun gear should drive the planets, which drive the outer ring gear, which is affixed to the wheel.  So the shaft drives the wheel via the planetary system.


What we realized, with the help of our classmate Sam Sadtler, is that one of the elements of the system (sun, planets, or ring) needed to be fixed in place to allow for the others to be driven. We were stumped until I suggested that we could build an external stabilizer that would have shafts holding the parallel, horizontal position of the planets but would not impede the rotation of the central shaft or the wheel.

2nd Wheel Gear Stabilizer

Design drawing by Matt Romein.

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As you can see, the system now operates as intended.  Our next step is to integrate DC Motor control of the shaft rotation.

Kinetic Shadows: Final Documentation

Kinetic Shadows: Peter Faces Hook from Nick Hubbard on Vimeo.

Peter Faces Hook was presented in both Piecing-it-Together and Mechanisms: If It Moves, It Breaks at the end of last semester.  Greta and I managed to created a compelling object that captivated my classmates as spectators at the same time as it sparked their desire to interact, to spin the wheel and see the illustrated shadows emerge for themselves.

To get to this stage, coming from the proposal outlined in my last post on the project, took a lot of work.  There were two tracks of tasks that needed to be completed: engineering the mechanism to make the sculpture move, and translating our initial prototypes of the sculpture into something cleaner and more durable.

Continue reading Kinetic Shadows: Final Documentation

Kinetic Shadows: Mechanisms Proposal

When the Captain’s Wheel of our kinetic shadow sculpture is turned, the fragments of the Pan images will rotate in an opposing direction.  I’m proposing to execute this mechanism based on a co-axial gear system (often utilized for helicopter rotors, among other things, in this case a clock).


Hand-drawn sketches of the system, with gear relationships and anticipated layout:



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Representations of the gear system in Adobe Illustrator (the gears were generated in Vectorworks software, then imported maintaining their ratios and positioning).

  • Wheel: 20″ D
  • Rod/Wire mounting plate: 6 3/4″ D
  • Gear spacing plates: 4.5″ D
  • Gear 1 ID: 3/16″  OD: 2″
  • Gear 2  ID: 3/16″ OD: 1″
  • Gears 3, 5 ID: 7/16″ OD: 2″
  • Gear 6  ID: 7/16″   OD: 1″
  • Gear 7 ID: 7/16″ OD:  1 1/2″
  • Central gear shaft (rotates mounting plate): 9 1/2″ L
  • Central gear tube (rotates wheel): 8″ L
  • Gear 3 shaft: 4″ L
  • Gear 5 shaft:  4″ L
  • Sculpture base: 10 1/4″ D x 2″ W






I laser-cut prototype gears in both wood and acrylic to test the system.


I had intended to use the laser-cutter for the Captain’s Wheel, because I didn’t know how to use the CNC router(we will be using it in Piecing-it-Together after Spring Break), but David Rios, one of the ITP Residents, cautioned me against lasering thick plywood and simultaneously suggested that once CNC’d, I’d never go back.  So I commandeered a few of my classmates over the course of a few hours to show me how to load my Illustrator file into MasterCam, layout the paths for milling, and then operate the CNC.  The result:

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Sketches & images of the design for the visual/shadow/perceptual element in previous posts here & here.


Kinetic Shadows: Prototyping the Imagery 2

IMG_6542Peter Pan, built of fragments from a silhouette design.

This past week we continued the design process for the visual-perceptual aspect of our kinetic shadow sculpture.  We started with full-form silhouette designs, breaking those into fragments to arrange and compose the images, as opposed to the start-from-random-pieces-of-paper method we tried in the beginning.  While there was something magical about composing a representation of Peter Pan on the fly, the result was rougher than we wanted, and I made it a goal to incorporate the laser-cutter into the fabrication of the piece on all levels (not just the mechanism).

We were confident that we could achieve the dual image, on dual axes, as anticipated in my last post.

IMG_6547Greta adding Captain Hook fragments perpendicular to, and amidst, the Peter Pan bits.

Continue reading Kinetic Shadows: Prototyping the Imagery 2

Kinetic Shadows: Design & Prototyping 1


IMG_6499Thus begins the homage to Kentridge.

Going over the concept for my Piecing-it-Together Midterm/Mechanisms Final, I outlined a shadow installation reminiscent of the work of William Kentridge.  I hinted that there was a potential collaboration, and the imagery would be drawn from Peter Pan.  I can confirm now that the collaboration is between my wife, Greta Wilson, and I.  Greta is a performer, founding member of the Satori Group, and also an illustrator/watercolorist.  A few years ago she started developing projects around an adaptation of Barrie’s original story Peter and Wendy.  We were slated to realize an installation for Storefronts Seattle (they never found us a matching location) that would involve storytelling through kinetic light sculptures.  When I started talking about my midterm ideas, we both had an aha! and agreed we could explore our previous concept seeds now.

Continue reading Kinetic Shadows: Design & Prototyping 1

Non-Rectangular Box: Geodesic Birdhouse Final

When I posted last week about Andy and my Non-Rectangular Box project for Piecing it Together, it was the night before the final prototype was due and we had come up short of the goal of a wood version.  The next day Andy got up early, stopped by Artist and Craftsman, and purchased enough veneer to cover our birdhouse.  It was a pleasant surprise to me.  Using our same Illustrator file, we were able to achieve this result by covering the structure piece-by-piece:


Andy had also wanted to experiment with NeverWet, and so in the name of achieving functionality, our final prototype was coated and, true to form, can now (for as long as the compound lasts) repel water. Andy is going to continue making adjustments, and the aim is to actually put our project out in the elements and see if a) it holds-up and b) it gets inhabited by its intended users.


Kinetic Shadows: Concept

FullSizeRender (4)Initial sketch for my kinetic shadow installation.

This semester I have two courses that overlap in a lot of their concepts: Piecing it Together and Mechanisms.  I have decided to combine assignments across both for one of my next projects.  While I initially thought of making some kind of shadow installation for my Physical Computing Final, I went in another direction.  I want to return to shadows now, and also try to pay homage to one of my biggest influences, William Kentridge.

Kentridge’s series “The Return”.

The basic proposal is to put a point light source on a track — or more likely some sort of simple-machine-driven rig — and have a user-control that directs the path of the light.  The sculpture will be composed of several laser-cut particles, reminiscent of Kentridge’s torn paper fragments.  When the light passes the particles at a certain angle, scenes from a story/world will be projected onto a screen.

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I’m speaking to a potential collaborator about using Peter Pan as source material.  She would provide illustrations that would be the basis for the sculpture .

Non-Rectangular Box: Geodesic Birdhouse Concept

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Inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller‘s experiments with geodesic domes and spheres, Andy I came up with the idea of making a bird house/box that was not the classic rectangular shape.

R. Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome Home in Carbondale, IL.

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The geometry of Geodesic domes derives from Platonic solids, typically the icosahedron.  Our initial sketching has looked at potential ways to transfer one of these solids to a functional bird-house.

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I started experimenting in Rhino to get a three-dimensional understanding of what the design could look like.  I’m still struggling to wrap my head around scaling dimensions and converting sketches to precision drawings.  Here’s a 3D model attempt: BirdBoxwPentagons

To make a prototype, Andy and I used a modular sphere section that we replicated and then glued together.


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