Introduction: Aliens Powerloader Halloween Costume

Picture of Aliens Powerloader Halloween Costume
Here's a step-by-step view of how I built one of the most memorable pieces from modern sci-fi...the powerloader from Aliens.

I built this costume for my girl (dressed as Ripley) to wear at our Halloween party. I used a 1/12 model kit to get dimensions and used a ton of reference photos I found on the web. Between the fact that she's 5-1 and that I wanted her to get under our 8' ceilings I scaled the loader down to about 80% actual size - with a few adjustments here and there. Everything was built completely from scratch except the beacon light on top and the 4-point racing harness. Total time spent building: about 180 hours over the course of 10 weeks.

I am missing photos for a few steps (like the wiring) but the comments I received on my Slideshow convinced me this should still be a full instructable.

To see a clip of the loader in action:

UPDATE: G4's Attack of the Show gave a nice little shout out to the costume and the instructable! (jump to 1:20)

Step 1: The Foot

Picture of The Foot

The beginning of it all...the foot. I determined this ice cube bucket from Target was sturdy enough under foot and a good starting shape. A 2x6 was used as a stable base and a couple pieces of 2x4 were add for a bit more height. After much thought I decided to 'fuse' the lower leg (where the operator's foot rests) to the powerloader foot to make something more stable for the wearer.

A 1x6 piece was attached on top of the foot and the lower foot is shaped with 1/2" foam insulation and 1/8" Lauan . The lauan paneling is light, and pretty cheap, and it adds a lot of rigidity to the foam. All the foam was cut with a hot wire tool I got from a craft store and then sanded smooth.

Step 2: The Lower Leg

Picture of The Lower Leg

First I added a portion of steel stud for the lower leg. Contrary to how it sounds, it doesn't add that much weight and will provide a lot of crucial support.

The lower leg was formed from lauan panels with foam attached for extra detail. The clamps are holding the foam pieces on the back of the leg. You can also see the gaps in the foot have been filled with caulk.

Then the lower leg was primed and spray painted. Foam disks were cut, shaped, and painted to be used for all the joints. They are not highly detailed, but they look convincing when it was all done.

Step 3: The Upper Leg

Picture of The Upper Leg

Here's the painted lower leg and knee joint with the beginning of the upper leg. The upper leg was formed again with a piece of lauan with a sculpted layer of foam on top. The foam was smoothed and blended to the board with typical drywall spackle.

Step 4: Adding Lower Leg Details

Picture of Adding Lower Leg Details

I made the cylinders for the feet from a 1/2" oak rod with the ends shaped for mounting. The larger piece of the cylinder is a thin walled 1/2" PVC tube that fit right over the dowel. A little later a decided I didn't like the texture of the wood half of the cylinder and covered it with shiny foil duct tape.

Sintra sheet was used for the leg guard/grill and for two disks (painted silver) to separate the upper and lower leg to allow the knee to move easily.

The leg padding is pipe insulation cut in half. The foot tread is a chunk cut from an auto rubber floor mat.

Step 5: Finishing the Leg

Picture of Finishing the Leg

After the upper leg was primed and painted the whole leg was assembled. The rivets around the middle of the upper leg are just painted thumbtacks.

Padding was added to upper leg, again from pipe insulation cut in half. A black piece of fabric runs between the back of the upper and lower leg.

Step 6: Adding Cylinders to the Leg

Picture of Adding Cylinders to the Leg

The hydraulic cylinders for the legs needed to be convincing (and movable), but like everything, as light as possible.

The upper tube is a piece of PVC covered with foil duct tape. The lower tube is a thick cardboard tube, covered with contact paper (for smoothness), then painted. The end mounts were formed from Sintra and glued on.

The same components would be used later for the arm cylinders.

Step 7: One More Time!

Picture of One More Time!

With one leg looking good, of course everything had to be repeated for the other. Whew, lot's of work.

I actually made paper templates of all the large foam and lauan pieces before making the first leg. Using these templates for each leg ensured they'd come out identical. Later, I did the same thing by making templates for the arms and grabbers.

Step 8: The Operator Cage

Picture of The Operator Cage

The cage was made from various PVC bits. Pretty straight forward, but it looks very accurate. Padding was added (more foam pipe insulation) along with a piece of expanded aluminum on top of the cage.

Later a strip of electroluminescent tape would circle part of the cage to light the operator's face (you can see this best in the youtube video).

Step 9: The Body

Picture of The Body

For the front of the body, lauan sheet was used for rigidity with 1/2" foam shaped to simulate padding. Two PVC adapters are attached to the sheet where the lower cage will connect. The face of the head section (on the right) is separate since it will pivot away from the body as the cage opens.

Lauan was added for the sides of the main body, but only a sheet of foam in the back. This means I wouldn't be attaching the very large arm cylinders in the back as a weight savings measure.

Some 1x3 lumber goes around the top of the body to add the support needed for the arms. Small blocks are also used to support the mounts were the head section will pivot.

Step 10: The Head

Picture of The Head

The head section of the body takes shape was a couple lauan sides. Holes are drilled for mounting the cage and the lauan was backed with a little Sintra scrap in those areas to add a little more thickness. A 1x3 was used across the top to support the beacon light. The rest of the shape was fleshed out with foam sheet.

Step 11: Attaching the Harness, Beacon

Picture of Attaching the Harness, Beacon

Once the body and head were assembled and painted, a 4-point racing harness (bought cheap online) was bolted to the body.

The amber beacon light was also mounted on top. The light originally used a high-intensity halogen 12V bulb, but wanting to use a small, light battery, I replaced the bulb with two yellow LEDs and ran those and the motor off a 9 volt battery.

I shortened the "beaver tail" feature in the back where all the hoses are supposed to attach. This made it easier to set down and easier to navigated a crowded party. From the back angle you can see how the head section mounts to the main body. There is a piece of threaded rod running across with an aluminum tube covering it.

With the harness attached, it was finally time for "Ripley" to take an early test drive!

Step 12: The Arms

Picture of The Arms

One arm was started and positioned as a test. The arms are just made from layers of lauan (used sparingly) with 2" Styrofoam and 1/2" pink foam.

Also at this point the grabber/hands are coming along nicely toward the right of the first photo.

The arms were completed, primed, and then painted. The upper arm is below and the lower arm on top of the second photo.

Toward the right of the third photo you see a wrist joint on the lower arm. This is just a rigid, faked joint so that the grabber wouldn't flop around too much. A portion of a plastic bottle was use for the round cylinder sides of the wrist.

Step 13: Shoulder Joints

Picture of Shoulder Joints

These are the shoulder joints I made from PVC. The top (a Tee cut in half) will mount to the body and the two smaller tubes will mount to the upper arms. This joint will allow the 2 rotations needed to properly move the arm.

Step 14: The Grabber

Picture of The Grabber

The first photo is the beginning of the grabbers. This is two of them (i.e. one hand) pressed together. A piece of lauan runs along the grip-side of each and layers of foam glued together will form the shape.

The second photo shows the finished thing. The grabbers swivel 360 degrees and pinch together.To pinch, they slide along two aluminum tubes, so they can be positioned open, closed, or anywhere in between. Unfortunately I didn't have time to perfect the mechanics to power that (mostly I started running out of time), so I left the motors out and left them to be positioned by hand.

Step 15: Wiring and Final Assembly

Picture of Wiring and Final Assembly

A basic stand was made from 2x4s and plywood so the pieces can be setup when it's not being worn.

The second photo shows how the cage lifts so the operator can get in.

Step 16: In Action!

Picture of In Action!

Ripley dons the loader at our party. Yep, she won the costume contest!
I left off all the hoses so they wouldn't get snagged on anything or anyone.


pityuyu (author)2015-10-27

can i buy a full suit

greenskull57 (author)2015-04-13

awesome i made a mini version for my son!

mbell18 (author)2014-08-21

Do you have any measurements for the pieces of the power loader? I'm trying to build one myself, the measurements are driving me crazy!

flaming_pele! (author)mbell182014-08-21

Well, there were a TON of measurements :) But I don't really have them on hand. I was working quickly from measuring off a small model to scaling it up and tracing out patterns (in other words, making it up as I went along).

I really need to scan my patterns into a pdf someday - I still have them (the cutouts shown in step 7). But if you need a few key dimensions I should be able to check those and post them over the weekend.

Good Luck!

mbell18 (author)flaming_pele!2014-08-21

Sure thing! I am just struggling with the dimensions of the leg pieces right now (I'm sure the arms will give me trouble too).

cucumber288 (author)2010-01-23

who thinks the world is gonna end in 2012?

tinker234 (author)cucumber2882012-01-05

here is a tip instead of waiting for it end which is unknown so just live

sigh the myan calanders where melted down by the brittish for gold ok. now the one that dates the farthest in the future from that time that we have that was not melted down was the 2012 calander. So the world won't end

rattyrain (author)cucumber2882010-10-29

If it does, flaming_pele is prepared!

edavis11 (author)2011-09-16

wow this is so amazing O.O I was just curious if there are any patterns i could look up for the peices or is it a lot of scaling up and such i'm definetley gonna try this even just to go to a convention ^^ Very inspiring thanks for the instructables

pretel (author)2011-09-02

Ficou muito boa. Parabéns!

drpots (author)2011-04-08

how much did it cost?

calicos (author)2010-11-23

oh, this is insanely good! Very impressed with your showing on Attack of the Show and since they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, I'd say you were very flattered by the Halloween episode last week on Community! If you didn't see it, check out hulu! This is, again, is just incredible -- great job!

flaming_pele! (author)calicos2010-11-29

Big fan of Joel and Community and that episode was epic!

tonysoprano6379 (author)2010-11-13


I really liked this instructable! Congrats on getting the mention on G4!!

rapidprototyping (author)2010-11-01

girlfriend with a backhoe (Wanted) please send photo of backhoe

mettaurlover (author)2010-09-30

I'm probably going to build one of these for my costue next year.

WhiteTigerTails (author)2010-09-11

Knowing me, I would probably start adding motors and junk, eventually making it an Audrino/MAKE powered telemetry powered anamatronic suit, that had working parts. Scary as it is, I'd probably start actually making some metal parts and using hydraulics. I'm that batsh!t insane!

richdoe (author)WhiteTigerTails2010-09-16

please do that. really that would be extremely cool!

Kiteman (author)2010-07-31

Just an idle thought - what happened to the costume?

Is it on proud display somewhere? Or mouldering in storage?

flaming_pele! (author)Kiteman2010-08-16

Still on display in our basement/home theater room ;)

Kiteman (author)flaming_pele!2010-08-16


Zaros (author)2010-07-11

Very nice costume! I'm going to try my hand at it, but I would like to know if you had any blueprints or stencils, etc. for the shapes needed, as I can't figure out what I need to cut out.

flaming_pele! (author)Zaros2010-07-13

Thanks! I made some paper templates of each piece but I don't have them scanned or anything (most are pretty large). You can see a couple pictures of them in step 7 however. Good Luck!

Zaros (author)flaming_pele!2010-07-13

Thanks for that. I'll get back to this project sometime, but since I'm only a beginner I'm deciding on building something less difficult than this.

cucumber288 (author)2010-01-23

does it ever mention how much money it would take to build it

sherwoodm47 (author)2009-10-26

that is totally wicked.... like holly crow thats kool. do you have any other costumes like that or ideas? i would like to see you pst your other owns and or ideas.

peace out

Boomshadow (author)2008-11-07

Outstanding costume! Loved the instruction set, too. Very clear. How much did everything cost, all told? Would it be cruel to request itemized costs?

Tori^sStory (author)Boomshadow2009-10-18

I would also like to know the total cost...

Neofelis44 (author)2009-09-02

The Shoulder Joint 2 questions: I understand the two elbows that are not glued, so they can spin, but the joint that allows rotation, you describe it as "a blot through a slot to allow rotation". I went to the hardware store and looked at the various PVC pipe connectors and couldn't figure out what you mean. Could you elaborate a little more for me? Also, how exactly do the elbow ends of the joint get connected to the arm? (Are you gluing the PVC to the foam, or is there a screw that can screw into the 1/8" plywood from the opposite side, or something?)

flaming_pele! (author)Neofelis442009-09-02

That's a tricky one...not so much to make, but to explain. I'll try to take another pic or two tonight :)

Neofelis44 (author)flaming_pele!2009-09-02

I really appreciate that. Thanks for the quick response. Maybe I can get the word picture started. I see the Half Tee and the Full Tee. It looks like the Full Tee is a smaller size than the Half Tee. So I can use real numbers, let me assume that the Half Tee is 1" and the Full Tee is 3/4". It looks like a piece of straight pipe (1") is coming out of the Half Tee, and a piece of straight pipe (3/4") is comming out of the Full Tee, possibly inserted into the 1" straight pipe. What keeps that from just sliding back out?

flaming_pele! (author)Neofelis442009-09-03

Exactly right (thought the actual sizes might be more like 1.25" and 1.5"). Drill a hole through both straight pipes. A bolt will go through that hole - but that wouldn't allow rotation would it? So then separate the two pieces, insert the drill in the hole in the smaller tube and slowly turn the tube while running the drill. The side of the drill bit will create a slot the bolt can rotate through. (My slot wasn't very straight but it still works fine!) Believe me, it took a lot of thought to come up with this :)

You can also see how I attached the joint to the arm. The elbows each have a smaller tube glued into them (maybe 3/4") and that tube goes into a piece of 2x2 lumber (use a spade drill bit to create a 'socket' in the wood). Two wood screws secure the pvc inside the wood, and two more secure the wood block to the arm along with some wood glue. Note, I needed to put the 'sockets' in the wood very close to the edge so the Tee has enough room to rotate freely next to the arm.

Neofelis44 (author)flaming_pele!2009-09-03

This is awesome. I was trying to come up with an alternate that would allow full rotation, and I think I still might give it a try. Here's my idea:

flaming_pele! (author)Neofelis442009-09-03

Pretty cool. I'll have to keep that idea in mind for future projects. PVC is great, isn't it?! A couple points (suggestions/cautions): - Full rotation isn't necessarily a good thing. In my case the slot is positioned so the arm can't swing fully straight down. This is helpful so if the wearer lets go of the arms they don't quite drag on the floor. Also rotation straight up or beyond isn't really needed. - Maybe more importantly, give some thought about disassembly - whether for storage or moving it or whatever. I love being able to slip out one bolt on each arm and move the arms by themselves.

Neofelis44 (author)flaming_pele!2009-09-03

PVC Rocks! I think I'll give this bolt and slot another chance. I definitely need disasembly capability.

Neofelis44 (author)2009-09-02

One more forward thinking question: Styrofoam and Paint What do you have to spray styrofoam with so you can spray paint it without dissolving it?

flaming_pele! (author)Neofelis442009-09-02

We coated all the foam and wood with latex primer before spray painting. It protects the foam and seals everything so you'll use less spray paint.

Neofelis44 (author)2009-08-21

How exactly do the upper legs connect to the main body at the torso area? (Awesome costume by the way. I'm inspired.)

flaming_pele! (author)Neofelis442009-08-24

Actually they don't connect. After much research, I decided to make the top/arms separate from the legs. It could be done, but it's difficult to (1) make the legs sturdy enough to hold the weight of the upper suit, and (2) allow a good range of motion (e.g. twisting). In our suit, the top 'joint' of the upper legs comes just over the main body, plus the arms tend to hide what's going on there anyway.

Neofelis44 (author)flaming_pele!2009-08-24

That's exactly what I was thinking. I couldn't think of a way to make a flexible enough joint to allow range of motion in walking. (My concern was in being able to walk through a doorway -- possibly sideways, due to the width of the costume.) Excellent concept. Mine is starting to come along. I'm still in planning stages, though. I haven't actually cut anything yet.

codongolev (author)2009-08-12

princess leia is looking at her with intense hate... " that costume contest was mine.... I will destroy you...."

NastySpill (author)2009-07-13

Do you have copies of those stencils available per chance? Very well done!

laxap (author)2009-07-05

Truly awesome work !!!

Shall we dance ?

Karroo Oakey (author)2009-07-05

I am seriously impressed. Doing the Instructable itself probably took you as long as the building of your project !!

zoologistnerd24 (author)2009-05-08

you my friend ROCK!!!

ChoseTruc (author)2009-03-26

TABARNouche! { French Canadian word meaning: Holy Cow!}
{{ To avoid saying: Holy S**t! Or Holy F**k! }{ That, would be Tabarnak!}}
And the later WAS the WORD i said...Hahaha, in astonishment (0_0) !!!

Very clever of you!!: Sandwiching 1/8" Lauan (used sparingly),
with 2" Styrofoam and 1/2" pink foam insulation, Sintra, and PVC pipping.
To minimize the weight and remain structural stiffness.
. I'll remember that Aylmer. => Oldie Goodie PSA Safety Rules.

My favorite material is FoamCore.
But it's only paper coated, too fragile, and Non Shappable.

I have the same question as ScottSEA = What is the G.C.W. of that contraption?
Your estimate is around 50 pounds. I would have thought more of around 100Lbs...
Because of all that Lauan, + the steel studs, and the 1x3, 1x6, 2x4, and 2x6.

OK. All this written, I have to ADD this as my conclusion:

flaming_pele :=:> You Rock! You Rule!! Man!!!

Ihasabucket (author)2009-03-12

This is full of so much win! I want one so bad!!

Spint (author)2008-12-16

You my man are possibly the coolest person on the web.

About This Instructable




Bio: Web developer by day. Gamer by night. Halloween fanatic and DIYer, all the time! My projects tend to combine pop culture, technology, and craftsmanship to ... More »
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