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In the past i had an exibit in my job with a aluminium bar with a lot of electronic components. The only visible componentes was a sequence of red leds (about 40 or 50). The leds blinkin without a logical order when the bar is stopped. But when somebody move the bar very fast, we'll see a perfect image of a scull(is the retinal persistence fenomenal), but can be another image.
Somebody broken the bar and the electronic circuit a few years ago, and i need to create a new one. We don't have the bar...
There was a similiar project in popular electronics a few years ago. You'll probably have to program a microcontroller if you want to display images like a skull. The LEDs need to light in sequence displaying a vertical slice of the image you wish to portray each step of the sequence. They should sequence fairly fast, I don't remember the exact speed.
I built one using a 555 and a 4017, it would sequence LEDs out and back from the center. When you waved it back and forth you got a string of diamond shapes.
I have one of those skyliner things that you spin over your head and it makes a message with a stack of 7 LED's, but I never thought of an idea like this before. I just spent the whole morning getting a parts list together. Comes to about $45 but I'm getting enough parts for 2 in case I screw it up somehow.