A week in June 2018
I didn’t grow up with cable television, so whatever happened to show on the major television channels (e.g. CBS, Fox, NBC, and ABC) was what my brother and I would watch. Fortunately, there were some excellent shows, including Seinfeld (7:00p on CBS 58), The Simpsons (6:00p on Fox 6), and Jeopardy! (6:00p on CBS 58) that helped entertain us through the years.
It is bonkers that it has been more than fifteen years over which I have watched episodes or random YouTube clips of The Simpsons, yet the show still runs strong with a dedicated viewer base. I should be honest and state that I do not watch the show regularly, and I probably haven’t seen any episode of the most recent five or six seasons. That being said, the Golden Age of The Simpsons reached a peak in quality unsurpassed in animated television, and I was inspired to recreate a moment from one of my favorite episodes (and perhaps my favorite commercial of all time).
This project actually marks the second iteration of a light-up LED design. The first laser cut LED design I made was actually in the silhouette of an actual lightbulb, an idea which really was a lightbulb moment in my brain when I first thought of it. I don’t have any images of that design, unfortunately, as I gave it to a good friend and didn’t think to document the process of making the project.
I was able to dig up the reference image I used to create the lightbulb LED project. It was made with black acrylic, and I flipped it on its head and removed the string (as the LEDs were wireless).
-Acrylic, 1/8″: White, black, yellow (for skin, outline, eyes, collar) in layer 5
-MDF, 1/8″: For the chin/beard in layer 5
-MDF or baltic birch ply, 1/4″ in layers 1 – 4, which provides for sufficient depth for the battery pack and light strip
-Superglue: pick your favorite
-Battery pack: From this Amazon link. Note that the LED product dimensions were altered slightly so that they no longer fit; please adjust the design accordingly.
The Mr. Sparkle design consists of five layers, as seen from the snip of the .dwg file showing the different layers superimposed. From posterior to anterior:
Layer 1 (1/4″, MDF or baltic birch ply): Red border with Yellow panel cutouts for the battery pack (lower) and access to the connection (upper) between the battery pack and the LED strip. I added a finger hole on each panel for easy removal and access; I found it easiest to just tape the panels down, but small screws through the tabs can work to secure these access panels in place.
Layer 2,3,4 (1/4″, MDF or baltic birch ply): Red border with Blue cutouts for the wiring. The battery pack was fairly thick, so many layers were needed to provide enough space.
Layer 5: (1/8″ MDF and acrylic): White cutout with colored acrylic and MDF. The yellow acrylic in particular was not opaque, so I used tape to prevent light from shining through from within – though this might be a cool effect! Note that the black border serves to hide the ugly LED strips from frontal view. This was an adjustment I made from the first lightbulb design.
Note: There is also a small RED rectangle in Layer 5 just beneath the teeth. This is the switch for the battery pack. I’ve had issues with battery drainage just from leaving the toggle switch on, so when not in use, it’s best to have an easy way to turn the toggle off.
There were several design changes from the lightbulb to Mr. Sparkle, in addition to the obvious change in shape. For one, the front layer of the lightbulb was of one solid piece – I simply used a raster etch to create details – while that of Mr. Sparkle is comprised of several pieces glued together. In retrospect, I would remodel the Mr. Sparkle design by only using two pieces. The first piece, from MDF, would comprise Mr. Sparkle’s beard. The second piece, from black acrylic, would comprise the rest of the Mr. Sparkle logo.
Another issue with the Mr. Sparkle design was that the outer silhouette contained sharp curves, in particular of the ears and collar regions. This led to stresses upon the LED strip that probably led to early failure of the wireless signal. Improvements are to adjust increase the radius of curvature of these areas, and also chamfer the inside edges.
The key to the process would be to leave the protective film on the acrylic and vector etch the borders. Then, one first remove the film covering the regions corresponding to the eyes, teeth, and collar, and spray or paint these areas white. Then, repeat the process with the yellow region, making sure to mask off the white regions. Finally, by removing the film over black borders, then the entire logo will come to life! This process would significantly increase the durability of the outer layer and prevent any light leakage across gaps between color pieces.
I could go on with additional design improvements, but I think I will stop here…
When I first made this Mr. Sparkle project in spring of 2018, it immediately became one of my favorite art pieces, as every time I turned on the lights the room became cleaner and dust dissipated in fright.
Looking back three years later, I can see so many areas of improvement that I am stuck with a minor sense of regret that I did not think through more carefully the design. That being said, I would enjoy very much revisiting this project again with a laser cutter, or even trying my hand at other Simpsons-related art projects.