Saturday, June 22, 2013

In The Details Part #2 : Casting Glances

      When building a character, I feel it is critically important to get the eyes right. It's usually the first detail anyone notices and you can convey a world of information through the eyes.In the past, I've used several different techniques to make eyes for my puppets. I've used polymer clay, ping pong balls -painted and coated with high gloss varnish, commercially made doll eyes and  even working L.E.D's to name just a few. Each of these works to good effect. Recently, though I discovered a simple and highly effective method for making resin cast eyes which has quickly become one of my favorite techniques. I'm going to show you two different variations of this method, partly so you can see the different results and partly because I'm not sure which approach will look better with my puppet.

     First you need some clear casting resin. this is available either in a two part variety, where you mix equal amounts of resin and hardener, or the kind where you add a small amount of catalyst into the resin. Either kind works fine. I'm using the two part type simply because it's what I happen to have on hand. whichever kind you use,measure and follow the mixing instructions EXACTLY as they are written. The batch I made before this one never hardened properly because I didn't stir the mixture enough.  Pay careful attention to the safety precautions and work in a well ventilated area while preparing the resin... or don't. Live your own lives, people!

 Once the mixture is ready, you can pour it into the round indentations of those cheap plastic circular palates that are available anywhere that sells art supplies. I'd suggest using new ones or having a set exclusively for this purpose. Casting resin will pick up anything it touches, so the cleaner your mold is, the better. Let the resin set for 24-48 hours (or whatever the instructions suggest). Once the resin hardens, you can crack it out, just like you would ice cubes. You'll wind up with a small pile of  nice round clear lenses. Select the ones with the fewest air bubbles and imperfections. Now the fun begins!
 Using acrylic paint, I first paint  the pupils onto the back (flat side) of the eye blanks. This process is a lot like painting on glass, you want to do the most visible details first. Notice that I've painted the pupils slightly off center. This males the eyes "cross" slightly, which gives the puppet a sharper focus. Size and shape of the pupils are also important. Our own pupils dilate when we see something or someone we like, which creates a subconscious sympathetic response in those around us. In practical character design terms, the larger the pupil, the more sympathetic the character appears. Conversely, smaller pupils make a character look more sinister and aggressive. Because I want my devil to be reasonably likable, I gave him fairly large pupils. I briefly considered giving him rectangular pupils like a goat's, but decided that round ones would be less eerie looking
I now paint the whites around the edges. this will give me a relatively clean edge around the iris. I like to let my eyes be a bit "painterly". I think it gives them a lot of personality and I don't have to worry about getting the edges perfectly round.
 Here's where I start to deviate methods. One pair of eyes will be painted entirely on  the back of the lens. this method looks sharper and usually works best for video or animals. The other pair will be painted on the curved part of another pair of lenses. When I finish, I will put the two pieces together, flat side to flat side. It creates depth and generally works great for human characters and live performance. Either way I start with my lightest color and accents. I painted a few highlights around the pupil to further help create depth. I'm going to male my irises a catlike greenish-yellow. This will stand out nicely against my devil's red skin. Incidentally, if were to paint the pupils to onto the back of the two-part eyes, the convex/concave relationship would make them appear to follow the viewer.
 After the first layer dries, I add a slightly darker yellow and light green. I find painting overlapping asterisks gives the iris a nice faceted texture.
 I add some darker accents into the empty spaces for contrast. Here I'm using a light blue to add variety to the color. I find that the more layered you make the iris, the more intelligent your character looks
 In order to fill in the remaining gaps, I paint on a golden brown-ish base coat. The eyes are starting to look a bit muddy from the back, but this doesn't matter. They will only ever be seen from the other side
 I found that the first base coat was more translucent than I wanted and that I would like more contrast, so I painted some dark brown accents.
 Finally, to fill in the remaining gaps, I add another layer of yellow ochre.
 Here are the finished results. The top pair are the one-part eyes and the bottom pair are the two-parters. Notice the difference? I attach the two pieces by either hot glue or super-glue around the edges
 I can now test them out on my puppet to see which ones work the best.
Stay tuned for the results! 

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