This Instructable will detail the process I went through while building my very own Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device [AKA the “Portal Gun”] from the Valve games Portal & Portal 2. Though the Portal Gun is the main focus of this build, the process involves a number of techniques which can be applied to a wide variety of projects, such as blueprint making, laser cutting, construction, mold making, casting, rotocasting, painting and basic electronics. While I would place this build in the high difficulty range, do not let that deter you from utilizing these techniques in your own builds, and since there is more than one method to tackle any build, do not feel as though you have to adhere to these instructions 100%. Utilize whatever methods you are most comfortable with.
At the start of this project I had been building props professionally for four years and as a hobbyist for ten. I've been a huge fan of Valve’s work ever since downloading Half-Life: Uplink from a game demo website back in 1999, then running out to purchase the full game after saving up enough nickels and dimes. I had been considering a Gravity Gun build from my true gaming obsession, Half-Life 2, but felt there was too much of a disconnect between the high resolution player-view model and low resolution world-view model to do that prop without significant compromises, but fortunately the Orange Box came packaged with a new obsession: Portal.
It is hard to ignore the similarities between the Portal Gun and the Gravity Gun; if you enjoy one it's likely you enjoy the other. With the world-view and player-view models showing quite a bit of consistency I knew it wouldn't be too difficult finding that middle ground without significant compromises.
I spent few months going through screen shots, ripping models, checking measurements, researching materials, creating sketches, blueprints and planning my attack before I started building. Construction, molding, casting, and finally getting to a finished product took nearly 6 months. It was important to me that if I took on the build I didn't just copy how others did it in the past, but came up with my own method that would hopefully stand out on its own. At Aperture we do all of our science from scratch. No hand holding!
To create an accurate replica you first need to study what it is you want to replicate. If we were replicating a film prop we could spend months or years scouring the internet for reference images, digging through screen shots, or trying to forge connections within the film’s production. While not without its own set of challenges, gathering the required reference for video games tends to be a bit straight forward. Most PC games, and even many on console, can have their prop models extracted and viewable in a third party program. Even better, Valve offers these sorts of programs for free with the Valve SDK. With this program you are able to load up the Portal Gun into the model viewer and check it out from whatever angle you please, you can even turn on the wireframe. If you have a more advanced 3d program, like 3DSMax, for example, you can import the model into there. Once I had access to the model, I imported the front/side/top views into Adobe Photoshop. (pic 1)
Figuring out scale with game props can be tricky since there are no real world components to compare it to. The player-view model of the Portal Gun actually has Chell’s hand molded onto it, though the player cannot see this detail in-game. To get my scale I used the height of Alésia Glidewell, the model and actress who was the basis of Chell, and found a chart online that displayed female hand sizes based on height. I then scaled Chell's hand to 1:1 of the average hand size, along with the Portal gun. The scaled image was then printed out and a caliper was used to gather all of the measurements for my blueprints. (pic 2 & 3)
Before moving on to the next part of the build I had my blueprints printed out at 1:1. I try to make an effort to do this with all my builds as having it to turn to helps immensely. (pic 4)
Valve SDK Model Viewer