How Contact Lenses Make Movie Magic

March 19th, 2020

Custom hand-painted contact lenses are a finishing touch that can bring a costume to life on the big screen. Here’s how they’re made. 

Many films and television series — including popular franchises like Game of Thrones, the 007 films, and Star Wars — make use of cosmetic contact lenses to dramatic effect. These lenses can often be the finishing detail that pulls a costume together, bringing aliens and monsters startlingly to life. 

How these custom-designed contacts are made is still a closely-guarded Hollywood secret. But thanks to new insights from Hollywood designers, we know a few things about how custom-made contacts can help make movie magic. 

How Movie and TV Contacts Work

Let’s start with a little on the science of contact lenses. Much like glasses, contacts help to correct vision issues by redirecting light entering the eye so that it properly focuses on the retina.  

Nearsightedness, for instance, just means that light is focused in front of the retina rather than on it, which lenses can correct by diverting the light accordingly. Farsightedness, on the other hand, occurs when light is not able to form a focus point by the time it reaches the retina.

While traditional contacts help the wearer improve their vision, cosmetic contact lenses are designed to achieve a visual effect. Cosmetic contact lenses have come a long way since the soft hydrogel lenses first became accessible in the early 1970s. But while contacts with simple pigment changes have been around for decades, the bespoke contact lens design work required for many Hollywood blockbusters still requires a great deal of skill and technical wizardry. 

The process of designing and painting custom contact lenses takes time and a number of preparatory steps. First, the actors in question need to have an eye exam. This not only ensures that the actors’ eyes are suited to contacts, it also helps determine the necessary prescription and generates a 3D image scan of the retina. The contact lenses — which tend to be larger and cover more of the eye’s surface than typical corrective lenses — are manufactured using this scan.

The contacts are then shipped to artists who paint each lens by hand. They use extremely fine brushes and special FDA-approved pigments that will not cause eye irritation. The process of making and painting a set of lenses can take between two and three weeks due to the delicate artistry required in getting each lens exactly right. 

Because we naturally direct our gaze to someone’s eyes when we examine a face, cosmetic lenses are under constant scrutiny. They can easily look cartoony if the lenses aren’t painted just right. Once the lenses are completely done and repeatedly checked for quality, they are shipped directly to set. 

Spooky Contact Lenses All Year Round

Cosmetic contact lenses have come a long way from the fused ceramic-and-glass models that optometrists developed for films in the 1930s. Today, it’s easier than ever to adopt comfortable lenses that mirror those of your favorite stars. 

Whether you’re looking to give your Halloween costume that extra edge, or to shake up your everyday look, there are a wide variety of options available. Schedule an appointment today with the eye care professionals at Kleiman Evangelista to ensure that your eyes are well-suited for contacts. We’re home to the top eye doctors in Texas, and we are committed to helping you keep your vision sharp and your eyes healthy. 

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