Since 2008, Walt Disney Studios owned subsidiary Marvel Studios has released 22 movies from the Marvel Universe. Iron Man kicked it all off, and the recently released Avengers Endgame is currently in cinemas. It’s the highest-grossing movie franchise in history, with a box office revenue so far of more than $18 billion.
As the Marvel characters are so impressively popular, it’s no surprise that Disney is working on bringing the characters to its network of theme parks. Super-hero experiences featuring characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe are in development for Disneyland Resorts, Walt Disney World, the Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. And, as with everything Disney, lots of work goes into finessing the finer details of character development.
Disney patent for glowing eyes
US Patent Application 20180074351 is a great example of a Disney patent that aims to use technology to solve a common problem for character-wearing cast members. Disney and Marvel characters often display a common trait that is difficult to replicate with simple costumes – glowing eyes.
Glowing eyes are particularly common among the super heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For example, a cast member wearing an Iron Man costume with its distinctive glowing eyes is far more impressive than one without. The eyes lend legitimacy to the character but are difficult to include in a costume without detrimentally affecting the actor’s ability to portray the character.
Disney’s patent was published in March 2018 and is titled: Optical Assemblies That Are Both Brightly Backlit and Transparent for Use in Costumed Characters.
Patent aims to solve long-standing problems
The patent describes the limitations traditionally found when designing masks for costumes. A common solution is to use holes in the helmets or masks so that character actors can see enough of their surroundings to remain safe. However, this generally gives a limited view, and holes often don’t correspond with the eyes of the character’s helmet or mask, meaning the performer must twist themselves inside to operate it effectively.
Another often used solution is using a display system inside the helmet or mask. This uses at least one camera to capture images of the space outside of the character actor. An internal display shows the outside images to the actor. However, not only are these expensive, they’re often cumbersome and complex to use. It’s a solution only suited to characters that have large heads and doesn’t work well for a close-fitting mask or helmet. In addition, the performer has to work with a view that gives no sense of depth and images taken from the camera’s point of view, rather than their own.
This visibility versus effects problem affects costumed character actors, but also those who collect toys and other collectibles too. And Disney’s patent offers a new solution.
How does the technology work?
The patent describes a way to make backlit glowing eye effects which allow the performer good visibility. Using a synchronised strobe effect, the design in the patent is able to do this. The mask or helmet would include two eye screens, as follows.
The first eye screen is further away from the performer, and nearer the audience. It flickers between lit and unlit (or on and off), extremely rapidly. This gives the impression that it is constantly glowing and lit up. The screen consists of an LED backlit PDLC, which is polymer-dispersed liquid crystal material. This can switch between the active and transparent state in mere milliseconds. The other eye screen is closer to the eyes of the performer. This switches between transparent and opaque in a synchronised way to protect their eyes from the light. When the light is on, the screen is protective and dark. When the light isn’t on, the screen is see-through and unprotected.
The mask or helmet alternates between two states: mask unlit/eyes unshielded and mask lit/eyes protected. This switch happens so fast that it’s not noticeable to either the performer wearing the mask, or the audience member watching. The wearer will see an appearance of constant transparency, while the watcher will see a constant glowing effect.
Disney patent likely Marvel focused
While this technology could be suitable for an endless number of toys and character costumes, the patent refers specifically to super heroes. Its illustration looks to be based roughly on the Black Panther, for example. Other characters including Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man himself have trade marked masks complete with glowing eyes.
While the patent doesn’t guarantee that we will see this technology used in the theme parks, costumes or toys, it does show that Disney is continuing its innovative research and development.
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