Chromata – Burning Man


See the source imageChromata is an interactive, generative work that algorithmically produces a visual imagery:

  • A continuously-changing, mesmerizing field of light (see prototype)
  • Short-lived abstract light paintings that are influenced by viewer interactions with two simple big-button interaction kiosks

Without interaction, Chromata continuously generates new imagery that is truly ephemeral – based on millions of random numbers, it will never appear the same again.

Presented here is an installation-sized version of a piece for which there is a operational 20 inch square prototype. The software for the first mode of display and interaction is already complete, while the second display is under development. The proposed piece is based on an existing robust software code base that has been developed by the artist over the last four years.

The above video is also available here:
Chromata prototype video

This proposal will describe in detail the following aspects of the work:

Dimensions and weight

The Chromata installation without the generator box is 14 feet wide, 15 feet deep, and 7 feet high. The piece uses a generator, the box for which is placed 12 feet away. Counting the generator box, the overall footprint is 25 wide by 15 feet deep by 7 feet high.

The installation (not counting its generator) will weight approximately 300 lbs.

Physical build

Chromata will consist of two 48 inch by 96 inch panels mounted back-to-back on a stand. When mounted, the stand elevates the panels 36 inches off the floor. The installation is meant to be installed in the middle of a room where viewers may walk around the piece.

The panels will encase an array of computer-controlled LEDs behind a diffuser.

The panels and stand will be primarily constructed from wood, with all wood surfaces painted white.

Chromata installation’s main parts.

Panel construction

Chromata has two panels each of which are identical. Structurally each panel is comprised of a rectangular frame made of 2 x 4s, a 1/2 inch plywood backplane, and borders on all sides of 1/2 inch plywood.

Panel rear view showing frame, backplane, and borders.

The front of each panel consists of a single sheet of 1/4″ ice white acrylic, fastened to the backplane at 10 points on standoffs.

Panel front, with diffuser pulled away revealing LED strips and standoffs. Actual diffuser material appears opaque.

The panels are designed to be removable from the stand for transport. The bottom of each panel sits on a shelf and is secured by L brackets. The top of each panel is attached to the stand with additional hardware.

Stand construction

The stand is constructed from painted 2 x 4s and 4 x 4s.

Stand with panels removed.

To facilitate transport, the stand is designed to come apart into four pieces: left vertical support, right vertical support, top horizontal support, and bottom shelf support. The base feet are permanently attached to the vertical supports. All removable sections are connected to one another with lag bolts and similar hardware.

The power supply and small computer will be attached to the back of one of the panels.

Kiosk construction

The two interaction kiosks are constructed similarly from 2x4s and 4x4s. At the top of each kiosk is a panel built with two pieces of 1/2″ plywood held apart by a frame of 1x1s. These are each a single pre-built unit, wired by under-playa trench to each other and then to the main stand.

Interaction kiosk detail.


The stand and panels are overbuilt to withstand head-on wind in excess of 40 mph. Each of the two vertical supports are rebared to the playa with two right-angle rebars per side. Additionally, two guy-wires per side provide lateral stability and torsional tension. The guy wires are fastened to the playa with 18-inch x 1/2-inch lag bolts. Each guy-wire mount point is marked with a solar-charged LED lamp.

Playa-fastness for stand.

The interaction kiosks are likewise fastened to the playa with two right-angle rebars per kiosk.

Playa-fastness for kiosks.


Each Chromata panel holds 2,485 RGB LEDs arranged in a 71 x 35 array, with the LEDs spaced 1.31 inches apart in both dimensions. These LEDs are, for technical reasons, separated into two halves, one with 17 rows and one with 18 rows, with the control computer located centrally.

The LEDs are 5050 (5mm square) surface-mount RGB LEDs mounted on flexible strips, 30 LEDs per meter. The LEDs are of type APA102C, which is a compact die-in-LED design. The LEDs feature 5 bits of brightness control which is employed to reduce brightness. By running the LEDs at about 1/4 power the piece will emit a comfortable, room-filling amount of light but will be mellow enough to allow a contemplative viewer to stare at the piece without discomfort.

Chromata uses APA102C LEDs on flexible strips.

The control computer is a Raspberry Pi Model 3 B+ running a custom C++ program authored by the artist (who is a professional software engineer). The code driving Chromata is complete and tested. This proposal includes a video demonstration of the software running on a 20 inch square prototype, including tablet interactivity.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.

Both the computer and the LEDs are run off a Mean Well model UHP-500-5 5V, 80A solid-state, fanless power supply. As planned the piece will never draw more than 60A from this supply, well under its rated current.

Power supply.


While Chromata functions autonomously, it is designed for direct user interaction through the two interaction kiosks. Together the kiosks provide some key information to Chromata‘s generative algorithms such that an entirely new and unique piece of abstract light art may be displayed on the installation with each user interaction.

The interaction design assumes two participants, but Chromata can play the role of either participant should no interaction occur in within a certain short timeout. This allows a single participant standing at a single kiosk to still get a unique light art output.

Chromata is a nighttime installation. As such, the interaction kiosks are designed to be operated in the dark, and use light to guide participants through the simple interaction.

Left kiosk – color

The left kiosk allows a participant to influence the color of the resultant imagery.

Color interaction kiosk.

The color interaction has two interactive steps and one passive step. The step number and instructions light up in order to guide the participant through the interaction process.

  1. In step one, the participant uses a large arcade-style joystick to choose a color. The horizontal axis of the joystick cycles through color hues. The vertical axis either lightens or darkens the color, thus allowing any color including fully-saturated colors, pastels and shades to be selected. The color is displayed on the large square preview panel next to the joystick. When the user is satisfied with their chosen color, they press the lit-up Done button.
  2. In step two, the users is presented with color palettes that are based on their seed color from step (1). These are chosen from artist-drawn palettes and concocted using color harmony algorithms. If the user doesn’t like any of the choices, they can press the More button to see a new set of three. When they finally find a color palette they like, they press the button corresponding to the palette to complete the interaction.
  3. This passive step (which lights up after they complete step (2)) instructs the participant to look up at the piece to see Chromata’s interpretation of their choices.

Right kiosk – style

The right kiosk allows a participant to influence the style of the resultant imagery.

Style interaction kiosk.

The style interaction has one interactive step and one passive step. The step number an instructions light up in order to guide the participant through the interaction process.

  1. In step one, the participant selects a basic style from a list of pre-rendered prototype images. These images represent a generalized distillation of the seven 20th-century abstract art styles for which Chromata has generative algorithms. The user presses one of the buttons to choose a style.
  2. This passive step (which lights up after the complete step (1)) instructs the user to look up at the piece to see Chromata’s interpretation of their choice.

Other considerations


Chromata requires 120V AC power. This power is provided by the use of a Honda EU1000i gas-powered generator with an extended fuel tank that allows it to run for the full 11-hour dark cycle that will occur during Burning Man. The generator is in enclosed in a generator box which simultaneously protects the generator while reducing its noise output. AC power is routed to the Chromata stand through an under-playa trench.

The artist will start Chromata’s generator each night at nightfall. A timed fuel cutoff will automatically shut off the generator after 11 hours.