Have you ever wanted a cool wizard staff?  Have you ever spent hours imagining what it would look like?  What it would do?  I have and Mardeth the Lightbringer is the culmination of this desire.  The concept was relatively simple and the design borrows from every fantasy game I’ve ever played.  It features a semicircular head with a glowing gem at it’s center.  The finer details, however, get a lot more intricate.  I wanted the head to look organic.  Like it was grown, or cut off some beast from a faraway land.  It was to look menacing, but still share form with familiar works of fantasy art.  The gem itself needed to be alive.  It wasn’t enough that it lit up.  As the second project of my Reactive Art series I needed my glowing gem to come alive in response to the world around it.  

The design of the staff head features spines along the outside of the curve and a rippling texture meant to be vaguely reptilian.  Once cut, the head was dyed and hand painted.  The gem is a two piece assembly of epoxy resin casts that houses the audio reactive light system.  The light system consists of two circuit boards sandwiching the battery and Arduino Trinket, with a twelve LED NeoPixel ring on the outside of each board, and a microphone breakout board attached to the side.  The program animating the LEDs responds exclusively to volume amplitude and draws to a number of pixels proportional to the input. However the specific pixels populated are randomly distributed and the color at those pixels is somewhat relative to volume as well.  This results in a very satisfying shimmering effect that is very sensitive and responsive to input.  All relative values are modified by a random fudge factor to allow for some imperfection and add to the feeling of Mardeth being quite alive.

This project started off as a bit of a gag and ended up consuming about 60 hours of my life.  Many of those hours ended in frustration as I traveled the painful road of educating myself about how to design and fabricate what I could see so plainly in my mind.  A good amount of time was spent learning how to generate organic geometries in CAD software.  In my first iteration of Mardeth, I had to stop just short of the gem itself.  The dodacahedron icosahedron compound, which is the specific name of the polyhedron I chose for Mardeth’s eye, was easier to model than it was to cast in resin.  It had to be large enough to house the electronics for the sound reactive light system, and casting something that big proved to be a bit of a challenge.  My first attempt, with an ill advised wooden mold, left me with a very time consuming puddle of epoxy stuck in a block of wood and an array of shattered dreams.  I still designed, routed, soldered, and programmed the lighting system, but on our first night this little light box was hung naked from the staff head. It still shimmered and twinkled, but the electronics where laid bare for all to see.

The final piece of this puzzle came a year later with my discovery of the existence of a two part silicone mold solution.  I cut out a positive of one half of Mardeth’s eye, put up little walls around it and poured in this magic compound.  Within a few hours I had a perfect silicone mold, ready to accept epoxy resin. The detail of this mold was such that it literally preserved and transferred the wood grain texture to the surfaces of my gem.  A cavity was cut in each half and I finally had a beautiful semi translucent gem to house my lighting system.  Mardeth the Lightbringer was complete and a part of me was finally complete as well, like the last chapter of a book, finally finished, long overdue.