Introduction: Build a Martian Electronic Eye
In 1953 George Pal produced a big screen cinema adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells 1897 science fiction story The War of the Worlds. It wowed audiences at the time with its amazing special effects. I always enjoyed the marvelous screen version of the mechanical war machines that were brought to life by the wonderful work of Production Designer Al Nozaki (1912-2003) who produced the cool cobra head death ray device perched atop the manta-ray-like body of the Martian war machines. Nozaki also designed the one-eye Martian that is briefly shown in the film as well as the eerie mechanical electronic eye with its haunting sounds that peers into the farm house.
Several years ago I built a full-scale replica of one of the Martians. Based upon the success of that make, I decided to built a studio scale replica of the Martian electronic eye that haunts Sylvia Van Buren and Professor Clayton Forrester in the farm house sequence of the film. I was motivated, in part, to build this because last fall, I was able to get Ann Robinson, the actress who played Sylvia Van Buren in the original film, to come to our local Comic Con here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The model Martian electronic eye that I built made an attention-getting addition to our booth. Ann is shown in the above photo looking at my completed electronic eye during the convention.
What follows is a step-by-step guide showing how it was built.
Step 1: Gathering the Main Parts
Because the shape of the Martian eye is so unique, much of the build had to be sculpted by hand. However, I was able to use some store-bought items to help compose the basic shape. These include a champagne bucket, a 4-inch diameter PVC elbow and a correctly curved planter pot from Lowe's.
The large jumbo-sized Mega Eggs that I found at Hobby Lobby will be used to help diffuse and intensify the red, green and blue colors that make up the complex tri-color lens of the eye. The eye itself is the hardest part of the build as it is made up of multiple parts that include a clear plastic security camera lens dome, a solid outer dome that separates the tri-colored lens segments and finally a round trim piece for the eye cut out from a serving bowl.
A Ridgid-brand shop vac hose will be used to make the grooved neck that supports the eye.
Green sculpt foam is used to help fill-in and shape the main under body of the eye before final surface sculpting and detailing with Apoxie Sculpt clay.
Everything was stuck together using Scotch-Weld 8005 by 3M. If you have never used this stuff before, it is amazing. It is a two-part apoxie adhesive that will glue things that you never thought possible. The eye could not have been made without it.
Step 2: The Main Body
Using the planter pot, I cut out the general shape of the curved outer shell for the eye. You can get this shape from looking at stills from the film as well as the only surviving drawings made of the eye from the actual film's production. All of these are included in these instructions.
Taking apart the metal portable shop light, I secured this to a wood circular base that was measured and cut to fit snuggly inside the bottom of the champagne collet as shown. The champagne collet is a critical part of the build because it offers the unique shape that will house the tri-colored eye. The shop light lamp shade will serve as a base to later mount the speaker and lights. Make sure you save the electrical cord as this will be needed to power the lights, sound board and speaker.
Using the 4-inch diameter PVC elbow, glue this to the outside rear of the champagne collet as shown. When I say "glue" you will use Scotch-Weld 8005 by 3M. This adhesive works great on any type of material.
Step 3: Building the Tri-Colored Lens
The most complex part of the build is in creating the realistic-looking tri-colored red, green and blue lens that made up the Martian electronic eye. You not only have to get the shape just right but you also want to achieve an effective rich deep color for each of the multi-colored segments that will give the eye its eerie appeal.
Here you will need an appropriate sized acrylic dome for the size eye that you wish to build. These domes can be found on eBay as sellers list them as "security camera" domes. They come in a variety of diameters so order the size that you want for your eye. I ended up using one that is about six inches in diameter.
At the same time you search for the clear acrylic dome, also search for a another dome that is slightly larger in diameter. I found one made of aluminum that worked perfectly. Thus is a hemisphere pan and a variety of sizes can be found for purchase on the internet. if you can't find one made of metal, another one of clear acrylic will work just as well. This dome will be cut to produce the "peace sign" pattern or membrane that separates each of the individual red, green and blue colored lens segments that make up the Martian eye.
Finally, when you have these two domes, you will need to find a suitable bowl around the same diameter as the domes so that the domes can easily nest inside the bowel. This will make a nice lip or frame around the circular eye. I kept visiting various thrift stores until I found a suitably sized bowl that would work. I used one made of stainless steel since these are pretty common. It does not have to be made of metal but you do need to find something that will work as a circular frame for the finished eye.
Once you have these three parts, you can begin work. First you will need to sketch out with pencil a peace symbol pattern onto the outer larger dome of the tri-colored eye segment. Using a Dremel tool cut out each of the tri-color eye segments from the dome. SAVE the cut out pieces as you will use these as patterns later.
Once you have cut out the tri-color lens segments in the outer dome, place this over the clear acrylic inner dome. It should fit snuggly over the acrylic dome. Now using a Sharpie black pen, trace the cutout tri-colored lens segments onto the clear acrylic dome. Note that the Sharpie marker ink will wipe off the acrylic dome with rubbing alcohol.
Once you have the three tri-colored lens areas marked off on the clear acrylic dome, you can proceed to mask each area to paint. I masked each lens area about one eighth of an inch larger than the traced pattern soas to give me a suitable buffer between each painted colored lens area. I used Tester's clear spray paints for each of the red, green and blue eye segements. Be careful when you spray these as you need to apply very thin coats or they will run. Be patient. Just spray very light thin coats. Let dry and then spray again. This way you will build up a uniform dense translucent color. Apply enough coats to get the deep rich color that you want for each colored eye segment. After one segment is thoroughly dry, mask over and repeat the same process for the remaining eye color segments. I made nice little paper patches using the cutout segments from the outer larger dome as patterns. That way you minimize the amount of tape stuck to the painted areas which can scratch. Let the paint cure for each completed colored eye segment before you proceed with the next. Be careful of the order of the colored lens segments that make up the tri-colored eye. Consult the attached photos. Starting from the bottom lens and rotating clockwise, the correct order of colors for each lens segment should be red, green and blue.
Once you have all three clear dome lens areas painted with translucent paint, you now need to create colored diffuser pieces to place inside the clear dome. Without these diffuser pieces, if you place a light behind the painted tri-colored eye, you will see the light source because the colored Tester's translucent painted areas are not sufficient to diffuse or "hide" the light source. We need a diffuser for each eye segment.
AGAIN BE VERY CAREFUL AT THIS POINT IN HANDLING THE EYE BECAUSE THE COLORED TRANSLUCENT EYE SEGMENTS WILL SCRATCH.
The best diffusers that I found for each color were giant "Mega Eggs" which I found at Hobby Lobby. These giant eggs conveniently came in the three colors that I needed for the eye segments - red, green and blue. I bought three of these and, using the cutout eye segment pieces saved from the larger outer dome as patterns, I traced and cut out colored segments from these eggs to be placed behind each painted colored lens area. When you buy these Mega Eggs, there are actually three eggs total as the larger outer egg houses two progressively smaller eggs that are nested inside each. Still, I found that the largest outer egg was the best curved shape as the naturally curved egg shape helped in making the complex dome curve needed to fit each colored segment snug inside the clear dome. Sometimes, I ended up using a heat gun to soften the egg plastic so that I could shape it more easily to fit inside the dome. When you use the heat gun, test it first on scrap pieces from the colored Mega Egg. If you heat the colored egg plastic too much it will discolor so you have to be careful. Once you manage to get these colored egg pieces cut and shaped to fit, glue each into place being careful not to get any glue on the lens areas that will be lit up. The finished results will reveal diffused color segments on the inside of the clear dome which will make the exterior painted colors appear richer and more solid in color with no hints of light source "glow" spots when illuminated. In summary, the colors are perfect for the eerie rich glow of the illuminated eye.
Finally, you will need to cut out the stainless steel bowl to form the outer perimeter frame of the eye. Again, place the inner clear acrylic and outer solid domes together and fit both on top of the bowl opening. They should fit with about an inch or so of trim above and around the circumference as shown in the photos. Mark and cut this trim area out of the bowl with a Dremel.
Now glue all three pieces together as shown -- the finished clear inner dome with colored lenses in place, the cut-out solid outer dome and bowl trim. Make sure you check for light leaks from the assembled pieces. You can block any leaks with gobs of 3M adhesive which is very dense opaque black.
Step 4: Building the Electronics
To make your Martian electronic eye come alive, I made use of a company called Tena Controls which specializes in custom electronics for models. The company's founder, Ralph Tenaglia, worked with with me every step of the way to help make a set of custom boards that gave light and sound to my eye. He was able to take a sound bite that I made of the Martian electronic eye from the film and build this into a custom sound board that played the sound. He was able to sync the sound using another board that drove a bank of white LEDS so that the eye pulsated just like it did in the original film. He even managed to make it so I could turn the sound off and on via remote control.
I bought a speaker and some LED white lights that would be driven by the Tena Control boards. All of this is powered by 12 volts DC. I designed it so that I could run the eye off of a battery pack of eight 1.5-volt penlight batteries which allowed me to carry the eye around at conventions. I also have the option to run it off of AC via a plug-in inverter.
The 4-inch speaker is mounted to a round piece of one eighth-inch thick compressed particle board that I cut to be the same size as the opening of the silver metal shop light shade. To the back of the speaker board is mounted the Tena control board that drives the speaker. I affixed pieces of industrial grade Velco to secure the speaker board firmly in place atop the silver shop light shade which is mounted inside the champagne collet.
Above the speaker you will see another larger circular board that I cut out of the same material as the speaker board to mount rows of super bright white LEDS along with the Tena control board that drives them. This round board with attached LEDS is glued just above the speaker but recessed deep enough into the opening of the champagne collet in order for the tri-colored eye lens cover to fit nicely over all of this.
I added a small external switch which you can see in the photos. It is a black push button switch positioned near the 4-inch PVC elbow on the underside of the eye. The switch allows me to easily turn the eye on or off. The sound can only be activated using the remote control.
The Tena Controls sound board has a small adjustment knob that can be turned to increase or decrease the volume of the sound that the pulsating electronic eye makes. One thing that I would do over (if ever I made another one of these) is to set the volume louder than what it was when I mounted everything inside and sealed up the eye. I did not realize that once the speaker and everything was inclosed, how this would make the sound more mute and not as loud. It sounded plenty loud initially but when the light board plus the tri-colored lens were glued on, the sound became muted more than I would have liked.
Step 5: Sculpting the Body
After the lens of the tri-colored eye is completed along with all of the interior electronics to be installed, these can be set aside to allow you time to finished sculpting the exterior. As I mentioned at the beginning, the shape of the Martian electronic eye is unique and requires a lot of hand sculpting to make it complete.
The underside and exterior outer trim of the main body require a lot of sculpting. To fill in the underside open spaces of the eye, I used blocks of green florists foam. This foam can easily be cut into any desired shape or mold that you want. I glued pieces of this foam to back fill the open space on the underside of the eye.
After this is done, you need to start sculpting. I used something called Apoxie Sculpt to smooth out and shape the edges and to shape the contours of the underside and back of the eye. Apoxie Sculpt, like its name suggests, is an apoxie like clay. It comes in two parts that once combined or mixed together in equal portions, makes a puddy that you can mold and shape as desired just like clay. It s water-based so you can add water to make it whatever consistency you desire. It really works very well to form complex curves and shapes. The beauty is that just like any apoxie, it will stick to almost anything once it dries. It becomes rock hard once cured and can be sanded or filed to the finish that you need.
I made the front grill tear-drop-shaped pieces using pieces of wood cut to fit either side of the main body area. On these pieces of wood I sculpted the complex curved grills out of Apoxie Sculpt. I then glued these on to the eye as shown and blended them into the main body using more Apoxie Sculpt.
The fin is the last piece to make for the eye. I shaped it out of cut-out layers of cardboard that were glued together and then covered with Apoxie Sculpt. I secured it to the top of the shell of the eye using two pegs of wooden dowels drilled into the top. This gave the fin strength while being glued on top. I then used Apoxie Sculpt to smooth out and blend the seams where the fin meets the outer shell of the eye.
The generous use of Apoxie Sculpt gave the eye a good solid feel as the eye ended up weighing almost 14 pounds when completed. This is heavy when carrying around at conventions and also posed a challenge in making a display mount for the eye that would safely support it.
Step 6: Painting
The only part of my build that I did not do myself was the finish painting. I had considered painting it myself but kept getting discouraged because of the complexity of different types of materials used in making the eye. I used so many different types of composites, vinyls, plastics and other materials that I found it all but impossible to figure out how to seal or finish coat everything to the same surface texture that would then hold paint.
I finally turned to a local body shop for help.The body shop that I found did many things including refinishing and painting Hot Wheel cars. That caught my attention and when I brought my complete eye for evaluation and a quote, they took on the challenge.
What they ended up doing was amazing. They finish skimmed the whole eye with some type of Bondo to remove any flaws and imperfections along with giving the whole exterior the same finish prior to painting. This gave it a nice uniform coat which they then sanded and sealed to a professional grade quality finsih. They then primed and painted it using automotive paint that gave it a rock hard finish. It looks amazing! They also painted the Rigid vacuum hose used for the neck.
Step 7: Building the Display Stand
While building the eye I debated how best to display it. At first I wanted to have a nice complex curved neck to support the eye like that which snakes around inside the farm house of the original film. However the 14-pound weight of the finished eye prohibited that. It was jut too heavy to be easily supported in that manner. As a result, I ended up making two display stands: one that is floor mounted and the other that is a more portable desktop style.
The floor version basically involved making some minor modifications to a hinged storage box that I found at a thrift store. I drilled a hole in the top large enough to insert a 2-inch diameter six-foot long piece of PVC pipe that would be secured inside to the bottom of box. I also put cement block inside the box to help further give it ballast to keep the whole assembly from tipping over since it would be very top heavy with the eye mounted in place. The 2-inch PVC pipe segment is attached to the 4-inch PVC elbow that makes up the eye. You need to fit a reducer inside the one open end of the 4-inch elbow in order to connect the 2-inch PVC pipe that makes up the neck. The reason I used a 2-inch diameter sized PVC pipe for the neck is because this is small enough for the Rigid vacuum house to fit over. The finished painted Rigid vacuum hose slides over the 2-inch PVC pipe to give it that genuine Martian neck look. I then painted the box black and adorned it with several sets of custom made white vinyl decals that feature the "The War of the Worlds" logo from one of the original movie posters. The box can easily double as a storage case for the eye.
You can see the floor version of the display stand shown opposite the full-scale Martian that I made several years ago. Both are displayed in front of a vinyl backdrop that served as part of Ann Robinson's booth for the 2019 Grand Rapids Comic Con in which the actress appeared as a guest of honor.
The table top version of the display stand for the eye was made from the same stand that I used to help support the eye during construction. To this display I mounted a square backlit sign that says "The War of the Worlds." I made this sign by cutting out a large piece of one-eighth-inch thick plexiglas which I sprayed orange. Once dried, I affixed a set of white vinyl decals, the same ones I used on the exterior floor stand box. The white vinyl decals were intended to mask out the orange area while I oversprayed everything in black. The plan was then to remove the white vinyl decals to reveal bright orange letters set against a black background. Before doing this though, I backlit the whole painted plexiglass sheet to see how it looked. To my surprise, I found that the light leaked through the black spray paint giving it a weird off-world glow to the lettering. It was an wonderful effect so I kept it.
To the base of the stand, I added a "Mars in my Room" half globe that you can find at stores. I put new LEDS inside and attached this circuit to the circuit for the LEDS that I mounted behind the sign. I gave the surface of the Mars globe a few sprays of dull coat to remove the shine that comes with the Mars globe when you purchase it.
The whole stand is wired so that I can plug the eye into it and run everything off of AC. I can also easily detach the eye and run it off of a portable battery bank. Like with the neck of the larger floor stand, the desktop stand has a small neck segment attached to the stand made of 2-inch PVC pipe that I fit a section of Rigid vacuum hose over that is painted the same color as the eye.
As shown in the photos, during the 2019 Grand Rapids Comic Con, I had Ann Robinson sign the table top display stand.
Step 8: Closing Thoughts
This was a great project that took a little over two months to build. I had a lot of fun doing it and my confidence grew as I became aware that it could actually be made. There were times that I thought it could not be built but like other projects, once you start working on them and begin to see the results take shape, you get more convinced that it really will work. Excitement builds which motivates you further along the way toward completing it.
Also, when you build you are never alone. There are countless folks with various areas of experience that you can tap into via the internet. All the people that I spoke with were very supportive of the project with many getting excited when they learned about what I was doing. There are a lot of fans of this film out there and thought that the idea of making a replica eye was really unique.
This past summer, Criterion released a Blu-ray version of the film. Paramount’s 4K restoration of the landmark film occurred several years ago and at that time, fans wondered when it would be available for consumer purchase on Blu-ray even though it has been available on iTunes. The 4K version had several public screenings including one at the Fox Tucson Theatre. Last summer Turner Classic Movies aired it.The Criterion edition marks the first commercial Blu-ray release of the film in the U.S. Australian based Via Vision Entertainment, under license with Paramount, released their Blu-ray version this past May.
With the release of the film on Blu-ray, many were astounded at how well copies sold which proves how endearing the film remains among viewers. For those wishing to learn more about the 4K restoration of the film and its release on Blu-ray, feel free to visit my blog at http://www.glenswanson.space/blog to read a detailed review.
Eighth Prize in the