CMU School of Drama

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Visual Guide to Vantablack, the Darkest Substance Ever Made

TwistedSifter: Vantablack® is a super-black coating that holds the world record as the darkest man-made substance. It is the darkest material ever measured by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, reflecting only 0.036% of the light that strikes it (measured at 700nm). It is currently available in two versions, either directly applied to surfaces using vacuum-deposition technology or by spraying and then post-processing.

15 comments:

Sarah Boyle said...

This product is crazy. Watching the videos made me curious what it looks like in person, without technology struggling to pick it up. If museums display the product, then it must not just be fooling technology. I went through the manufacture’s FAQs, because I really wanted to know what it Vantablack feels like. (I wasn’t sure if the people in the photos were wearing gloves because the product was toxic, they were avoiding smudges, or because gloves are sciencey.) I was disappointed to learn that touching Vantablack damages the nanotubes. (Also, I didn’t appreciate that they described touching Vantablack as feeling like touching the substrate, I don’t know what that would feel like either.) It’s too bad that the way Vantablack rules out using it in clothing, it could have made for some really intense tech blacks. One of the other FAQs that stuck out to me was “Can I apply Vantablack to my car?” Is that question really asked that frequently? Because it seems like an obviously terrible idea. If you could paint your car with that dark a product that stays dark even when light hits it, it would be confusing for other drivers, especially at night, and would definitely be a traffic hazard.

Claire Krueger said...

I’ve see this floating around Tumblr a few years ago and thought it would be an awesome material for a costume, if it actually existed. It reminded me of the old advertisement where they tried to sell spray paint as balding coverage. The quality of the video was so poor that it looked real. Although I know know it's real I’m only more disappointed. After reading the FAQ on their website the material is not suitable for clothing or anything that touches skin. At least I can look to the future for this material to become usable The only material that it can be applied to is limited seeing how it’s melting point needs to be above 550*C. Also the legal and export limitations around this product make it very difficult to use it in any sort of product or consumable.

Theres also some more really interesting FAQs at https://www.surreynanosystems.com/vantablack/faqs

Kelly Simons said...

I literally cannot even comprehend this substance. Every single object it is attached to loses all its visual features; you can only feel the difference. Now that I mention it, I would like to know what Vantablack even feels like. I want to think it would feel velvety? But it seems like it is more of a painted substance. Wait, actually the article states: “Vantablack is not a black paint, pigment or fabric, but is instead a functionalized ‘forest’ of millions upon millions of incredibly small tubes made of carbon, or carbon nanotubes. Each nanotube in the ‘Vantablack forest’ has a diameter of around 20 nanometres (that’s about 3,500 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair), and are typically from around 14 microns to 50 microns long. A surface area of 1 cm2 would contain around a billion nanotubes.” This material is so bizarre I want to see it some time.

Alex Talbot said...

This is quite an incredible invention, and I could see a plethora of uses for it. I would love to know what the plans are for this material, as I am sure it can be engineered in many ways to benefit the world at least scientifically. While I cannot see a point in the near future where this could be used theatrically (at least with a Carnegie Mellon budget), though it would be useful, it is certainly an amazing prospect. I'd love to be able to play with this, and see it in action--it seems to me like such an innovative material, and I'd love to find a place to use it, budget permitting. Overall, I hope I can read more about this material and its uses in the future, and I hope I can read more about similar innovations that are relevant to our field on this page.

Chris Calder said...

This is actually a really interesting technology. It is so weird to think that the color black is impossible to achieve. Every time that you walk by something and call it black you are actually just lying to yourself. The definition of black is “complete absorption of light” which is not something that can be done. Even when you go to your local home center and ask for a gallon of black paint they too are lying. I think the coolest part about this technology is the lack of reflection and shadows. Like many things in the theater world I can definitely see this being something that we adopt for shows. Pricing might be an obstacle but the ability to make something disappear could potentially be extremely useful. Also, the stark contrasts that can be achieved would allow for better visuals. I can see this using mainly as a masking applications but I would be interested to see what else people can do with it.

Cosette Craig said...

This is a great way to achieve an optical illusion with a big impact. The actual application of it seems attainable but the price point probably makes it impossible to use on as large of a scale as we would need it in theater. I wish I would’ve done research on this during my black box project because it would’ve blown Susan’s mind. It looks like velvet but I can’t imagine it feels that way judging from the description of what its composed of. I also like that it acts as a sort of invisibility cloak for photographs because it loses all dimensional qualities associated with reflective light. If this was cream, I’d wear it as sunscreen because I burn like a ginger. This would also be funny to wrap backstage crew in so they could maneuver a black out like ninjas or even stand against a black wall while the lights are up.

David Kelley said...

Ever since I have first heard of this material about two years ago I ways instantlously interested in it. And while it truly makes me excited for what can possibly be done with said technology. This excitement is tempered though, this is due to the fact that while and incredible product that still to this day feels like it is bending my mind to a point that I cannot comprehend what it is doing, it is unfortunately extremely limited in its possible uses currently. If this material was readily available I would love the idea of using it for soft good or technicians clothing. This would allow for a more immersive world when I the theater because it would be nigh impossible to recognize soft goods or technicians as being separate from the show. This product while incredible and fascinating is still so far from being viable in the use for theater application. I really hope that the limited use for vents black eventually disappears because honestly it will be damn cool and a fun product to play with.

nick waddington said...

i think the applications and possibilities for something like this are sheerly endless. this being said, the price tag does not do it many favors making anything large scale nearly impossible. Of course one of my first reactions to it was how can we adapt this to work for us in theater, whether it be seemingly invisible puppetry or legs that really truly cut off the edge of the stage. however i think the concept of it in itself is hard to wrap my head around to say the least, especially because it does not reflect light, yet somehow i can imagine the kind of texture it has. immediately i have to imagine what it would be like inside a room where every surface was treated with vantablack, and so were your clothes, and you put a ghost light in the center of the room, what would it look like? if anyone wants to payroll my experiment, i am more than happy to try.

Megan Jones said...

Vantablack's effect on the objects that it's coated with is honestly mind-blowing. It really looks like objects disappear or are simply flat, as it's impossible to make out any texture or dimension with the naked eye. However the thing that interests me the most about Vantablack has nothing to do with its ability to coat things, but rather the fact that Anish Kapoor was able to buy the right to be the only artist allowed to use the material. Personally I think it was both selfish on his part and greedy for the production company to do this deal. An British artist names Stuart Semple has been working to create his own "better black" which is essential an easier-to-use, affordable, and safer version of Vantablack. Although it's not as dark as Vantablack it still has a very cool effect, and is accessible to all consumers and artists that want to give it a try. Unless your Anish Kapoor, as Semple has banned him from using his products for not sharing Vantablack with the world.

John Yoerger said...

Well damn this is pretty cool! Kevin always says how we tend to re-purpose a lot of things that aren't made for the theatre into stuff that is then made for the theatre and I certainly see Vantablack as one of the products that would be coming our way fairly quickly. And by "our way" I mean to commercial theatre projects where there are millions and billions of dollars at play. I certainly can see Disney getting on the Vantablack train very quickly. I can only imagine how much more stunning and surprising the visual effects of flying creatures or even just seeing something in the middle of what appears to be nothing as you pass it on a themed entertainment ride. This stuff has a lot of potential. Even on theatrical lighting fixtures... though I almost wonder if it would look odd to see something SO black all over the theatre? It wouldn't reflect light and you wouldn't have spill, but it would almost look like someone was photoshopping and deleting objects from the real world. Very interesting!

Lauren Miller said...

This is a very interesting product, but, as Megan has pointed out, Anish Kapoor (an Indian artist currently living in the UK - he is best known for creating "The Bean"/Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millennium Park) currently hold exclusive rights to the product for all artistic purposes. There is a very entertaining movement within the sculpture community to get him to give up those rights - so, if you are interested at getting the product to experiment with, I suggest you do some research into "the pinkest pink" pigment and join the crusade to share our colors. That being said, this arguement is less about the ability to use Vantablack and more about shared rights to materials, since it is prohibitively expensive for most (it is currently only used for aerospace projects) and Kappor as well as the company have stated that it is essentially useless for most artistic applications. This is a really intriguing product and has incredible scientific applications and it is very possible that at some point in the future it will find its way into our work, but at the moment it's little more than a dream.

Ali Whyte said...

I initially wondered as to the artistic properties of such an item, but after reading other comments and more on the subject, I realized it doesn't have the practicality for a lot of art. The process of application, for one, is more complicated than most, especially in the theatrical world, usually do. I do see a lot of industrial uses though. I am sure this will be explored more in the future in terms of what it can do for electronics or other things in similar fields. I do think it is interesting, as others above have pointed out, that one person holds the exclusive rights to use this material artistically. I think that in and of itself is very limiting and also a little concerning. Things like this should be available for everyone to experiment and play with; that's how we discover as much about new products like this as we possibly can.

Julian Goldman said...

When I first saw this article, my initial reaction was, “Okay, it is really black, so what?” but I was curious, so I read the article. This is a level of black that I never even considered existed. Especially looking at the black mask, it felt so disorienting to see objects that just seemed like they shouldn’t exist. It makes sense that if an object reflects next to no light we wouldn’t be able to see the form because there would be no contrast between highlights and shadows, but actually seeing it is surreal. My second question was, “what is the purpose of this?” so I went to the website and found that having a surface with next to no reflection does have a lot of practical applications. I would really love to see Vantablack in person, even though I can’t think of any reason why I would since I don’t ever work on anything that would have a practical application for it.

Mark Ivachtchenko said...

OK, who edited the objects out of all of these pictures and videos? It's really, really weird to look at vantablack (or not look at it?) since it really messes with you; it's especially weird if you're a visual learner and suddenly the world stops making sense visually. It's also nice to learn a little more about vantablack and consider it's true chemical composition. I've heard of artists using this stuff as a black pigment but these artists are very, very rich. So, it's probably going to be a little while for the material to potentially serve a purpose in the theater community, but commercial theaters could probably snatch it if they really wanted to try it out. Just thinking about it, there's a whole world of possibilities with this material, both practical and designer. In theater, you can use it to mask lights or prohibit light leak or you can incorporate in the show itself and mess with the audience's perception of reality just like those videos did with mine...

Madeleine Wester said...

It's pretty funny to see everyone's reaction to Vantablack. I don't really understand why people are so inherently intrigued by this substance, but I'm also pretty into it. I can see how Vantablack could be used to trick audience members or create unique effects in theatre, but I'm more interested in what else we could use this on. For example, what if clothing were made out of Vantablack? What if we could create a type of food made out of Vantablack? What if we could genetically mutate dogs to be the color of Vantablack? What if there was Vantablack hair dye? What if we could make airplanes with Vantablack so they blend into the night sky better? What if there were Vantablack colored contacts? What about beverages made out of edible liquefied Vantablack? Now I understand why Vantablack is so inherently intriguing, it could probably solve most of the world's problems.

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