Laser projection creates galloping horse movie on the clouds

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A bright green horse was projected across the sky over Nottingham late last month. It wasn't a Bat-Signal-style projection that was made from a searchlight on the ground. Instead, the silhouette of a rider on a horse was projected directly onto the clouds from a Cessna 172 aircraft that flew over the city in the UK. Artist Dave Lynch created the first of its kind mobile projection with a zoopraxiscope, a movie projector that made its debut back in 1879. He repurposed the historical device and swapped its original light source with a laser for precision and efficiency. The display wasn't clear from the ground, but viewed from the plane it looked like a horse galloping through the dark clouds.

The original zoopraxiscope was created by Eadweard Muybridge, an English photographer who pioneered and studied motion photography. The device used a slit method and each pocket held a glass disc with an image. When rotated, the sequential images would project the illusion of movement. This method worked well at the time but it created images that were too dim for Lynch's project. He needed to sustain a projection on the clouds from about 50 meters away. He turned to scientists Mike Nix and Ben Whitaker in the chemistry department at University of Leeds for insight into new laser techniques. "[Laser] gives a sharp focus at any distance which is critical to attempt projection on the nebulas media of clouds at such short range," Lynch told us. "We also adapted the zoopraxiscope with a series of specially made lenses, which make the 19th century technology [much] more efficient so we can see the projection against the clouds."

Lynch spent the last three years working on mobile projections. He first thought of it when he read a detailed paper on non-lethal weapons by the US Air Force published in the early '80s that listed the concept of "Holographic, Prophets." The idea that the image of an ancient god could be projected over enemy territory as a psychological experiment inspired Lynch to create the projection in the sky. Initially he wanted to create an open source version for artists and activists. But over the years, he became cautious of the implications. "We specifically chose to stay away from the commercial requests, away from logos and social media stunts," he said. "We all have a relationship to the clouds, the sense of looking up and dreaming, the project is rooted in [those] hopes and dreams."

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