Introduction: R2D2 VW Bus

About: Interests include wood working, wood burning, drawing, graphic design, and Biology.

Hello everyone, and welcome to our most ambitious project so far!

It all began when we looked at the family's old-looking VW bus and started wondering how to transform it. The first idea was to transform it into a woody-vw bus, but after a Star Wars marathon, we finally found the droid we were looking for.

We decided to recreate all the objects on R2D2 and adapt them to fit the bus. All the measurements and computer work took about 50 hours, plus vinyl wrapping till we lost count.

Without further ado, let me show you how we developed this project!

Step 1: Planning the Design

No, I don't have much pride on the first draft. But it did the job.

R2D2's body is a cylinder, so our initial idea was to unroll the cylinder and wrap the bus with that pattern. But it ended up not becoming one with the force, I mean the bus. Simply throwing the original layout of R2's objects on the vehicle was the easiest way, but as you can see on the second image, even by stretching and shrinking the original layout (from a papercraft file), it lacked proper interaction with the bus. So we chose the hard way and decided to re-imagine and recreate the layout specifically to fit the van. The main adaptation would be the head elements, which would go in the front of the bus.

In Brazil the VW bus or "Kombi" was manufactured continuously up until 2014. If know a little about the different models, you will notice something odd about this one. While on the rest of the world the vehicle updated from the T1 > T2 > T3, in Brazil they have a single windscreen (from the T2) with square side windows and a barn door (from the T1) for passengers, made from 1975 until 1998 (when the T2 production took place). Engine upgrade to water cooled only came in 2003. Our particular bus is a 1992 1.6L aircooled with staggering 58cv that is converted to also run on CNG, which gives it better mileage, but even less power.

Yeah, the force it's not strong with this one.

The T3 model never was manufactured in Brazil, but considering it's overall shape with less curves, it would be an easier candidate for this project. But do PLEASE use a white one, it'll make things waaay more simple.

It was all planned based on vinyl wrap customization, since we already worked with vinyl stickers. We had absolutely no experience on car wrapping, but a VW bus seemed flat enough to begin with.

Step 2: Recreating the Objects [vector]

Based on a high resolution blueprint image from the web, we recreated in vectors by manual tracing each and every object on CorelDraw. At first we left the black outline, then realized we did not want a cartoon-looking robot.

To make the next step easier, we used contrasting colors for each part of the object. Take a look at the leg and you will understand why we took so long on these first steps.

Step 3: Recreating the Objects [color]

Once the vectors were done, Photoshop work began.

Most of this was done by setting layer styles, since it is an easy way to create a sense of depth. Besides, it saves a lot of time when making multiple objects uniform regarding size of bevel, shading, etc.

Step 4: Photoshop Overview

I will not attempt to show how we made every single object, especially because each could be a Photoshop tutorial by itself. However, just to illustrate, here are a few prints from the object 46, or "High power recharge coupling" according to the blueprint (we called it "cooler" the whole time just because it's easy and it looks like one).

First, save the vector you created on CorelDraw and export as high-res .jpg to use on Photoshop (at this point, you might notice we are not quite familiar with Illustrator). Once you have your image, and if you have followed the advice of using crazy contrasting colors, you can easily select each section with the Magic Wand tool. Create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) and fill the selection with a medium shade of grey (there are way more than 50 to choose).

For each new layer, work with layer styles to set "gradient overlay" and "bevel and emboss". The pictures show a couple of examples.

We decided the light would come from the back of the bus for all objects, so some of them needed a separate version for each side (for most, mirroring was enough). It is not necessary, since no one would ever see both sides at the same time, but it simply did not feel right to neglect.

Step 5: Measure Everything

If you cannot find a blueprint of your car on the internet accurately depicting every measure and the position of every light, hinge, handle an what not, you'll have to measure them all. That may take some time, but it is the only way to make sure the design becomes one with the vehicle.

Also, this is the part that the project starts to get physical, and not only computer work.

Step 6: Prepare for Printing

Once we had all the objects, we had to decide on where to place them. For that, you can either use a vector of the vehicle or pictures of the front, back and side. This is important to get the proportions of your layout correct.

The background was initially this dirty white texture, because it pictured R2 better than plain white. But because we really don't wash the bus so often, we figured it would get dirty by itself and ended up using a slight beige/creme-white instead. And if you think about it, R2 isn't particularly clean during a large part of the movies, so it get even more legit (what an excuse).

We decided the leg should come right above the rear wheel (the flat "fender" seemed like a perfect base), and up on the window so it would not look out of proportion, and because we wanted the amount of detail on it to show. Of course, it should also align with the gas cap.

What we needed to prepare at this stage was the bottom half (everything below the windows), which would be printed on vinyl. The second picture shows the file we sent for printing, with the modules already defined. Basically, we had a separated module for each door, one for whatever was left of the side, and one for the entire front.

If we were to do this again, we would choose to paint the background white and print each object as an individual sticker. The wrapping process can easily deform the vinyl, which is fine when applying a plain color, textured pattern, or even a landscape, but a nightmare when you have rectangular, round and square objects that look awful if distorted.

Also, there is a curved corner that connects the back and the side, where the tail light is located. It was a terrible idea to make a single module for this.

Step 7: Cutting the Stickers

On the bright side, it all looked amazing after printing!

This sort of service is priced by printed area and the brand of adhesive. Do not use a vinyl unsuited for wrapping, it makes a huge difference on the adherence, elastic memory, and durability. We used ORACAL vinyl for this project.

The total dimensions of the print were around 3ft by 35ft, or 1m by 11m.

Just cut your modules apart, close to the edges you intend to align by, but leaving some excess background on the others to work with. A rule of thumb for wrapping is to always work with more material than the surface to be wrapped. We left some excess (or "bleeding area") for each module when preparing the file, but a little extra makes the job easier afterwards. Remember you can always trim excess, but adding makes it pretty obvious. The excess is also essential to "anchor" the vinyl on hidden corners.

Step 8: Preparing the Bus

Here came the exhaustive part, executed during the worse of Brazilian summer (therefore the shirtless pictures, sorry about that).

We spent a lot of time on treating all the scratches and rust, then painting over it and sanding. The rear bumper was pretty rusted, so we scraped off all the old paint, treated and repainted in the best R2-blue we found (it was my first time with a paint gun). Putting the damn bumper back on place was waaay more work than I expected.

The bus also had the best wash in its 20 years. We removed every part and attacked every little corner with toothbrushes until it was truly sterile.

We wiped the surface with alcohol before applying each sticker (ONLY DO THIS IF you don't care for the state of the paintjob). Just make sure it is dry before starting.

Step 9: Wrapping the Front

We started applying the stickers by the front, since it would probably be the hardest part. The lens, or R2's "eye", aligned perfectly with the VW logo (non-removable in this bus model). The small blue rectangles had to fit below the "bump". We fixed it all in place with pieces of transfer paper before removing the liner.

If you see professionals doing this, they will probably remove the entire liner at once. Since alignment is everything in this project, we took the safer way and split it in half, so we could work one side then another, from the center toward the edges.

We used felt squeegees to press the vinyl bit by bit, careful not to leave any bubbles or wrinkles. In order to shape the sticker, we used a heat gun about a foot away from the surface. Be cautious whenever inflicting heat upon the vinyl: if you overstretch, it might be complicated to make the printed image look straight again.

Because of the shape of the bus, and maybe because we did overstretch a bit, we had to do a little cut on the top middle to fit the sticker (see picture). Even we did not notice it afterwards, so good job!

After it is done, work the excess around the edges and to the back of the metal panels to give a better anchorage. It is good to put more heat on the invisible parts and pressing hard with the squeegee to prevent the edges from lifting.

Step 10: Real Buses Have Curves

Our second target was the back, to rest from the hard time we had on the front. No major issues on the flat surfaces, besides having to make a cut to pass the license plate through.

On the curve, however, we dreaded the decision of planning it on a single module. This curve is not just cylinder-like, it is actually bent in the two dimensions. It is more than a sticker can take, when you cannot stretch it up until it fits.

After we split the sticker, it went fine. To play smarter, we did it to the other side before we began. Since we were already planning a silver or blue frame on the lanterns, we could work a continuation of this shape to hide the blank left where the halves should meet.

Step 11: Sweet Sides

These were quick and easy. The advantage of picking a VW bus for the project.

Since it is all flat, there is very little need for the heat gun (just enough to avoid wrinkles).

Although the bus only has passenger doors on the right side, we used the same modules for both sides. Because alignment is important, it is better to work with shorter (preferably within your arm span) pieces since they always tend to go up or down halfway through.

Step 12: A Few More Details

We took a while to apply the top part of the leg. At first, we tried to think of a way of leaving it flush with the columns, instead of sticking it flat on the glass. No solution seemed bright enough, so we gave up. It looked pretty good in the end, so no regrets!

On the other hand, why did we choose to wrap the front grid instead of painting it? The outcome looked nice, though.

At this point, you can see the bus already had a blue sticker on the bump beneath the windows. It is a reflective sticker, made out of a polyester that cannot be shaped with heat. Adding this frame truly gives life to the robot.

Step 13: Are We There Yet?

Well, almost! Since we were done with the printed stickers, we added a silver one to the window columns and another stripe of blue to the top. The bottom, around the wheels and under the doors, demands plasticity, so we wanted to use a regular blue vinyl for this part.

Step 14: What a Cool Droid!

Sad truth is, we did not get to finish the project. We got as far as we could, up until our last day in Brazil. Now we are set to live in the US for some years, so it will take a while until we finish all the details. The second picture was edited to include some of the missing parts.

We plan on adding Millennium Falcon to the top, and maybe write "On a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" as well. We also desperately need some hub caps, and it would be nice to give them R2's top-of-the-head pattern. Please share your opinions on these final ideas!

We often talk about repeating the project in the US, since R2D2 would be recognized way more often than in Brazil. So there is hope to see this droid around in California! For now, let us know if you ever end up in Porto Alegre - RS and we'll tell where to find the droid you're looking for.

UPDATE: We have included the object art files to this step. One is an .eps with line and colored vectors (the crazy colors you saw before), the other is a zip with each object already containing effects. Enjoy, and let us know where you use them!

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