Behind the Design
We could have gone with a factory-made stock option.
It would have been cheaper. It would have been faster.
And it would have been boring as hell.
When we started moving production to our headquarters in Portland, Oregon, we knew that we also wanted to set up an in-house testing lab.
But it wasn’t enough just to test our lenses.
We wanted to do it the Revant way—with solid-built equipment that would last, provide accurate results, and look as good as it performed.
Stock wasn’t going to cut it.
That’s when we connected with Ryan Higdon.
A lens optics expert with years of experience in the eyewear industry, including over 7 at Oakley, Higdon is the owner of RONINPROTO where he also specializes in fabrication, R&D, and eyewear design.
We recently sat down with Ryan to get some more insight on his experience and how he built the Punisher.
Tell us a little about your background:
My education was in industrial science and engineering, which basically meant I went to college to learn how to build stuff. So, I live in a world between manufacturing and mechanical engineering, which is fun because what I really love to do is figure out how to build stuff. That’s what motivates me and pushes me is that technical problem-solving. You see the problem and you get to find a way to overcome it, one way or another.
I went to school for industrial technology, which emphasized 3D CAD and also knowing manufacturing processes for welding, metal manufacturing, all sorts of stuff.
I grew up building and working with metal. My dad is a journeyman welder so I’ve grown up around metal fabrication machines my whole life, so it’s second nature figuring out how to build things.
What came after college?
After I combined my hands-on experience and life experience with my education, I moved to Southern California to be in the heart of American manufacturing. I liked the idea of aerospace. When things are really functional, that’s interesting to me.
I’d rather build a tank than a Ferrari.
A tank is ugly, but it’s still cool. For different reasons than the Ferrari.
So, I moved to California and worked in aerospace companies doing a lot of machining — making complicated one-off parts. Every day coming to work was a big challenge figuring out how we were going to do it. It was also exciting because you're also on the clock, so you have to know your stuff and be pretty disciplined in your process and be very confident because it’s really complex. No one is going to put you in front of a machine that’s a half-million dollars and let you break it.
When it came to machining and manufacturing, I liked the discipline and the precision of it. I liked the idea of getting something exactly. Like zero point zero zero zero.
A piece of paper is about .005 inches thick. When I make metal, I want it to be accurate to less than that—which is like a human hair. Metal doesn’t like to be worked. It hurts you if you do it wrong, but it’s fun to be able to bend it and wield it to exactly what you want.
How’d you end up at Oakley?
I applied to it on a whim because it was a dream job.
I wasn’t satisfied with where I was working. It was a tough time in the economy. I’d just graduated with a degree that I wasn’t getting paid for. But I felt like that was me putting in my dues to cut my teeth in the industry. I was a college kid with hands-on experience, but not a lot of professional experience. At that time I acquired some great hands on skills that allowed me to take my education and run with it. If I never got that hands on face-to-face experience with what I was doing, I’d be lost. My education would have been useless. I would have had no context to apply it. And then one day I was just looking for jobs, and I ran out of ideas.
So, I just started looking around my room and applying to whatever products I liked. So I applied to Burton, Nike, Adidas, and eventually, I got around to Oakley. They had a job I actually was qualified for, and I just applied on a whim. They called me the next day.
I didn’t think I’d get the job, but I went in there and had a great interview and landed the job. It was a pretty good day.
What did you do there?
I started machining lenses in R&D. I was able to take my education and hands-on experience from machining these complicated surgical devices and aerospace parts and apply that same discipline and process to machining lenses.
When you’re machining an aircraft, like a jet engine part, you’re not allowed to screw up. You have to be very disciplined in your process because you only get to do it once. I was able to take that super precise discipline and apply it to lens cutting. I was able to get lenses cut way faster. Once I’d mastered machining and learning how these crazy lens cutting machines worked, I was able to learn how the optics worked.
I had some great bosses there who took me under their wing and shared their optics knowledge with me. These are guys who developed it, they're on the patents. They essentially invented it all, about 10-15 years earlier. I was really fortunate that I took some initiative and they saw that and took me under their wing and shared these secrets with me that nobody else really knew. There are a handful of people there that knew how it really worked, so I was lucky to be given that gift of all that optics knowledge from those guys.
How did you go from machining to optics?
Exactly, I’d never even considered it. I had a little optics education just from college-level physics, but they never really used eyewear as the example.
But once I had a tool to measure optics and had them in my hand, then I could figure it out. I could work backward. I got a little bit of theoretical knowledge and then I was able to go play, get lenses — put them in front of a laser and see what happens.
That’s when I felt really confident in my ability to make lenses.
Your background made you uniquely qualified to design and build the Punisher. How did you approach the project?
I knew it would be function first, and the function would be pretty simple. The function is to drop a heavy piece of metal onto eyewear. That was pretty easy. Once we knew what we needed to do, it was designing all the cool stuff around it. There was a lot of opportunity and a lot of room to make this thing look badass. I was able to just have fun.
The hardest part was figuring out how to make it cool.
How did you figure that out?
I looked at the design aesthetic I saw at Revant. The first thing I did was look at the logo. It’s very angular but at the same time, it’s not sharp. It’s these chunky angles. It reminded me of a stealth bomber. It’s aggressive, it’s fast looking, and angled but it’s very solid and chunky. I just elaborated off of that and Jason (CEO and founder of Revant) gave me some good inspiration. And luckily, we have a similar aesthetic.
I tried to design with a very angular, mechanical feel. I knew the function would be pretty easy, so let’s make building it easy. Let’s use over-the-top methods. For example, you definitely do not need plate steel for the Punisher, but why the hell not? It’s there, it’s readily available. I know how to cut it and weld it. Let’s put it together.
I wanted to make it look almost more like a vehicle, maybe a spaceship. Even though there are no moving parts on it, I wanted it to look like it could be moving. Like it was designed to move. Maybe it was supposed to be on top of a space shuttle or rocket.
What materials did you use?
3/8 inch plate mild steel, half-inch plate aluminum, tons of stainless steel hardware, nuts, and bolts. I’m pretty proud that there is almost no plastic on this thing.
I prefer to build things out of metal, just because it’s more useful. You can cut it. You can break it. You can hit it with a hammer. You can melt it. And you can always just start over and fix it. You can do whatever you want to it. It’s fun working with metal. You never mess up, you can always fix it. You can always go back. The metal is always there. You can always add or subtract. It’s there forever.
When you make it out of metal, you know it matters. At least, in my opinion.
Did you come across any challenges in fabrication?
Because this was my first project going out on my own as a contractor, I had to make a good assessment of the tools I had readily available and work backward from those.
I didn’t have all the advanced manufacturing equipment that I was used to. If I was at one of my previous positions, half a day, I could have drawn it, sent it out. But I didn’t have $2 million to buy a CNC machine to make this one thing. So, there was definitely a constraint I had to consider —my manufacturing capabilities.
But I knew that if I went overboard with the methods and materials, since I had those available, I knew that those could pay off later.
For example, it’s a pain to cut thick plate steel if you’ve never done it before, but I knew I had those materials available and I knew I could find material. One way or another, if I had a pile of metal, I could make this thing.
From concept to completion, how long did it take?
3 or 4 months, I think. We spent about a month discussing it and going over ideas. After about a month, I showed Jason something he liked, and when he said “yeah, let’s do it,” I had to figure out how to make it.
Is there anything that you would change?
Yeah — there’s always room for more detail and more function.
I would have loved to have put a laser sight on it so you see exactly where it hits. A magazine, since it’s a dart, maybe some sort of clip. Maybe a bolt, and instead of dropping it, you cock it like a gun. Or you chamber it with a button or a trigger.
It’s like a big static hunk of steel right now. I would have loved to add some more moving parts. I’ve had some time to think about it now.
I could have worked on it for a very long time.