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SoAnalogCombo So analog!
November 17th, 2010

Our buddy Nate at Squid Kids Ink asked us if we’d be up for a custom for his So Analog custom exhibition at DesignerCon this weekend in Pasadena. Its not something we do that often, but we were both pretty excited about a chance to do some 3d work, especially for someone we like and respect.

I came up with a concept early and even thought I had a fair amount of the stuff hanging around in the studio and shop.  My big idea was to turn the 10-Doh fig into a working Lite Brite.

Seems simple enough, right? Oyyyy!  After about 30 hours and a few repaints into it, I was having alternating fits of pleasure and pain.  In the end, I’m very pleased with how it turned out and, mostly, I have all my hair. I took a few shots to document some of the process.


So the whole thing hinged on being able to create a pretty powerful back lit screen to lite the pegs properly.  I tried a few places to see if there was something I could cobble.  My initial thought was to fit everything into the figure, batteries, light source, etc. What changed my mind was the location of a button. I wanted the piece to be hands-on, interactive instead of just keeping it constantly lit during the show. In the end, I found some cool LED arrays at Pep Boys. They had a try-me package, including battery boxes and a press button switch. I went in looking for primer, but ended up leaving with the linchpin of the whole concept.


Beyond the back-light, the whole thing hinged on recreating the plastic ‘mesh’ that holds the Lite Brite pegs. My first instinct was to modify a part of the mesh from a retro-style Lite Brite, which I loved as a kid. Tuck, always the voice of reason, suggested milling the holes into the surface of the figure, which I tried. Alas, the face of the fig cracked and I ended up having to go back to plan A, using Bondo to fill in the edges of the cut-out piece of mesh.

After cutting the mesh, I didn’t realize that the area for designing a peg-based graphic would be so small. After a few shots, I narrowed down a simple ‘8 Bit’ graphic. From that point, I started playing with Sculpey for the gloves and shoes. I’d intended to get more crazy with the shoe designs, but in the end, I just wanted something simple.

I could have fit the electronics into the figure, but button placement was going to be tricky. I just didn’t think the figure would hold up to lots of poking and prodding. I started looking for a base. Its a bit big, but I found a hard gesso canvas at Utrecht.  The size was mostly right and it would definitely be robust enough for intended use.  At one point, I thought about using an iPhone package that I had laying around. It would have made for a great ironic message, but it just wasn’t big enough to handle the figure and space for the button.

At the time, my decision to create a base seemed simple enough, but in the end it caused the most difficulty of the whole build. Running the wires up through the feet was easy, but I had never done any soldering, and I needed to re-rig all the electronics. Not a huge problem in the end, but it caused a lot of mis-starts on assembly and a few repaints of the parts. I had rejigger my approach several times. Assemble the wiring first? The figure onto the base?


The paint process was finicky, mostly because its not something I do very often and when you don’t use it, you lose it. I’d say half my problem was lack of patience. By the end, most of the finishes were decent.

Hindsight being what it is, I wish I had done something a bit more jazzy with the paint. My goal was not to distract from the light up screen, but when the light is off, the fig can look a bit dull.


The screen solution was a mess at the end. I had been trying to figure out how to attach the screen to the faceplate of the figure since day 1. After I’d modified the screen with Bondo, screws were about the only way I could figure to make the plastic screen hold to the soft curve of the faceplate. Not the prettiest solution, but it worked in the end.

It was at this point, that I needed to scrounge up more pegs to commit to a simpler, two color graphic. During ‘final assembly’, I just wasn’t satisfied with the amount of light behind the pegs. The pegs directly in front of the LED arrays looked great, but there was almost no reflected light to punch up the other pegs. The only solutions was to tear it down to add more reflective components and color to the inside. I had painted it primer and the dark color was soaking up all the light.


Anyone who looks underneath the base would see that the battery boxes look a bit torqued-out. I had to rewire and resolder them many times while working out the kinks. Its just not my bag, baby! Seems like what I ended up with is robust enough for the show and plenty of opportunity to anyone who may take it home. My apologies to whoever has to replace all the batteries. The try-me packaging for the LED arrays were each powered by 10 button cells. Once the batteries run down they may not be cheap to replace.  Sorry, it was an 11th hour reckoning.

Ta Dah!

At last I could see the whole thing assembled and working. Lite Brite aficionados will be sad to know that all the pegs are glued into the screen. I had originally intended it to function like a real Lite Brite, but in the end, durability and artistic voice won out over my natural toy instincts. I was a bit nervous when I went to test the button at the end. When it lit up, it erased any of the stress from the build process. Pretty damn cool to see it lit.

Thanks to Nate for giving us the opportunity to contribute some of our stuff to his show. I can’t wait to dig around the interwebs and see how it all goes down. Its been a blast!

A few more pics from the process and a closer look at Tuck’s Neander-Doh fig-

1 Comment

  1. Ben says:

    Always taking it to the next level!

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