The Portland Winter Light Festival (PDXWLF) is an annual event of the Willamette Light Brigade—a non-profit arts organization. Every year, they put out an open call to artists to submit ideas for a festival-worthy, illuminating installation. And, after the pandemic, we were excited to lighten things up with a “Let's have some fun” physical art installation.
The theme for 2023 was “The Light of Stars,” and we couldn’t have been more excited to bring art, technology, and the people of Portland together.
We were excited to be able to do something just for fun—for love of the (design) game—and create something beautiful for others to enjoy.
We drew inspiration from images taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and an initial concept to create a cosmic, sphere-like experience filled with red dwarves, blue galaxies, shooting stars, and streaking comets for an interactive field of color and light.
Passages to other worlds are a key part of our brand identity, and we wanted to take our audience “to the stars.”
By incorporating the key elements of point-by-point DMX control of LED tubes and object tracking with computer vision, we set out to create an interactive world of stars, comets, and nebulae.
To take it a step further, we wanted to incorporate computer vision technologies to track movement within the portal, allowing complete interaction of humans with light, so when people moved… the portal would respond to them.
Design the Materials: Step one–how to generate 28,000+ stars? We settled on using a CNC machine and treated vinyl fabric. But how well do the lights shine inside the canvas? What about weatherproofing? Are wayfinding elements dialed in?
Test & fine-tune light/shadow: We worked diligently to tune the computer vision to mimic the cosmos, with the hope of keeping unwanted light from entering through the portal opening, even while the visitor is activating the LED wall. Constructing a realistic "sky" of stars required ingenuity– we ultimately wrote a generative design program to build our universe of stars.
Activate our Overseas LED Manufacturer: With unpredictable supply chain issues, we had already started working on specifications with our fabricator of choice.
We designed, constructed, and illuminated “Portal to the Stars: An Interactive Light Experience” in Pioneer Courthouse Square and immersed visitors in thousands of star-like lights and constellations.
Upon entering the 10’x10’ structure, the brightness and intensity of a starry night sky surrounded people in a celestial space that quickly became a must-see installation at the festival. With a constant line of visitors, Portal to the Stars was a hit with the crowd, with everyone wanting their moment inside the out-of-this-world "selfie spot" to snap photos, shoot videos, and share it all on social media— two visitors even decided to get engaged in it!
Experience the space for yourself at Portland Winter Light Festival 2024.