Building a Daft Punk Helmet With Programmable LED Display




Introduction: Building a Daft Punk Helmet With Programmable LED Display

This Instructable will detail the process of creating your very own Thomas Bangalter Daft Punk helmet. While this tutorial may seem specific to Thomas Bangalter's helmet in particular, there are many processes involved within that will be helpful to anyone looking to get into prototype making as well as some electronic work.

A few caveats beforehand: While the methods I employ here were able to furnish me with a finished helmet, I am in no way saying these are absolutes! In the end, the best processes to follow are those which you are most comfortable working with, so if there is something here that seems easier to do in your own way, by all means feel free to modify the process to your preferred flavor of building.

I should also note that this is a complicated and lengthy process. The final result took me a little over 4 months to realize, so anyone looking to follow a similar path, be prepared to be in it for the long haul! That said, this is only my second helmet project. If you're more familiar with electronics, casting, moldmaking, or just plain have more freetime than me, your results may vary. This project encompasses elements of sculpting, mold making, casting, soldering, electronic design, and lots of good-old-fashioned sanding.

I am entering this Instructable in the 4th Epilog Challenge because, as you will see, having a laser cutter for some steps in this process would greatly improve the productivity speed! I am an amateur propmaker by trade and, more recently, profession - having a laser cutter to expand the capabilities of my studio would allow for a whole wealth of new opportunities.

Step 1: Blueprinting and Scaling

Before I begin any project, I spend a lot of time scouring online for reference images. The gents from Daft Punk are a fairly elusive couple, and to add to the complexity of sourcing references, there have been a multitude of changes to their helmets over the course of their career.

I try to find as many images from profile and portrait views as possible before beginning my blueprints. These illustrations form the basis of my projects, and are designed in Adobe Illustrator. Dimensions such as the overhead view can be extrapolated from two other viewpoints. (pic 1 & 2)

In the end, the blueprints I designed are an amalgamation of many of the changes to Thomas' helmet over the course of its evolution. Whether you decide to adhere strictly to the subject material or base your designs off of personal interpretation, reference blueprints are essential! These will keep you on track and make sure all elements of your project stay consistent and accurate during the course of your build.

In order to scale these blueprints correctly, I open the blueprints in Illustrator, then import a picture of the wearer's head next to a ruler. After scaling the picture appropriately to the ruler's marked dimensions so that the scale of the person's head is 1:1, the blueprints are scaled and printed accordingly. (pic 4)

While this may not be the most precise measurement, I find that it works fairly well with some practice. Often times you may have to take into account lens distortion or other factors depending on how the reference image was shot.

When printing a blueprint, I usually print three copies: one at 105%, one at 100% and one at 95% - these are all compared when printed fullscale to see which one has the best "feel" as a full image. Sometimes seeing the print just slightly larger or smaller can help determine what looks best.

A while ago my Dad rescued a roll-fed plotter from the dumpster of a local school and it now lives as my blueprinting machine. If this isn't an option, you can either try a local print shop, or scale your blueprints with registration marks to fit on normal sized paper. (pic 5)

Step 2: Forming the Helmet Base

The easiest way to break down a complex project like this one is to think of it in simple geometric forms. The helmet is really just a dome with two cylinders shoved in the side for ears, an extended faceted cylinder face for the visor, and three intersecting planes for the chin area. We'll start with the dome.

Using the blueprints, trace out the X, Y, and Z axis planes of the largest sides of the dome onto the 1/4" MDF, then use your saw (band, scroll or jig) to trim them out. Cutting slots in the pieces to fit them together will assist in the steps to come. Slot the pieces on top of one another and use the wood glue to adhere them into place, then allow the glue to dry. (pic 4)

Trim the polystyrene foam into blocks that fit into the recesses of your MDF form, and glue these blocks together with Gorilla Glue. Allow these to set for 24 hours.

Once the glue on both the MDF form and the polystyrene foam has cured, glue the blocks into the MDF form with more gorilla glue. Don't worry if it seeps out of the joints, it will all be sanded off soon. (pic 5)

After allowing this assembly to dry, begin to carve out the overall "dome" shape with a coping saw or electric knife. You're only trying to get the general shape now, so leave it kind of rough. (pic 6)

After getting the "dome" shape close with the rough trimming, follow up with an electric orbital sander and very coarse sandpaper. You can do this stage by hand, but the polystyrene foam tends to "tear" when hand sanding, so I recommend an orbital if you have access to one. This process will be very, very dusty! Wear a respirator!(pic 7)

Materials needed:
  • 1/4" MDF board
  • 2" Polystyrene foam (Blue foam at LOWE'S, pink foam at Home Depot )
  • Gorilla Glue
  • Wood glue
Tools needed:
  • Bandsaw, scrollsaw, or jigsaw
  • Coping saw or serrated carving knife (an electric turkey knife works great! )
  • Orbital sander
  • 50 or 80 grit sandpaper
  • Respirator and safety glasses

Step 3: Refining the Helmet Base

Time to get the shape a little more accurate, Chances are there are some dips and uneven parts to the foam, but we'll take care of that in this step.

Start out by mixing up some urethane resin and brushing a few coats over the top of your foam-and-MDF form. This application of resin serves two purposes: It gives us a strong base to sculpt and sand on top of, and it protects the polystyrene foam from chemicals that will dissolve it in the steps to come. (pic 2)

After letting the resin cure, sand the surface with rough sandpaper. This will give your filler putty something to adhere to. (pic 3)

Start covering the indented spots of the helmet with thin passes of bondo or filler putty. Take your time with this, there's no need to slather on 30lbs of the stuff only to have to suffer sanding it all off later. Make thin, smooth passes and sand them down as needed. (pic 4)

Using a contour gauge will ensure you have symmetry on all sides of the helmet. Remember, the MDF "spines" in the base should be extracted form your blueprints, and represent the outermost edges of the helmet. You want to be able to see signs of these underneath the filler to make sure you're not making the base too large. (pic 5)

This is a "feel" step, so make sure to run your hand over the helmet after each pass, noting the indented areas with a marker and filling appropriately. It will take a little while to make perfect, but put in the time now because the results will be worth it! (pics 6 & 7)

Materials needed:
  • Urethane resin
  • Bondo (or other resin filler)
Tools needed:
  • Sanding block
  • Orbital sander
  • 50, 80, 120 & 220 grit sandpaper
  • Contour gauge
  • Respirator and safety glasses

Step 4: Adding the Visor, Chin, & Ear Recesses

Going back to the idea of simple intersecting geometric forms, now we add the visor, chin, and the "ear" recesses.

Referencing the blueprints from the overhead perspective, plot out the shape of the visor onto .1" styrene sheet and trim it to shape. (Note: The underside of the visor has the same basic shape, but looking at the blueprint's portrait perspective, you can see it is shorter along the side. Make sure to account for this here.) It will help in future steps if you scribe a center line onto both sections now, so you know where the symmetry line of your helmet sits (pic 2)

Using a set of dial calipers, measure the height of the visor on the blueprint. Cut this dimension out of a long strip of styrene and trim into 1" sections. Superglue the 1" sections together to form "T" shapes, and use these to mount the upper and lower visor parts to one another. This will create the proper visor height. Make sure to place these .25" in from the outer edge of the visor shapes, this will be necessary for step 6. (pic 3)

I trimmed my blueprint shapes out of foamcore and placed the negative shape over the helmet dome to plot the area where the visor intersects. Once you've measured this out, use a dremel tool with a cut-off wheel to scribe two lines in the dome shape for the styrene visor assembly to slot into (Tip: using masking tape as a guide for this line will help you make sure its nice and straight) (pics 4 & 5)

Align the scribed center line on the visor section to the MDF oval "spine" you trimmed out in step 2 to make sure all your elements are centered. (pic 6)

Once the visor shape has been mounted to the helmet, trace the shapes of the chin from the blueprints onto the styrene and trim. Glue these to the lower styrene visor, making sure to align the center marks of the chin to the center marks of the visor. To get the proper angle on the chin sides, measure out from the center line to the left and right pieces - if the measurements are the same, you're symmetrical! (pic 7)

After the visor and chin structures have been mounted to your liking, reference your blueprints again and note the location of the ears. The uppermost point on the ear cutout is at the corner of the upper visor. Using a dremel tool with a rotary bit, first roughly trim this section out, then follow it by refining the recess with a sanding drum. After this recess is cut out, make a circular piece of styrene to fit into the hole to provide a flat, even base. (pics 8 & 9)

Materials needed:
  • .1" Styrene plastic
  • Superglue
  • Masking tape
Tools needed:
  • Dial caliper
  • Dremel
  • Sanding drum for dremel
  • Rotary cutting tool for dremel
  • Exacto knife
  • Respirator and safety glasses

Step 5: Creating the Ears

For the ears, reference your blueprint and cut out four pieces of .5" MDF (or more, if your blueprint calls for a thicker ear section) about 1/2" larger than the diameter of the finished ear cylinder. Glue these pieces together with woodglue, and clamp them to dry overnight. (pic 2)

After the piece is dry, mount the puck to the lathe and start shaping! I work by getting the largest diameter laid in first, then using a dial caliper to measure out the distance in circumference changed form point to point. Work slowly, and stop regularly to take measurements.

Once the basic shape is complete, spray the puck with primer and allow to dry. MDF is a very porous material, so it may take a few coats to fully saturate your lathed piece. (pic 3)

Give the primer a few hours to dry then use the sanding sponges on the lathe to smooth out the finished ear puck. (pic 1)

You'll make a mold of this piece later on, so you only need to make one of these. Much easier than trying to lathe an identical piece. Make sure to take your finished master and check fitment in the ear recessed carved in step 4. (pic 4)

Materials needed:
  • .5" MDF
  • Wood glue
  • Spray primer (I prefer Krylon "Ruddy Brown")
Tools needed:
  • Dial caliper
  • Wood lathe & chisels
  • Woodworking clamps
  • Sanding sponges - 220, 320 grit
  • Respirator and safety glasses

Step 6: Refining the Visor & Chin

The visor area now needs to be blended into the main dome of the helmet. For this, a similar technique from step 2 of bondo and foam will be used.

Going back to the blueprints, measure the height of the visor bevel above and below the styrene piece from step 4. I marked these areas on the helmet by using a dial caliper and cutting a recess into the dome, then inserting a styrene ridge. (pic 2)

You could fill this entire area with bondo, but that would be pricey and really heavy. Instead, add a crescent shape of polystyrene foam and sand it to match the bevel of the visor areas. (pics 3 & 4)

In step 4 the "T" shapes that support the visor area were placed .25" inside the edges of the visor. Now that the visor frame is secured in place, take a piece of styrene that matches the height of the frame, and lay it across these shapes, making the curved visor front panel. At this point, you can also add the trapezoid shaped side panels in front of the ear cutouts. For these, make a paper template first, as the dimensions will be a bit tricky to get right from your blueprints. Trim them from .1" styrene and superglue them in place before proceeding with bondo. (pics 5 & 6)

After sealing the visor foam with urethane resin as in step 2, start smoothing out the visor beveled edge with thin passes of bondo filler. Leave the very ends of the visor above the ears unfilled for now. Sand and re-skim with more thin passes of bondo as needed until the visors are smooth and even. (pics 7 & 8)

For the corner sections above the ears, I recommend using a material called Apoxie Sculpt. This is a 2-part, air dry, non toxic clay that has about a 40 minute working time, giving you plenty of opportunity to get the shape nice and precise. Use this to sculpt the small areas above the ear cutouts, as well as the curve on the front of the "chin" (pics 10 & 11)

Materials needed:
  • 2" Polystyrene foam (Blue foam at LOWE'S, pink foam at Home Depot)
  • .1" Styrene plastic
  • Apoxie Sculpt
  • Urethane resin (or similar material to seal the foam from Bondo. Acrylic paint will also work)
Tools needed:
  • Dremel tool
  • Rotary cutting tool for dremel
  • 80, 120, 220 grit sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Clay sculpting tools
  • Respirator and safety glasses

Step 7: Adding Smaller Details

At this point, there's going to be some cleanup needed. To get a better view of areas that need smoothing, paint your helmet master with a coat of primer. Making the entire piece one color will make it easier to see issues like slight indentations in the dome surface. (pic 2)

Using bondo or spot putty, fill in these areas and sand them smooth. (pic 3)

The "mouth" of the helmet is an indented box. Measure the opening on your blueprints and create a .5" deep box out of .1" styrene plastic. I used a drill bit to open up an area in the front of the helmet for this to fit, but a dremel rotary tool would work just as well. Embed the mouth box into the helmet, then fill the gaps with bondo and sand flush. (pic 4)

You can treat the lower visor vents the same way by building styrene boxes, or scribe the lines as I have done. It would be better to have done this in your blueprints before (I forgot to!) but some math and a dial caliper will do just fine if you didn't take this step at the beginning. When scribing lines, its often easier to lay down a stripe of tape first to use as a guide. (pic 5)

The seam line along the top of the helmet is best sketched out using a piece of string. If you have an assistant, have them hold the string at the tops of the ears while you trace the line the string makes. If you don't have an assistant, chalk line or string rubbed with graphite will work also. After this line is drawn, carve it out with a set of hand files, dremel tool, or an engraving chisel. (pic 6)

Materials needed:
  • Spray primer (I prefer Krylon "Ruddy Brown")
  • Bondo (or other resin filler)
  • .1" Styrene plastic
  • Masking tape
  • String or Chalk line
Tools needed:
  • 120, 220 grit sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Speedball engraving tool or detail hand file set
  • Dremel tool
  • Rotary cutting bit for Dremel tool
  • Respirator and safety glasses

Step 8: Molding the Helmet (1 of 2)

Once you have all the details finished and all the small imperfections filled in, paint your master with 3-4 coats of primer and allow 24 hours to dry. Warning! Make sure whatever primer you use can be wetsanded! Krylon dull gray and white primers cannot be wetsanded, and learning that lesson once they're already on your finished piece is painful.

After the primer is fully cured, begin to wetsand the helmet. Start out with sanding sponges (320 or 400 grit) then work up in sandpaper grit to 600, 1000 and 2000. Using some windex or dish soap in the wetsanding process will make your sandpaper last longer and produce smoother results. (pic 2)

After the wetsanding is complete, buff your finished master with wax. Make sure to test out your wax on some scrap material first, as not all wax finishes will work with all primers. I use Turtle Wax brand on top of Krylon Ruddy Brown primer. (pic 3)

For this helmet, I chose to make a 2-part mold. The seam line would sit on the carved seam line along the top ridge of the helmet. Mark off your seam with non-sulfur oil clay, making sure to add registration keys in the surface for the other mold half. Start out with a thinned coat, gradually building up thickness until you've reached .25" to .5" of silicone around the entire section. For this helmet mold, Rebound-25 silicone was used. (pic 4)

Make sure to add registration keys on the outside of the mold as well, to align the flexible rubber mold with the rigid mold jacket which will be added later. For a bit more information about Rebound 25 molds, check out the following video by Smooth-On:

Once the back half of the mold is complete, repeat the process for the front of the helmet. Remove the clay wall separating the two halves of the mold, and brush it with mold release wax or a similar product. I use Meguiar's caranuba wax, but be careful, as this wax will dissolve the Krylon primer used on the master sculpt. Once the back silicone has been waxed, move on to molding the front half of the helmet.

Materials needed:
  • Wet sandable spray primer (I prefer Krylon "Ruddy Brown")
  • Brushable moldmaking silicone (Used in this project: Smooth-On's Rebound 25)
  • Silicone thinner
  • Silicone thickener
  • Buffing wax
  • Release wax
  • Masking tape
Tools & supplies needed:
  • Mixing cups
  • Disposable paintbrushes (for applying release wax)
  • Buffing cloth (a t-shirt will do fine)
  • Trowels for mixing silicone
  • Non-sulfur oil-based modeling clay
  • Rubber gloves & smock

Step 9: Molding the Helmet (2 of 2)

Once the silicone has dried, apply the mold jacket. The purpose of this is to hold the flexible silicone in place during casting. The following Smooth-On video will explain a bit more:

Part 2:

For my mold, I chose to make separations using 1/4" MDF to split the mold jacket into three parts. With a complex shape like a helmet, a one-piece or even two-piece mold jacket would be difficult to remove. Drill aligned holes in the MDF partitions, then join them together with wingnuts before applying the mold jacket. (pic 2)

Use Smooth-on's Plasti-Paste to make the mold jacket, applying it evenly in each section before moving on. You'll want to make sure all of the mold silicone is covered by the mold jacket to avoid any registration issues.

Plasti-Paste can dry very jagged. In order to make the mold jacket easier to handle later on, use rubbing alcohol and a rag to smooth out the surface as the material cures. Make sure to only do this on the top coat, as pressing in on the mold jacket while its curing may cause some registration issues with your mold later on.

After the jacket cures, remove the master from the mold materials and re-assemble everything into one empty hollow helmet mold. (pic 3)

Materials needed:
  • Smooth-On Plasti-Paste
  • Machine screws and wingnuts
  • 1/4" MDF
Tools & supplies needed:
  • Drill & drill bits appropriate to the size screws used on the MDF
  • Bandsaw/scrollsaw/jigsaw
  • Mixing cups
  • Disposable trowels
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Rubber gloves & smock
  • Respirator & safety goggles for cutting MDF

Step 10: Molding & Casting the Ear Puck

Molding the ears is much easier. A simple pour mold will work here. Place the ear puck into a piece of PVC pipe to act as a mold wall, and secure it to a base. For my mold, I used Smooth-On's Mold Max 30, though other silicones (Oomoo or Mold Star) will work just as well. (pic 2)

Another moldmaking video from Smooth-On will help here:

Allow the silicone to cure, then remove the master from the mold. (pic 3)

To make a hollow casting, pour a small amount of resin into the mold first, and insert a plastic or cardboard tube and hold it in place while the resin cures. The resin will cure around the cardboard tube, holding it in place for the next step. (pic 4)

Afterwards, fill in the wall between the tube and the silicone mold with more resin. The tube will keep this in place between the mold wall and result in a hollow casting. You can remove the tube later with a dremel tube if you wish, or leave it in place. Either way, a hollow ear piece will be much lighter than solid ones! (pic 5)

Materials needed:
  • 4" PVC pipe fitting
  • Pourable moldmaking silicone (Mold Max 30 used in this tutorial)
  • Release wax
  • Casting resin (Smooth Cast 300 used in this tutorial)
  • Hollow 2.25" cardboard tube
Tools & supplies needed:
  • Disposable mixing trowels
  • Mixing cups
  • Rubber gloves & smock

Step 11: Resin Casting & Trimming

To make a copy of your helmet with urethane plastic, you'll use a process called "slush casting"

The video below is pretty dry, but it gets the general point across. Skip to about 4:20 to get the the relevant information, though there are some good tips about mold prep beforehand as well.

For my helmets, I use Smooth-On's 300 or 320 urethane casting resins. Start by mixing 2 cups of resin (1 cup of part A mixed with 1 cup of part B) and pour it into the mold cavity, rotating it slowly by hand as the resin cures.

Repeat this process, moving the mold around to cover all areas of the inside of the helmet, until a uniform thickness of 3/16" is achieved. If some spots are a little thicker, that's fine; slushcasting is a tricky process that can take some getting used to. One helmet usually takes about 32oz of resin.

Warning! I did castings in both polyester and urethane resin - the poly is lighter and thinner, but more brittle. Urethane can deform and its heavier, but much more forgiving when subjected to stress. Whichever resin you choose to go with, read the MSDS (material safety data sheet) and make sure to use a resin that can stand at least 140º of heat. Shipping a helmet in the summer to a chrome shop can subject it to 120º+ in a shipping truck, and the chroming process itself can be quite warm as well. Some resins, like Smooth-On's 65D Roto resin, have lower melting temp and can deform very easily.

After the helmet is fully cured, remove it from the mold and trim out the areas for the visor, ears, mouth and nose vents using a dremel tool and hand files. (pics 3 & 4)

Materials needed:Tools & supplies needed:
  • Disposable mixing trowels
  • Mixing cups
  • Sandpaper
  • Detail files
  • Dremel tool
  • Cutoff wheel for dremel tool
  • Sanding drum for dremel tool
  • Rubber gloves & smock

Step 12: Making the Visor

The visor for the helmet will be made from clear 1/16" PET (polyester) plastic. This is the same plastic used in soda bottles. You can order it from McMaster-Carr here.

First, trim out a test visor out of thick cardstock to get the shape close. Trim as needed, or use layered masking tape to build up material until you have a mockup that fits into your visor area perfectly. (pic 2)

After you've got your template finished, trim the visor out of the PET plastic. Make sure to leave the protective film on the plastic until you're ready to tint it. Check the fit on the trimmed helmet. (pic 3)

To tint the visor, purchase RIT dye from a local grocery store. Get a large pot and fill it with water, heating the water on your stove to about 140-150ºF. Put in 5 packs of RIT black dye and mix into the water. (pic 4 & 5)

Put the visor into the dye bath and let it soak for 5 minutes. After this time has elapsed, remove the visor and submerge it in cool water to "seal" the tint into the plastic. Repeat this process 5-6 times, or as many times as necessary to achieve the desired level of tint. (pic 7)

While taking on this step, its a very good idea to lay down plastic bags and paper towels over your countertop near the stove. RIT dye is very aggressive and will discolor nearly everything it touches, including countertops and wood cabinets! Drop cloths are a very good idea.

Materials needed:
  • RIT dye (5 to 6 packs)
  • 1/16" clear PETG plastic
Tools needed:
  • Stove
  • Large cooking pot
  • Tongs / hangar to remove plastic from dye bath
  • Bandsaw/jigsaw/scrollsaw to trim out visor from PETG plastic
  • Thermometer to check temperature of dye bath
  • Rubber gloves & smock
  • Drop Cloth

Step 13: Designing the Electronics

For the main electronics, you'll want to familiarize yourself with Arduino, and also with the MAX7219 chips. More information about these can be found here for programming, or here for hardware and schematics.

To conserve space, I chose to work with SMD component ICs and design my own circuitboards in Cadsoft EAGLE PCB layout editor. This program can take some time to get used to, but there is a fairly powerful freeware version available for download. (pic 2)

After you've designed your circuitboards, export the gerber files to be made into boards. My boards were printed at Each of the chips shown here can control one 8x8 matrixed LED array, so if you've got an 8x40 display like the one shown here, make sure to order 5 sets of boards and all components.

Components for your electronics can be bought from Digi-Key. Once all the boards come in, solder the components in place and use a multimeter to check all your connections. (pic 1)

If you're unfamiliar with SMD soldering, the video below is very helpful:

I also decided to add lighting to the ear areas and corners of the visor in my helmet. If you're comfortable plotting out an LED matrix, designing a simple I/O board like this will be a snap! (pics 3-6)

Remember that Arduino boards are designed to run in 3.3 or 5V, so design your boards accordingly. I chose to use an Arduino Yellowjacket (pic 8) (now discontinued, see the replacement RedBack here) as my controller, and a voltage regulator from Pololu to keep everything running the same voltage. (pic 7)

Materials needed:
  • Silver core fine-gauge solder (.015" diameter used in this tutorial)
  • Solder flux pen
  • Electrical components appropriate to your boards (resistors, capacitors, etc. See more details here)
  • LEDs
  • Circuitboards
Tools needed:
  • Soldering iron
  • Respirator for soldering

Step 14: Creating the LED Matrix (1 of 2)

For this step, you'll need to create a couple new blueprints for the LED display:
  1. LED matrix subvisor (pic 2)
  2. Upper and lower subvisor supports (pic 3)
Your 8x40 (or 8x32, if you decide to make a smaller one) display will need to fit into the opening in the visor area on your helmet. With LEDs that are 5mm in diameter and 8 sitting in each column, its best to plan out the layout before drilling 320 holes. I used illustrator to make the layout in the pic below. (pic 2)

Get a piece of 1/16" clear PET plastic and glue your visor blueprint to the protective plastic film. Using a drill press, carefully measure and drill out all the openings for the LEDs. Drill these out before cutting out the main visor shape, as you won't have any way to clamp down the trimmed piece without damaging the viewing area if you trim it to shape first. (pics 4-6)

It will help immensely if your drill press has laser guides, and it can be even faster if you have access to a laser cutter to trim this out for you. If not, then you'll have to summon up a mountain of patience. Take your time, you don't want to do this more than once if you don't have to!

To hold this plastic in a curved shape, cut your upper and lower subvisors from 1/16" aluminum or similar material. I used a scrollsaw for this step, though (again) a laser cutter would make life easier. (pic 9)

At this point its also a good idea to figure out where all your circuit boards will be mounted, so mock these up in place and drill the appropriate mounting holes for them as well. (pic 10) Since this piece will be sitting next to your face, make sure to sand down all edges until they're rounded and dull.

Cut 5 upright supports from aluminum tubing and use these to space the upper and lower supports equally apart from one another. Drill holes in the same location on the upper and lower visors for mounting points, and secure the tube pieces in place with machine screws. Make sure the threads are slightly larger than the interior diameter of the aluminum tube so these will thread the tube as you tighten them. (pic 11)

On the front edge of the visor supports, cut out slots for the tabs on the subvisor to fit into. This will hold the subvisor and LEDs in place as well as keep it in a curved shape. Additionally, there's no need to use any glue to hold the sub visor LED holder in place, as the aluminum tubes will keep the visor supports clamped down. (pic 11)

Leave the protective film on the PET subvisor until later!

Materials needed:
  • 1/16" clear PETG plastic
  • 1/16" aluminum sheet
  • 3/8" thin-walled aluminum tube
  • Countersunk machine screws
Tools needed:
  • Drill Press
  • Scrollsaw or bandsaw
  • Hand files
  • Drill & drill bits
  • 120, 220, 400 grit sandpaper

Step 15: Creating the LED Matrix (2 of 2)

Now that things are trimmed out, time to start mounting and wiring all 320 LEDs. Making a couple of jigs will speed up this process considerably.

First, since LED multiplexing requires the LEDs in the array to be wired with cathodes one direction and anodes another, make a holder like the one shown in the pic to bend the leads of the LEDs accordingly, and trim off the excess. Make sure that one side is bent taller than the other to prevent any leads crossing and power shorts. (pic 2)

Repeat this process for all the LEDs in your matrix, minus how ever many columns your matrix has in it. If you've got an 8x40, that's 320 LEDs, minus 40 columns = 280 bent LEDs. For the remaining 40, only bend the taller of the two leads, and leave the second one straight.

Once all the leads are trimmed, make a new jig out of any scrap material you've got that is flat on one side, at least 0.5 "x .5" x 0.3" - I used aluminum square tube. Drill 8 holes in a line the exact same spacing as in your PET sub visor. (pic 3)

Place 7 LEDs with 2 bent leads, and one of the LEDs with just one bent lead into your drilled holes and solder the connectors of the lowest-sitting leads together. When finished, you should have a line of LEDs with all anodes soldered together, and one straight lead at the end. Repeat this for as many columns as you have in your matrix (for me, it was 40) Its a good idea at this time to paint the backsides of the LEDs black to avoid light coming back into the helmet while you're wearing it. I waited until later and it was a bit of a pain to do. (pic 4)

With all 40 columns built, place them into the subvisor in blocks of 8, and solder the remaining connections. Be careful not to drip any solder across the joints or onto the subvisor. Solder these where they will be mounted in the subvisor, as each section will have a slightly different curve to it. (pic 5)

Once soldered, you can remove the LEDs from the subvisor by pressing lightly on the front of them. Remove the 8x8 units and solder up the connections to the rows and columns. Keep your wiring tidy and try to run the lines up one side of the display - using heat shrink tubing can help make sure things route the right way. (pics 7 & 8)

After all the wires are connected, re-install the LED arrays and run the wires up to the MAX7219/7221 chips mounted on the sub visor. (pic 9) When mounting the MAX7219/7221 chips to the subvisor, make sure to isolate them against electrical contact with a small rubber pad. Aluminum is conductive and can short out your matrix!

After the LED matrix is wired, connect the 5V, GND, clock, data and latch connections on the matrix boards and leave some length on the wires to connect to the arduino once the subvisor is installed in the helmet. (pic 1)

Materials needed:
  • Solder
  • Thin gauge signal wire (28ga used in this tutorial)
  • Thicker gauge power wire (18ga used in this tutorial)
  • Small machine screws
  • Isolating rubber pads
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Small zip ties
  • 320+ LEDs (I purchase mine from
  • Paint (enamel black for LED backs)
Tools needed:
  • LED jigs (self made)
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder flux
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Respirator

Step 16: Prepping the Cast Parts for Chrome

Before sending your helmet casting off for chrome, make sure to sand the exterior and fill in any deformations that may have occurred during the casting process. This will require primer, and possibly thin coatings of filler putty.

Also make sure to have all of the mounting points for your subvisor and electronic components sorted out before this final coating. You don't want to be trying to glue or dremel things on a chromed helmet and risk accidentally scratching the expensive surface. Things to consider: Visor cutout, nose holes, ear mounting points, subvisor mounting points, and any mounting pads on the inside of the helmet for Arduino boards, voltage regulators, or wiring connections.

Contact your chroming service and ask what their recommendations for preparation are before sending your helmet off. Chroming non-metal pieces is a specific and very finicky technique. I paint my helmets with Krylon primer and wetsand the finish to 2000 grit paper, but each shop will vary.

A couple of places which can do this service:

Creations n Chrome
Coat of Chrome

Both have chromed my Daft Punk helmets before, and with excellent results.

The process for prepping a helmet casting will be very similar to how you prepped the master sculpt for molding earlier. After a cast part has been pulled, spray it with primer to reveal any dents or imperfections in the cast plastic surface. Fill these with a skim coat of bondo or other polyester resin filler. (pic 2)

At this point I decided to glue the base for my ear pucks into place. After talking with my chrome shop, they said that having the outer "dish" shape of the ears separate for the chroming process would allow for a better finish, so those were left unattached - talk to your shop first to see what will work best, they may want the helmet with no ears on at all, in which case you may need to figure out a way to have these removable and held on with screws instead.

If you're gluing the ears in place, tack the base of each ear cylinder in place with small spots of hotglue to hold them in place. This is just to get the position right while you secure them with a more permanent adhesive. Once the placement is satisfactory, secure them in place with 2 part epoxy glue, letting it cure overnight. You may need to go back and sand some of the glue joints smooth - some evidence of this can be seen in pic 3.

It may take a couple passes to get everything smooth. Once you've got all the imperfections filled in, spray the helmet with 2 more coats of primer (pic 4). Allow this to dry for 48 hours, then wetsand the primer to a smooth finish. As with the master sculpt from before, start with 400, then progress to 600, 1000 then 2000 grit paper. Allow everything to dry overnight, then box it up and ship it off to your chroming shop of choice! (pic 5)

I also placed a brace in the visor area for shipping, to make sure nothing was damaged in transit. With this much work, better to be safe than sorry.

Materials needed:
  • Spray primer (I prefer Krylon "Ruddy Brown")
  • Bondo or similar polyester filler
  • 2-part Epoxy glue (I prefer Loctite brand)
  • Hot glue
Tools needed:
  • 400, 600, 1000, 2000 grit sandpaper
  • Hot glue gun
  • Respirator

Step 17: Final Assembly

The first thing to go into the chrome helmet should be the visor. Mask off the front with painter's tape to make sure it is not scratched, and repeat this on the other side to make sure no glue residue gets on the visor interior. Press the visor into place and use small spots of hot glue to "tack" it down while the glue cures. (pic 2)

Using epoxy, run a thin bead around the outer edge of the visor inside the helmet to secure it in place. Allow this to cure for 24 hours, then remove the tape on the inside of the visor.

The subvisor and LED matrix needs to be installed now. Each helmet will be different, but mine is held up on two blocks of sintra plastic, secured in place with 2 self tapping screws at the base. (pic 3)

My helmet shown has added vent fans and LEDs in the ears and corners of the visor area. To control all of these, a switch plate was made out of PET plastic and secured to the inside of one of the ear cups. Its a good idea to have at least one "master" control switch to turn on and off all the features of the helmet, in order to conserve battery life. (pic 5)

Each of these switches controls one segment of the helmet, and is connected to the 5V regulator mentioned earlier. There are a wide variety of battery solutions, but a matrix like this one can pull 800mA at full draw, so you'll need a pretty robust battery. I recommend LiPo packs, but make sure to read all the cautionary labels first! Using these, I'm able to run my helmet for about 5 hours on one charge. (pic 8)

Once everything is wired up, just add padding and you're set to rock! Charcoal pick-and-pluck poly foam is a cheap and comfortable material for this. Its a good idea to add the padding with strips of adhesive-backed velcro, so it can be removed and cleaned or replaced later. You don't want sweat soaked foam in there.

As for programming, the particulars of coding the matrix are a bit complex for the purposes of this tutorial, but you can read a bit more about multiplexing and coding for the 7221/7219 chips here.

Materials needed:
  • Arduino or micro controller of choice
  • Voltage regulator
  • Heavy gauge power wire (14ga used in this tutorial)
  • SPST switches
  • Vent fans
  • Closed cell foam
  • Velcro
  • 5-minute epoxy
  • Blue painter's tape
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Small zip ties
Tools needed:
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder flux
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Respirator

Step 18: Rock Out

Enjoy your new helmet! One of the first things you're going to find out is that the brighter it is outside, the easier its going to be able to see while all the lights are on inside the helmet. Since you look through the gaps in the LED matrix in the clear subvisor, the ambient light thrown by the LEDs in full darkness may obscure everything you're trying to see! This is another reason its a very good idea to have a switch accessible in case you want to turn the visor display off but keep the fans in the helmet running so you don't suffocate!

I was able to navigate convention areas and hotel lobbies at all hours of the day with no problems. Walking around outside at midnight with no ambient lighting though, and you're pretty blind when the matrix is illuminated.

Good luck with your builds!

Thanks for reading, and best of luck on your builds!

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244 Discussions

Let's open with WOW, awesome build, then with, I hate you, I hate you.... Now I have to build one for myself as well, Dammit!

Seriously though, very well done.

What's The Total Cost To Build It

There appears to be gaps between the LED's and since the visor is transparent it allows you to see through it in brightly illuminated areas, however as the article mentions if the LED's are turned on in a dark area you wont be able to see at all.

You could probably use surface mount LED's to put them right up against the visor so that no light goes back into the helmet if you wanted to see at night, however you would not get the same domed LED look.

I would suggest asking around locally or looking up to see if your city has a maker space or hacker space, I'm sure if you bought all the materials you could pay someone around that much for them to build it.

They cost 25k for a complete one....

do you sell or offer a pre assembled visor kit, or know where one can be acquired for those with little electronics experience?

2 replies

Having a kit this specialized would be pretty expensive, I would advise just getting a couple of addressable LED light strips and cutting them to the correct length and using an arduino board or something similar to control them.

You would still have to solder stuff but it would not take nearly as long and finding someone to help you program it will not be hard, it would only take me about 5 minutes to write a program to control such a display with simple animations or text.

Although since LED strips are surface mount (or in otherwords instead of the lights being dome shaped they would be more flat) you would not get exactly the same look, but it would still look good as well as the fact that you could get an RGB strip (a led strip with red, green, and blue LEDs in each diode) and have a multi colored display.

For the silicone Rebound 25 do you think I could get away with just using 2 of the trial kit or would I need the full gallon kit?!

why is it punk??

Looks like a startrek/pick a sci-fi helmut, but not punk.

It is quite awesome though!

4 replies


I see, I could not imagine how that was "punk" then I did as two suggested and followed tghe links, plus I wiki'd it. The outfit was a gimmick to sell music. Well it worked for KISS why not someone else.

great work making the thing, but pointless unless you are making a movie, or going to a party, (for a while anyway). I carve and have made quite a number of useless pieces. Chach-ki's (Yiddish for dust collectors)

Again, wonderfully done


But the reason that they wear the helmets was to remain anonymous and be recognized for their music.

Hi, what an excellent instructable! A mix of electronics and props... A lot of hard work has clearly gone into this project.


In oddly crazed digression - say you were to do this for the head/face of a friend and make a mask of them and sneak into a pumpkin patch early in the season and have the pumpkin grow into the mask. Remove the mask and you have the face of your friend as a freak of nature.

I'm speechless now! :D Awesome!