Introduction: How to Make a Glowing Robot Suit.

Last year, I decided to undertake a bit of a crazy project - Making glowing robot suits to do circus performances in. This was so that we could perform in low light conditions such as nightclubs and festivals.

This instructable involves sculpting, vacuum forming, and basic electronics (ElWire)

It was a very hectic process, and I learned a lot doing it - mostly by finding out the hard way what not to do.

So, in this instructable, I will talk you through the process of making a suit like this, and share with you the pitfalls that I encountered, so that you can avoid making the same time-consuming mistakes that I did!

Step 1: Materials


Vaccum Former
     - Very easy to make. I built mine off this instructable
     - A more fancy version can be found here& here

Soldering iron
Stanley knives
Wire Strippers
Hot glue gun
Mannequin torso
Mannequin arm

Friends to help you! (not essential, but makes the process much easier)

(the exact quantity of materials required will vary depending on the design of your suit)

Base armor shapes:
Thin thermoplastic (we used 0.5ml HDPE)

Armor plates:
Thicker thermoplastic (we used 1ml HIPS)
Black spray paint
Metallic spray paint (get the good stuff. You won't regret it)
Rare earth magnets or marine-grade press studs
Hot glue

Under suit
Black skivvie
Black balaclava
Black thread

ElWire Connectors
ElWire Inverter
Dual Core Wire
Heat shrink tubing

Step 2: Concept Design

Before you set out to physically make your robot suit, figure out a little bit about it, as if it were a real-world object. This will help you to make a design that feels more evocative, realistic and unique.

a) Ask yourself the following questions:

What is it's purpose?
Who wears it?
How would it's purpose effect the physical design?
What does it look like?
What is the suit/character type called?

b) Create a concept image. (or, if you're a hopeless illustrator like me, get a friend to help you!)

In my case, the answers to those questions would be as follows:

What is it's purpose? - To protect the wearer from the harsh environments in a post-apocalyptic future. The suit also facilitates travel and hunting.
Who wears it? - the nomadic remnants of the human race.
How would it's purpose effect the physical design? - The suit needs to provide total protection from the outside environment, and needs to be efficient and streamlined for hunting and combat.
What does it look like? - Sleek & predatory. Inhuman, but still emotive. Brass metallic finish with a green glow.
What is the suit/character type called? - Cybrid

b)  (The full-body concepts where created by Rachel McLachlan. The early component concepts where created by Christopher Graham Their assistance was invaluable in this process)

Step 3: Tips Before You Start

If you follow these tips before you start building the suit, you'll save yourself a lot of hassle:

1) Do not make any positives with edges that are too close to vertical. This will make them exceedingly difficult to remove from the thermo-plastic

2) If you do have an component that needs to have verticle edges (or edges that go beyond 180 defrees , then try making it into at least two, if not more pieces that interlock in the final design.

3) When dealing with ElWire, be focused and meticulous. There is nothing more irritating than having to pick apart a botched connection.

Step 4: Making Armor Plates

1: Initial Clay Positives

* Mold the armor shapes that you want onto your manequin out of clay.
* Leave them to dry, and carefully remove them
* Place them face up on thin card or plastic, and fill in the gaps around the clay, so that you have a flush finish.
* Let them dry
* Vac-form over your final result with your thin thermo plastic.
* Carefully remove the thermo plastic negative from each shape, cutting with a stanley knife if necessary.

2: Plaster Positives.

* Tape the outside of your negatives together, taking care to ensure as little gap as possible.
* Lay the negatives on their backs and fill with plaster.
* Let the plaster dry
* Remove the plaster positives from the molds.
* Clean up & smooth the mold with fine grain sandpaper, and the blade of your stanley knife (be very careful)

3: Final plates.

* Vac-form over the plaster with your thick thermoplastic.
* Cut the shapes out
* Spray them whatever color you like!

Step 5: Wiring the Suits

Ah, the wiring stage...

This takes a while to do, and if you haven't used Elwire before, the learning curve is pretty steep.

But keep at it, and pretty soon you'll be zen-state-ing through those joins like a bat out of tibet! (if a bat had opposable thumbs and an interest in electronics, that is).

The steps that you'll need to take for a suit like this are:

* Measure the ElWire lengths that you need for each plate
* Splice the ElWire into a connector port.
* Construct a 'central nervous system' for all the ports to plug into, feeding them the power from the inverter.
* Affix the El to the armor plates.

In all honesty, I learned how to do Elwire by reading this amazing and meticulous Instructable.

Take a moment to read it, if you haven't already. Don't worry, I'll be here when you return...

...Done? Good!

Now that you're down with the basics of Elwire assembly, I have some extra tips to share with you. In the medium of interpretive dance!

...I mean photos. Yes... they work as well:

(these photos were taken while splicing dual core wire for the suits. It is marginally less fiddly than soldering Elwire, but the process & techniques are essentially identical)

Step 6: The Final Assembly

Getting into the home stretch now!

This is where you mount your armor plates so that they can affix to your under-skivvy.

At this stage of the process, I used velcro, and I can quite safely say - DON'T DO IT!  Velcro is a fiddly and temperamental wench, and it will come loose while you are wearing the suit (and in the middle of a performance, this is rather annoying).

I would advise going with either marine-grade pop studs or rare earth magnets. Because Neodynium is just cool...

Step 7: Time to Boogie!!

Put on the suit and dance like a madman!

Or do the shopping, visit grandma. Whatever floats your boat!

Step 8: Re-assess & Improve

The ultimate reason that I undertook this project was to learn more.

The suits that you see in this Instructable were test runs for what we're making now.

There are bound to be improvements & upgrades that you'll make to your suits as well.

Here are the biggest changes that I'm making:

* PE foam instead of rigid plastic.
* Suit covers entire body
* Full head helmet (with ventilation system)
* No More Velcro!
* Legs!
* LED's to add extra glowy awesome

I would like to finish by thanking the Instructables Community for simply existing. You have all provided me with such amazing inspiration and  information over the last few years. I hope that I have managed to give something back to the community.

Oh, and one more thing: A quick preview of the torso design for our next suits ;).

EL wire contest

Grand Prize in the
EL wire contest