Introduction: Aliens Powerloader Halloween Costume

About: 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 produce something that's fun, unique, and more than l…
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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

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