DIY: Fiber Optic Star Ceiling
Yikes, I just realized it is almost two years since I first blogged about my retractable roof! It has taken me that long to complete all the other areas of the house… I have the sickness know as Perfectionism . Most people would do everything at once, but I didn’t… I wanted to be able to focus on this one room, by itself, which is one of the primary reasons I built the house… The Theatre. I’m a few short weeks from total completion (carpets, mounting the screen and projector) but it’s all now starting to come together.
- Over 11,000 feet of fiber optics will have been used
- There are over 350 constellation stars using .75mm fiber
- There are over 600 milky way stars using .50mm fiber
- The virtual sky is 10′x12′
- 36 .75mm fibers make up one shooting star and travels over 12′
- It took over 40 hours to pull & thread all the stars (to the 1/4″ MDF panel and to the light unit matrix)
- It is a September sky (my birth month)
If you are thinking about installing a fiber optic sky ceiling you really need to plan for it, otherwise, you will have a difficult time making it look good. During construction I placed 4″ conduit from where the light unit would be mounted to the front of the ceiling. You want the light unit to be as close as possible to minimize fiber length (for cost). The custom fiber optic illuminators from FOSI use a 39w PAR 30 Metal Halide bulb and a very quiet effects motor, so placing it behind the stage was possible. Some less expensive illuminators use Halogen bulbs which heat up, requiring loud fans.
Because I don’t have access above the ceiling I decided to use three 4′x10′ 1/4″ MDF panels (special order). We first fitted the panels and then I painted them using BEHR Midnight Sky (available from Home Depot). Two coats, with the final after the ceiling was installed. With the two coats applied and dried, I then laid out the panels on the floor, as they would be mounted to the ceiling and rolled out the September sky template that was provided as part of the kit from FOSI. I first drilled the milky way stars using the drill bit FOSI provided. I drilled on the finish side so I wouldn’t have any bumps or chads… I wanted a clean hole. After I drilled the milky way I lifted the panels and on the back side, using my finger tips (as one would to read braille) I found the holes and marked them with a blue sharpie pen. I repeated the process for the constellations, but this time with red ink, and the shooting stars in black. This step allows you know which hole is which when threading from the back side (non-painted). The whole process took about 3 days.
After all the hole are drilled and marked, I then began pulling the fibers from the illuminator to the holes on the panel. I counted how many constellations in a 4′x4′ square and bundled that much of the .75mm together. Since the .75mm fiber is single stands I had to make my own bundle. The .50mm fiber is in a PVC jacket bundle containing 32 fibers. I prefer single strands because you can control the waste better. I had a friend come by a couple days and help thread the holes. I miss calculated how much fiber I needed so while I waited for more fiber to arrive, I would make up for lost time threading the fibers to the illuminator matrix panel.
In the above photo you can see the back panel fully installed. If you look closely, you can see a wooden strip running through the ceiling at every 4′. Those are 1/4″x1 1/2″ spacers which drop the ceiling 1/4″ so the fibers won’t get bent when the panels are attached to the ceiling. The strips also act as a place for the nails to attach.
The End Result
Well, I’m not quite there yet… I ran out of fiber again. Another 1500′ should be arriving on Monday. The second panel was installed last night and it looks great, the two tie in nicely. I highly recommend a “true” night sky ceiling for any home theater. Because it is a true night sky, with proper star characteristics, it doesn’t look gaudy or goofy. It actually really makes the room… plus, if the movie sucks, you can just look up and gaze at the twinkling constellations and dimmed back milky way… just waiting to catch that shooting star.
6/5/2006 — I have uploaded a couple more photos. One is of the custom FOSI illuminator and the other is a close up of the fibers. The fibers protrude about 1/4″. They can be pushed in further but I haven’t since I still might need to touchup the paint a bit.
Closeup shot of the protruding fibers — they are not noticeable with the amount of normal light in the theatre. The only way I have been able to see them is with a 500watt halogen work light or a 48″ four light fluorescent shooting light up and then you see them because of the fiber shadows. When the fibers are lit, you only see the point.
The FOSI custom illuminator — this unit houses a 39w Metal Halide lamp with Effects Wheel. The different zones control the twinkling constellation stars, the shooting star and ND filtered Milkyway. The unit runs cool and is very quiet.
6/7/2006 — Here is a photo of the finished ceiling. I will try to get some video of the shooting star posted soon. The room is too dark for my digital camera movie capture to pick up, so I need to get out my camcorder that has more settings. You can kind of see where the shooting star is… look at the diagonal line in the lower left of the photo. Since this was a long exposure photo, it picked up the shooting star… a video will actually show the effect.
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- Wednesday, June 7th, 2006 at 8:00 pm
- Danny Mavromatis