Saturday, November 7, 2009

He's Done. Finally.

Here's a project that I have been working on for about a year. That sounds like a lot, but I only worked on it for a few minutes here, a few there. I think the total actual time was probably more like 20 hours.

Anyway, here's the process.

It all started when a neighbor was throwing away a perfectly good globe that only had a collapsed southern hemisphere. I looked at the northern hemisphere and, naturally, the first thing I thought was "Hey, that looks like R2-D2's head!"

The next thing I did was find a few good pictures of R2-D2 for reference. The diameter of the globe is 12", so with that measurement, I brought the images into Illustrator, tossed on a grid, sized the images so the diameter was 12 units and, ta da! I could now figure out the correct dimensions of everything else. I drew up a few schematics and moved on to construction.

First, I needed materials. I searched for 12" diameter cylinders for a few weeks. I considered 5 gal buckets, but they were not exactly the right size and they had a bunch of extra plastic around the top. I looked at plastic garbage cans, but they almost always tapered a bit. Finally, I thought of a sonotube. It's a cardboard tube used for making concrete pillars. We used one when we built the Thanksgiving Point water tower on the Lehi pioneer-days float 7 years ago. A quick visit to Home Depot, and I had a 12" diameter cardboard cylinder. It was 4 feet long, and I only needed 15", so I cut it down to size. Incidentally, if anyone has any cool ideas of what I can use the remaining tube for, let me know. It's now in 2 pieces.

For the legs I chose my best friend, foamboard. 3/4 inch. I also cut some circles and glued them into the tube and the dome for extra support. I used a poster mailing tube for his neck.

With help from the R2-D2 builder's group online, I got a template of R2's skin. I scaled it down and simplified it a bit.

I covered the cylinder with white poster board and struggled with what to use for the outer skin. I considered more poster board, but it was so thin that you really couldn't see the depth. I tried styrene plastic (1/16"). This stuff is amazing, and I will use it in future projects for sure. The cool thing about it is that first, you can cut it with an exacto knife (straight cuts just require a simple score and break), and second, you can heat it up with a hot air gun (or oven) and it becomes pliable, within seconds it hardens into the new shape. I actually covered the back half with it and cut out all the shapes. In the end I decided that it wasn't going to work. Although straight cuts are easy, if they are on the interior surface, you can't easily snap them off so you have to make a zillion cuts. I ripped off the plastic and went with craft foam.

The sheets are smaller than I needed, so I had to piece together 4 sheets to cover him. But talk about easy. I was able to glue it down with elmers glue and cut out all the pieces in just a couple of hours (compared to about 4 hours on one side - and needing to use super glue, with the styrene).

As for the details on the body, I built them out of foamboard and styrene plastic. For his face, I used parts from old camera lenses, video cameras, water bottles, and plastic Easter eggs. The feet are also constructed out of foamboard but I used 3" tires from a big RC Mercades and wire hangers for the axles.

Then I spray painted the head silver and the body and legs glossy white (the foam stood up just fine, though it didn't get very glossy). Next I hand painted the metallic blue and a bit of silver where needed. I connected his legs to the body using toilet paper tubes.

True fans may notice that he isn't actually 100% finished. He's missing the battery packs on his inner feet with cable connecting into the foot. I will be using several toilet paper tubes for those, so I'm waiting for the inventory. Once I got him this complete though, Val wanted him out of the house, so he lives in my office at work. For now he sits on my couch, but I have the idea brewing of building him a proper "place". Maybe a simple pedestal, or maybe the top of an X-wing fighter - wait why not a full sized X-Wing fighter! Well, no hurry, the idea will come eventually.

Oh, And he made it to work in time for Halloween, so here he is in costume.


Valerie said...

Great job Ben! Thanks for taking him out of the house. His new home is probably more roomie and our little ones won't destroy it with love.

Andy Porter said...

well done.

Andy Porter said...

Ben...that is seriously amazing...WOW!!

dan said...

Definitely one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Nice job Ben!

Abby said...

wow! like that a lot. you found an r2d2 builder's group on the internet?

Kathy said...


Anonymous said...

Really nice job. I've been searching the internet for an idea to make one for my boys as more of a decoration for their room... which is to say they will probably destroy it. I thought about the sonotube but the dome is hard to find. The globe worked well. Really nice work with the foam.