I was watching David Cronenberg's movie eXistenZ the other day and got the itch to make an xbox controller inspired by the game pod in the movie. If you haven't seen it, it's a late '90's film about immersive video games with lots of fab fleshy technology. It's all sticky, bio grossness in that delicious way.
My first attempt was an utter failure in mold making which I documented here. I ended up taking the original polymer clay that I was going to cast and just baked it in order to attach it to the controller. It is heavier, clunkier, and not nearly as refined as I'd hoped, but at least I have a finished product and it actually works. The spine on the D-pad is a bit awkward when playing, but it's really more of a conversation piece than an everyday controller.
Filler and clear coat
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Step 1: Take Apart the Controller
First things first. I took apart the controller removing the screws on the back. If you're using a regulation Xbox controller, one of the screws will be under a sticker behind the battery pack. The ABXY buttons will come out along with the dpad, bumpers, etc. Get a cup and make sure to keep all the bits and pieces, especially the screws.
I left in the circuit board on the back half and did most of the work solely on the cover. I was trying to minimize the chance of breaking the thing before I even got my sculpt on.
Step 2: Sculpt
First, put some sort of mold release on the surface of the controller. I just used dish soap which worked ok, but I read that baby powder is better. Sculpt directly onto the face plate of the controller understanding that you'll need to remove it from the controller in pieces before baking. The clay is much to thin in hold it's shape as one piece.
Once you have your sculpt, remove it from the controller face and bake it so it hardens. With sculpey, it's about 10 minutes at 275F.
Step 3: Attaching the Clay
Once the clay is out of the oven and hardened, see how it fits onto the controller. You can adjust it's fit with sandpaper, or if necessary, an X-acto knife or Dremel.
Once it fits decently well, attach it to the controller. I used epoxy for this since it would fill in some of the gaps between the clay and the controller. I always wear gloves and a respirator when using epoxy, mostly for the smell, but according to the instructions a well ventilated room is okay too.
Since I was rolling off another attempt at this with a different controller, my clay needed some extra help to fit properly. On some of the larger gaps, I mixed the sculpey dust from sanding with the epoxy to make a fill material to ease the transition.
Step 4: Bottom Half of the Controller
The sculpt on the bottom half of the controller was solely to make a better transition from the top half. I created two small pieces that match the location of the top, baked and affixed to the bottom. I wanted to make sure I could still take the controller apart after all was said and done to be able to fix any issues that may come up, so there is definitely a visible seam between the two, but it at least marries the two sides together from a distance.
When I put the top and bottom together, I needed to do some adjusting so it would still clip closed. I just trimmed with an X-acto and a bit of sand paper.
Step 5: Paint
It took a while to get a paint color that matched the clay, but with a bit of mixing and shading, I was able to get pretty close. It took a few coats to get it to look right. I also used a darker brown to stain the lower parts as well.
Step 6: Clear Coat
Use a clear coat to seal the acrylic. I wanted a liquid shiny wet look, so I went glossy, but it was a too shiny so I had to rough up some spots with sand paper. It's still shinier than I'd like, but I decided to just go with it.
Step 7: Buttons, Triggers, and Bumpers
These are essentially button covers that serve two purposes. The first is to fit with the aesthetic, and the second is to raise the height of the buttons to fit the new height of the controller with the clay additions. I made a few of each button to be sure I got a better fit in the end. When making these pieces, particularly the d-pad and ABXY buttons, make sure that your additions will still fit through the holes on the controller. If they are too wide, it will impact your ability to use the buttons and make it impossible to put on the face of the controller.
Paint the original ABXY buttons, bumpers and D-pad to match the color of the controller, then superglue them.
Step 8: Put It Together
Now that you have all the pieces and parts, put it back together. After the two sides are together, attach the trigger pieces and the stick covers. You also may need to do some touch up on the paint and adjust the buttons to be sure they don't stick. Now, voila! A completely unique controller.