Eye Contact

Oct. 18, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Buzz is perennially one of the most entertaining and innovative mascots in the world of college athletics. He certainly sees things from a unique perspective.

Of course, he doesn’t actually USE the eyes on his costume but their appearance is an important part of the entire ensemble. When those eyes don’t look right, people notice…well, certain people notice.

Larry Lee is one of those people.

Back in 1997, Lee (class of ’69, Industrial Design), saw Buzz at the send-off party for a Georgia Tech-sponsored team that was entering the inaugural World Air Games and struck up a conversation with the world-famous mascot.

“The first thing I noticed was that one of the eyeballs was cracked,” said Lee, who today is the President of PlasTech, an Atlanta-based company which has been in the field of injection molding for more than half a century. “That led to a topical conversation with the person wearing the suit. We all felt we needed to build some more of these because they were looking a little shabby. So we volunteered to get involved in that project.”

The rest is history, as PlasTech took over design of Buzz’s eyes and has been making them ever since.

It should be noted that Lee and Co.’s entry made history, as their plane, which Lee piloted (his wife, Kathy, was co-pilot) had Buzz’s image on the side, used the forerunner to the today’s GPS (as well as some tips from Delta Air Lines and the National Weather Service, regarding courses with the most favorable winds) to finish first out of 25 entries in the race which started in Iceland, stopped throughout the capitals of Europe and the Middle East and finally landed in Turkey. Neil Armstrong presented the checkered flag to the winners (For more on the race see story here).

“Over the years we’ve molded sheet plastic, clear plastic, like a skylight for a house on to a wooden form that’s shaped to the eye, which is a hemisphere. It is a process done through using heat and vacuum,” said Lee, who recalled his initial experience with plastic fabrication began where all successful experiments begin — in the basement laboratory. In Lee’s case, it was the basement of the Architecture Building during his sophomore year.

“The eyes for the character are made out of a clear material but to keep it clear, the mold has to be polished in a way in which it doesn’t mark off a texture on the tool,” he added. “Then we have to cut the iris open, which gives it the depth of appearance that it has. Then the lady that actually makes the costume has been putting a yellow or white striping behind it.”

Lee admits the design hasn’t really changed much over the years but that the material for the eye has upgraded.

“What we have done is minor things to make them easier to mount in the costume and not protrude quite as much,” he said. “More significantly, making them out of material that’s tougher. Plastics have changed in the last 20 years or so and the material that we’re using now is one that will stay looking clearer and not get damaged as easy as it had been in the past.”

PlasTech delivers a run of a half-dozen of the eyes at a time, the last run was earlier this year, but that these runs are rather infrequent, as they’ve only made two in the last 15 years. Yet, regardless of how tough the material is, there is always the human element involved with the eyes.

“There’s breakage, somebody dropping it, standing on it, sitting on it,” he said. “It’s the handling, not while it’s in use and the costume is being worn. But more of the storage of the costume, and whether it’s been rough-handled during that process.”

“They appear to last a couple of seasons depending on whether somebody squishes the costume in their trunk or however it might get handled,” he added. “The ones we built in 2010 were made out of a tougher material, a polycarbonate, which will potentially last much longer. So it should be less of a recurring activity for us to be involved in through the next, my suspicion is, decade because that’s how long it was the last time.”

For more information on PlasTech, visit www.plastechcorporation.com.

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