Introduction: TARS Robot From Interstellar - Steel Action Figure - No Welding
My favorite character from Interstellar, TARS the surplus military ex-Marine robot. Initially I thought it was the dumbest design for a 'military' robot that I had ever seen on a movie screen. Then the voice actor started to win me over, his sarcastic comic relief was quite charming, it was strange how much humanity he was able to convey. Then they show what the robot is capable of and all of its various configurations which really caught me by surprise, I loved it! After the movie I took a semi deep-dive in to all things TARS, I assumed the majority of it was CGI but learned that there were a ton of practical effects for the movie. Scenes I thought were 100% CGI where in fact a mix of both. My hats off to the amazing prop builders it is a great piece and a wonderful character. Also, huge shout out to Bill Irwin who was the puppeteer for TARS; I've always been a big fan of his ever since I first saw him on Sesame Street.
1/2-inch Square Steel Tube
3/8-inch Solid Square Steel Bar
1/8-inch Steel Rod
1/8" x 3/8" x 5/32" Sealed Z2 Lever Bearings
Hacksaw or Portable Bandsaw
Fine Point Sharpie Marker
Gold Paint Marker - Fine Tip
Black Spray Paint
1x30 Belt Sander or Files
4x36 Belt Sander
Sandpaper 220 grit - 2000 grit
Drill Bits ranging from 1/8 inch to 3/8 inch
I decided that TARS should be about 4 inches tall, it seemed to look the most proportional considering that I was using 1/2-inch square tube to make the pieces. I used my portable bandsaw table to cut the pieces. You could use a hacksaw and a clamp or bench vice but it will just take longer.
All the cut pieces were not the exact same length so I used my 1x30 belt sander to sand them to the correct length. First, I found the shortest of the pieces and then sanded the rest to match that one. I would just sand a little at a time until I got to the right length. This also cleaned up all the cut edges.
Next, I took the pieces over to my 4x36 inch belt sander and sanded all the sides smooth to 120 grit. This step could be done my hand sanding as well.
I needed to drill holes for the bearings so I used some layout fluid and marked the centers of all the pieces. I used a center punch and hammer to mark the drilling point on each piece.
The final hole has to be 3/8 inch in diameter in order to fit the bearings. My drill press could probably drill a 3/8 hole through the steel but I decided to start by first drilling a 1/8' hole and then stepping up the drill sizes, drilling slightly larger holes until I got to the 3/8 inch drill bit. I figured this would give me a more accurate and cleaner hole.
Remember that the two outer pieces of TARS only get one hole in one wall and the two center pieces get drilled all the way through from one side to the other.
The square tubes have a slight lip (its a weld seam I believe) on the inside that will interfere with the next operation of the build so these have to be filed down. You don't have to file down the entire length of the seam, just a few millimeters will be enough. You can use a file or if you have a Dremel that will work too.
With the inside seam filed down you can now insert your 3/8 inch steel bar in to tube. I slid it in as far as it would go, in my case about 1/2 inch. I used a fine tip Sharpie to mark the square bar.
I took the square bar over to my portable bandsaw table and cut off the small piece. After it cooled, I checked the fit inside the square tube. It sat just proud of being flush which was perfect because I could use my hammer to hammer it in to place getting a nice and secure friction fit.
Next, I took the capped off square tube and sand it flush, this helped clean up the cut marks from the bandsaw. I repeated this process 7 more times for the remaining pieces.
TARS is pretty shiny, so in order to get the same look I used some sand paper starting with 220 grit and hand sanded all the pieces up to 2000 grit.
The robot has a lot of details in the form of lines, squares, and rectangles that look like grooves all over its body. In the movie you later get to see that all of the different lines are actually different points of articulation and functionality. To mimic this look I first taped the four pieces together, making sure to leave the front exposed. Then I used a ruler and my fine point sharpie to draw all the lines on the robot. I used a reference photo to get as close as possible to the actual robot.
Next, I used my Xacto razor to trace all the lines. Basically, I just scribed the lines on to the surface of the metal. If I didn't think the scribe was deep enough, I would just go over it a couple of times. I used my finger nail to sort of gauge the depth of my scribe lines. When I was done I used a paper towel and some Acetone to remove the Sharpie ink.
I first used the black paint marker to color in the black sections on TARS but ultimately I didn't like how it looked so I decided to mask off the area and spray paint it black instead. I applied 2 coats of matte black spray paint for this part.
I used the fine tipped gold paint marker to write TARS and add the Braille dots under the black section. This took me several attempts to get right. If I didn't like the way it looked, I would just wipe it off with some Acetone and try again.
I cut a small length of 1/8 inch mild steel rod that will act as the shaft for the bearings to ride on. The steel rod must be long enough to connect all four pieces.
I used 4 bearings, one for each section, but for some reason I only took a photo of showing 3 of them. While the bearings do have a pretty good friction fit in the holes, I did add a few drops of super glue to hold them in place.
I applied a few drops of glue to the outside of the bearings and then pressed them in to place. I used a scrap of wood and hammer to hammer them in to place so that they sat flush. I glued the shaft to the hole in the bearing of the outside pieces. I did one side first, and let the glue dry then ran the shaft through the two middle pieces and finally glued the shaft to the outside bearing. I used a toothpick to apply a small amount of glue to the inside of the bearing.
This sort of feels more like a temporary solution and I may modify this later, I'm curious to see how well it holds up.
Once the glue dries it's good to go, time to pose it and take lots of pictures of it. This was a fun build that I really enjoyed. I hope you enjoyed it as well and hopefull find it helpful.
Too bad fidget spinners aren't a thing anymore because this would make a killer one.
Runner Up in the