How Contact Lenses for Movies Are Made

March 19th, 2020

Cosmetic contacts can transform actors into other-worldly creatures. Find out how contact lens designers help make the movie magic happen.

It can take a lot to transform familiar actors into bedazzling, otherworldly creatures. In addition to layers of prosthetics and cgi, cosmetic contacts can play a key role in making characters come to life. Contact lenses can achieve anything from modest changes in hue to mind-bending reds, blacks, and even snake-like patterns. 

But you might be wondering, how do cosmetic contact lenses really work? 

How Do Contact Lenses Work

The purpose of standard contact lenses is to improve the wearer’s vision, and they function by altering the direction of light to focus it properly onto the retina. Corrective lenses float on the tear film layer of the eye, and can help wearers maintain ocular health. 

Cosmetic contact lenses used in filmmaking, however, are not designed for improving vision. They can carry a prescription if the actor requires, but their main purpose is to achieve a stunning visual effect by adding color or catching the light. For example, in the Twilight films, some of the actors struggled to see through their opaque contacts, but their on-screen look impressed millions of fans. 

Contact Lenses in Hollywood

The first colored contact lenses created for a film were made in 1939. Since then, the technology for contacts in general and for appearance-augmenting contacts specifically has developed significantly. Ever since hydrogel soft contact lenses went into mass production in 1971, lenses with basic color pigments have become widely accessible to the public.

Advancements in contact lens design in the film industry however, have remained a closely-guarded secret for many years. Luckily, some of Hollywood’s contact lens creators have recently spoken about the process, giving us an inside look. 

The Steps of Contact Lens Creation

The first step to creating contacts for a film or TV show is an eye exam. Designers must confirm that the actor’s eyes are suitable for contacts. If they are, the next step is a prescription check and a 3D scan of the inside of the retina. The scan measures the diameter of the iris and the curve of the eye, and specialists can also use it to check for any problems with dryness. 

Once all the measurements have been taken, contact lens creation can begin in earnest. After designing a look that fits character in question, it usually takes two to three weeks for contacts to be manufactured and painted. These custom-made contacts are usually hand-painted by a lens artist. Once they’re ready, the lenses are shipped and meticulously applied on set.

Cosmetic Lenses in Everyday Life

Today, a variety of cosmetic contact lenses are widely available. Whether you want to subtly change the color of your eyes or transform into an other-worldly creature, you will find a range of options to suit your needs. 

If you are interested in contact lenses, cosmetic or otherwise, we invite you to consult with a specialist at ICON Eyecare. Whatever your eyewear needs, we at ICON are dedicated to helping you look and feel your best.

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