Building a pixalator

What is a pixalator

A still picture of it at work A pixalator fits over the screen of your TV or computer monitor and turns any moving picture into art (no matter how poor the original film). The image from the screen is displayed through an array of tubes onto a simple projection screen. Each tube takes all the colour in it's area, averages those colours then diplays just that one colour on to the projection screen (the verb is to pixalate). The overall effect on the projection screen is a glowing bed of large pebble stones slowly changing colour. It's quite hypnotic to watch.

Why build one

Sadly the pics only work in the dark I first saw a picture of one on and it looked very cool (can I use that word if I'm over 40?). It was built from loo rolls, a cardboard box and an old thin white fabric. It looked like it might make a good project to build with the boys over the weekend. Besides I like making things and this looked both impressive and easy to make!

Building one

Can you tell this is home made? The design I saw required about 100 toilet rolls but I figured to build a pixalator just to cover my lcd monitor I'd only need about 25 rolls. I figured we use roughly 1 role per person per week - so even if I put the family on a diet of stewed apples and prunes it would still take me months before I'd harvested enough toilet roles. Instead of the toilet rolls I used old sheets of A4 on which I draw plans and ideas (tiolet paper for the mind). I just folded each sheet lengthways then rolled them and glued them into shape - instant tiolet rolls A side benifit was the shapes where less regular and I could make less regular circles which added to the end effect.

No really, I made it myself You need a carboard box that will cover your screen. It should be just deep enough to hold the rolls (cut it to size). Then cut the bottom out leaving a small border for strength and for glueing the projection screen to. My wife wouldn't surrender any old white T-shirts or old sheets to use as a projection screen so I used tracing paper and glued it to the front - I think it worked quite well.

The end result

Play a film (any film), mute the sound, put the pixalator in the front of the screen then turn the lights off and stare. The result is a luminous image of pebble stones in a stream, with the pebble stones slowly taking on different colours as you watch. It's quite surreal and has different effects on different people
  • Silence: most friends just stopped talking and stared
  • Wow: both my boys said this when they saw it working
  • Pain: my brother in law rushed across the room to see how I'd made it but fell over my toolbox in the dark.
  • Apathy: my wife didn't even bother to come up stairs to see it

Is it art?

The cardboard box doesn't look very arty and the current version can only be seen if it's completely dark. Having said that, it certainly is more arty than most of the films I have playing behind the pixalator. All the pictures below were just taken a few moments apart with the colours continualy changing. I've already decided to build a larger and better one for the TV in the lounge.

Sadly the pics only work in the dark Sadly the pics only work in the dark Sadly the pics only work in the dark

Version 2

I want to add a bunch of improvements:
  • shorter "loo rolls" to hopefully get more brightness
  • use a larger single sheet of tracing paper to look more arty
  • or perhaps use a slightly opaque plastic as the screen
  • glue loo rolls to the screen to get better distinct "pebble stones" with no blurring
  • use scrap paper between the rolls to get more distinct "pebble stones"
  • build a proper display box out of hard board
  • paint the display box black
  • use some form of hooks to hang it from the TV but trying to avoid electrocuting myself

The new version of the pixalator turned out to be quite poor. The idea of shortening the loo rolls to make the image brighter meant that the projected image was no longer "pixalated" into the stone like image above but instead looked more like a blurry version of the original film. This was quite dissappointing but I now have a new idea to work on.

I might put an LCD screen and a used mini DVD player into a dedictated box. The box would be light shielded and the pixalator would be built permanently into the front. The aim would be to make the whole thing look like a deep picture frame with an on/off switch on the side. I'd then hang it up on a wall in a dark corner and just have a power lead going to it. It would obviously need ventilation holes to keep everything cool. I'll try and get the bits cheap on ebay or freecycle.

Other pixalators I've found