Friday, March 7, 2008

My first R2

On a nostalgic note, my dreams of building an R2 were first realised back when I was 8 or 9 years old. Our family visited the Estes Rocket factory in Colorado and I came away with an R2 Rocket kit that I put together and launched.

I tried to locate one today but they don't really exist any more. I think the basic reason for it is that R2 doesn't fly well when launched from a center rocket. Here is someone else's YouTube version of what happened to mine.

After mine hit the ground the legs broke off and the chute was burned up due to engineering problems.

Back to the progress of building a life size droid...

I have been reading about 12v vs 24v systems and looking at wiring diagrams and all of that stuff. Its a bit difficult building a context for some of what I am looking at since I have never done any of this before. It can be overwhelming at times.

Also, I have been struggling over the idea of people purchasing parts, vs. making them yourself. Obviously if your budget is severely limited (like mine) then you cant afford to purchase thousands of dollars in aluminum parts, which may force you to build your own out of other materials.

The result is that you sacrifice realism and a certain amount of quality for cost effectiveness. On the other hand, you have the pride of crafting your own droid, rather than just building one (as one would a model plane).

I know that I will have to purchase some parts that I just can't make look good enough, but it may take me years to nickel and dime them as part runs come out. I'm also trying to find ways to machine some of my own aluminum parts so that I can have the quality without the cost, but my machining resources are limited and sketchy at best.

So in the mean time, as I continue to read and plan, I have also designated the family change box as the "Droid Fund". When I cleared it out last time it had almost enough for my Dome down payment.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In the beginning...

Back before Episode III I started prop building and costuming. I ended up focused on Light sabers and leather working for Jedi Belts, all of which landed me in the Rebel Legion.

Fast forward several years I'm in a new town and needing new challenges. So I went to San Francisco's WonderCon hoping to make some connections with Star Wars geeks of like mind, which is where I was introduced to the R2 Builders.

I have always loved R2-D2 and like every kid of the 70's dreamed of having one of my own. So when I saw the R2 units driving around WonderCon I had to stop and talk with the builders. It was there I met Chris James and found out that he was virtually a neighbor.

After meeting him and joining the R2 Builders Group at Yahoo, I decided that it was time for me to take on new challenges and give this a go. So, I started reading the boards as much as possible. I took the advice of starting a folder of print outs and images and I took the leap of faith to order a dome (since there was a run happening with a few extras available).

I know that most people advise months of research before starting on this project. I didn't fully take that advice for several reasons:

1. I'm basically adult ADD. I cant process that much technical crap without starting somewhere and just getting things done.
2. The information is overwhelming and I just needed to start something in order to get my head around things.
3. If I took too much time theorizing about things then I would just end up being a talker rather than being a doer.

I have taken the leap of faith and started this thing off. Let me say off hand that I could not have taken this leap of faith without the support of family. Many people have spouses and children with varying needs and ideas about the coolness (or lack) of Star Wars replica building.

In my situation, I have a wife that is highly supportive and looks forward to having an R2 that we can be proud of. My kids think Star Wars is the coolest thing in the world and are frustrated that they aren't old enough to be Rebel Legion members themselves. :) What that means is that this is at least starting off as a family project. The beauty of all that is that my wife approves of spending money on parts and my family won't feel like they have been widowed by R2.

Like me you may be wanting to start a droid, but you are worried about taking it on because you have "no skills". As I start this off, I want to let you know about me and my skills that I have coming into the project...

MY SKILLS (Or lack of)

I have worked on prop building in a few areas:
1. Taking Bondo/Resin parts and modifying them with a dremel tool, prepping and painting them to look real.
2. Dremeling aluminum parts to create light saber pieces.
3. Taping aluminum with threads (for blade length adjusters that hold in removable blades)
4. Soldering minor electrical parts together for lighting and power sources. I have never created any special kind of circuit and have no idea what most of the electrical components on a board are called (much less how they function).
5. I have done some mechanical work on cars and have a basic understanding of tools and gears.
6. I spent time in Wood Shop, Auto Shop and Welding Shop in school, but never completed a semester in either. I have also spent time in Machine shops watching other people work, but have no skills in the craft.


I began by looking at an old version of a frame that looked like I could cut by hand. I started creating a styrene prototype with basic styrene boards from Office Depot. It helped me see some details missing in the frame and made me think about what I would need in order to accomplish the droid that I want to build.

Here are the current specs of the droid that I would like to create. I'm sure that later I will look back and realise how much I failed to take into account, but never the less, here it is:

1. Authentic looking droid - I don't want to have to paint wood or resin parts to look aluminum. If its a raw aluminum part, I want it to be made of aluminum.
2. Hatches in the dome and in the body to open and close. In the future maybe those can be automated.
3. Periscope, fire extinguisher and life form scanner functions in the dome.
4. I would like to explore sound and motion sensors in the dome to see if some automation is possible. As well as the possibility of web cam functions in the radar eye.
5. Radio controlled with the possibility of the feet becoming 2-3-2 in the future.
6. The Droid should be sound enabled so that he sounds like R2 and has options for playing a range of beeps and whistles.

So, there it is. I am waiting for my dome (still paying for it) and searching for framing options.
I'm also clearing a work space in my garage so that I will be able to work freely. In the meantime, I keep reading the boards and blogs to find out what I don't know.