Introduction: Make a Life-sized Batmobile Tumbler and Batman Themed Halloween Display
Here are the step-by-step instructions of how to build a full scale prop of the Tumbler from the Batman Begins/Dark Knight movies. I've also included some information for making an entire Batman themed display with things such as a life sized animatronic Batman, a rig of flying bats, and, of course, your own bat signal. It's the kind of project that I've always wanted to do since I was a kid. (Hasn't everyone wanted to own a Batmobile at some time in their life?)
My goal for this display was to make it as realistic as possible while keeping it affordable. I also wanted everything to be durable, reusable, portable, able to set up quickly by one person, and that it wouldn't take up much storage space when not in use. The cost for the completed Tumbler was about $600. It easily could have costed two to three times that amount, but I was able to use lots of scrap materials, found some freebies and saved a lot by purchasing used items on eBay. Most of the year was spent figuring out which items were needed and trying to collect everything on the cheap.
Please know that I am not a carpenter, and only have basic tools and limited construction knowledge. I'm sure there are more efficient ways to do this project (a table saw would have really helped), but I think it's good to show that anyone can do it. Also, I did this project in my spare time while running a business and juggling family responsibilities, so it's difficult to judge the true time required. Included are some notes about the general time line counting down until Halloween in italics.
Step 1: Research
The Tumbler is a very complex vehicle. But, unlike the earlier Batmobiles which had lots of curves, this one consists of many small, flat facets which makes it a little more possible to construct something from ordinary materials and make it look like the original. The trick is figuring out the jigsaw puzzle.
I started by finding as many pictures as I could online and organizing them into different sections of the vehicle for later reference. From Target, I bought a $10 Tumbler toy (which a standard action figure goes into) so I could see what it looked like in 3D (very helpful). There is a lot of good source material about the car on the movie DVDs and YouTube.
Blueprints are readily available online with side, front and rear views of the vehicle. I also found the instructions and printouts of a paper model (one page pictured) online for free. It was good to see all the pieces involved and an example of how the shapes fit together.
The best resource is the website www.chickslovethecar.com. These guys are the real deal. They spend years building perfect working replicas of Batmobiles from the '60s to today. Many have posted their progress in 'build logs' that they continually update. The members are very willing to answer questions and give suggestions. They also have the most comprehensive Batmobile image database around, including the Tumbler.
Note- At this time in the project, it is November '08 (one year before Halloween).
Step 2: Get a Car
Find a vehicle which you can use as the base. The ideal car is a small black hatchback with tinted windows, roof rack and sunroof. I chose this PT Cruiser that I use for work. Although it looks good in the picture, it has a few battle scars on it (from years of use by my djs) and it wasn't going to stress me out if I accidentally scratched it during the build. The vinyl logo also gave it some bonus protection.
Step 3: Basic Design
In Photoshop, I superimposed the blue prints on top of pictures of the Cruiser. I then stretched, shrunk and moved around parts to get it to fit the car. I had to leave room for the side mirrors, compensate for the hood/ nose and make sure the rear axel would sit on top of the rear bumper.
I made the decision to build it proportionally thinner than the original so that the structure could be reasonably supported by the car underneath. (The measurements shown are of the Cruiser that I used to estimate the size of the finished project.)
Step 4: Front Wheels
The wheels and tires on the real Tumbler are very unique, and replicating them would make or break the prop. So that's what I tackled first.
I used an Angle Tool (a must-have for the entire project) as a compass to draw a ring out of scrap 1/4" hardboard (picture 1) and cut out the pattern with a jigsaw (picture 2). I made some small 90 degree fasteners out of scrap aluminum using a vise and drill (picture 3) and used them to attach the rings to some old garbage can lids (picture 4). The front and back of each assembled front wheel are shown and a 1-1/2" pvc end cap was screwed onto the back center.
Step 5: Rear Wheels
The rear wheel materials consist of a large rope bucket ($8) with the ropes removed, some house siding flashing ($3 for 10' run at Home Depot), and some cut/painted hardboard and 5/8" plywood (scrap) for the bottom (because the bucket was too deep). I cut a piece of plywood into a pentagon, painted it gloss black and added the foot from an old tape deck along with some bolts to make the center cap.
The second photo shows another 1-1/2" pvc end cap screwed on the opposite side of the bottom plywood so that the wheel can attach to the rear axel. The other pictures go through the painting, assembly and finished wheels.
Step 6: Rear Tires, Treads and Assembly (w/ Rocket Engine)
A 60" diameter huge truck inner tube (purchased new for $60 each on eBay) was used as the main structure of each rear tire. I was racking my brain to come up with a material for the treads. I bounced around rubber mats and even painted bubble wrap. Then I discovered Platon Flooring Protector Underlayment and knew it would work. Platon is a strong 24 mil dimpled plastic sheet that is installed as a barrier between the concrete and finished foor in a basement. The knobby side was perfect for the rear tire treads, then I just flipped it over and used the smoother side for the front tire treads. It costs about $75 a roll at Home Depot, but I got mine for free from a friend who owned a construction company and had some left over.
The first picture shows that it was easy to cut the pattern with a regular pair of scissors. You can see the final shape in the next picture with an indentation to make room for the rear fender.
The rear wheel (bucket) fits in the center hole of the inner tube and attaches to the rear axel (a piece of 1-1/2" pvc pipe screwed to the rear hatch hasp). The PVC framework (held together with small bungee cords) is used to hold the tire in place while supporting the treads.
Use black gaffe tape (it doesn't leave a sticky residue like duct tape) to secure the treads to the front of the inner tube. The rest of the treads just lay over the pvc framework and a corrugated tube ($12 at Home Depot) closes out the other side and helps it to keep it's shape.
The rocket engine was made out of a black plastic garbage can ($11) and an old plastic ribbed plant holder (free) painted with chrome and copper spray paint. A hole was cut in the bottom of each before they were screwed together. A photo printout of the rear of the original Tumbler was taped to the rear hatch for reference.
Step 7: Front Tires, Treads and Assembly
Four 40" diameter (10.00-20) truck inner tubes (purchased used for $13 each on eBay) make up the front tires (two tubes for each). I bought a fifth inner tube on as a spare just in case. The front wheel (garbage can lid and ring) goes in the center hole of one of the inner tubes. A framework was of pvc pipes held together by bungees was used to create the width of the tire. The "T" fitting meant that it had three sides, but I would have preferred an "X" (which they don't make) for a more stable four spoke design (something I plan to modify in the future).
The next picture illustrates the second inner tube placement with a smaller piece of pvc pipe to wedge it into place. Then the assembly is rolled up with a sheet of Platon (cut to size) like a burrito and secured with gaffe tape and a small bungee. The seam goes on the bottom of the wheel to hide it.
Step 8: Frame
Once the wheels were in place, the rest of the structure was built around them. I used 1-1/2" pvc pipes because the thinner pvc was too flexible and it was still relatively inexpensive. (Cost for all the pvc pipes and fittings needed for the whole project was over $100.)
I laid out the frame by estimating where the panels would need to attach to the car while keeping the structure minimal. I also had to leave room to open the driver's side door in the future. Foam was taped to the pipes where they touched the car. Black ropes were used to secure the frame to the car with the rear door jam as the main attachment point. After assembled, I removed the frame from the car and glued segments together with pvc cement, but later ended up bolting the joints to make it stronger. More photos were taped to the car for reference.
The rear hatch was tied down slightly to match the look of the rear wings on the original. I had to be careful not to poke my eye out when I walked around the car.
Note- At this point, it's four weeks until Halloween.
Step 9: Front Window Panels
Since I was using a car as the base of the vehicle, it threw off the measurement to the original. So I just eyeballed all the shapes. Some scrap cardboard and masking tape was used to approximate the parts and test out the size before cutting.
The gray material for the panels was 1/4" hardboard. I would have rather used something that was weatherproof, but I had collected a bunch of free sheets of it from an electronics chain store that went out of business in my area. (I won't mention the name, but it rhymes with Flurcuit Smity.) So the freebie was the deciding factor and I just crossed my fingers hoping that it wouldn't rain on Halloween.
The cardboard pattern was transferred to the hardboard and cut out with a circular saw. After each cut, I'd use some sandpaper to smooth the edge. Then the pieces were bolted to the pvc frame.
Note- Three weeks until Halloween. Time to step things up.
Step 10: Driver's Window Panels
Once again, the basic shape was sketched on some scrap cardboard, then traced and cut out of the hardboard. The panel was attached with rope that went over the car door and tied to the door's arm rest inside. The shelf part was tied to the side mirror for support. I'd continually open and close the door to test if there was enough clearance.
Step 11: Panel Attachment Hardware
To attached the panels to each other, I cut small lengths of metal from stock purchased at Home Depot. (I made a daily stop to that store throughout the project). Using my best guess, I determined the angle of the corresponding pieces with the Angle Tool, then copied it by clamping the metal strip in a vice and tapping it to shape with a hammer (picture 1).
Depending on the length, I'd permanently bolt two, three or four of the angled hardware parts I'd created onto one edge of the panel (picture 2). The screw size was 10-24 1/2" along with #10 nuts and washers. The receiving panel would have bolts with wing nuts so they could assemble and disassemble easily on location.
Step 12: Driver's Side Door Panels
The hinges on these parts were installed so that the panels could fold up and out of the way to make room for the driver's door to open. Since these sections would be moving a lot, it was important that they were made out of the sturdy 1/4" hardboard.
Step 13: More Driver's Side Panels
For these parts, I switched to a thinner brown hardwood ($6.50 for a 4 X 8 sheet) to save on weight. Even though I slightly simplified the design compared to the original, the complexity of the angles drove me batty at times (no pun intended). In the last picture, I used a shoe box lid for added detail. For the entire project, six sheets of the thicker hardboard and eight sheets of the thinner board were needed.
Note- Two weeks 'til Halloween and counting
Step 14: Front and Lights
The front of the car was a fun part of the build (just in time). I used photos and the paper model diagram to help sketch the parts. The nose on the original Tumbler angles straight down from the windshield, but I had to add an additional angle to compensate for the Cruiser's hood. Plexiglass was screwed into the openings of the prop's nose which gave it a realistic look and added strength to the extension.
The lights were simple black puck lights ($18 for a package of three). The top lights were attached to a couple facets with custom metal angles (pictured) and the bottom lights were screwed on a flat panel which were bolted directly to the front pvc spar.
Step 15: Passenger Side Panels
Since I was only planning to access the car from the driver's side, I wanted to make the passenger side to be the "beauty side" and more of the focal point. There was less sectioning of the panels, and the lack of gaps and hinges made for a cleaner look. It also took much less time to construct because I was able to trace the mirror image of the driver's side parts. The last picture shows both sides of the vent panels (one for each side of the vehicle that attach in front of the rear tire) with two layers of scrap screen for detail.
Note- Halloween is only one week away. Yipes!
Step 16: Rear Wings
My original plan was to have the wings slowly move by making them out of some light weight foam board, hinging them and hooking the rig up to a small 1rpm mirror ball motor to give the prop some added interest. But time constraints forced be to go with a static design. It was a happy accident because there were high winds in my area on Halloween.
The wings were a simple shape and I attached some plastic pieces that were left over from the battery operated bats (ceiling mounts). It gave an added dimension to the panel. The two 3/4" end caps were used to attach the outside wing supports to the body panels. The inside of the wing just laid across the rear hatch of the Cruiser.
Step 17: Paint
It started to look really cool once all the parts were painted. It took about 30 cans of flat black spray paint (found some cheap stuff for 97¢ a can). Side pistons were made from staggered sizes of pvc pipes and end caps.
Step 18: Door Handles
This feature is a good representation for the entire prop...trying to make something that looks llke the real thing without breaking the bank. My local paint shop gave me four unused quart sized paint can lids (two for each side). Then, a strip of scrap metal, a couple washers, some hot glue and a coat of copper paint finished it off in five minutes. I think this 'no cost' part came out pretty good when you compare it next to the original.
Step 19: The Devil Is in the Details
Note- It is now Devil's Night. Still lots to do.
Some large nuts were hot glued to the front wheels (garbage can lids) after painting to give it a more substantial look. I made some rear shock absorbers (that flank the rocket engine) by screwing some old tubing to a length of pvc. The spar mounts which attached to the rear body panels to support the wings were from the packaging corners that came in the box of my MacBook Pro. They are pictured (before being spray painted copper) with the plastic detail parts for the top of the wings.
A pair of windshield wipers purchased from the local salvage yard for $10 added an aggressive, realistic look when attached to the front window panels on a 45 degree angle. The last picture shows a trunk load of the details that were to go on the prop.
Step 20: Final Assembly
It rained hard the whole day before, so the majority of the assembly was done on Halloween (2009). It was the first time I had put it completely together because my garage wasn't big enough. To tell the truth, she fought me the entire time. Some of the holes didn't match up and the gaffe tape on the rear tires didn't agree with the bitter cold. High winds also made it a struggle.
This picture was taken just a couple hours before trick-or-treaters were due to arrive. The Batmobile was just the centerpiece…I still had other parts of the display (Batman, flying bat rig, sound and lights) to complete, so I ran out of time to add some of the copper details and do some touch up painting.
By the way, the final measurements of my Tumbler were 18 feet long by 10 feet wide.
Step 21: Life Sized Animatronic Batman
A full scale Batman replica can cost thousands online, but I built mine for under $300. I purchased a used deluxe latex costume (product # RU90968 normally $429.99) on eBay right after Halloween last year for less than half price. The body was filled out with an inflatable mannequin that I found for $35 at www.inflatablemannequins.com (where else?)
I needed a face with a strong jaw, so I bought a child's Superman mask for $20, painted black around the eyes and filled the eye sockets with Acrylic Eyes for $10. A pvc skeleton frame (imagine a stick figure) held him in place on top of a custom wood box that housed an oscillating motor from a broken dj light fixture. I made it so the head could pivot on the neck, and hooked it up to the motor in the base with some wires going over some old pulleys (that were leftover after being cut out of the patio umbrellas to make my UFO display the year before).
The slowly turning head made it look like a million bucks. Many people thought that it was a real person standing on the roof ledge.
Step 22: Flying Bat Rig
My plan was to have a tornado of bats flying overhead. I purchased a bunch of battery operated bats (for 75% off) from a Halloween USA Store a few days after last Halloween. I took them all apart, painted them flat black to cover the led eyes and make them look more lifelike, and added screw eyes and zip ties around the body battery compartment. This was to make a mobile of bats that would hang off of an old golf umbrella frame and spun from a rotating motor.
I tried a sewing machine motor and an old cordless drill, but neither worked very well. Then I ordered a windshield wiper motor and motor controller from Monster Guts at monsterguts.com/electric-motors-for-props/bride-of-power-pack/prod_164.html for $79 (worth every penny). It worked perfect indoors, but the high winds threw the whole rig out of balance. It's an easy fix if I had a little more time to dial it in.
Step 23: Bat Signal
The Bat Signal was projected with a Martin Mania PR-1. I purchased it used on eBay for $200 a couple years ago and have been very pleased with the quality and reliability of all my Martin lighting fixtures.
I made the design for a custom glass gobo after finding a Batman Logo vector image online and modifying it in Adobe Illustrator. I placed the order through www.gobostogo.com. They were extremely helpful and it only cost $55 when I included a couple more designs needed for work.
Also, I decided to go with the old school look for the Bat Signal to appeal to the folks in my generation.
Step 24: Finishing Touches
I used a little creative license and added lasers to the rear wings. Two American DJ Pocket Scans (which I got for free from a night club that didn't need them) shot red beams in sync with each other.
Smoke from a fog machine blew out of the rear rocket engine. My original plan was to feed the output of the fogger with an electric leaf blower and an orange pin spot light to simulate a rocket blast, but time constraints prevented it.
I put cheap spot lights with 100 watt flood lamps and yellow gels in every room with a front window (pointed inwards) to give our house the look of Wayne Manor.
Using the audio editor Garage Band on my Mac, I compiled a continuous cd of rocket engine sounds that played from the Cruiser's on-board cd player. With the hatch open, it gave the rocket some life. I also set up a full dj sound system (luckily I own a few) that played an hour long loop of music that included the 60's tv show theme, some remixes found on iTunes, cartoon themes songs (Batman Beyond is cool), bat sound effects, character quotes, and all the blockbuster movie themes from 1989's Batman through to the Dark Knight. (For a laugh, check out the '50s version of Batman by Jan & Dean.)
I was hoping to let the kids who were dressed like Batman into the car so they could stand up through the open sunroof for a photo op, but it was just too cold. Here's a snapshot of my daughter on top of the car the next day. It still drew a crowd of onlookers throughout the weekend.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks to all of the 2008 Halloween Contest entrants for their inspirational ideas and to my good friend Steve (Instructables member ThawedHead) for rocking out his own technically advanced displays.
Step 25: Latest Updates
November 2009- This project won the Grand Prize Tech (out of 350+ entries) along with $700 worth of swag in the Instructables 2009 Halloween Contest. You can see the full list of contest winners here. Thanks again to everyone at Instructables for all of your supportive feedback.
October 2010- Special thanks to the founder and CEO of Instructables Eric Wilhelm for his high praise during an interview on NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow (one of my favorite shows on the radio).
October 2011- Popular Mechanics featured this build in an online article titled "10 Hardcore DIY Halloween Projects".
October 2012- Parts of the display were showcased in the storefront window of JAMMIN' DJs in Lansing Michigan.
October 2014- The entire display was set up for the first time in five years at How-To Halloween, an annual event in Lansing Michigan which celebrates everything d-i-y Halloween. The Batmobile fought me the whole time during assembly, but it finally came together and everyone loved it.