Steve, the webmaster, and I were having a conversation about mechanics and it really became a conversation that I wished we had recorded for everyone to hear but since that didn’t happen I have to write about the conversation. We have conversations of this nature quite a bit and have differing opinions because I point out the collector’s point of view while Steve, being a ventriloquist, points out the ventriloquist’s point of view.
Mike Robinson came over the weekend and picked up his Terrance figure, you saw the video on Sunday, and he was manipulating Terrance and you can see how the weighted eye function works. With the movement of the head the eyes move from side to side. There is no control except that they move with the direction that you push the head stick, right or left. The head stick is attached to a cradle that allows movement in any direction. I know Mike was having some difficulty finding the sweet spot where the eyes remain centered. It does take some practice.
I told Steve about that and he immediately said that was why he didn’t like that set up and uses self centering eyes in all the figures he builds. He worked with Ray Guyll for quite some time and got to play with Ray’s creation called Kirby (a McElroy style figure), now in the collection of Bill Nelson, so he is familiar with the weighted eyes and confirmed that it is almost impossible to know where the eyes are looking. Dave Pendleton uses his McElroy figure all the time in performance and he has the control of the eyes down but he will tell you it has taken him a long time to learn how to control them.
The standard side to side movement with self centering adapted to them gives you the ability to have the figure stare directly at any audience member but then of course move them as the performer desires.
Unfortunately there are not many performers who use the weighted eyes so it is hard to get opinions, but I hope some of you readers will chime in and let’s see if there are some opinions related to this setup.
Dan Willinger is a ventriloquism enthusiast and ventriloquist figure collector. He has been collecting for over 25 years. He created the Ventriloquist Central Collection. It now has over 100 ventriloquist figures and over 50 of them are Frank Marshall figures. Because of his love for the art of ventriloquism, Mr. Willinger created the website Ventriloquist Central. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com
Copyright 2009 by Dan Willinger
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I owned a Gilmer McElroy type figure with all direction floating eyes and although it was quite a cool “novelty”….for a performer I’ve never seen it used..convincingly. I think all a performer needs is stationary eyes. That is all Bergen used and all Dunham uses on the majority of his figures. Need I say more?
I heard Marshall, Lester and Berger talk about the stationary eyes and one of them said, Lester I believe it was, and other two agreed, that a good pair of glass blown eyes properly set, like the one Hartz had and talked about recent, gives illusion of movement when head moved slowly and that’s all needed.
My Spencer figure has weighted eyes, and I’d say I enjoy using him because it’s so different manipulating him. The effect is cool!
Because I think this will help our discussion I’d like to share a portion of a letter sent to me by David Malmberg, who still uses his 1960s Spencer figure until now. I was asking him how to properly manipulate our Spencers. He’s a good friend of Ken Spencer and the master figuremaker himself taught him how to use the weighted eyes effectively…
“When used properly, they are very effective at giving a sense of ‘life’ to the figure. But, the whole premise of the automatic eyes is completely different than the manual eyes. Where manually operated eyes allow the vent to do slow burns, stare at an audience member etc, the automatic eyes do not. nor, I believe were they intended to. They were intended to’ move’ while the figure is being manipulated. Not stare, or slow burn.”
My other figures have stationary eyes, and I loved them.. but weighted eyes have their own appeal and use.
I’ve built a number of floating eye mechanisms over the years. What I’ve learned through the process is the importance of not making the eyes too “bouncy.” I found that altering the linkage lengths on the mechanism to slow down the eye travel gives the performer much better control over the direction of the eyes. It’s critical to have the eyes be able to look straight ahead when the head is in the straight forward or vertical position. Ideally, the mechanism should be weighted so that the eyes find the straight ahead position the easiest and then a concerted effort be made to get them off center (looking side-to-side). This method will give the performer the best control.
I will admit floating eyes are perhaps one of the most difficult mechanical movements to build correctly, but once done right, they can be very fun and enjoyable to operate.
I remember operation of Lee Estes’s Kenny Talk when I visited his home back in 1954 in the Meadowthorpe area of Lexington, Kentucky. I had to really tilt the McElroy head to an extreme angle to make figure look up, down, left and right. I know very little about floating eyes but that is what I recall, including Estes’s pulling out a porcelain tooth then putting back inside the figure’s mouth.
I might add to my first reply according to the big three of the IBV properly set meant slightly off-center or apart just a little to avoid a stare.