Saturday, January 8, 2022

"Interdependence" - A Rolling Ball Sculpture with 8 Figures - 2020

 Yeah, I know it's been a while since I posted anything here, but my plan is to update my blog with the pieces I've made in the past few years. 

Here is "Interdependence" - started in January of 2020, and just now, finally finished and working as well as it can - for a piece of this type. 

In 2019, after working with rotary dampers on my piece, "Hands", I started thinking the obvious next step would be to make a rolling ball sculpture (RBS) with figures. And why not have 8 figures passing a ball from top to bottom? Since I didn't have any commissions scheduled at the time, I decided to take on the challenge - and I knew it was going to take a great deal of time. This was right before Covid-19 hit our shores, so in a way it was the perfect project to work on at the time. All I did was stay home and work. Completed in May, this piece took between 450 - 500 hours to complete. And then recently, a few more hours getting the motion (and the passing of balls, without dropping) perfected. I  tweaked the counterweights and a few of the figures arms and hands. It's as good as it can get, and Im very happy with it.

Final image. The piece measures 23" x 72" x 8". 

Here are the working images, in order......

Just starting to test my concept. Here is a blank chest with a rotary damper, (the black thing), and the small lever tied to a counterweight. I had to make sure the weight of the ball bearings would/could pull the arm down, and that the counterweights would/could pull the arm back up into position. The rotary damper would work to slow the motion of the arm - a critical element in the sculpture. The slower motion of the arm movement is what really brings this piece out of the range of just being a mechanical contraption, to something that seems to have "life".  Using the dampers makes the movement becomes more "human". 

A better shot of my initial set up. 

Here I'm using a wooden posable model to figure out the positions of the figures. Basically all the figures are the same size, as are all the arms and legs. You can see where I've determined the high and low positions of the hands for each consecutive figure - with the blue line representing the centerline, where the ball will travel.

Since I need a counterweight (CW) for each figure - and I knew there wasn't enough room inside the figures - I need to place the CWs for each figure inside the base they were resting on. (And I already determined that springs would not work in this instance.)
Here is an example of how I run a line (polyester cord) through my figures. I use a small brass tube and bury it inside the torso and leg. Each one is different of course as each figure is different - some kneel, some sit, and some stand. 

These are the tiny levers - made from 1/8" collars, and a piece of brass rod. They had to be short to fit inside the chests. Four for the figures on the left side (facing right) and 4 for the right figures (facing left).

The 8 rods that the arms will be attached to. I had to make a special brass tube to fit into the part of the rotary damper - and it all has to be removable, hence the tiny pin that holds them together. 

Here I'm determining the positions of each figure, and at what angle the arms will be relative to the body. Some of the figures are slightly turned forward - but all the hands needed to be in the same line. I wanted as much variety as I could get. Yes, it would have been easier if all the figures were the same, but I wanted a more natural and varied look to them.

Here are the torsos, with the tiny bearings imbedded. This where the arm rod will go through. 

Another view. 

The kneeling leg of the first figure, showing how the rod runs down from the torso to the base. 

Another figure. Most of the connections - either with brass tubes or steel rods -  are made first, and the legs are removable to they're easier to carve. 

The legs are carved. And you can see many of the brass rods here. 

More carving happening - I'm figuring out the shoes here.

The legs and all the different shoes are carved. This is my normal process - I start with the torso, add the legs, then the shoes. After this, I work upwards - carving the torso and then adding the arms.

Starting to work my way up the torsos.
I keep them organized by numbering all the figures, but the numbers aren't in any special order. 

Right before cutting the arms. The red lines indicate the angles to drill the 1/8" holes for the rods. 

Arms are rough cut. Everything is basswood (linden).

The arms are carved and waiting for the hands.  I use thin CA glue to strengthen/finish the wood. That's why the finished parts are a different color. 

All the "catching" hands were cut from one block. They are basically all the same, except the are attached a different angles.

Here are the tools I use when I carve my hands. One thing missing - and I use it the most - is my trusty green X-acto knife. 

The catching hands are almost all finished. There is a slight size difference between the male's and female's hands, as indicated by an M and an F.

This helped keep the hands, arms, and figures straight. I forget what the red and blue number mean. 

This is the ball pump I used to transport (pump) the ball bearings to the top of the piece. It was designed by Matthias Wandel. His plans are here. I modified his design for the Marble Pump to work for me. I knew the piece was going to be powered by a motor, so I had to figure out how the motor was going to move the pump lever. I added the lead weight (below) to assist the motor with all that weight. 
I made the ball pump out of poplar, and made it so it would slip in and out of the frame - held in place with one screw. I think I determined there are 93 ball bearing in the stack - which is a lot of weight - but it works.

Starting to build the frame. I determined the top, and secured the tope piece to the two side pieces here. I had to wait to determine where the bottom piece would be, later, after I built the rest of the piece. The frame is built from cedar because it was the straightest wood I could find. 

I'm making the top ball ramp. Again, as with most RBSs, you have to start at the top and work down. I'm using 1/4" bendable copper tubing. It's so easy to work with, and solders easily. I drew out my pattern and followed it as best I could. I bent the tubing around anything I could find. 

All soldered up. 

And attached to the top of the frame. Again, start at the top and work down.

Here is my full-sized drawing of the piece. High and low hand positions are indicated first, and then the figures determine where the bases will land. Note all the pivot points for the 8 arms are in line and are the same distance away from each other - only the position of the bodies change, which makes this fact less obvious.  

Starting to work down. Some of the details were put on hold while I was working here. Among these were the non-working arms, the heads, the front and back covers for the torsos. 
I clamped the piece to my table, and made sure it stayed absolutely straight up and down, and plumb. It has to be this way when hung on the wall - of course.

I'm getting closer - and can now determine where the bottom cross piece needs to be attached. Before this, it was just clamped in place.

The ball pump inserted into the frame. The hole lines up with the inside of the frame - this will be the channel that the BBs travel upward. 

About to glue up the bottom cross piece. I'm using those big dowels to hold everything together. 

The back of the frame showing how the motor fits in, and how the weighted lever goes up to the ball pump.

The front, showing the configuration of the levers and motor. 

A cover for the levers, and the bottom ramp is made and attached.

The 8 cedar bases ready to be painted. 

Here I've carved the right hand and I'm figuring out the position of the arm. The position of the figure on the base has already been determined, and cannot change. 

The covers for the front and back of the torsos. These keep the fabric in place and away from the mechanism inside the chest. 

Figuring out the heads, and their positions. These are cast resin heads that I had made from my sculpts. There are 4 different ones - so there are really 4 sets of "twins" in this piece.  

I added different hairstyles to the resin heads, using polymer clay.

Eight different styles of footwear. 

Two of the painted bases - aged, distressed, and waxed.

The guts of each of the figures. The rotary damper is glued and nailed in place, (after determining which of the 3 strengths to use). This shot was taken right before placing the back cover on, and hand-sewing the back of the shirt.

The 8 counterweights, cast using a wooden mold. The polyester cord has to fall in the center of the weight, that is why the screws are off-center. 

During "final" assembly. I'm probably determining if I need to switch out the dampers for stronger or weaker ones. I had to test as much as I could while assembling. 
The covers for the bases are screwed on later. 

A comparison of the hand for "Hands" and "Interdependence". Sure it would have been easier to make oversized hands for this piece, but I didn't want that. 

Many of the catching hands needed to be deepened/carved out.

The hands being touched up. 

All good. 

Final assembly of the Interdependence crew. 

The movie - (watch full screen).

As always - Thanks for looking!


PS I plan on adding many more pieces soon. 

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