Every year I celebrate Halloween, by making a new costume. This year, I chose to make Gort. If you don't know who Gort is you soon will. A remake of the 1951 classic science fiction movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is due out in late 2008. It stars Gort.
Since my software team named our new development branch Gort, this further strengthened the case for doing Gort. But you don't really need a reason to build a giant robot with a death ray; you just know you want to.
Here are some links for those who don't know about Gort or want some pictures to guide their own construction.
A site dedicated to Gort
A Flash site with many robots including Gort
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" clip
Step 1: Materials Needed
Here is a list of materials you will need.
Full Face Motorcycle Helmet: The most distinctive part of Gort is the head. The closer you can come to finding a "Gort-shaped" helmet the happier you will be. A tinted face shield is another thing you want to look for. This will hide your un-Gort like face from the world. Look for a used motorcycle helmet since you are going to be making mods to the helmet which will make it unsuitable for further use on a motorcycle. I got mine on eBay. Try to get one a fair bit bigger than your hat size as this will provide room for your head and Gort's death ray gear.
Gort pants: An old pair of gray fleece sweat pants are what I used. Gray seemed a good choice because they are going to be painted silver. Other colors would be harder to cover. Avoid pants with obvious pockets, seams, etc. You are after a solid "robotic" appearance.
Gort top: A gray turtleneck is what I used. Gray for the same reason just noted. A turtleneck has no buttons detract from its "roboticness" and best of all you can unroll the turtle-neck up into the bottom of the helmet to create a solid appearance from your body into the helmet.
Gort boots: Gort wears some serious stompers. I was lucky and had an old pair of Ugg-like boots (suede exterior, fleece interior) that were not used anymore. If you lack such, you can probably find rubber gardening boots for not too much money at surplus stores.
Balsa wood: 1/4" x 4" x36" piece of balsa wood. You only need about 18" long but the craft store had it in 36" lengths. Used to make Gort's ears.
Silver spray paint: Two cans of Rustoleum(tm) or similar brand silver (shiny type not just gray) paint
Gray felt: Used to make Gort gloves and Gort waistband. Amount needed will depend on your hand size and waist size. Gray color for the usual reason. They are going to get painted. More on this in the associated steps.
Foam: Used to make Gort's belt
9 volt battery: Used to power Gort's ray of destruction. Amazing what you can do with just 9 volts.
Coat hanger: Used to mount Gort's death ray generator in helmet
9-volt battery connector and leads: What you hook the 9 volt battery to. It has two wires leading from it and you attach your wiring to them. Local electronics supply store will have them
2.5 volt Christmas tree lights: Illumination for Gort's beam. Look in your Christmas box for all the spares you probably have. You will need 4.
Glow stick tube: Used glow stick tube to hold the lights (or other similar translucent tube). Feel free to improvise on this one
Plastic-coated wire: Your basic bell wire used to build the circuit from the 9-volt battery to the switch and to the Christmas tree lights
1 Gallon empty plastic milk carton: Source of raw material for the switch to activate the death ray
Aluminum foil: Small quantities for backing the lights and for making the switch. Also used to cover the helmet face shield so you don't paint it by mistake.
Masking tape: Also used in masking off parts of the helmet you don't want to paint.
Needle, thread, scissors: Usual sewing implements. Not a lot of sewing and certainly nothing fancy required.
Solder, soldering iron: Not critical but your circuit is less likely to fall apart if soldered.
Sharp knife or single edge razor: For cuttng foam
Step 2: Making Gort's Pants
Take your sweat pants and stuff them with other old clothes or newspapers. It's a lot easier to paint them and avoid missed spots when they look like you are wearing them. Of course, you could put them on and try painting them but I don't advise this.
Find an old drop cloth or newspapers and a spot where you can spray paint without painting things you don't want to paint. Watch out for wind as it can easily carry the spray further than you intend. Put your stuffed pants on the painting surface and proceed to spray with the silver spray paint. Follow any instructions on the spray paint can regarding it's use.
Paint one side and wait a few minutes before flipping the pants over to do the other side. A light coating of spray paint on cloth dries pretty quickly but you might want to use some rubber gloves or plan on cleaning some paint off your hands. Be sure you paint the sides as well as the top and bottom.
Step 3: Making Gort's Shirt
The gray turtleneck is treated just like the sweat pants in the previous step. Stuff it to make it easier to paint. Extend the turtle-neck before painting because you will want it in this position in the end. Try not to get paint inside the shirt when spraying. I expect this would not be comfortable. The paint does stiffen the cloth some so don't apply it any thicker than you must.
You won't get a super-shiny robot finish using cloth for shirt and pants. The somewhat shiny matte-like gray result seemed OK to me. An alternative would be to get silver emergency space blankets, cut out shirt and pants from them and "stitch" the bits together with tape or some other fastening. This seemed like too much work and did not seem likely to be very durable.
Step 4: Making Gort's Gloves
If you check the pictures of Gort, you will notice that the glove are really mittens. In looking around for ways to make them, I spotted an almost perfect shape match. The glove we use to remove excess hair from our long-haired Persian cat is almost the right shape if you square off the end of the mitten.
If you are uncomfortable with the sewing arts (or don't have a helper), you could just pick up two of these gloves and unstitch the plastic section from the canvas backing. The resulting glove could be painted silver and would do OK.
In my case, the memsahib volunteered to make them for me. Using the cat glove as a template and a large piece of gray felt for material, she outlined the glove shape and squared off the end in doing so. Cut out the two glove halves and then hand stitch the edges with needle and thread, A separate wrist gauntlet was cut and sewed to the glove. Make it long enough to allow for overlapping the shirt. When done, invert the glove to put the stitching inside. See picture of glove before inverting.
Now you are ready to get out the spray paint and turn the gray gloves silver. See picture of glove after painting.
Step 5: Making Gort's Boots
The boots might be one of the more expensive parts of the costume unless you happen to have some "sacrificial" ones around like I did. If I hadn't had these, I probably would have gotten some cheap rubber boots and used them to keep the cost down. See photos of before and after paint job.
All you do here is stuff the boots with newspaper to stabilize the uppers and to keep paint out of the insides. Then paint and let dry. Mighty purty boots...
Step 6: Making Gort's Ears
When you look at pictures of Gort, one of the more noticeable features on the head (other than the moveable visor and death ray) are what I call the "ears". Three round stacked disks with holes sit in the spot where we mere humans have ears. Since they are so distinctive, they are an essential part of creating a believable Gort.
I looked at TinkerToys(tm) briefly since the smallest section is a near match to part of a TinkerToy set. In the end I did not use them because a) the piece was too thick and b) I had no solution for the larger disks.
I opted for balsa wood since I thought it would be easy to cut and drill. I suspect styrofoam or florist's foam might also work but I was concerned about durability so went with balsa. I got a 1/4" x 4" x36" piece from the local craft store (half the length would have been fine).
To get the relative sizes of the three disks and the hole placement right, I took a side view of Gort from a picture on the Web, enlarged the ear section and printed it to make a template. Print it three times and cut them so that you have the innermost circle, inner two circles, and all three together to provide guides for tracing your circles on to the balsa wood.
A single edge razor, Exacto knife or even thin sharp kitchen knife will serve to cut out the circles. Balsa is pretty brittle so you may get some rough edges. I dealt with this by some sanding and in the worst cases some wood putty to fix holes in the edge of the disk. I think a better material could be found but I couldn't come up with one at the time.
Place your template over the wood circle and using a sharp point (pin, nail, geometry compass...) puncture the holes in the template to transfer markers to the balsa for drilling the actual holes. My study of the ears seemed to show that the holes did not go all the way down except for the center hole in the smallest disk so I drilled them accordingly. This avoids any problem of seeing through to the helmet on the outermost disk.
Now you can spray paint the disks. Painting the back side is not crucial though a little outer spray on the largest disk might help depending on how it fits the contours of your helmet.
When dry, you can use wood glue to join the three disks together.
My helmet had slightly raised circles at the pivot points where the face shield could be rotated up to open it. These looked like ideal places to glue the ears since this would leave the face shield openable and still have the ears attached in the right spot. Your helmet may be different so you may need to adapt accordingly. In my case, I cut a recess in the reverse of the outer disk to get a closer fit to the surface of the helmet (see picture). Again the shape of your helmet will determine if this makes sense for you. Don't glue them on the helmet yet. That's almost the last thing you do.
Step 7: Making Gort's Helmet
The helmet is what lets you know that this is Gort! It seemed really hard to build such a thing from scratch so when I noticed full-face motorcycle helmets were similar, I decided to go that route. I found a used one on eBay for $20. Look for one that is most Gort-like in shape and has a dark face shield if you have time to be picky. See my helmet in pictures below.
Before painting, cover the face shield and pivot points. I used aluminum foil since it fit the contours easily. I secured it with the masking tape. Masking tape was used to cover the pivots. It might be OK to paint them but I was worried about the paint interfering with gluing the ears on. Since this area ends up being behind the "ears", precise masking is not crucial.
Now spray paint it. Cover thinly and make multiple passes to avoid getting paint runs. Let the paint dry and then remove the masking materials.
Step 8: Making Gort's Death Ray
You can't be an un-weaponized Gort, so let's see how to build his death ray. My basic requirement was that it be battery powered and look something like what you see in pictures of Gort (e.g. a horizontal bar of light). I also wanted to be able to turn it on and off which ruled out things like glow sticks that operate continuously.
I initially considered EL wire but decided it was too complex for my needs though the flexibility was attractive. Since I wanted to power it by battery, LED's were a candidate as they can run on low power. It looked like LEDs were going to cost me $4-5 each which was more than I wanted to spend. Thinking about it some more I hit on the idea of Christmas tree lights. We bought new sets last year that are all LED to save energy. I tried one of them with a train transformer and found I could push it up to about 8 or 9 volts before blowing it out. It did get very bright though. However, it was a bit too large for the task.
Then I remembered the little incandescent bulbs that we used before the LEDs. They need about 2.5 volts to light and seemed to handle 6-7 volts just fine. Pairing those with an old 9 volt battery that was only delivering around 6 volts worked great.
I wanted to diffuse the light from the bulbs to give a more continuous light bar effect. I spotted an old used glow stick which looked about the right length. It was translucent and rigid enough to support the bulbs horizontally. I cut one end off and drained whatever fluid was in it, washed it out well and let it dry.
I found that 4 bulbs would fit end-to-end in the glow stick tube. Use two separate pieces of plastic coated wire as long as the tube plus whatever extra length you think you might need for external wiring hookup. Check later pictures for an idea about this.
Take the plastic base off each bulb leaving just the bare copper wires. You are going to wire the bulbs in parallel so one of the little bulb wires will go to one circuit wire (yellow in the picture) and the other to the opposite circuit wire.
Scrape of f the plastic insulation on either side of the two circuit wires and wrap the bulb wires around the bare copper. At this point, I soldered the bulb to each wire to get a good solid connection. Repeat this for the remaining three bulbs. Then you can attach the 9 volt battery and test your circuit. If you find the bulbs blowing out, then you could either wire some in series or add a resistor inline to reduce the voltage to the bulbs. Mine worked fine directly.
Step 9: Mounting Gort's Death Ray
Now that you have a working death ray, you need to mount it in the helmet. My approach used a sacrificial coat hanger. Snip out a section of the coat hanger (pliers) and bend it to roughly match the curvature of the inside of the face mask. Attach the glow stick tube with clear tape to the coat hanger. The tape helps diffuse the light more.
Choose the height you want the light bar to appear behind your face shield. Push the coat hanger ends between the helmet and liner on both sides. You can probably also push it into the liner padding directly but I didn't try that. I added rolled up paper wedges above and below the ends to reduce chances of it moving up or down.
Add a 9 volt battery wiring connector to the top of the battery. Choose where you want the 9 volt battery bearing in mind how it relates to where the wires from the light bar are going to be. You want to reduce wiring lengths. Then cut a recess in the helmet liner so that the battery fits tightly. Wedge it in.
Step 10: Making the Death Ray On/off Switch
We're almost done. We need to come up with a way to turn the light on and off. I contemplated pulling wire down the neck, through the arm to my hand and switching from there. This would make taking the helmet on/off very tricky. I needed a way to switch on/off from inside the helmet in a hands-free manner.
With a poor flash of inspiration, I decided to see if I could just complete the circuit with my tongue. This was a singularly BAD idea. If you haven't tried licking a 9 volt battery, then don't. It's nasty!
Still tongue-actuation seemed like a good approach. It just needed more work. I needed a way to close a switch with my tongue. The switch had to be easy to close and easy to keep closed. I did not want to undergo tongue calisthenics to achieve a buff tongue; a concept that boggles the mind.
I settled on a piece of plastic cut from a gallon milk carton. It is easy to push closed and resumes it's original position when released. Fasten foil around the fixed side with clear tape but leave the switch contact area clear of tape. Then sew it to the helmet padding at the chin to anchor it.
Fasten the black lead from the battery to the fixed side of the switch. Taping it on works fine but again don't cover the foil area needed to close the switch. Fasten the red lead to one end of the light bar wires. I just taped the leads together rather than soldering.
Cover the movable side of the switch with foil and put a thumbtack through it to reduce travel distance to close the switch and to provide a good contact. Cover the tack head in clear tape. This secures it and keep your tongue from contacting the aluminum foil.
Lastly fasten the other lead from the light bar to the movable side of the switch with tape. Anywhere along the foil covered length is fine. Push the switch shut and the death ray should light up. If not, check your wiring. See circuit diagram picture to help you visualize it.
Step 11: Making Gort's Belt
Gort had a belt around his waist. For our costume, this serves the useful purpose of hiding the join between the shirt and the pants. Using Poly foam, I cut a 22" strip and then split the strip lengthwise to reduce the thickness by half. Your waist size will govern the length you need. I cut gray felt to wrap the "belt" and hand stitched the back side closed.
Adjust the length to your waist and either Velcro(tm) or just stitch the two ends together to make the belt loop. It stretches a bit so you can squeeze it up and around your waist. The felt does not slide around so no other fastener is necessary.
You could make similar coverings for the wrist and ankle areas but I did not bother.
Lastly, glue Gort's earpieces to the sides of the helmet. Any reasonably strong adhesive should work.
You are now ready to "Be Gort". Study his stance carefully, practice with your death ray and remember to switch off when you hear "Klaatu barada nikto".
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