Introduction: Animatronic Stargate Helmet

About: I'm a former bicycle industry designer turned professional jeweler. I like working with my hands and am happiest when I'm in the shop building my creations. If you need help with your project just let me know!
I love the movie Stargate and when I first saw it I immediately knew I wanted to make one of the super cool Horus guard helmets. I had sketched multiple designs over the years and figured out several different methods for building it but rejected them all for one reason or another- usually due to cost or complexity of construction. Since I wanted this to be a costume helmet my requirements were that it be light weight, comfortable, have decent outward vision and be reasonably durable. I also wanted it to be buildable by anyone using simple hand tools. Most important of all I wanted it to move in a similar fashion to the movie helmets.

All of this proved to be a pretty tall order but eventually it all came together and now you can make a moving Stargate helmet of your own!

Here's a video of the helmet-

Be sure to click on the photos to download high res images.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Saw for cutting wood/metal- I use a Milwaukee hand saw that accepts reciprocating saw blades- super handy!
Cordless drill w/ various drill bits
X-Acto knife with #11 blades
Scissors- small sharp scissors make cutting the patterns easier
Glue gun
Sandpaper- small piece of 100 grit to smooth wood edges and spackling
Allen wrenches- Inch
Screwdrivers- phillips and flat head
Soldering iron- the Hakko FX-888D is probably the best soldering station available for under $100
Ballpoint pen
Bench vise or some other way of securing work while cutting metals
Trusty Instructables multitool- I never leave home without it!

Cardstock (2pkgs)-
Craft foam sheet (10ea 12" x 18")-
White glue
Tacky glue-
Gorilla glue-
Spray foam-
Paint- 1 can silver
1 can copper
1 can satin clear coat
Pastels- dark blue, reddish brown, black

Spackling paste

Plywood- 3/32" thickness, 6" x 12" (3ea needed)
Minwax Polycrylic sealer
Cotton swabs/ soft brush- for applying pastels

Arduino- I used my own design Arduino servo board (you can use any variety Arduino you want- available at RadioShack, Sparkfun, Adafruit, etc.)-
Small switch (2ea)-
JST female connector-
JST extension wire
AA batteries (4ea)
AA battery holder-
Servos- Hitec HS-81 (3ea)-
Hitec HS- 425BB (2ea)-
Servo extension wire-
Gears- 22T 32 pitch Hitec splined (2ea)-
24T 32 pitch 1/4" shaft mount (4ea)-
4-40 Swivel ball links (4ea)-
4-40 threaded rod-
Super Duty short control horns (2ea)-
Servo shaft adapter 1/4"-
10-32 Rod end-
10-32 tap & drill bit
10-32 bolt
10-32 nuts (3ea)
1" Aluminum angle-
Nylon spacers- 1/4" ID x 1/2" OD-
1/4" OD brass tubing-
3/8" Aluminum rod
Aluminum mounting hubs w/bolts- 1/4" and 3/8" bore
10mm super bright white LEDs- local supplier or
10mm LED holders (2ea) I purchased these locally but I found some online here-
Resistors- 100 Ohm (2ea) -local Radio Shack
Standoffs- I used standoffs I salvaged from electronics equipmentI found in dumpsters but lots of places sell them online in various sizes -
Female breakaway headers-
Miscellaneous wire/small wood screws
Small piece of steel sheet- I used a scrap piece cut from old electronics chassis material

Step 2: Printing Patterns

So here we go!

The base of this helmet uses a pepakura folded paper model. If you're not familiar with pepakura it allows you to take a 3D model and essentially fold it out flat into a paper pattern. The pattern is printed on cardstock and cut out, folded and glued together. It's a pretty easy way to get a general shape for a physical model. The complexity of the model can vary greatly and it's always a trick to have the minimum number of folds to reduce complexity but still allows you to have good shape and model detail. I'm using using the pepakura model provided by nintendude and movieman on the RPF forum as a base (a HUGE thank you to you guys!)

So the first thing you want to do is download the provided patterns and open the Horus pattern using the free Pepakura Viewer, which can be downloaded here (sorry Windows only)-

There are additional files provided should you want to make the Anubis version or want the additional files for the neck collar, staff weapon or ZAT weapon to complete a costume. Note that I have not yet constructed these so I can't say if the animatronics will fit the Anubis head -but I'm sure there's a way to make it work. :) An opening staff weapon and animatronic ZAT are on my project list...

After you have opened the Horus file you will see a wire model on one side of the screen and the patterns on the other side of the screen. The first thing you will notice is that if you click on a particular pattern page it will show you where that part goes in the finished model as well as what other pattern parts it mates to- this is great to back to and use as a reference when assembling the patterns.

At this point what you want to do is turn off the "Set Materials To Faces" button. If you don't do that all of the pattern faces will print grey.

Next turn on the "Show Edge ID" button. This is a big one- when the patterns print they will have numbered edges that show what edges mate together. Without this it will be very difficult to assemble the patterns.

Now select Setting form the pull down menu and select Print Setting. I set the line thickness to 3, Print lines smoothly, transparency to 50% and Print page number.

Now select the printer icon, select your printer, select All and then OK. A window then appears asking if you if you want to adjust the scale- select NO. The reason for this is that Pepakura Viewer is set up to print on A4 paper and if you scale the model to fit on letter sized paper the patterns will be the wrong size. The down side to this is that if you are printing on letter sized paper some of the patterns can run just barely outside the borders, but it's no big deal.

So print your patterns onto cardstock and get your scissors ready...

Step 3: Cut, Fold and Glue

Now let's cut some patterns.

The best thing I've used for cutting the cardstock are small, sharp scissors. Only cut out as many patterns in one sitting as you are comfortable working with. This will avoid a lot of confusion and the possibility of lost patterns. Once you've got some patterns cut you'll want to fold on marked lines. Pepakura uses a regular dashed line for mountain folds and dashed/dotted lines for valley folds. Pretty simple really.

The best thing I've found for folding lines is a small 6" long steel ruler. It's long enough for large areas but small enough for small folds when you use the end of the ruler.

Once you've got a few pieces cut and folded glue them together on the numbered mating edges. I use Aleene's clear gel tacky glue and it works great. Just hold the edges together for a bit until the glue sets and move onto the next edge. Some of the folds are tricky and it can take a bit of fiddling to get pieces to fit together properly!

Once you get going the helmet surfaces build up pretty quick. A few notes: for the animatronic helmet not all of the patterns will be used, namely the back of the head (since all of the servo motors go there) and only the faces of one set of fans are used as templates to cut the fans from wood. I also left off the very top part of the fan cover as I think it looks better without it.

If you want to build the helmet without the animatronics then just assemble all of the parts- obviously I didn't do this so I can't give too much advice as to exactly how all the parts go together regarding final assembly (attaching head, fans, etc.) but I'll help out as best as I can!

One thing that will help immensely when building this is a stand. I found a $10 foam head and mounted it on a wood dowel and secured it to a base made from scrap 3/4" thick plywood.

Step 4: Paper Mache

Time to add paper mache.

The cardstock shell is fairly flimsy so we need to reinforce it with a few layers of paper mache. I used white glue with just a little bit of water to make it easier to brush on. Just tear some newspaper into small pieces, brush the glue onto the cardstock using a small brush and then start sticking down the newspaper. The trick here is to not do too big an area at once or get it too wet- this will help avoid warping. The head also requires that you paper mache the inside near the back edges on the top and bottom. This will keep the edges from curling.

I paper mached the entire helmet first and then cut the holes for the fan support tubes- it was a lot easier to do it this way as the helmet has a lot more rigidity. It's a bit tricky to get the holes lined up in the same spot on each side so take your time. Then I glued in the tubes and applied paper mache to those surfaces as well.

After the helmet parts have fully dried it's time to move to foam and spackling...

Step 5: Foam Is Your Friend- So Is Spackling

Add spray foam reinforcing.

I used spray foam on the inside of the helmet to fill in the area around the top where the head attaches and around the fan tubes and cavities in the sides and rear of the helmet. This adds a lot of rigidity to the helmet and gives you something solid to glue the wood head mounting plate onto. You only want to spray in a bit at a time and then let it cure, especially in the top of the helmet. If you try to do it all at once only the foam on the outer surfaces will cure and you'll have a gooey mess when you go to cut the access hole for the servo wires.

When filling in the top of the helmet, cover the large hole with packing tape to keep the foam from oozing out. After the foam had cured, I cut the access hole for the servo wires using my small hand saw- just jab it through to make a good sized through hole. You can also use the saw to trim back any excess foam on the inside of the helmet and the front face of the large opening (after removing the packing tape.)

Now cut two identical pieces of 3/32" thick plywood to fit the large opening at the front/top of the helmet. One of these will need a large hole cut in it to match the hole in the foam. This is then glued to the helmet using Gorilla glue. Just get the plywood slightly wet on one side, apply glue to the foam and press the wet wood side to the glued foam. Hold the plywood piece in place using packing tape until the glue sets. The second plywood piece is set aside- it's used to mount the animatronic assembly.

Now to do some spackling.

Light weight spackling paste is applied to the helmet to smooth out rough spots and seams in the paper mache. I use an old plastic gift card as a spatula to apply the paste but a scrap of cardboard works too. Once the spackling has dried it can be sanded smooth.

At this time you should also cut out the panel in the front of the helmet using an X-Acto knife so you can see out. I covered this with a piece of window screen scrap and glued it in place with a glue gun.

Speaking of glue guns- now is the time to start skinning the helmet with craft foam sheet. I chose gray sheet since I figured it would hide any paint mistakes best when using silver paint.

What I did was wrap the foam sheet over the helmet and then rough trim it to shape using an X-Acto knife. Keep changing the blade in the knife as it makes a huge difference as to how clean a cut you can get.  Then I would glue one edge down, wait for it to set and then stretch and wrap the foam around the helmet as best as I could, gluing sections as I went. It's definitely a tricky process to try and minimize the number of seams! The process is identical for the head- the beak section is especially tricky to do- just take your time and trim the foam sheet as you go, trying to minimize the gaps. You want the surface to be as smooth as possible when you go to put in all of the detail lines/grooves with a ballpoint pen.

With every added layer (going from folded cardstock to paper mache/spackling to foam skin) you are trying to smooth the surface and reduce the appearance of the fold lines of the original pattern. The foam skin simply gives you a nice outer layer that has a uniform appearance and allows you to put the detail lines in.

Any gaps in the foam can now be filled with spackling paste and lightly sanded. Now set the helmet aside- it's time to get to work on the mechanics...

Step 6: Head Mechanism

Now to make it move!

The head mechanism consists of two servos that move a third servo around a spherical bearing (rod end.) It's very easy to build and is pretty compact. I primarily use Hitec servos and have been very happy with their performance and durability. I used two Hitec HS-485HB standard size servos for the main servos and one Hitec HS-80 micro servo at the front (the same HS-80 servo is used in the fan mechanism.) Unfortunately these servos are not available as of this writing so I suggest using the less expensive HS-425BB standard size servos and the Hitec HS-81 micro servo. If you want to use better quality/stronger servos then by all means do so- it certainly won't hurt. If that is the case I would recommend the HS-645MG standard servo and HS-85MG micro servo- these are both very strong/durable servos for the money. The HS-85MG micro has the added benefit of metal gears and ball bearings compared the the HS-81 micro so it will better support the head.

Normally I don't like putting side loads on the servo output shaft (which is the case in the forward micro servo in this application) but the head is so light the servo can handle it- plus the head is attached with a magnet so a hard hit will simply move the head without damaging the servo.

NOTE: Make sure all of your servos are in their center position before construction. This can save you some real headaches later!

The first thing you want to make is the base plate. This uses the second piece of plywood that matches the piece at the top of the helmet. An Aluminum hub with a 3/8" hole is bolted to this and an access hole for the servo wires is drilled under the hub. Now cut a piece of 3/8" diameter Aluminum rod to 2 1/4" length. Drill and tap one end for the 10-32 rod end. Drill two holes spaced 5/8" apart on the top of the rod and mount two 1/2" long standoffs.

For the third servo mount cut a piece of 1" Aluminum angle to 1 1/2" length. Drill a 1/4" hole in the front and mount the 1/4" Aluminum hub. Drill a hole for a 10-32 bolt on the other face. Drill holes for the control horns and mount them as shown in the photos. Make the control links by cutting two pieces of 4-40 rod to 1" length and then threading on the swivel ball links so there is a 1/4" gap between them. Mount the one end of each swivel link to the control horns. You'll have to drill out the hole in the control horn slightly to get the bolt through. Now attach the third servo mount to the rod end using a 1 1/4" long 10-32 bolt as shown in the photos and secure it with two nuts so it doesn't come loose. You can use a shorter bolt if you like (I just had this one on hand) and I made some spacers using scrap Aluminum tubing. You'll want to use some small washers or spacers on this bolt so you get full movement when tilting fore/aft.

Now you need to mount the main servos. I used some 1 3/16" long standoffs (two per servo) and mounted the two servos to a thin plywood plate. The plywood plate then bolts to the two standoffs on the 3/8" Aluminum rod. Now connect the swivel links to the two servos. The third servo is mounted to the front using a 1/4" diameter servo output shaft extension. You'll probably have to cut down the mounting screw a bit like I did to get it to fit the small servo properly. Attach a servo extension wire to this forward servo so it will be able to reach all the way through the access hole in the base plate. I cut a small piece of scrap steel sheet and attached it to the front of the servo using double sided foam tape. I also removed the mounting tabs from the forward servo case in order to get the servo as close to the front of the inside of the head as possible.

The 3/8" Aluminum rod is then secured to the base plate mounting hub and then it's on to the fan mechanism...

Step 7: Fan Mechanism

Let's make those fans rotate.

This is a really simple mechanism to build and it works well- it also doesn't require much precision in it's construction. Basically there is a servo motor with a gear that turns a gear mounted to the top fan blade. The top fan blade then turns the gear on the bottom fan blade in the opposite direction- so when the servo rotates in one direction the fans spread apart and when it rotates in the opposite direction the fan blades close.

To build the mechanism first cut four plywood discs to fit the fan mounting tubes in the sides of the helmet- they should fit pretty snug. Now cut out the fan blades from thin plywood sheet. The center fan blade is just like the template but the upper and lower blades need small extensions with 3/8" holes to allow for mounting the 24T gears. The 1/4" bore gears are press fit and glued into the holes in the upper and lower blades using Gorilla glue. Just get the wood damp first, apply some glue to the back of the gear and press it into place in the fan blade. Some glue may foam into the gear teeth during curing- just trim it away using an X-Acto knife.

NOTE: The trick here is to get the gears properly aligned with the matching opposite blade. You want the gear on the right fan blade to be in the same position (rotation wise) as the gear on the identical left fan blade. This is important because if they are not aligned correctly it will be very difficult to get the right and left fan blades in sync when they open and close. Also note that the gears are mounted on the opposite sides of the top and bottom fan blades.

Take one of the plywood discs and cut a hole in it to mount the servo. The right and left side servo mounting plates are mirrored. Mount the 22T gear to the servo and then glue the fixed center fan blade in place using Gorilla glue. Now place the top and bottom fan blades on the servo mounting plate, holding the gears in alignment so they mesh with each other- mark their position. Note that the top fan blade gear is turned by the servo gear and the bottom fan blade gear is turned by the top fan blade gear. The bottom fan blade gear does not come into contact with the servo gear.

The fan blades are held in place by nylon spacers mounted on 1/4" brass tubing, which goes all the way through both plywood plates. The gears in the fan blades are designed to be press fit onto a 1/4" shaft so you have to drill them out using a 1/4" drill bit- make sure they rotate free on the 1/4" brass tube without binding.

The top fan blade has a nylon spacer on both sides while the the bottom fan blade has a nylon spacer only on the inside (closest to the servo.) The exact length of these spacers depends on the length of the standoffs used to hold the plywood plates apart. They do not require a precise fit at all- just tight enough to keep the fan blades from wobbling around. The fan blades should rotate freely on the brass tubes. The spacers should fit snug onto the 1/4" brass tubing- they are what holds the tubing in place between the two plywood plates. If the nylon spacers fit loose on your 1/4" brass tube then glue them in place on the tube after you have determined their positioning.

When you are finished building the fan assemblies test fit them into the helmet tubes- they will require a notch cut for the center fan blade. Do not glue them to the helmet at this time. The cap for the fan assembly is held on with a small piece of velcro.

Step 8: Detailing

Let's put it all together and see what it looks like!

Since the fan blades are temporarily mounted, mount the head by cutting a small piece of plywood to fit up in the beak section. This gets a super strong small magnet glued to it using Gorilla glue and the plate is held into the inside of the head using hot glue. The magnet connects to a small metal plate on the front of the small servo and holds the head in place. This way the head is secure but is still easy to remove and it won't damage the servo if it gets knocked around.

Now come the details.

Cut the raised areas on the back and sides of the helmet using foam sheet and glue it into place with the glue gun. Now use a regular old ballpoint pen to draw all the engraved lines in the helmet and head. You have to press pretty hard but the lines will stay there! Also cut out foam sheet for the fan blades and secure them using a glue gun. The patterns are pretty time consuming to draw- don't be too concerned about making them perfectly match from side to side.

Step 9: Electronics

Let's add a brain.

For this project I'm using an Arduino controller board I wrote a complete instructable about here-

This works really well for this application but feel free to use any Arduino you want- there are diagrams that shows how to wire it either way. The mentioned instructable shows how to build, program and use the Arduino controller board I'm using. The servos are powered by four "AA" rechargeable batteries. I mounted small switches for both the "AA" batteries and the LiPo cell to make it easy to turn on and off. 

I used a small female JST connector for the LiPo cell and then wired a rocker switch with a JST extension cable- this wiring harness plugs directly into the controller board and makes it easy to turn the controller on and off without having to constantly unplug the LiPo cell since the JST LiPo connectors can be somewhat fragile. If you are using a standard Arduino (Uno, Deumilanove, etc.) it's not necessary to make this wiring harness- just wire a switch between a 9V transistor battery and your Arduino and you're good to go.

To connect the "AA" batteries just use two pins from a female break away header to create a wiring harness with an inline switch- this will allow you to plug the battery pack directly into the controller board (or a proto board if you're wiring up a standard Arduino)- watch the polarity! The controller board is mounted to a small plywood plate and is secured to the inside of the helmet with Velcro, as are the batteries.

Each 10mm LED gets a 100 Ohm resistor soldered to its positive lead and then they are wired in parallel. The LEDs are glued into cut down LED holders in the head eye sockets using a glue gun. These should be glued in after the helmet is painted.

Have a look at the wiring diagram- it's super simple. The servos connect as follows:

Head small servo- digital output pin 9
Right side head servo (looking at head)- digital output pin 8
Left side head servo (looking at head)- digital output pin 7
Right side fan servo (looking at head)- digital output pin 6
Left side fan servo (looking at head)- digital output pin 5
LED eyes- both connect to digital output pin 11

Here's the code to use- just copy and paste this into your Arduino window. This is a simple code that just runs the servos and LEDs through a sequence over and over. That way when you're wearing the helmet you don't have to worry about what it's doing- just flip the switches and you're good to go.  Feel free to play around with the servo positions but be careful not to make them move too far or they will bind and possibly strip a gear or stall and make a lot of noise.

  #include <Servo.h>  // include the servo library

   Servo servo1;  // creates an instance of the servo object to control a servo
   Servo servo2;
   Servo servo3;
   Servo servo4;
   Servo servo5;
   int servoPin1 = 9;  // control pin for servo
   int servoPin2 = 8;
   int servoPin3 = 7;
   int servoPin4 = 6;
   int servoPin5 = 5;
   const int ledPin = 11;
   int ledState = LOW;  // variable used to store the last LED status, to toggle the light
   void setup() {
   servo1.attach(servoPin1);  // attaches the servo on pin to the servo object
   void loop()
       // fade in from min to max in increments of 5 points:
  for(int fadeValue = 0 ; fadeValue <= 255; fadeValue +=5) {
    // sets the value (range from 0 to 255):
    analogWrite(ledPin, fadeValue);        
    // wait for 30 milliseconds to see the dimming effect   
   servo1.write(90);    the number in parentheses tells the servo what position to go to
   delay(1000);         wait  a second
   delay(2000);            wait two seconds
   // fade out from max to min in increments of 5 points:
  for(int fadeValue = 255 ; fadeValue >= 0; fadeValue -=5) {
    // sets the value (range from 0 to 255):
    analogWrite(ledPin, fadeValue);        
    // wait for 30 milliseconds to see the dimming effect   
   delay(3000);    wait three seconds

Once you are happy with how everything is working you can glue in the fan assemblies by using a glue gun to glue the back plate (where the fan servo is mounted) into the tube. Do not glue the front plate as you want it to be easy to remove should you ever need to replace a servo or gear.

Step 10: Painting and Finishing

Almost done- time for paint!

When painting this I first gave it a coat of Minwax Polycrylic sealer using a large brush to seal the foam and prevent the spray paint from damaging it. Then I sprayed the helmet and fans silver. This was followed by a coat of copper on the beak section of the head and the lower part of the helmet.

Painting was then followed with some pastel work. I first went over the helmet with some dark blue pastel powder (I scraped the pastel stick using my multitool blade to make powder) using a small soft paintbrush and a cotton swab to blend it. Copper areas were then highlighted using a reddish brown pastel stick and that was blended in using a brush and cotton swab. Black pastel powder was applied around the detail lines to add some definition. Finally the entire helmet was given a satin clear coat and it was ready to go!

As a side note, instead of wearing this as a costume you could also use it as a Halloween prop- dress up a mannequin, add a motion sensor and a Adafruit Arduino Wave Shield for sound effects and set it outside your door and wait for trick or treaters!

This project was a very long time coming and was a real challenge for me- it was a great experience seeing this come together and solving challenges along the way. I learned an awful lot building it and will be applying that knowledge to future costume projects. It was very important to me when building this that other members of this community be able to replicate it so I wanted to use low cost materials and focus on build techniques that would make it as accessible as possible. The side effect is that the construction method presented here could be used to create all kinds of wonderful costumes and Halloween props.

So go forth and build your Stargate helmet! As always, if there are ever any questions feel free to ask away. I'm here to help and nothing would please me more than to have a whole bunch of these out there. :)

I'd also like to tell everyone thanks for the nice comments- I've been floored by the response to this project!
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