Introduction: Gandhi: 17' Tall Cardboard Avatar

This instructable will take you through the process I used to create a 17' tall reproduction of my avatar from Second Life, MGandhi Chakrabarti. In March of 2008 me and my Gandhi avatar walked throughout Second Life for 26 days to reenact his famous 1930's Salt March - the forward steps of my avatar in SL were controlled by me walking in real life on a customized treadmill (visit my website for documentation of the reenactment project or

You can also watch a short video documentary of the performance on youtube:

After walking with Gandhi in Second Life for 240 miles I decided it would be interesting to extract my avatar from this online world and recreate him in monumental scale. This instructable takes you through the process of creating the 17' tall cardboard Gandhi using a variety of readily accessible (mostly free!) software tools, cardboard and a hot glue gun. The production of this sculpture took a total of 4 weeks, 6 days a week, 9-11 hour days with the assistance of an intern for two-three days of each week.

I created all the Gandhi work as part of my residency at Eyebeam Art and Technology in New York City in the spring of 2008.

My Gandhi sculpture was designed to be the same height as Michelangelo's David (the biblical boy who slayed Goliath).

I've created this adapation of the Pepakura process to allow for the figure to be disassembled into discrete sections for storage and shipping. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments:

A special thanks to all the great staff, residents and fellows at Eyebeam! And a huge, big, appreciative thank you to my fabulous Eyebeam interns, Lenny Correa and Emma McDonald. This project could not have succeeded without their able assistance!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials and Download Software Applications.

To create the large scale reproduction of my Gandhi avatar from Second Life, we first needed to extract my avatar's 3-D model from SL and process this model through a number of readily available software applications. This was followed by the physical realization of the object in cardboard - I've broken this section into three sections, SOFTWARE, MATERIALS, TOOLS:

-You will need a PC Windows computer, a laser or inkjet printer.

Software required:
1) Second Life (to use this online environment one must sign up and create an avatar, this is free)

2) OGLE - "is an open source software package by the Eyebeam OpenLab that allows for the capture and re-use of 3D geometry data from 3D graphics applications running on Microsoft Windows" - it is freely available to use and share, complete with detailed instructions for use in any online game that uses openGL. This can get a bit tricky - do read the instructions carefully and follow these to the "T" and you should be able to extract your avatar from Second Life. Be aware that OGLE generally extracts the entire square region in which you are residing.

3) Blender - this is an amazing free 3-D modeling and animation program - has a bit of a learning curve - you can generally use any 3-D modeling application for this step. You need this step to allow you to optimize the number of polygons in your model which are generally far to many to allow for the creation of a usable papercraft model. We also used Blender to eliminate the environment and other objects from SL that were extracted using OGLE - when we first extracted Gandhi we couldn't find him at first as the region was so big, he turned out to be a little speck in the enormous region that was extracted. We then use Blender to eliminate all the extraneous information that came through the extraction process.

4) Pepakura Designer - this is a program that transforms any 3-D model into usable templates or unfolding a 3-D model for use in papercrafting. A really fun program, be sure and take a look at the gallery link on their site, people make some pretty amazing stuff with this program!

-CardboardCardboard - brown double faced - I used 25 sheets of 4x8' single ply cardboard purchased and delivered for $100 - you can get this stuff readily at packing supply houses online. This is the cardboard that is used for the construction of the polygon skin of the sculpture. You could of course do this project with cardboard boxes although you would need to be sure and find some large ones ;-)

-Honeycomb board - I used 6 sheets of this 42x30x1/2" board purchased at Utrecht Art Supplies for $9.40 cents a sheet - you can likely find this cheaper or even for free in local dumpsters! This cardboard is very sturdy and was used extensively to create the inner support system for the standing figure. You can also likely find this stuff for free, often it is used for single use pallets for shipping and such.

-Cardboard Carpet tubes - various diameters, these I found in the trash both in an around Eyebeam, you would likely be able to get these for free at any big carpet retailer in your area. These are thicker than the standard shipping tubes and such, these are essential for building the interior support structure.

-TransparenciesTransparencies for either your Laser or Inkjet printer, get a box of 100. Be sure you get what works for your printer - inkjet transparencies in a laser printer will melt on the rollers!

-There are a few miscellaneous items that will be noted in further steps...

-Hot Glue GunHot Glue Gun - I bought an industrial grade version of this typical craft tool - you can find these online - this was by far the right tool for this job! This is the one I bought, well worth the $100!

-Box Cutter/Matt Knife QUICK CHANGEBox Cutter/Matt Knife QUICK CHANGE preferred (I used a Husky folding version from Home Depot that was very convenient as it can strap to your belt or fold to go in your pocket)

-Replacement blades, buy at least a box or dispenser of 50-100 blades, you will want to change blades often during the cutting and scoring process.

-Alumi Cutter 30"Alumi Cutter 30" straight edge and ruler (you can use other sizes but I think this is the best, has a raised edge to protect your fingers during cutting and scoring, take it from one who has sliced off the tip of my left index finger several times over the years, this tool is fabulous and essential for this process!).

-Cutting MatCutting Mat - I used an Alvin 17x23" version. This is a self-healing surface that allows for thousands of cuts - really useful for this project as it helps keep your blades sharp and you don't get stuck in cut lines during the scoring and cutting of the cardboard.

-Sharpie MarkersSharpie Markers - red, blue and black or whatever colors you prefer (you need three colors to delineate cuts and the two different types of scoring, "mountains" or "valleys" as defined by the Pepakura diagrams.

-Overhead projectorOverhead projector - I used a standard 3M model, this was used to magnify and project the Pepakura diagrams on to the 4x8' sheets of cardboard.

-Band sawBand saw - this is not essential, one could cut the pieces entirely using a mat knife but I would highly recommend using this floor standing saw as it greatly sped up the process of cutting out the Pepakura pieces.

-Various tapes - wide masking tape was used to hold the cardboard to the wall for projection and drawing of the diagrams. Drafting tape or blue painting tape was used to hold the transparencies in position on the overhead projector.

-Velcro - I used one roll of 3' velcro with the sticky back on both sides to help with the final assembly of the figure.

Step 2: Extract Your Avatar...

I won't go into too much detail here as the various programs all have their own idiosyncracies - you will need to learn how to use each one separately in order to successfully extract your avatar. I will instead offer a few pointers for each one that might help you avoid some of the pratfalls we discovered on the way...

-OGLEOGLE and Second Life - the OGLE program will only extract your avatar at rest, it works as soon as you log into SL - follow the directions on the Eyebeam Openlab page, follow the directions to the "T" and you should be ok. Keep in mind that OGLE extracts the ENTIRE square region you are in within SL, when we first used this we couldn't figure out where Gandhi was as he was so tiny, once the file went into Blender it was a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Some others have used OGLE in SL by creating a floating island in the sky in order to simplify the process of extraction for this very reason.

-In BlenderBlender you will need to delete all extraneous data and get down solely to your avatar model. You will then need to lessen the number of polygons for export to Pepakura. I chose to work on separate body parts individually for export to Pepakura - this greatly simplified the process but added some problems that I will go into later. Anyway, you will use the following to reduce the polygon count - "Edit Mode" - select "Mesh" - select "Scripts" - select "Poly Reducer" then change the poly count from the 0.500 to anywhere between 200-250 - I varied this according to the body parts - the head and hands were done at a higher count for greater detail, for instance. Save your files as Wavefront Obj files as I recall...

-In PepakuraPepakura you will import your files from Blender. Blender will automatically optimize the polygon count a bit further. You will then use this software to prepare the pages for print on the overhead transparency film. To get a monumental form out of this software, I increased the scale of the figure to 46 if I remember correctly, which spread the Pepakura diagrams across numerous pages - use the program to arrange the shapes for the best possible fit so you are not wasting either transparency film or eventually cardboard ;-) Be mindful of the mirroring or flip button in Pepakura as it does not necessarily reflect the orientation of your three dimensional model! At one point in the Gandhi production I hit this by accident or forgot I hit this button and traced out the entire torso portion in reverse (which would have meant his left hand would have been holding the walking stick). Avoid this by noting a unique polygon shape on the diagram and compare this to the 3-D figure window to be sure. Also, be sure and make the numbering visible and lower the size of the tabs on the diagram as this will make the overall job easier to do (defaults to triangles which can be confusing, make these smaller and they look more like tabs and you can fit more on one page).

Step 3: Make a Small Pepakura Head...

Before I set out to make the big cardboard Gandhi, I tried a test to make a small head using standard laserprinter paper. I HIGHLY recommend you do this simply to get familiar with the basic process involved in constructing with the Pepakura diagrams.

The image here is of the first attempt at using the Pepakura process. As you can see, I reversed the process and kept the numbers and lines on the outside of the figure. The numbering and the lines generally go on the inside of the object ;-)

Pepakura uses a system of straight, unbroken lines for cuts, dotted lines and dot-dash-dot lines for valleys or mountains (can't remember which is which, read the tutorial with the software!).

Step 4: Projecting, Tracing, Cutting and Scoring the Parts...

I created the Gandhi figure in sections made from separate uses of the Pepakura diagraming process. My progression went as follows: head, hands, legs and feet, waste, torso, dothi. Each of these parts of the overall figure were separated in Blender, saved as individual obj files and exported to Pepakura.

I completed each body part before moving on to the next one.

1) Projecting: Using the transparencies and the overhead projector, I projected the diagram onto a 4x4' section of cardboard, using the outermost edge of the projected image to line up with the edge of the cardboard. The cardboard was attached to the wall using masking tape.

2) Tracing: Use your ruler and different colored sharpies to carefully trace the lines and note the numbering of the Pepakura pieces as well! Double check your work here as if you miss something this can make the assembly process very challenging!

3) Cutting: I used the band saw for the first round of cutting of the shapes that were drawn on the cardboard, being very careful to only cut the solid lines and being aware of the tabs, etc.

4) Cutting part 2 There are some details that are just impossible to cut effectively with the band saw, use your mat knife to finish each piece.

5) Scoring: Follow your markings for "mountains" or "valleys", use your straight edge and your mat knife to carefully score the cardboard - I found that generally two passes with the knife did the job - PRACTICE your scoring skills on some scrap cardboard before working on the actual diagrams. The tricky part about this step is that you will need to score at least half of your job on the side of the cardboard without any markings - do all the scoring on the marked side first then use your sharpie to make tiny black marks at the points on the ends of the lines to score on the other side. Always remember to double check yourself during this step (measure twice, cut once as they say...).

Step 5: Start Gluing!

Gluing the figure's parts together from the Pepakura forms is a bit like building a puzzle in 3-D. If you have ever built a plastic model from a kit it works on the same principle, match numbers to numbers. You may have several hundred tabs per body part so take your time and keep your cut parts in order as they are come off the band saw, this will make this step go a bit easier.

1) Set up your hot glue gun and a comfortable work space.

2) Start matching up sections and fold and bend the piece according to the scoring done in the previous step. Check the fit and form of each piece as you go to avoid surprises like backing yourself into a corner with parts you can't reach to glue as the figure grows larger! I tended to work from the larger pieces down to the smaller ones.

Trust the diagrams, the logic of this process can be confusing, at times you will think that it is impossible for a particular form to meet up with another, particularly as the large form begins to take shape. Note the images in this step - you will eventually be working in very awkward positions as the gluing takes place on the tabs that go INSIDE the figure, plan ahead as you go and anticipate the formal challenges!

Please note, you will be holding pieces together after gluing - this can be very awkward at times as the image with my head in his legs illustrates! This can get to be rather difficult as the tension in the cardboard can want to pull the pieces apart, take your time and have patients, much easier to hold a piece for a minute or so than to be forced to re-glue parts.

Step 6: Build the Skeleton or Substructure, Connections, Etc...

A normally build Pepakura figure or object will support itself. A monumental figure such as this requires some special engineering to create a skeletal support system - without this this figure would have collapsed from it's own weight. I built the support structure within the complete Pepakura forms - this can get a bit tricky:

1) LEGS I started with the legs. Inserting carpet tubes in the legs through holes drilled from the bottom of the sandaled feet, these were inserted and pieces of the honeycomb cardboard were formed to fit around the top of the tubes inside the legs. I then put a 1/4" masonite board cut to fit hot glued onto the sole of each sandal for extra support. (see photos).

2) I then cut some larger diameter cardboard tubing that I slid over the leg tubes, these will be attached to the support structure for the waist of the body to create a connective system.

3) WAIST For the waist area, I build an interior structure within, first forming a honeycomb cardboard shape to fit within the cavity that rests on the crotch area, glued and secured with smaller pieces of board glued above and below where the piece meats the body form. I then formed a box-like structure of the honeycomb board to rest on this platform, this was supported and glued with various pieces attached to the body form. Before this step I also guesstimated the location of the leg support holes by laying the legs on table with the waist form. I built this section thinking about the torso section of course! As such, the support box extends from within the top of the waist section in anticipation.

4) TORSO For the torso section I build another box shape out of the honeycomb board. I first measured inside the completed torso shape then worked on the box - I made this to attach to the waist area support area by making it slight wider than the waist support box so it would slide onto this a bit like a giant sleeve. I then cut two 5/8" dowels and sharpened the ends to insert through scored holes to attach the sections together. Once the box was attached, I slid the torso over this form, trimming the box as needed, then gluing numerous interior supports to attached the box to the inside of the torso form. Once I had a few pieces glued in place, I removed the pegs and stood the torso form to allow further access to glue other attaching supports inside. I also added some further honeycomb board and supports to attach the arms and made holes from these outer plates and on the interior box structure into which I positioned the arm pegs...

5) ARMS The arms require a bit of engineering to make the arm pegs to attach to the upper torso. I started by making some plates out of the honeycomb board that fit just inside the area where the arms meet the body. I then roughly positioned the arms to the torso and drilled the peg holes in the aforementioned support plates on the arms. Once these were drilled, I removed the arm pegs from the torso, poked the arm pegs through and positioned the arms where I thought they should be in relation to the body and glued away. This part was very tricky as the torso needed to be standing rather high on a box on a table to allow enough room for the arms to clear the floor to text the position. Crucial to get the arms as correctly aligned on the pegs as possible so the Pepakura forms meet up logically.

6) HEAD The head positioning begins by creating a removable plate that goes in through the neck of the figure resting on top of the interior box support which was secured by board with velcro so it could be removed to access the arm connections covered in the next step. I then made a plate on the inside of the head, glues and inserted a tube through the hole made therein and roughly positioned the head to the torso, marking where the tube meets the plate inside the body. Cutting the hole, I then positioned the head and marked the tube to glue on some stopping plates.

7) THE DHOTI I will cover the Dhoti in the final step assembling the figure.

Step 7: Building the Base

I built a very sturdy base on which to support the entire figure:

1) The Pallet I build a simple wood structure that looks kind of like a pallet for shipping. It is essentially one piece of 3/4" plywood raised above a base by 2x4" pieces. All screwed and glued together.

2) The Posts The posts are 1 1/4" galvanized pipe. These were both roughly 5-6' in length providing the ultimate support for the legs and the entire figure. These need to be positioned according to the angle of the legs so do this step very carefully by making the holes in the top of the wood base, sliding the legs over the top and positioning them then marking on the bottom plate the location of the pipes. I also traced the position of the feet. You then will cut, glue and screw cleats from wood around these markings. Did I mention that many of these steps require another set of hands?

3) The Clamps Finally, use C-clamps to secure the bottom of the posts to the base. I also used bits of wood wedging to be sure the pipes would not wiggle in the upper holes of the base.

Step 8: Final Assembly of the Figure!

The final step involves putting it all together!

1) Attach the Waist Working with a ladder and a helper, two ladders if you have them, carefully lift the waist into place. The larger tubes we made earlier need to be cut to fit from the inside of the crotch plate of the waist to the top of the leg plates, then hot glued into place. Have your helper hold the waist in position and do this visually from several steps back to insure it looks right. This is another tricky step with some guesstimating involved! Once I had the tubes cut to the right size and tested the fit, I measured the position of the tubes to various points of the inside of the waist bottom edge. We then lifted the waist back off the legs, glued the tubes in position according to the measurements. Once dry, we lifted it back into place over the leg posts. A perfect fit!

2) Attach the Torso Again, working with a ladder and a helper, two ladders preferred, carefully lift the torso into place sliding it over the box support coming out of the top of the waist section. Insert your wooden dowels to secure. Sorry but I don't have a picture of this step!

3) Attach Arms Working with your ladders, the arms are inserted, some rotation of these to get them through the snug holes is necessary. I decided to use a toggle bolt attached to a machine screw inserted through each arm peg to essentially pull the arms towards each other from inside the body. See the pictures for this. A bit difficult inserting the machine screws and toggle bolt which can only be done once the arms are partially inserted into the body and from above through the neck hole. This was done using a scissor lift at Eyebeam as I was now working nearly 15' up! Be careful and remember friends with scissor lifts are a good thing! ;-)

4) Create Polygons for the Gaps As I noted previously, by lowering the polygon count on separate body sections in Blender, this created some missing areas where the various parts attached to each other. Once the overall figure is together, it is necessary to measure and cut various polygon shapes that were either glued or velcroed into place at the top of the legs, the top of the waist area and at the neck (do the neck area before erecting the figure or you will have a very difficult time of it!). I made all of the polygon shapes to attach to the next lower body parts so it would all come apart and hopefully go together again next time I display the project. I also made one of the final polygons between the waist and the torso secured with velcro so it could be removed for access to the pegs for disassembly at the end of my Eyebeam show.

Step 9: Final Steps, the Dhoti, the Head, Finishing Touches...

1) Attaching The Dhoti The Dhoti, Gandhi's traditional Indian garment, was attached using carpet tubing pegs, holes in the body and velcro. It is best to attach most of these parts prior to attaching the head otherwise you won't get them on over said head! I also positioned and worked out the system for attaching and removing these pieces prior to assembling the upper torso to the figure. See the photos.

2) Attaching the Head Using a scissor lift, the completed head is lifted into position and simply insert the tube into the head support inside the torso and slip into position. As you made this to fit perfectly on the ground this step should be easy.

3) The Ground Surface I kept all the cardboard cuttings from the process of making the Gandhi figure in order to use these to make the ground surface that covers the wooden base platform and gives the figure a naturalistic, dioramic setting.

That is it! Hope these instructions are helpful! If you make a giant Gandhi or other figure using these techniques, please do let me know!

All the best and peace!

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