When not making games or art, I enjoy making props and costumes. (And I’ve been a massive Star Wars fan since I first saw the movie in theatres in 1978, aged 11, so I unapologetically find it enjoyable to make things from a Galaxy Far, Far Away…)
And in the times before the governments created a mass hysteria with lockdowns, pointless medical theatrics and digital id-enforced discrimination I used to fundraise for charity with a number of UK costuming groups.
Sadly, unless things change radically and normality properly returns I cannot see myself returning to costuming, which is profoundly disappointing.
Here’s a brief history of my later-in-life re-discovery of making things away from the computer screen…
My journey into costume making began with creating, from scratch, two Mandalorian costumes that required me to learn a variety of woodworking, fabrication and sewing skills. Blasters made of MDF and PVC, armour plates, gauntlets and other hard parts made from heat-formed PVC, with helmets created by sculpting a master from cardboard, resin and car body filler from which a mould was then created. The final helmets were then cast in carbon-fibre reinforced fibreglass with a cold-cast aluminium outer finish.
For several years afterwards I made replica Mandalorian Helmet kits and accessories in resin and cold cast aluminium to order and shipped them across the world.
I’ve currently suspended production on these as costuming is not my focus. But because I know they’re full of useful tips, I’m keeping the following pages live for folks who need help and advice on the assembly of and painting techniques for Mandalorian helmets:
Having built Mandalorian kits, the next item on my bucket list was to build a Stormtrooper costume. Lacking an Industrial Vacuformer I had to turn to the wonderful Ross Walmsley of RWA Creations who supplied me with a kit of ABS parts to trim, assemble, tailor and finish – a process that took six months of my spare time to achieve. Along with a blaster that used, as its base a resin casting from an original Sterling machine gun, I was able to build a costume that met the ‘Centurion’ specification for the 501st Legion – the highest level of quality you can achieve for these costumes. The Stormtrooper costume features a custom voice changer complete with radio static clicks that allows me to get my voice as accurate to that heard in the movies (save a slightly dodgy American accent.) I was happy to be able to troop as a Stormtrooper for about a year, bring smiles to a lot of faces and raise money for children’s cancer charities until the “Pandemic” hit and everything was cancelled.
Following my completion of my Stormtrooper costume, I bought myself a very cheap 3D printer kit, upgraded it to stop it from being a fire hazard and then learned the various ins-and-outs of 3D printing (which resulted in me custom building a static, replica Sith Probe Droid based on the ones from the Phantom Menace). My wife, had suggested flippantly that I make her an r/c MSE Droid to run around during our charity troops, so I took on the challenge. Aside from wiring some LEDs for the Mandalorian costumes, this was to be my first electronics project proper.
The little guy is made of a wide variety of materials – a 3D printed framework onto which PVC sheets are mounted, 3D printed circuit boards, hand-cut aluminium racks adorned with a variety of resin cast ‘greeblies’ – he’s as close to movie-accurate as I can get.
He’s powered by an RC car with custom 3D printed wheels and tyres, with an Arduino Nano that allows him to play chirping and squealing sounds from the movies – hooked up to an accelerometer the Nano monitors the movement of the droid and causes him to react accordingly, squealing when he drives off at great speed.
Having built an MSE, the challenge to learn more electronics proved a powerful one and so I decided to build a full-size replica of R2-D2.
Artoo took me two years to complete and is in the majority, 3D printed using plans created by Michael Baddeley. Printed in hundreds of small sections (no bigger than 20cm x 20cm) Artoo was pieced together and represents many, many hours of sanding and finishing.
Although Michael created the Artoo plans to allow him to be fully mobile under R/C control I realised that I wouldn’t ever get to take him out (I’d need to hire a van just to get him to an event) so I decided instead to concentrate on bringing him to life through animatronics. My Artoo turns his head, animates all of his lights and whistles and beeps just like in the movies. He is entirely controlled by a set of Arduinos (two Nanos in the dome running the lights, one Arduino in the body controlling his dome, firing off the audio, monitoring a motion sensor and controlling his ‘moods’.) Artoo when switched on springs to life, whistles and beeps enthusiastically while you’re around him, but as time passes he calms down and eventually gets less animated until he goes into a “standby” mode with his dome stationary and his lights gently twinkling. I placed a PIR motion sensor in the slot just below his dome so that should anyone come into the room he ‘sees’ you, perks up and starts looking around and excitedly whistling and beeping once more.
I’m really proud of my ‘happiness machine’ – he now sits in the corner of our lounge next to the TV and brings the room to life (although I have hidden switches that will silence him and suppress his dome movements as he can be a little distracting.)
As to what’s next – not so sure – I’ve done a lot of DIY recently (using a lot of the skills I acquired while making costumes and props) but a certain part of me is pondering whether or not to attempt building a fully animatronic replica of R-3X the DJ droid from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge..only time will tell.