AUTOMOTIVE maker Lexus is airing a series of ads titled “Strobe”, centered on a light man running across a city skyline, with LED suits playing a central role.
The director of the ads, Adam Berg, wanted to recreate movement without gravity, hindrances or boundaries. Inspired by the work of Edward Muybridge, a 19th-century photographer who used sequential photographs to study motion, he set out to do this with tens of stuntmen wearing LED suits, positioned and suspended from tall buildings across the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur, then lighting them up in sequence as the camera rolled.
Hollywood costume designer Vin Burnham and animatronics and special effects designer Adam Wright, who had previously collaborated on an animated dress for Lady Gaga, worked together again to come up with the suits for the stuntmen.
The final LED suit took design inspiration from Lexus’ spindle grilles, and consisted of 7 layers: a base layer, a layer of LEDs, 4 layers for light diffusion, and an outer black silk layer.
These LEDs come in strands of 20 “pixels”, with each pixel being a metal square containing four 5050 RGB LEDs with a 120 degree beam width, and a controller chip soldered to a PCB. These squares are flooded with epoxy, making the pixels waterproof – a key consideration because one of the LED men is submerged in a pool at one point in the ad.
The pixels are digitally-controllable via an internal 8-bit PWM LED driver, accessible via Arduino or any other microcontroller. Wright developed a custom wireless computer system using DMX software to control the light on the suits, allowing the crew to control and monitor each suit individually and light them up sequentially even when the stuntmen were suspended in mid-air.