Oculus Creative Process

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The design for this light fixture originally began with a sketch and rendering from the Rockwell Group in New York. It’s called The Oculus, and I remember thinking it looked like an eye the first time I saw the rendering.

In the sketch it’s hard to tell what is hanging from the fixture, but Tom and Nik knew they were supposed to be origami cranes of some sort. So Tom and Nik had to find a suitable source of colorful origami cranes for the light fixture.

The first idea was to use plastic cranes in all different colors, and although they were very cost effective, they looked cheap and not very pretty. Next was the idea of porcelain birds - these were a little more expensive and looked a great deal better than the plastic, but there was concern that the birds could get chipped and broken over time with air currents, or maybe if people bumped the birds into each other. So Tom and Nik took another look at the sketch and rendering and thought they really looked like paper birds.

Nik and Tom did a search on Etsy for Origami Paper Cranes and one of my listings for the Clear Colored Crane Mobile came up. They contacted me through my email asking if I could sell large quantities of just birds. They also told me a little about the project and timeline, and requested a price quote.   

I didn’t think too much of the inquiry as I get inquiries about pricing for large orders at lease once a month - most of them don’t lead to much of anything. I replied anyways, and with every response they kept showing interest in moving forward with me on the project.

The light fixture required 1,248 cranes, and Tom and Nik requested a sample of the clear colored birds but in a few larger sizes. I folded and strung up four cranes in the four colors I had available, and in 4 slightly different sizes. When I went to ship that one box with only 4 opened cranes it cost about $350 - luckily they covered the shipping costs.

At this price point it would cost nearly $50K in shipping alone in order to get 1,248 strung up and opened up cranes to Dubai - which is absolutely ridiculous! They asked about a discount but I answered truthfully that no amount of discount would make up for that much shipping cost, and I was already charging a relatively low price for the amount of work involved.

Without giving much thought to the details and possibilities, I replied that I could fly there and take the closed cranes with me, and open them up once I got there. They loved this idea, and once the sample cranes got to them, their clients immediately gave them the green light to proceed with the fixture, and to fly me there to help with assembly.

The samples I had sent were larger than the birds from the rendering, and Tom and Nik really liked this larger size, so they asked to reduce the number to 980 cranes instead. Once the terms were agreed upon and I received payment, I was finally able to place the order for the material I had chosen to use.

During the time we were emailing back and forth about the details, I was doing research on materials. What I used for the mobile in my listing only came in 4 colors and the clients were wanting 8 colors. Tom and Nik left the color choices up to me - the only requirements on their part were that it had to be colorful with 8 different colors, and that the colors would be arranged randomly in the fixture. 

I considered using half of the colors from that original material (as it was relatively easy to fold), and half of something else vs using only one type of material. I also compared the prices and level of difficulty in cutting the material if purchased in rolls vs sheets. I visited Barbizon, a lighting company in the Boston area to see the materials in person and buy some samples to fold. Once I knew which material I wanted, it took me a couple of days to come up with a list of the exact colors and quantities I would order.

In the end I decided to order sheets rather than rolls, and to order all the same type of material so all the birds had the same quality of color and clarity.  This material was a lot harder to fold than what I had worked with previously, but it made the best looking cranes, and any creases or accidental crinkles wouldn't leave a white mark like they did on the material I had used before.

Because the sheets were so large, and I had to be time efficient and make straight cuts, I invested in a large 24 inch guillotine paper cutter.  This is something I've wanted to get for years now (for cutting large sheets of Chiyogami and Washi paper), but I've never really "needed" one before.

Once the material arrived I was able to begin cutting and folding cranes.  I cut each sheet in half with the large cutter, and then cut each half sheet into two large 10.5" squares using my 12" paper cutter.  It was easier to line everything up and cut straight and fast with the smaller paper cutter.  Each square had to be cut individually because there was a layer of tissue paper between the sheets that protected them from rubbing and scratching each other.  As the squares were cut I stacked them up in a clear slim Iris container until I finished cutting all the squares for one color.  

At first I thought I would just cut all the material in the first week, but I realized within a day of folding some test cranes that I needed to fold cranes every single day in order to get them all done in time. It was taking about 13 minutes to fold one crane, and I had to press down really hard with the folding tool to successfully crease the material - I found that folding any more than 20-25 in one day left my hands very sore. I decided to fold 25 a day and take Saturdays off so my hands would be able to take break, and I created a calendar to keep me on pace. The last thing anybody needed was for me to overdo it, injure my hands, and be unable to fold the rest of the cranes.

I kept a tally on my calendar of how many I folded each day, and I'd pack them into clear Iris cases in groups of 25. Once all 124 were folded in each color I moved them from the Iris cases to a cardboard box. Over the weeks my pile of boxes got taller, then another pile got started, and finally I had 2 piles of 4 boxes each.  Now it was time to string up the cranes and pack them into suitcases.

Because they colors had to appear random on the light fixture I actually had to plan the color layout to ensure that they looked random. Tom and Nik had sent me a computer rendering of the fixture from the side and from below.  I printed out four copies of the side view, and one of the bottom view, and then named the layers Front, Front Inside, Back, and Back Inside because there were four layers of cranes to keep track of. Next, I removed the caps of 8 colored pens and used them to help randomly arrange the 8 colors into two groups of four at a time.  After arranging the caps I colored in the corresponding birds on the corresponding layer, being careful not to repeat two of the same color in a row.  

This process took a couple of days, and once the sheets were all colored in I had to get some suitcases for the cranes.  I found two large hardside cases, but only needed one in the end. Turns out that one was bigger than the other, and all the cranes fit into that one with the help of some flattened cardboard boxes and a little muscle. 

As I threaded the groups of four I would add a little paper marker on the top of each line that indicated the exact location of that line on the fixture.  This way even if the lines got mixed up once I got there we would all know where each one belonged in the end. The process of threading the cranes and packing them took a week, and when Friday came (the day before the flight) they were all ready to go in their case.  I even added a note inside the center of the suitcase, just in case TSA might open it. The note described the contents of the suitcase and explained that it was very full and may be difficult to close. 

With that, the cranes and I were ready to fly off to the United Arab Emirates. To read more about the assembly in Abu Dhabi, be sure to check out this new blog post all about Putting the Oculus Together!  You can also read a previous blog post where I talk about being a part of the Abu Dhabi project when it was still a secret. :D

Here's a video all about this creative process, and Part 2 will be in the post about Putting the Oculus Together later this week! 




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