For the past 3 years I've been helping out Heart Deco both at Burning Man and during the off season for events and parties. I've done this in between my own projects because its such a wonderful and supportive community. So when Adam Ebel asked me if I'd be willing to create a 3 foot, LED back lit version of an emblem he'd designed for the recreation of Heart Deco into Heart Phoenix, I couldn't say yes quickly enough. The following is a rundown of what I did and how I did it.
The concept for the new design retains both the heart metaphor and Art Deco stylings and re-envisions this tear down and build up literally as a phoenix rising from the flames. Here's the initial artwork for the emblem:
There are a lot of layers here and to create a physical object from this requires identifying where to actually layer material and where to just imply layers. I needed a vector based version of this file which would let me increase the size of the phoenix as much as I need without losing any detail. Here's that version of the emblem:
I decided I would make this as two separate layers; the outer wings would be the back layer and the inner wings plus body would sit in front as the foreground layer. This would give it some depth without being overly complex. I also decided I would make it out of steel to reinforce a feeling of strength in the design.
First I needed to separate the outer feathers from the body. Because the front feathers obscure the back feathers, I needed to extend back feathers to a point where they could be connected. This way they would stay together when cut out. Here's how that that looks, with all shapes represented as outlines rather than solids:
I then scaled up the design so that the phoenix would have a wingspan of about 3 feet. At this size I could cut the outer wings from one sheet of 24" x 24" steel and the body from a second sheet of 24" x 24" steel. Here are the part diagrams arranged for cutting out on their respective sheets:
To cut the steel I used the Flow water jet cutter at TechShop in San Francisco. This machine directs a very high pressure, very narrow jet of water mixed with abrasive garnet at the material to be cut. It can cut through inches of steel, rock (granite and marble for flooring are popular materials to cut) and, if you're not careful, your fingers, in seconds. Luckily its entirely computer controlled so there's no need to get up close and personal with this machine while its operating. This also means that I can cut out exactly the shapes I want.
Here's the first steel sheet in the Flow water jet ready to be cut:
Beneath the steel are metal slats sitting in a pool of water. The slats hold the material being cut while exposing as little surface area against the onslaught of the water jet as possible. The water helps absorbs the force of the water jet as it exits the rear of the material.
When the jet starts, it hits the material with about 40lbs of force, concentrated on an area of about 1/20th of an inch. For this reason the jet always starts outside the boundaries of the design so that the crater formed does not disfigure the final object. Here's video fo the jet starting:
Here's additional video of the machine slowly cutting one of the wings:
Here are the wings just after they've been cut from the steel:
After cutting both wings and the body out of steel, the parts had to be welded together. I arranged the parts to match the original vector file and clamped them all together:
I decided to use a TIG welder to join these peices because I was worried the MIG might lay down too thick a weld and be visible in certain places through the cutout portions of the heart. I was also worried that it would be too easy for me to blow a hole through the design on the MIG, so I erred on the side of caution.
As it turns out I was too cautious and many of my initial welds were too cold. Fixing that made the resulting weld lines pretty ugly, so I won't show that here. However, here's the finished product from the front:
The next step was to paint the front red. Hidden in the above photo are two 2" x 4" pieces of steel welded perpendicular to the body and with 1/2" holes cut in them. These are meant to mount the emblem but also came in handy to build a painting rig. This let me work on adding LEDs to the back of the emblem while keeping the front off the ground until the paint dried fully.
Here's the painted emblem in the rig:
I then wired each LED strip together. I made a decision to solder the negative side of each strip directly to the steel. This was to cut down on the amount of wire I needed to route on the back. Turned out this was a bad decision; the thickness of the steel made it impossible for the soldering iron to heat the steel enough for a proper solder joint. Additionally the smoothness of the steel made it difficult for the solder to stick. I have the feeling I'm going to need to rewire this some point soon. Here's the final wiring:
With this done, it was time for the Phoenix to rise from the flames! Here's a test lighing from the back:
And finally, its debut at the Heart Phoenix fundraiser party at Monarch:
I'm pretty pleased how this turned out. Its bright enough to really make the Phoenix look like its on fire! If you'd like to see more, these photos, plus a few extra are on my Heart Phoenix Flickr set.