Shortly after I started making my life-size Alien Queen statue (http://www.instructables.com/id/Life-Size-Alien-Queen-Statue-from-Aliens/), I began to wonder if it would be possible to make a Power Loader to go along ...
At one point or another, I remember having seen all of the Alien movies in my youth. I'd always remembered the xenomorphs, but specifically the Alien Queen, and the awesome fight between her and Ripley in the Power Loader. As the the beginning of the school semester neared, I wanted to make something really cool to finish off the summer break. I made the Alien Queen in the first 2 weeks of August. Then I figured with the last few weeks I could make a Power Loader as well, using a lot of the same cheap and lightweight materials that I used for the Queen (mainly foam boards, hot glue, and spray paint). I was titillated at the idea that I could be the only person who had ever made a life-size Power Loader and Alien Queen. Yes, I am truly a geek.
Shortly before beginning construction, I looked around to see what other Power Loader costumes had been made before. There were many awesome ones on YouTube. And, of course, I saw flaming_pele!'s cool one on here. After looking at these previous attempts, I made observations and decided on some goals that I wanted to achieve in making my own:
Firstly, I wanted mine to be truly life-sized. A lot of other Power Loaders were slightly scaled down, and the foot stilts especially weren't as tall. That's completely understandable, especially in terms of balance and movement. But I wanted mine to be the same size and proportions as the original. I also wanted it to be screen-accurate on all other details. I wanted the exact same shapes, colors, and structures that the original had. I wanted it to match it as closely as possible in all physical details. If I was going to bother making a Power Loader at all, I wanted it to be the Power Loader. All or nothing. And, of course, I wanted mine to be practical. I wanted to be able to walk in it and move the arms, all with a reasonably stable balance and control. I'm not mechanically inclined enough to have figured out a way to make the pincers move, but other than that, I wanted joints to be articulated, complete with pumping hydraulic cylinders.
And finally, for the ultimate challenge, I wanted my Power Loader to have two qualities, when compared to other attempts: made cheaper and easier. Most other attempts didn't have any budget estimate, so I had to figure the always-assumed standard of spending as little as possible. But I also wanted this to be made quickly. Other attempts had been made over the course of several weeks, even months. I wanted mine done by the first week of school (beginning construction in mid-August). In the end, I wanted the best of all categories: cheap, quick, functional, and accurate. I then began to make the machine.
Good research and reference was critical. I used the Sideshow Diorama of the Power Loader as a constant template, taking precise measurements and scaling them up 8 times to be full sized. I also went through the movie and took screen-caps from its featured scenes, and also gathered behind-the-scenes images. It's always fun to understand how the original was made.
Step 2: Materials and Cost
Foam boards, which form the basis of the suit, have been a staple of many of my projects. They're light-weight, strong, smooth, and easy to work with, when compared to something like cardboard. I had seen them at craft stores before for about $3 per 20 in. by 30 in. sheet, but I also found them at a local dollar store. Great catch.
Wal-Mart was great for glue, tape, and spray paint. Lowe's was good for the critical PVC pieces. Other parts were found either at thrift stores or craft stores, save for a few parts ordered from eBay. A rough budget estimate on the materials of the costume:
Foam Boards (60) - $60
Racing Harness - $39
Revolving Amber Light - $31
PVC Pipe and Connectors - $30
Spray Paint - $21
Hoses, Cables, and Wires - $21
Hot Glue Sticks, Foamie Sheets, Aluminum Tape, Metal Grate - $23
A grand total of about $225. All things considered, a pretty modest budget for a full sized, accurate and functional costume like this. As you can see, about $70 went into the light and harness, which, in order to make them as accurate and functional as possible, I had to order specific parts off of eBay. High quality will cost you, but it does add great touches to the finished product. If one wanted to, they could probably make a Power Loader (or similar costume) with basic detail and function for about half the cost.
This is where most of the time gets devoted to a project like this: cutting and gluing together pieces of foam boards. There's not much to explain. I simply measured out specific proportions from my reference statue and scaled them up. Drew the outlines on the foam boards and cut them out. Hot glued it all together. It's pretty simple, it just takes a lot of time. Adding all manner of smaller details also takes a lot of extra time, like the letters on the arms and legs. Thin cardboard, like cereal and soda boxes, also comes in handy for more specific details. Containers that were already cylindrical, like Pringles cans and oatmeal containers, are also very useful.
Two-foot tall stilts need to be very specific. I learned that first-hand. I went to my dad's garage where he had plenty of spare wood. I made my own design out of whatever pieces I could find. I ended up having to use an air-powered nail gun to secure the pieces of wood together. I could then build up the foam board pieces around the stilts.
The cage was also a challenge. I'd seen other Power Loader costumes that used connected pieces of PVC pipe, but the problem with that was you could tell it was just pieces of PVC pipe, instead of a single piece of welded metal. I decided to used 1" PVC pipes and 3/4" connectors, both with an outer diameter of 1.25", so that they'd have a singular diameter and look like a solid piece. I had to add some small wooden dowel pieces and hot glue to help strengthen the connections.
PVC pipe is like duct-tape; it has a million uses. For the joints, I would cut a hole through the area when I wanted the rod to go through. After sliding the PVC pipe through the hole, I glued the ends of the pipe onto the other parts of the costume and secure the joint, able to swing freely. The elbows, knees, and ankles were all made in this way.
The shoulders simply had a T connector that I could attach to PVC pipe that was sticking out of the shoulders of the arms (free to rotate). The hips had a piece of PVC pipe that could attach to a connector piece on the upper legs (this proved difficult, more on that later). The top piece of the cage and headpiece was attached to the torso with wooden dowels aligned in joint holes. The pincers attached to the forearms with a PVC pipe connector.
Hydraulic cylinders were basically be a piece of wooden dowel covered with aluminum tape (idea credited to flaming_pele!), that could slide in and out of a larger piece of PVC pipe. Making these light enough and aligned well enough to actually "pump" in and out during motion was difficult.
Painting was pretty straightforward, just a bunch of yellow spray paint. Then the black stripes would be made with the help of painter's tape masking out striped areas and then spraying black on top. Decals on the sides of the arms and legs were made in a similar manner; I printed out images and then cut out the symbols or text and then spray painted to add them on.
For a spinning amber warning light on the top, I found one that was for parties that plugged into a wall outlet, and also happened to be just the right shape. The harness on the torso turned out to be pretty much the same thing as a 4-point racing harness (knowledge discovered from flaming_pele!). I found one in the right color on eBay, and then added a label on the buckle to match the one seen in the movie. I added wires onto the feet that go from the cylinders to the legs. I added blue and red wires that go from the torch along the cage, complete with cable ties. The wire mesh on the top of the roll cage was a metal grate I found at Lowe's. I made the back and leg padding out of black foam board and added "cushion" pieces, cut out of foamie sheets. I also made the keypad on the left arm with the foamie sheets. I added some phone cords onto the handles to attach to the arms.
The process of getting the whole thing put together is very meticulous. I'd start with the torso and arms sitting on top of a bucket and the tail sitting on the floor. After attaching the arms, I'd then slip into the cage from the underside and get my torso buckled up in the harness. I could then stand up and walk.
Next was getting onto the stilts. I'd have to step on a bucket in front of the legs and then step backward onto the stilts. I had to bend over forward while stepping up so that the tail didn't hit the legs (you can see this process in the video on the intro page). After that, I could have an extra person attach the legs to the torso, slip my toes into the straps, and walk around. The connection of the legs to the torso was wasn't perfect, so I ended up using some bungee cords to keep the upper legs stable for the first suiting up. Have an extra person plug in the revolving light, and voila, I was in the Power Loader.
The final product is about 9 feet tall. The torso weighs 20 pounds, the legs 10 pounds each, and the arms 5 pounds each, for a total of 50 pounds.
As for being able to move around in the thing, well, I was able to "walk" in it. The steps were pretty small, but I could lift my feet off of the ground and take a step. The arms were hard to balance (the size of the pincers made them very front-heavy), but I was surprised at how high I could lift them. I could get the pincers as high or higher than my head. The handles had to be reinforced to make sure the PVC pieces didn't just slip out of the connector when I lifted the arms.
Also, I had planned to have the cables that ran from the arms, hydraulic cylinders, and other places and onto the tail (I made them out of soaker hose), but they weren't flexible or long enough to be able to work with the practical movements.
Overall, I would have liked it to have been easier to move around in, but other than that, I was able to call my Power Loader a success. I'd done it; it was made in 2 weeks even, for less than $250, and I could walk in it, and it was pretty darn accurate.
If anyone else is attempting to make one of their own, or anything similar, I give these points of advice, things that could be improved, and problems that could be avoided:
Make it as cheap as you can. You don't have to have a practical rotating light or functioning harness. If you have the money, great, but just know if you do want them to be that accurate, it's going to cost you.
I definitely should have used thinner and lighter PVC pipe. Most hardware stores will have schedule 40 and schedule 80, try to get schedule 40.
Make sure joints are secure. If you're using hot glue, make sure it's completely dry before you try to put any pressure on the joints. Also be aware that if you leave them in the sun, the glue can heat up again and become weak.
When attaching a PVC pipe or dowel to somewhere where it will take the burden of weight, it needs to be on VERY securely. Don't be afraid to add extra pieces of foam board and hot-glue the crap out of it, or whatever you need to do, to make it stable.
I might have put the handles on the forearms further down on the arms. Because of how high they are, I can't really bend the elbow joints, and it makes the weight displaced in a very uncomfortable way, making them awkward to move.
The cage could have been stronger and lighter. It was the hardest part of suiting up; slipping into it without pushing too much pressure on a spot and breaking it.
Also, it should go without saying, but if you're going to make 2 foot tall stilts, make them strong. A slip-up there could be pretty devastating to you or your project. If you have to, sacrifice some height to make them more stable.
The little details can make a huge difference. It's a great challenge to make something look just like the original. That's my purpose in being a geek and trying to replicate movie-magic. It's frustrating to add details that take tedious, time-consuming work (details that most people won't even notice), but it's definitely worth it in the end.
Good luck to any and all who might attempt a similar project. Or, at the very least, I hope you enjoyed this look into my crazy project.
This is a video that goes over a lot of the same things explained in this Instructable: