Mariposa: a giant Raspberry Pi-controlled LED butterfly

LED sculptor Christopher Schardt created Mariposa, a 26 × 14 foot butterfly-shaped sculpture featuring 39,000 LEDs that display patterns choreographed to music. Everything is driven by nine Raspberry Pi-based controllers.

How does it work?

Mariposa was built for this year’s Burning Man festival and was installed 15 feet above the ground, with a swinging bench beneath it on which revellers could lie back and gaze at it as it flew in situ. The motion of the bench moves the butterfly’s wing hinges, making visitors a part of the artwork.

Mariposa the LED butterfly
Design concept showing the flowerpot speakers and swinging bench

The butterfly’s body is made from is aluminium tubing, with LED strips stretched across the wing frames like the warp on a weaving loom. Speakers disguised as giant plant pots dotted around the base of the installation play classical and classic pop music. The 39,000 LEDs create a sort of screen that displays images choreographed to each piece of music. LED Lab, an iPad app that lets you use any image or video file to create LED animations, controls the piece, and Mariposa’s Raspberry Pis execute the light choreography based on what the app requests.

Burning Man fan

Christopher has been going to Burning Man since 1998, and he started making large-scale LED art installations for the festival back in 2015. His most famous one is 2018’s Paraluna, a 28-foot disc suspended by a boom lift which moves it up and down above the heads of the audience while it displays LED patterns choreographed to classical music. I quite like the look of Mind Wash: another Raspberry Pi-controlled piece, built in the shape of a dome which you lie inside to watch the light show. However, Mariposa is “the largest and most complex piece [Christopher’s] team has ever undertaken”.

LED disc installation at burning man
Christopher’s best-known installation, Paraluna

Build process photo diary

Have a look at this excellent gallery of photos documenting the build process. They show clearly how the LED strips fan out from the central butterfly-shaped aluminium tubing. The video below offers glimpses of the electronics controlling the light show hidden within Mariposa’s wings.

This video and other images in this post are from

We are thrilled to see tiny Raspberry Pis inside such arrestingly huge artwork, and at the achingly cool Burning Man, no less. Maybe we should go to Burning Man next year? Are we cool enough to go to Burning Man? I’m 89% sure no one at Pi Towers is cool enough. Maybe if we attended ironically?

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