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It was October of 2011 ... Halloween costume making month in the BALES workshop.
2010 was the year of Edward Scissorhands, which set my personal bar extremely high. I needed another character who could compete and I wanted to make a full body costume to avoid the hassle of makeup.
I decided on Bender Bending Rodriguez (Bending Unit 22, unit number 1,729, serial number 2716057). He and I share a demeanor, as well as an affinity for beer.
The bulk of the costume is constructed from cardboard, in the form of sonotubes, as well as flat stock. PVC pipe makes up the framework of the body and was also used for the fingers. Two plastic bowls for feet and a pile of random bits and bobs bring it all together.
Warning: Some of these pictures will jump around in regard to chronology because I was working on several body parts at the same time. I'm breaking individual parts into separate steps for a cleaner/easier to follow Instructable.
Step 1: Fabricating the Head: Forming the Dome
The shell of Bender's head is a 10" sonotube, which fits over my cranium with enough space to turn my head comfortably and not smash my face.
I started by painstakingly dividing one end of a tube into 16 equal segments, connecting lines to make tall isosceles triangles, and then cutting them out with a sharp razor knife. I don't have any record of the segment widths, nor the triangle heights, but I'm sure I was just making it up as a went along. My hope was that they would all be able to arch into the center, be attached to one another with hot glue, and create a perfectly closed dome ... or one which would require minimal filling with caulk. That plan didn't fall into place, so I had to devise another strategy.
I used a plastic lid (with the rim removed) as the central hub for connecting the 16 points into a sad little dome. Rivets were the mechanical fastener of choice.
Note: Before turning the tube into a cardboard crown, I cut off a section of tube and reduced its diameter until it fit inside of the 10" tube [Picture 1]. This will come into play later on as a registration point for the head on the body.
Step 2: Fabricating the Head: the Eye Assembly
Based on reference photos, Bender's eye assembly and mouth are close to, if not exactly, the same size. Since he's a cartoon, nothing is really absolute.
Two 28 oz cans seemed to be the right proportion for the 10" sonotube head. With the cans taped together, I traced the bottom outline onto a flat piece of cardboard, laid out a nice oval, and cut it out with a razor knife. A large strip of cardboard and formed it around the two cans to make what kind of looks like a view finder. One layer was too floppy, so I doubled it up and used hot glue to stick it all together. One end was left flat while the other was scribed to match the outside diameter of the sonotube.
The center depth of this eye assembly is 3 1/2", which was determined by the 3" Styrofoam balls + the cardboard oval back plate + a little wiggle room for magnets. The purpose of the magnets was to accommodate different eyeballs for different looks/emotions, but I ran out of time and never made additional sets. I made the standard single pupil eyeballs with plans to make a version with an partially closed eyelid for sadness & anger. Scrambled pixels was a third idea.
Step 3: Fabricating the Head: the Mouth
The flat piece of cardboard with the extracted oval from the previous step was turned into a positioning template. You can see that I extended a vertical line down both the 10" tube and the template, which makes it very easy to ensure the mouth and eyes are perfectly with each other.
I traced an oval at the desired eye assembly location and then slid it down to trace an oval for the mouth. This spacing was all done by eye. The mouth was then slowly and carefully cut out with a sharp razor knife.
I decided the mouth grill work would be easier to make as one separate piece, as opposed gluing individual strips to the inside of the head. Getting them all straight and evenly spaced seemed like it would be a total nightmare. I started with a rectangular section cut from part of the 10" tube - larger than the mouth opening so that it can be glued inside the head. Using the same cardboard template, I drew the mouth oval, laid out the grill work, and cut out all the dead space. I was very pleased until I looked at the reference pictures again and noticed I had lain out one horizontal cross member ... it's supposed to be two. Instead of totally starting over, I removed the incorrect horizontal strips and spliced in the correct number using superglue.
Step 4: Fabricating the Head: Assembly
To fix the dome atrocity, I used self adhering mesh tape and joint compound. It took several thin coats to get the desired coverage and shape. In hindsight, I would recommend lightweight spackle - the joint compound made the head a bit top heavy, but that's what I had on hand.
Once the joint compound was dry and sanded out (nowhere near perfect), the eye assembly was attached using hot glue and caulk was used to fill any gaps.
Step 5: Fabricating the Arms and Legs
Bender's arms and legs are equally small in diameter, which wouldn't work with my stupid human proportions, so I used some creative license. The 8" tube fit over my thighs, but looked too bulky for the arms, so I went with two different diameters. 8" for the legs and 7" for the arms.
Most reference pictures showed 6 segments for each arm and leg, but thanks again to my meatbag body parts, I could only fit 5 segments onto my arms. That's a total of 22 rings .. all 4" in depth.
I didn't want to dull a table saw blade cutting cardboard and the bandsaw didn't seem like a safe option either, so I cut all of the rings using a razor knife. It was slow going to say the least. Mark the cut line using a combination square ... carefully score the line with the knife .. then take several passes around the ring until you are through the dense cardboard. Patience and a lot of blades wins the race.
Next step was diameter reduction for the arm rings. I used a speed square as a straight edge to remove a section from the ring. That off cut, paired with aluminum rivets, was used to splice the ring back together.
I tried a few methods for stringing individual rings into arms and legs. Wire and zip ties both technically worked, but they didn't maintain any true alignment and/or spacing. I ended up using plastic hanger strap (found in the plumbing section) and rivets. A strap running down each side of my leg with a riveted connection in the center of each ring provided a consistent spacing, a solid structure, and the ability to flex with the bending of my knee.
Step 6: Fabricating the Hands
The hands were a bit tricky since they have a conical shape. I started with 9" lengths of 10" tube and cut out a strip. These two edges were twisted and overlapped until I had a tapper which looked proportional and would also slide over an arm ring. This overlap was marked with a pen [Picture 2] and the vertical diagonals became the new cut line. The waste strips and rivets were used to splice the edges together.
This contortion act leaves two uneven edges, which are also non-planar. The smaller end is the least out of whack, so it's the easier with which to start.
1. Use one hand to hold the cone "correctly level" to the table. You'll basically be balancing it on one side since this is the end with negative space.
2. Use a block of wood or anything to raise a sharpie/pen off of the table a bit and run it around the outside of the cone.
3. This is your cut line for making this edge flat.
4. Use a larger item (like a pint paint can) to elevate the pen to the top edge and run another line around the outside edge [Picture 4]. This is your cut line for making the top edge flat and planar to the bottom edge.
The large end of the hand was capped with a flat piece of cardboard. I just laid it on the cardboard, traced the circle, cut it out with a razor knife, and attached it with hot glue.
Step 7: Fabricating the Fingers
Over-thinking and over-complicating things as usually, I initially tried to lay out the three finger location using a compass, radiuses, fancy equidistant spacing ... fun geometry. This design hindered all finger dexterity and was actually painful for the ole phalanges. The solution was to remove a center circle and design on the fly.
The fingers were made using 4" lengths of 1 1/2" PVC pipe. To cap one end, a piece of 3/4" trim board (AZEK) was adhered using PVC cement. I used the bandsaw to nip off the corners and then the oscillating belt sander to sand it flush with the PVC, as well as rough up the overall surface so that paint would stick. Lastly, a 1/4" round over was added at the router table.
Three fingers, in a triangular pattern, were glued to black stretchy fabric using 5 minute epoxy. It worked, but it didn't feel all that secure and it was going to be a nightmare trying to glue it to the inside of the hand without tons of wrinkles.
To address the security concerns, I used more epoxy to glue thinner 1 1/2" rings to the inside face. It was like adding a backing washer and it sandwiched the fabric, which would keep it from tearing and coming loose. I added some foam to two of the fingers, which kept the PVC from tearing up the webbing between my middle and ring fingers.
To address the wrinkled fabric concern, I used a thin plastic ring as a frame or hoop - secured with hot glue. I wish I remembered what I sacrificed for this purpose, but I don't.
Lastly, I glued in some tube offcuts to act as stop blocks for the arms. Without them, the arms would slide all the way into the hand.
Step 8: Fabricating the Feet
I was fortunate enough to find some plastic bowls at Walmart, which not only fit over my shoe, but the ring on the bottom perfectly fit inside of the 8" sonotube.
I drilled more holes than was actually necessary into the bottom, cut it out with a jigsaw, and cleaned up the edge with a dremel and sanding drum.
Initially, I attached the legs to the feet with epoxy, but it failed during the first test run. I ended up using a few rivets around the edge and strapped them to the legs with more hanger strap.
Step 9: Fabricating the Body
The body is my least favorite part of this build, but it was a good effort nonetheless.
The skeletal frame was made from 1/2" PVC pipe, 45 elbows (16) and T fittings (12). I started with the bottom octagon since it had two sizing restrictions - I had to be able to squeeze through it and it needed to overlap my legs while in costume. In my case, this ended up being 18" from one flat side to its opposing side. The top octagon had to be bigger in order to create the tapered shape, as well as accommodate the width of my shoulders - around 21" from one flat side to its opposing side. Four vertical post and eight T fittings connect the bottom to the top. The remaining four T fittings and shorter lengths of pipe provide structure for the dome on the top of the body.
The frame was skinned with large sheets of cardboard (they are used on pallets before stacking wood pellets) using hot glue as the adhesive. I used a razor knife to cut and fit the parts as I went. The reduced 10" diameter tube section, which I made while fabricating the head, was glued to the top of the dome and then the cardboard within was removed. I also cut holes for my arms .. because I would need those.
Creating even more work for myself, I decided to make the front door operational. I laid out the shape and then excised it with a razor knife. Since the cardboard door wanted to lay flat, but I need it to maintain a curve, I added four horizontal lengths of 1/8" steel rod. Each end was secured with hot glue, the door was bent to the required shape, more glue added to the middle, and then a center cardboard strip added for rigidity.
Small hinges and epoxy were used to attach the door to the body.
Step 10: Wrapping the Parts
The body was a lumpy, angular mess, so I decided to shim out the low spots with cardboard strips and then wrap it with contractor paper, using spray adhesive and hot glue. Overall, I was pleased with the results - it was surely better than before. I finished up the body by gluing on a door handle, which is a short length of wooden dowel.
Since the contractor paper worked so well on the body, I decided to use it on all of the other parts. It seemed like a quicker and easier solution than trying to fill gaps with caulk and still having exposed rivets. It also seemed like a more efficient way of covering all of the black text, as opposed to several layers of primer.
Step 11: Fabricating the Antenna
The antenna is made up of a rubber ball, a length of 3/8" dowel, and slices from a 1" dowel.
I looked in my random parts drawer for a superball or a roller ball from an old school mouse (pre optical mice for all you youngins'), but no luck. However, I managed to find one of these paddle ball games at the local dollar store for, you guessed it ... a buck. I used my Sphere Center Align and Drill-O-Nator and a Forstner bit to make a 3/8" hole in this ball.
I drilled a 3/8" hole down the center of the 1" dowel (around 1" deep), rounded over the end using the oscillating belt sander, and then cut off two 1/2" slivers using the small parts sled on the table saw. I also drilled a 3/8" hole through the top of the head.
Since were mixing media with rubber, wood, and joint compound, I used epoxy for the assembly.
1. Glue the ball to one end of the 3/8" dowel.
2. Slide the rounded 1/2" sliver onto the other end of the dowel (rounded edge facing the ball), stick the dowel through the head, and glue the remaining 1/2" sliver onto the end of the dowel from inside.. I slathered some epoxy onto the face of the sliver before pressing it against the inside of the head.
3. Slather some epoxy onto the top of the head and base of the dowel .. then slide the rounded sliver down onto the head.
I'm sure you could just glue an antenna assembly to the top of the head, but I felt better about running it through the head and sandwiching the dome between a mini dowel bun. Less chance of costume failure with this method.
Step 12: Painting
I decided to finish the costume using spray paint, which was easy, but took way more time that acrylic latex and a brush would've. It was also raining for days on end, so I had no choice but to spray indoors. I started with a base coat of black, followed by several applications of gray.
Step 13: Fabricating Accessories
During downtime between paint application, I decided to work on the finishing touches, as well as a few accessories.
I cut a 5" length of 3/8" dowel and glued a neodymium magnet to one end using epoxy. Electrical tape was wrapped around the dowel at 4 locations in order to add more diameter, as well as to flair out the middle. This framework was wrapped with contractor paper and hot glue in an attempt to look like a hand rolled cigar. Acrylic paint was used to create a textured brown finish with some ash at the end.
Mouth Camouflage and Cigar Mount
Since my human eyes will actually be looking out from Bender's mouth, I need way to hide my face without eliminating vision entirely. Within my scrap fabric collection, I found some white mesh material which worked perfectly. You can see right through it, but since it's dark inside the costume, people can't your face (unless you shine light directly into the mouth, which you'll see at the end).
I picked the left side, center cell to be the cigar mounting point. Epoxy was used to attach a neodymium magnet to a small piece of 1/16" plexiglass. That was then adhered to the inside of the mouth grillwork using hot glue.
I added 8-bit/square pupils to the eyeballs using black felt. It was just cut out with scissors and secured with hot glue.
Rusted Mouth Overlay
When denied alcohol, Bender grows 5 O'clock rust ... I couldn't pass up that modification. I used my positioning pattern from before to trace an oval onto a scrap section of 10" tube. I used a spacer/offset block to trace a larger oval around the first and then cut out the elliptical ring with a razor knife. Orange and brown acrylic paint was used to create a cartoonish faux rust finish. For easy attachment/removal, I added two neodymium magnet to the back of the rust ring and two on the inside of the head.
Picture Of Mom and Body Panel
I added a picture of Bender's mom to the inside of his access door. Yes, she is robotic arm who works in a factory building bending units such as Bender (he is her 1729th son). I also added a sheet of cardboard, which I painted black, to conceal the internal framing, as well as my human torso.
Step 14: Strapping In
Order of dress was/is legs, body, arms, head, hands. I ended up having to cut the arms down to 4 rings due to mobility issues. This would look better if I had fabricated shoulder bells.
Step 15: Glamour Shots
Finally ... I could become a foul mouthed and intoxicated robot with a very loose moral code. The costume is a bit cumbersome and since the feet must be splayed due to the size of the feet, it's a bit difficult to walk. The arms and legs are alright and I like the "mechanics" of the hands. I'm most pleased with the head, which I display around the house along with my other custom heads and random props.
I'd like to redo this costume using EVA foam because the material will enable me to fabricate a much slimmer body, which in turn will allow me to reduce all of the parts proportionally. EVA would also be a much better option for mobility. Actually getting around to making it is another matter entirely.
Step 16: Random Fitting Photos
Just for fun ... some random photos while I was trying on the body and head, as well as determining placement for the arm holes.
Second Prize in the
Cardboard Contest 2017