On view at the Museum of Mathematics this spring is a series of etched "specular holograms," an invention of Matthew Brand.

Each hologram looks as though it’s moving. But in reality, it’s just the play of a moving light source over millions of tiny points etched into a piece of metal.

Here, one of his more colorful animations.

It’s a bit like seeing a light pass over a chrome fender--times about a million, and controlled so precisely that the reflections create an image.

Each image contains as many as 1 million individual points, etched onto metal or plastic using a CNC router.

Within each tiny point, a double-curved surface reflects light in a precisely designed way. That’s what tricks our eyes into thinking that we’re seeing a 3-D object move.

Brand is a scientist and artist, and works with perceptual phenomena.

He imagines that specular holograms could be used in advertising and architecture.

Here, a high-res image of one of his stippled models.

Brand explains that he got the idea for the technique when a piece of holiday tinsel caught his eye. He realized that light reflected off the tinsel in a different way for each of our eyes.

But it was years until he could prototype one of the models, since at the time, no CNC router was fast or precise enough.

Now, he uses a new machine and "home brewed" software to make the holograms.

At the Museum of Math, visitors can use an array of overhead lamps to make the looping knots and patterns move as light cascades over the surfaces in multiple directions.

Co.Design

Hypnotic GIFs Of A Newly Invented Type Of Hologram

Artist and scientist Matthew Brand dreamt up specular holography while playing a gig at a Chicago blues club. Of course.

There’s been plenty of oohing and ahhing over the opening of New York’s Museum of Math, and for good reason. It’s remarkable how fun math can be in the hands of the right curator. To wit: The inaugural installation by artist and perceptual scientist Matthew Brand. Brand is the inventor of something called specular holography, a type of optical illusion that tricks your eye into thinking a 2-D object is 3-D.

At the Museum of Math, 45 of Brand’s specular holograms have been installed on a metal matrix along one gallery wall. Visitors can use an array of overhead lamps to make the looping knots and patterns move as light cascades over the surfaces in multiple directions. Our rods and cones are telling us that we’re seeing a 3-D image. Turns out, we’re seeing 2-D pieces of metal that Brand has engraved with millions of tiny pinpoints, each engineered with its own curvature that reflects light in a specific way.

Brand calls the process zintaglio, and he discovered it one night after playing a set at a blues club in Chicago. He took off his glasses to rub his eyes, and suddenly noticed that the club’s holiday tinsel produced a different image in each eye. He began trying to prototype metal objects that would take advantage of the effect in a controlled way. “It occurred to me that the optics I wanted should be carved out of metals and plastics, but, it turned out, at the time even high-end CNC machines were not sufficiently fast and precise,” he writes. “However, thanks to Moore’s law, a few years later, that obstacle was gone.” Today, he makes the holograms out of small pieces of metal. Most of the software, he tells Co.Design, "is home-brew with some open-source visualization tools thrown in."

Brand has big plans for the specular holography, which represents only part of his far-ranging research on human perception. “Think big holographic surfaces: building facades. Outdoor sculpture. Murals. Art animated by the sun and the motion of people. On towers, doors, windows, walls, ships. In subway and escalator tunnels. Instead of billboards,” he writes. “Anywhere the world needs to be made more interesting.”

Check out more of the holograms on Brand’s website here.

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2 Comments

  • Ity2525

    +1 ... those holograms are worth the price of admission alone.

    btw, maybe its my browser, but the animated gifs here look a little frenetic.
    when you rock the lights on the real thing, the motion of the 3d images is kind of stately.

  • ArtFiend

    I saw these two weeks ago at the museum.  The photos don't do them justice.  They are amazing to see with your own two eyes.  Stand five feet away and they look solid and incandescent.  Go real close and they dissolve into tiny shiny lines on metal. Step back again and they pop back into 3d.  Gorgeous!