Halloween (or really, any time) costume of our favorite Star Wars droid, R2-D2, made for my 9-year-old friend (about 4 feet tall) at her request, mainly out of stuff that I already had around the house, probably a total of $40 worth of materials if you had to buy it all. Lots of people seemed interested in how it was made, so I thought I would post this (and put a QR code to this page on the back of R2 for next year).
- paper mache -- newspaper, flour, water
- egg carton
- small flashlight
- blue cellophane
- blue paint
- silver spray paint
- red paint
- acrylic clear coat
- hard hat, or bike helmet
- rivets, or small nuts and bolts
- duct tape
- wide painters masking tape
- plain white shower curtain
- flexible plastic tubing
- small magnet
- small piece of ferrous metal
- blue painters masking tape
- silver duct tape
- white duct tape
- PVC pipe
- various tee, elbow, and reducer bushing fittings for PVC pipe
- foam core
- manila folder, or other bendable cardboard
- more duct tape
- hose clamps
- grabber claw hand
Step 1: The Dome
First, the dome/head, which will be worn as a hat.
- I used a slightly under-inflated exercise ball (you know, the kind that the hippie chick in your office sits on), with a diameter wide enough to accommodate the target child, as the form. This sets the size of the entire costume -- make sure to keep the height of the kid in mind, so you don't end up with an abnormally squat or elongated R2.
- Set the ball in a large mixing bowl to keep it from rolling around, or make a little newspaper nest (shown in photo -- it doesn't work as well as the bowl innovation)
- Tape some plastic wrap, or large plastic bags, over the top half of ball (ignore the newspaper draping in the photo -- this photo is actually of the first attempt at the dome, in which I taped together pie-wedges of cardboard and paper mached over that, creating a really heavy hat that no child could reasonably be expected to wear long enough to collect enough candy to have a haul worth sharing with her costume maker). This was my insurance against the paper mache sticking to the rubber ball.
- Paper mache (use your favorite recipe, but I found about half water, half flour worked okay) strips of newspaper over the top hemisphere -- I alternated between radial strips and concentric circles, and did a couple of layers and let it dry, then checked to see if it would be sturdy enough (remember: Little kids have little necks, so we're going for the lightest possible dome that isn't going to break into pieces when the little kid drops it during the Halloween parade at school). I ended up with maybe 8-10 layers total. Don't worry about making it even on the bottom edge at this step. (Also, I started early, so this R2 head is composed of a lot of ink extolling Steph Curry. Go Warriors!)
- If your dome dries all lumpy, don't despair. Turns out you can sand this stuff really easily (wear a mask and goggles if your R2 head is super-lumpy like mine and you needed to use an electric sander to get this done before the premiere of Episode VII, let alone Halloween -- lots of flour dust gets everywhere). Then do another round of paper mache to fill in the dents and holes.
Step 2: More Dome
Turn the dome into a hat.
- I used the headband from a hard hat because I had an old hard hat kicking around. Either make friends with a civil engineer/contractor, or you could use a bike helmet, but that would be bulkier. One might think that the chin strap from a bike helmet would be useful, but (1) hard hats fit securely enough and (2) it turns out that it is nice to be able to take the hat off easily (turns out that it can get stuffy in this costume -- I will work on ventilation ideas for the next kid to use this outfit).
- Use strips of duct tape, the middle wrapped around the headband and then the rest doubled over and taped to itself, to make straps to attach the headband to the dome. I tore the duct tape in half lengthwise, to keep the straps from being too unwieldy.
- I used a pop riveter, with little snugly-fitting washers to back the rivets (to keep them from pulling through the paper mache), to attach the duct tape straps to the dome. I punched a little hole in the duct tape first, and drilled a little hole in the dome, to make sure the strap was attached in the right place. Take a little time with this, to make sure the headband is level and centered. You could also use small nuts and bolts to make these connections -- probably be good to use washers in this case too.
- If you look at the next photos, you will be able to see the rivets from the outside of the dome -- I didn't bother covering them up, but one could put some more paper mache spackle over them I suppose, if one had an otherwise pristine dome (mine was lumpy enough I figured a few rivets wouldn't ruin the finish).
Step 3: Finishing the Dome
Here's where the magic starts to happen.
- Trim off the bottom edge of the paper mache to make it even. Scissors worked fine. I taped up the edge with some wide painters tape, to keep the layers from de-laminating (de-mache-ing?).
- Cut holes so the kid can see. I had the kid put the hat on and mark the inside of the dome in front of her eyes, so I could cut the big square around that. I also cut some smaller squares out, figuring that the possibility of peripheral vision is never a bad idea. I drew a few guidelines with pencil and used my Swiss Army knife. Turns out paper mache is easy to cut.
- Attach the knobs with paper mache strips acting as gluey tape (maybe masking tape would work, but I wasn't sure). The knobs are cut out from egg cartons. I cut out a little circular hole in knob in the front, so I could wedge in a flashlight (or a hologram projector) -- it's the blue thing in the photo from the previous step (note the white duct tape holding the strap up). The kid wrapped the business end of the flashlight in a few layers of blue cellophane, so it would be blue-ish light, just like the real R2.
- In retrospect, I should have primed the entire dome as the next step, for a better finish. But instead, I just painted blue (outdoor house) paint on the top circle and in a strip along the bottom. (The exterior paint would have been a good "primer" layer also.) I already had the house paint (for the Tardis blue front door), but obviously you could use regular craft paint too.
- Put painters tape where you want it to stay blue. I found it easier to make a big patch of masking tape, and then cut the patch into the right shape.
- Spray the dome silver. Don't forget to hit the bottom of the knobs. While you are at it, spray the grabber claw hand (which you bought from Toys R Us for $5, and is in the background of the first photo here) silver too.
- Peel the masking tape off when the spray paint is tacky but not completely dry.
- Touch up the blue if the silver paint leaked under the tape (because of the lumpy surface).
- Paint the two red circles. If I had found my round red reflector bike lights, I would have cut holes in the dome and wedged them in there instead. Bonus visibility of kid wandering around in the dark!
- Spray the entire dome with acrylic clear coat, because it turns out that spray paint over raw paper mache doesn't stick that well and your hands keep getting all powdery and silver carrying the dome around (perhaps if I had primer-ed the thing first, the clear coat wouldn't be necessary).
- Tape squares of blue cellophane (it comes in rolls from the craft store, for fancy people to wrap gift baskets in) to the inside of the holes. Smaller squares are better, because you can tape them tighter to the curve of the dome. See photo of the inside of the dome in the previous step.
Step 4: The Body
On to the body.
- Cut the (plain, white, cheaply acquired from Target) shower curtain in half (or whatever height fits your particular costume wearer -- I was going for about a foot or so of clearance from the ground, remembering to add a little extra for the edges that will be wrapped around the tubing).
- In the center of the curtain, cut out a flap (top, left, and bottom sides). I know, I know, in Empire, the claw flap is actually to the left of the center panel. But I thought it would be easier for the kid to use the flap if it was in the middle. And big.
- Frame the outside of the flap with cardboard (tape strips of cardboard to the inside of the curtain). Frame the flap with cardboard too, to give it stiffness (more tape -- I used masking tape).
- Tape a magnet to the flap. Tape a piece of ferrous metal to the frame (that's the round thing in the third photo -- I used the lid from a jar, with the rim cut off. Sand the edges, to avoid bloody little kid fingers! I also duct taped the edges, just to be extra safe.). This will keep the door from flapping open, because you are about to put a ton of tape on the door, which makes it heavier than the rest of the shower curtain.
- Almost done with the flap -- I put some little duct tape tabs on the frame above the metal piece (to hold onto when pushing the door open) and on the door (to pull the door back shut).
- Use the blue painters tape (conveniently blue, so I didn't have to buy blue duct tape in addition to the silver and white duct tape) and silver duct tape to make as much of the R2 body designs as you feel like. The minimum I think, would be the three blue horizontal stripes at the top and the silver vents on the door.
Step 5: Attaching the Body to the Legs
Now to attach the body to the legs.
- Cut some plastic tubing a few inches longer than the circumference of the bottom of the dome. I used some flexible white tubing from the plumbing section of the hardware store. For the top hoop, I threaded two unbent wire hangers into the tubing, to give it some extra stiffness.
- Thread the tubing through two threaded PVC tees (sorry, didn't take pictures of it unassembled -- here's what they look like). To each tee, attach a short PVC nipple (that's what they call them), and then a 90-degree elbow that's threaded on the one side, and slip-fit on the other (like this). The slip-fit end of the elbow fits over the top of the leg, like a cap. I leave it to you to figure out what sizes to get, depending on what size tubing and PVC you end up with (I had a bunch of 3/4" schedule 40 PVC from another project, so that's what I used for the legs).
- Overlap the tubing ends, and tape them together with duct tape, making a hoop of the same circumference as the dome (or maybe a tiny little bit smaller, if it turns out that you are not that great at paper mache and your dome is actually a bit, um, not perfectly circular).
- Tape the top of the shower curtain body to the top hoop. This involves folding over the top of the curtain and lots of (white) duct tape. (You can see the tape through the shower curtain, so I went with white.) It occurs to me just now that it might have been easier to tape the tubing to the curtain first, then make the tubing into a hoop. Ah well, next time.
- Cut slits on the sides of the shower curtain body, for the kid to be able to hold the legs (note the kid's hand in the first photo, demonstrating the ergonomics of the costume).
- Make and attach two more hoops, one in the middle and one at the bottom. I added the middle hoop to keep the body from sagging (the first photo here is of the body with only the top and bottom hoops, as is the photo in the previous step with C3PO).
Step 6: The Legs
And finally, the legs.
- Attach casters (lightweight casters will do -- I had these from a previous project) to the bottom of the PVC pipes. I forgot to take an unassembled photo, but I capped the bottom of the PVC leg with a threaded reducer bushing (like this one). First, I drilled a little hole in the bushing so the tapered end of the caster holder metal thingy (see the first photo) would fit through it, then threaded in a nipple and cut it off flush with the bushing (the gray tube you see in the first photo is what remains of the nipple), and then smashed the metal thingy into the bushing. I squeezed a little two-part epoxy into the works, for good measure. Then I put the wheel into the metal thingy, and attached the whole assemblage to the PVC leg with a coupler (that's all you can see in the second photo -- the attached wheel and the coupler). Main thing is, attach whatever wheels you get securely to the legs. My fallback, if the trip to the plumbing aisle hadn't panned out, was to use a block of wood, some screws, and some cleverness.
- For the feet, cut two sets of trapezoids out of foam core (all foam core used here is recycled from old work presentations -- again, make friends with some engineers, or buy it from the craft store) and tape them together to make a shoe, and repeat. I taped them first from the inside and then on the outside with white duct tape.
- Cut out the leg shapes from foam core, all except the top curved part, which is a manila file folder (corrugated cardboard didn't do the curve very well) covered in white duct tape. Tape together.
- Cut foam core rectangles to fit across the top of the shoe and the inside of the thinner part of the leg. Cut holes in the rectangles (be careful to line them up) for the PVC leg to go through. Tape the top of the shoe on, and slide the PVC leg up through the bottom of the shoe. Tape on the foam core part of the leg to the top of the shoe, slide the other rectangles over the PVC leg, and duct tape the rectangles into place.
- I wanted to have about an inch of clearance between the bottom of the shoe and the ground, for better rolling. To keep the foam core part of the leg from sliding down, I stuck a hose clamp under the uppermost horizontal rectangle of foam core.
- Decorate the outside of the leg with blue and silver tape.
And we have achieved an ersatz, slightly over-sized R2-D2. But we're not done...
Step 7: Accessories!
And, the piece de resistance: I put a CD label on an old CD, to make Death Star plans. The kid carried it in her loot bag, along with a little R2-D2 beeping toy to provide appropriate sound effects. The grabber claw hand was used to get her Halloween candy. She wanted a circular saw blade and a zapper too, but I'm not stupid. It may be a good idea to put suspenders on the body, so the kid doesn't always have to push the body along with her hands (this would make it easier to walk around, as well as free up her hands to lift the hat up and talk to people -- she was a little muffled inside the suit).
Enjoy, and may the Force be with you.
Step 8: Post-script: Storage of the Costume
So, the kid is delighted with the costume, but the mom was a little like "What the heck are we supposed to do with this giant R2 costume now?" To curry favor with the mom, I told her I'd make a stand for R2, so the head and body would only take up the footprint of the costume once. But then, the obvious next step is to make the whole thing into a lamp, of course!
- lamp with tall lamp harp (that's the metal thing that goes over the light bulb)
- biggish lamp shade
- more PVC pipe
(Or, a floor lamp, if you had one. I didn't, so I went to Goodwill and picked up an old lamp with a beat up shade and made a stand out of more PVC, since I still have a bunch of that in the garage.)
- Cut away the lamp shade, and just use the top ring for resting the R2 head on. This is where it is nice to have a larger lamp shade, to make the head stable.
- Fit some (appropriately sized) washers on the threaded rod from the light socket thing, so the light socket doesn't wobble when you slide it into the PVC. This is where Grandpa's collection of random nuts and washers comes in handy.
- Thread the lamp cord through a piece of PVC that is cut to the right height (just a little below the top of the body of R2).
- Use an 3-way connector to join two shorter PVC pipes to make feet for the stand. I am going to use some pipe glue to fix it in place. Also, I think I will go fill the feet in with concrete, to make the stand more stable.
- Cut a little slit on the side of the bottom of the vertical pipe to get the cord out.
- I used a CFL bulb, because they burn a little cooler (LED might be even better), and left instructions not to leave the light on unattended (just in case the cool bulb + tall harp isn't enough to prevent the paper mache head from catching fire).
Now, R2 is ready to provide year-round festive decorations.