Creating ChipScapes

I often get asked how I create ChipScapesTM. The answer is a very long and winding answer, there technical and artistic parts to the answer. For those just interested in the overall creative process, I think you will find this very interesting. For those that want to create there own chip pictures, I think you will find this very valuable. For those that want to know exactly how I generate the colors in my ChipScapesTM, you might be a bit disappointed. I don’t give this information, I refer to it as my secret sauce. However, I would encourage you to experiment with the information here. You’ll find you own “secret sauce”.

First, let show you the difference between a picture of a chip and a ChipScape. Below are two images let’s start with the one to the left. This is a raw image of a memory chip. It is a Mostek 4102. The areas to the top and bottom are memory cells. The band in the middle is the decoding logic used to access the memory cells. It is highly magnified, but the lighting is similar to what the naked eye would see. So this is what a chip looks like, it’s a picture of a chip. The picture to the right is a ChipScape. It is a ChipScape of the exact same image to the left, but combined, using my secret sauce, with other images under different lighting conditions. The image is technically accurate. The colors not false colors; they are not randomly created. They are based on the colors that the chip generates under different lighting color and angles. ChipScapesTM are far more colorful that straight photographs of the chips. Click on the images to see larger versions.

 

ChipScape_Memory_Raw ChipScape_Memory_Final
This is a microscopic picture of a
Mostek 4102 Memory Chip
This is ChipScapeTM made from
images of the Mostek 4102

 

Click Here to check out my ChipScapesTM Store

 

I create my pictures by taking digital photographs of the chips. Starting with these photographs, and sometimes I use more than one, I create digital enhancements (the secret special sauce) that bring a spark to these pictures. Are these photographs? Well they are derived from them, but are digitally retouched images. The things that can be done in digital media make it hard to classify them in a classical sense. So what are they? I’m open to suggestions. The following describes the process I use to create ChipScapesTM.

Finding a Subject

First things first, and the first thing is you must choose a subject. Finding a silicon wafer, with chips on it, on eBay is not too difficult. These are far and away my preferred subjects. Wafers give you options to takes pictures of parts of chips, the whole chip, multiple chips, spacing between chips, test chips, etc. However, finding a specific wafer like an Intel 4004 is extremely difficult and expensive. It is possible to break open packaged chips to get at the chip die, but I discourage the destruction of chips, unless they are so beat up that they are not worth keeping. A secondary problem is that it is very very difficult to keep the chips clean enough to photograph in the removal process.

Choose the Right Equipment

What equipment do I use to create these images? The short answer is just about everything including the kitchen sink! But, here are some of the more common items:

 

Cameras: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; Sony TX30 (yes, really)
Lenses: Canon 100mm Macro (with/without extenders); 50mm Tessar Carl Zeiss Jena with 300mm bellows; Canon 28mm-135mm zoom; Canon lensless microscope adapter
Microscopes: Nikon Optiphot 15x eyepieces, 2.5x, 5x, 10x, 20x, 40x objectives; LW Scientific 10x eyepieces, 2x/4x objectives
Computers: Multiple (Mac & Windows), changes frequently; lots and lots of software around Photoshop and filters (some custom created)
Printers: Epson 7520 and 7900

People are surprised that I would use a simple “tourist” camera like the Sony TX30 for professional work. The interesting thing is that the tiny lens and aperture give me great depth of field. When you are shooting microscopic chip pictures, lens quality is secondary to depth of field. Tiny fractions of an inch can make the difference between an interesting picture and a boring picture. To us chips look flat, but they are multidimensional, being made in multiple layers, and depth of field is important. When you use binocular microscopes the depth of chips is very apparent.

Frame Up the Shot

My pictures are joys for me to create. As I acquire new chips I revel in their technology and place in history. Under the microscope, I study their designs looking for uniqueness, a quirk, an unusual aspect or quality. These are the basis for my pictures. I look at the circuits that make a chip special and see if I can highlight them. It is a treasure hunt. I am sometimes disappointed, but not often. I am amazed by the genius of the designers of these chips and hope my work does them some tribute.

In my home town of Winter Park, Florida, we are fortunate to have a couple of world class museums, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, being foremost. The Morse Museum has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s artwork. The museum is only a 10 minute walk from my home and I visit it often. Tiffany was a genius with many artistic talents. His choice of glass as his primary medium led many to relegate him to the industrial arts, rather than the fine arts. I feel a certain affinity with Tiffany, in that a lot of my work can be thought of as industrial art. Also, although we come at it from very different angles, both our work is based in glass. Chips, and my artworks, are made possible because of the SiO2 (Silicon Dioxide) insulation layers used in their construction. The more common name for SiO2 is glass. Tiffany and I were attracted to glass for the same reasons, namely the way that it reflects and refracts light. Whereas he sought to create the light in his works, I attempt to capture it in mine. Many of my artworks have a stained glass feel, this is not by accident.

Post Production

Once I have the images, I process them with Photoshop. I don’t work in a clean room, so my chips get dust on them, so I digitally clean them (but, nothing is better than a nice clean chip!). Also, depending on the lens that I am using I may need to use filters to correct lens distortions (pin-cushion, barrel and perspective). Once I have clean images I adjust tone and color. The final step is to apply my “secret sauce”.

Once I have the completed image, I display them in a couple of different styles. My two major types of ChipScapesTM are my Historical Series and my ChipScapesTM Works of Art. The Historical Series are mixed media artworks with a focus on preserving collectible chips and their history. ChipScapesTM Works of Art are fine collectible artworks in various styles: gallery wrapped canvas, multi-dimensional under glass, and others. I do commissions so those have ranged from pure digital images to book covers to 8 foot metal panels. I love to experiment…

Just as a note on the care and feeding of my art. All of my artworks are created with archival photo papers, canvases, and inks. My canvas artworks are coated with a UV light protectant. However, to prolong their life, as with any artwork, avoid placing them in direct sun, high humidity, or high temperatures.