Behind These Monster Eyes

Way way back in September (yes not so long ago but it felt like it), I posted one of the first blog post about the Creek Monster Habitat. Boy have we come a long way. We had many meeting, great guest artist, trials, fails, and victories. Here was my adventure on this project.

We started with an idea. There were going to be large eye in the Nest structure and smaller eyes along the path. The design team expressed how they wanted the large eyes on the nest to physically blink. This was awesome. I came into the class hoping to work with new materials and techniques and here was my chance. The eye team started researching puppetry and animatronic blinking. We brainstormed several ideas and presented them to the class. They shared concerns and pointed out problems we hadn’t considered. Back to the idea pool.  We found a new style we liked and created a small prototype with found objects.

The idea was to have servos move the lids which were bent rods with fabric.  We presented the idea to the other teams. This is when we started talking with the Lighting/Programing Team about lighting the eyes and programing the servos. We moved onto the next step of creating a larger scale prototype for the finish size of the largest eye. Enter vaccuforming.

This was another exciting thing to learn. Vaccuforming was this mysterious thing that I’d only heard about. When I thought of it, I imagined lots of complicated steps. In truth is was so much simpler but still fun. To our delight the first “pull” turned out to be very successful. We used metal bowls from IKEA and they slid out of the plastic like butter.

We were very proud of our large prototype. Now we had to test the servos that were to move the eye lids. This was an interesting process. We tried different servos that were on hand and found we didn’t need a giant servo to move everything. Then came doing the math of how many eyes were to go on the nest. Karen shared the Conservancy wanted as many eyes as possible and the designer Delena agreed. We sat down with the map of the nest and determined 3 on the outside and 2 on the inside. Now that we had a number, we started figuring amounts of supplies and cost. Suddenly we had way too many dollar signs. The new problem became streamlining. Could we use less to move more? Some ideas were pitched.

Enter Parker Jennings of MeowWolf. He shared some great ideas of how to use less machines to move more of the eye lids. Prototype was made. Chris of our team learned to weld!

We liked this idea and started figuring how to put it on the nest. Our next guest artist James Ortiz, a puppeteer from New York, pointed out the feasibility of our project. I have to say this was a wonderful and heartbreaking moment all together. We had worked so hard on these ideas but to create it and mount on the structure was out of our time frame and price range. He posed a solution that we used on both the Nest eyes and the path eyes.

He painted on the inside of the domes a pupil and outside a watered down brown of our nest. When light shined from behind the pupil was visible but hidden when not. With designer approval we moved into mass production.

I realized I talked a lot about the large eyeballs on the nest. The small box eyes we made for the walk up and eventually the nest, were handed off to a teammate on the eye team. I didn’t come more into it until the assemblage phase. These had been cut of luan on a laser cutter. There were some challenges to these that I only heard second hand, but the team worked well to resolve and move on. The finished product was so cute.

Overall this project got me to learn new skills. It pushed me to think outside the box. Sometimes literally. Working on a team within a larger team that was more dependent on each other was a new experience.  For a few nights I was onsite to watch the Habitat. Seeing the crowd’s reaction and interaction made me happy. We had set out with this large idea and delivered something that people enjoyed.

Thank you to all the teams, professors, guest artist, and helpers.