Making a light box

As I was working through look development, I realised that I needed to paint up quite a few starting position masks for a number of the particle setups. Rather than spend lots of time in Photoshop producing masks that may not end up looking exactly what I wanted, I decided to photograph some naturally created sand splashes of my own. So I needed a light box specifically used for sand animation. Rather than buy one, let alone actually trying to find one, I decided to build one instead. Not only would it end up cheaper, but I get to build something real, which is something that digital based animators never get to do!


I bought a custom cut piece of translucent Perspex from a local plastics shop, and some treated pine cut to four specific lengths. All I then needed was a hammer and some nails.

Ready to build something.


The frame is put together.


After putting the frame together, I thought the best way to hold up the Perspex was to put a nail inside each corner.

Holding up the Perspex.


But when I placed the Perspex on the nails, I found the sides were sagging. So I added a few more nails along the edge, and it seemed to work great.

Sagging edges.


A few more nails.


I then sealed the Perspex with some extra wide masking tape, taking care to make sure that there were no tiny gaps in the corners where sand might find a way through.

Sealing it up.


All sealed up.


I searched a few different lighting shops and hardware stores for the right type of lighting solution. I was fully prepared to have a whole bunch of cords all hooked up a multi plug adapter until I came across these:

Illuminating the light box.


What makes these perfect is how they can be daisy-chained together, and I only need a single plug. I bought four, but after a quick test at home, realised that the dark spots between the lights were too noticeable, so I decided to buy a few more. Plus having the extra light means that I can shoot with a lower ISO and a smaller f-stop, both resulting in a sharper image.

The dark areas are too noticeable with only four tubes.


Finally, I needed sand. The best quality sand I knew of was from the dunes of Henley Beach, so off I went!

A hard day at the office.


That's some good looking sand.


I now had everything I needed, so I put it all together. I found that the Perspex was too close to the lights which caused obvious bright lines when seen from above. Raising the whole frame a little diffused the light perfectly.

My own light box.


I am glad I made this instead of trying to buy one, it was much easier that I thought.


After I tried it out, I found out that the Perspex was causing a static electricity effect, so that when I was manipulating the sand, a small portion of the sand would jump around after being moved. I then figured that I needed some glass on top. So I called a local glass shop to order a pane glass with a low amount of iron so that it was as clear as possible without any of the greenish tinge. I removed the original masking tape sealing, laid the glass on top of the Perspex and resealed it all up.

Ready to go - again.


With the glass on top, the sand reacted very much as expected.

Now begins the fun part!


First proper test shot.


All in all a successful endeavour costing me around $150 all up. Now to put it all to some good use!

4 Responses to “Making a light box”

  1. Impressive ..! Really nice job ! I can’t wait to see what will come out from that … will you be the next Alexander Petrov ? 🙂

  2. I _just_ built a lightbox two weeks ago, for doing slide photography. 🙂 Funny co-incidence. 🙂 I’ll be sure to send you some pictures soon, for comparison purposes. 🙂

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