EL Wire (short for Electroluminescent Wire) is one piece of wearable electronics which has permeated public conscience more so than other materials, probably because of its variety of uses – be it in large scale sculptures (approved by Royalty as of 2012), home gadgetry, or to make freaky halloween costumes. It is relatively easy to use (there’s a great guide on how to connect and power El Wire here), quite cheap to buy and comes in many different colours for greater effect – perfect for illuminating that wearable electronics projects on one of those cold, dark winter evenings sprawling ahead uf us in the near future.
Aesthetically, EL Wire is of course entirely inspired by that great beacon of early Cyber Sci-Fi, Tron. Lambasted by the Academy for using CGI in 1982, and narrowly missing out on an Oscar because of it (using CGI was deemed ‘cheating’ in the special effects category it was nominated for back then), Tron featured those amazing costumes which seem to glow at the seams (not to mention the now iconic cybernetic race bikes that doubtlessly inspired the recent EL car modding craze). Those of you who have known me for a little while will also be aware of my fascination with Tron, and can imagine my mixture of tentative delight and fear when hearing about the Tron:Legacy film in 2010. Being a bit of a sci-fi and film buff, the recent trend of taking what was a perfect movie from the 70’s/80’s/90’s and pointlessly re-making it while totally missing the point and depriving the source material of any of its kitsch retro-charm, has all but driven me to despair (Total Recall anyone?). However, in favour of Tron:Legacy, they did try to create a proper sequel to the original film, which in my book puts it marginally above the rest, even if it’s not really up to much and structurally re-hashes the original in far too many ways. That and the absolutely killing sounds spun by Daft Punk throughout the film, making what could be bland and faintly reminiscent scenes of virtual gaming a joy to watch (look out for their cameo in the bar scene).
Naturally, another part of the fun of watching it was to figure out the use of EL Wire in the costumes, and I thought I would share this extensive article on creating the costumes by Chris Laverty (part 1 and part 2). Designer Mike Hardcastle from Light Tape UK used custom-made Light Tape instead of EL Wire, undoubtedly for its ability to cover larger and oddly shaped surface areas and flatness. Light Tape is based on the same principles as El Wire, of covering a conductive copper core with phosphorescent material and then laminating these two layers in transparent coloured plastic sheeting, giving the final product its colour and glow. As per usual in wearable electronics, battery life is the great killer – one charge only provided ten minutes’ worth of illumination to main character Sam Flynn’s suit! Nevertheless, the Tron aesthetic still rocks in 2012, and has certainly inspired this artist to dabble in EL…watch this space!