Portfolio: Blind Ness

The Concept
Blind Ness: The Irresistable Light of Encounter was a world premeire show that focused on the horrors that took place in the Congo under the reign of the Belgian King Leopold. Part of this show involved a twisted parade with mechanically animated floats that depicted some of the horrible things that had happened. The floats included a coal fire with severed hands being roated above it, a member of the Force Publique beating a forced laborer, and several others. As part of a class project, we split up into teams that were to design the mechanisms used to animate the floats. The first of the two floats that were assigned to my team was a tree formed out of metal tubing with a with several vultures on it, with the top one flapping its wings. The second was much more involved: it was a paddlboat with working paddle, steam coming out of the smoke stack, and a guard who stood at the front of the boat continually rotating 180 degrees.

The Vulture Float
The vulture float was relatively straightforward. The designer wanted the mechanisms to be exposed as much as possible as a metaphor for the control that the Belgians had over these people. After going through a few different ideas we settled on a relatively simple scheme to create the motion that was needed. We used a low RPM motor with a cam that we made out of a peice of steel bar, and 2 arms that pushed the wings up and pulled them down with each rotation. The movement was not extremely realistic, but because of the stylized form of this production, it worked to support the concept very effectively.

The Paddle Boat Float

The paddleboat float was more challenging to design. The paddle was relatively easy, a low RPM motor linked to a chain that turned the paddle. The steam and oscillating figure were more difficult to figure out. The steam went through many different concepts, from areosol fog cans with a timed solenoid to baby powder and a fan. What we finally came up with was a model train steam unit that with a modefied method of loading the fluid that produced a higher than normal volume. The swiveling guard went through dozens of ideas before we settled on one. The principal is rather simple, but it took quite a while to develop. The man is set on top of a steel rod just above the deck of the boat. Below the deck, the rod is directly connected to the motor. There is a wooden disc attached to the rod below the deck that has a bolt going through either side of it. Below the disc, ther is a box with a switch attached that when toggled, is wired in such a way that it reverses the polarity of electricity flowing to the motor thereby changing the direction in which the motor rotates. The bolts through the disc alternately toggele the switch as they rotate, acting as limit switches, which allowed us to choose the amound of rotation by simply changing where on the disc the bolts were placed.

A rendering of the concept for the swivel mechanism

The swivel mechanism as it was actually built