Thursday, 2 February 2012

Elephant No. 123: Lite-Brite

For today's elephant, I thought I'd try Lite-Brite. I've never owned one of these, although I remember playing with the one my sister had when we were kids.

Lite-Brite was created by the Hasbro company in 1967. It is essentially a lightbox with a pair of perforated plastic screens. A piece of black paper is sandwiched between the two screens to help block the light emanating from a lightbulb at the back of the box, and translucent coloured pegs are punched through the paper to create a design. Because light is conducted through the pegs, the result is a brightly illuminated image.

Original Lite-Brite packaging, ca. 1970.

The original sets contained colour-coded templates on black paper, allowing children to create characters such as Mickey Mouse. Today's Lite-Brite sets and refill kits are often theme packs featuring animals, butterflies, clowns, and characters from popular cartoons.

A typical Lite-Brite design.

Over the years, Lite-Brite has changed, and is now available as a flat-screen, a 3-D cube, and an FX edition that plays music and spins around. Lite-Brite is now offered as an iPad app as well, and there are virtual Lite-Brite games online. To make your own Lite-Brite design, click on this link

Lite-Brite traditionally includes these eight colours.

The world's largest Lite-Brite design, completed in 2007 by Mark Beekman, measured 1.5 x 3 metres (5 x 10 feet) and featured more than 125,000 original Lite-Brite pegs. The superstructure is made of aluminum, housing a "canvas" made of perforated sheet metal. The piece is backlit with Cee-Lite electroluminescent panels. This 1:9 scale version of da Vinci's The Last Supper took Beekman a year to create.

The Last Supper by Mark Beekman, 2007.

For today's elephant, I borrowed my sister's vintage Lite-Brite set. I had totally forgotten how it worked, so she actually had to give me a quick refresher course. For example, when she said she had included a few sheets of black paper to get me started, I had no idea why I would need it. Apparently, if you don't use the black paper, light shines through every uncovered hole in the screen. Duh.

She also gave me an immense number of pegs—surely far more than came with the original set. This is just a small handful.

This was a very easy activity, if a bit time-consuming at first—but that was only because I originally had the bright idea that I would fill in every hold with a peg, and could then avoid wrecking a piece of the special Lite-Brite paper. In this first iteration, I started by tentatively inserting a few pegs in the screen.

Next, I finished the elephant head.

After this, I added a few pegs to make the body of the elephant.

Then I decided to make stripes in the background. About halfway through, I could see that I wasn't going to have enough pegs, despite the huge jar my sister had given me. I also thought that there would probably be too much light shining through without the black paper, even if I had been able to fill in the whole thing. The pegs fit the holes well enough, but it seemed to me that there might have been a bit of spill here and there. Of course, I might have thought that simply because this is a pretty blinding activity if you don't have the black paper in place.

I decided to try again with the black paper. However, I didn't want to completely undo the elephant, so I lifted off the top screen carefully, laying it over jar lid so that the pegs didn't all pop out.

I laid the paper on the screen, and gently placed the peg-bearing screen on top. This is where it got a bit tricky. To keep the pegs more or less in place, I didn't push the top screen all the way down at first. I concentrated on securing the purple pegs first, pushing them through individually as best I could. Some of them fell out of place, but mostly it was fun to see how each peg "lit up" as soon as it pierced the paper. It's like turning on individual coloured bulbs one at a time.

Once I had the elephant more or reconstituted, I filled in a few gaps, and added a feather to the headdress. I also added a few white pegs in the background as stars for my little showbiz elephant.

This is obviously much more dramatic against a black background, and much more dramatic when actually lit up. This is what it looks like unlit.

And this is what it looks like lit up.

I think I need to get me one of these. Preferably wall-sized.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants are essentially diurnal, meaning that they are most active during daylight. However, because they must eat up to 14 hours per day, they are often partially nocturnal as well.

Interestingly, in areas with high levels of human activity, elephants often reverse their natural behavioural pattern, becoming primarily nocturnal instead. It is believed that elephants have learned to avoid conflict whenever possible, and will forage and travel at night, rather than risk possible deadly encounters with humans.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 

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