Vriska Serket's vision eightfold, part 1: What do we actually want?

I'd toyed for a while with the idea of building Vriska Serket's vision eightfold – excuse me, "vision 8-fold" — glasses and lighting them up with LEDs. Now that I've done it, I'm posting the instructions — and I'm also going to explain how I designed them in the first place. You don't have to use these pages to build glasses just like mine; they also work as a starting point for your own LED project.

All posts in this series:
Part 1: Deciding what we want! Planning the project (what you're reading now) Part 2: Power and light: what's the best arrangement of LEDs and batteries?
Part 3: Building a test circuit on a breadboard
General electronics info: LED basics

Every project starts with a little planning. Not necessarily a lot of planning. You might not have to draw diagrams or write out numbered Some things aren't going to work out, and you'll need to make adjustments. But you do need to plan ahead enough that you don't sink money into supplies you don't need, or spend time building a component that was never going to work.

Requirement 1: Seven lights

Vriska's vision eightfold glasses have seven red lights. In some pictures they're all the same size; in others, the center light is larger than the surrounding ones. That gives me a choice of how to actually build them. I like the larger central eye, but if I found for some reason that I actually needed to make all the lights the same size, I could still sleep comfortably at night, knowing it was canon.

Requirement 2: Safe to put near eyes

Keep the magic cueball clear of your face at all times

A lot of electronics projects have wires sticking out of the back. This was actually the biggest reason I hadn't built Vriska's glasses when I'd thought about them before; I'd consider different ways to pad or protect the wires, then ask "Would I put that next to my eye?" The answer was always "no." (I obviously think I've finally come up with a good solution.)

Requirement 3: Small space to work in

You only have a few square inches between the glasses and your eye. Not a big deal for the LEDS, but becomes interesting when you start considering …

Requirement 4: Providing electrical power

… how to power them up. We obviously are not going to plug this into a wall, so we need to choose batteries and decide where to put them.

Requirement 5: Be able to unplug wires

Someone else actually thought of this when I was describing the glasses to him.

If I save space by moving some of the electronic components to another part of the costume (hiding a bulky battery pack under Vriska's jacket, for example), those components will need to be connected with wires – and I'll either have to be able to plug and unplug those wires, or thread a larger component through my clothes after I put them on. (Plus, a too-short wire could make it hard to take the glasses off if I need to.)

I built animatronic antennae for my Andorian cosplay. The servo wires that connect them to the power and the microcontroller go underneath my Starfleet uniform, and the separate wires fasten with clips to keep them from pulling apart. The wires for the glasses will probably just go to power and ground, so I won't need the fancier servo wires — but I can apply the same principle.

Requirement 6: The glasses themselves

Vriska's glasses have one clear lens and one dark lens. After she loses her eye, she'll wear similar glasses with one clear and one completely black lens. I made a pair of those with sunglasses from Goodwill, with one lens removed and the other painted black. They were really cheap, but the empty frame kept getting bent out of shape.

Furthermore, I won't know until I start building whether the electronics will be heavy enough that they'll tend to pull the glasses to one side if the opposite side is too light.

I picked up a pair of non-prescription aviator glasses on eBay for $8. They'll keep their shape – it seems silly to build the elaborate lights and then have the other side not even match in shape. Then I covered one lens with auto tint film, the stuff you use to darken your car windows and get ticketed1.

So let's talk about power. You can run an LED off a little coin battery – like the kind that keep your computer's clock going when the power is turned off. The LED throwies that people toss up on bridges and signs aren't much more than a coin battery, an LED, and a magnet. There's certainly room for a coin battery or two in the glasses.

We'll talk in detail about choosing a battery in a later post — there are some other reasons that seven LEDs are more than button cells can handle. In general, I prefer using rechargeable AA batteries when I can. They're easier to replace if you have an emergency at a convention, and I don't have to keep track of different batteries for different projects. That means we're going to run wires.

Since the shirt I'm using for Vriska's jacket has a pocket, I can put my batteries there, and hide the wire under the wig. As a bonus, I can also put some of the electronic components there if I need to.

To keep wires away from my eyes, I decided to cut up a pair of safety glasses and use a piece of the protective plastic under the circuit board. Cutting the glasses might weaken them a bit, but I wasn't planning to use them where there might be flying bolts. I'd also add some padding between the layers, and an extra layer of black cloth to hold it all together. The cloth would also help cover up any wires or circuitry that showed on the top of the glasses.

That covers the broad outlines! As you can see, even deciding on the basics helped make certain decisions that will affect the later design.

Next time, we'll cover designing the circuitry. There are a lot of ways to connect seven LEDs, and they have their advantages and disadvantages. See you then!

Next in this series

Vision Eightfold, Part 2: Designing the Circuit

1. I feel certain I saw this suggestion in a Homestuck cosplay tutorial, but I can't find it for the life of me. (back to article)

Written on April 18, 2016