One thing I think everyone who loves Star Wars has said at least once is “man, I wish I had an R2-D2!” My good friend and fellow archery coach Russell Rucker said the same thing, and then he went ahead and built one. His R2 unit is completely screen-accurate, and has appeared at a number of Star Wars events over the years.
Russell is a member of the 501st Legion and the R2 Droid Builders Club. Naturally, like a whole lot of other people, I asked Russell how he built his R2. It turns out he had already created a Powerpoint presentation showing the whole process, which involved a lot of different skills, materials and techniques. He gave me permission to share his photos and notes here.
(Of course, if you don’t want to spend a year or four fabricating the parts, you could just buy Russell’s R2-D2 for your very own. It’s for sale! If you’re interested, just email R2D2@atomicjunkshop.com and go from there.)
But okay, you want to build your own. Here’s how.
Research is vital.
First, follow the link above to join the R2 Builders Club at AstroMech.net. It’s a lively community of people who have built or are building their own R2 unit, or BB-8, WALL-E, or other droids and bots. That’s where you’ll begin your research. The members there got access to one of the actual screen-used R2-D2 droids and were able to take detailed measurements, and the site can provide you with copies of the actual blueprints to follow.
Naturally, you’re going to want your R2-D2 (“Second Generation Robotic Droid, Series 2” according to Star Wars lore, “Reel 2, Dialog track 2” according to Sound Designer Walter Murch) to be completely accurate, especially if you intend to join the 501st Legion. They are sticklers for that sort of thing. So research is your life now, at least until you have enough information to get started.
R2 is assembled from a lot of pieces, many of them built up in layers, from a variety of materials including wood, aluminum, steel, and various plastics, all meticulously trimmed and assembled. Here’s how the legs go together:
The chassis is assembled. Some R2 builders use wood, others machine aluminum, some may build from plastic. One way or another, R2’s body is built around a supporting structure.
R2’s Outer shell is made of two layers of aluminum skin. This has to be trimmed, holes cut, and then assembled.
R2’s dome is also aluminum, with a fiberglass under-dome.
All of the dome’s openings have to be meticulously measured and cut and sanded.
And it fits.
Before the legs can be attached, there needs to be some support installed. Aluminum mounts are drilled and placed and a supporting axle put in.
R2’s feet are prelty complicated; there’s a separate motor in each foot that has to have a mount fabricated, then there’s a covering shell with a lot of detail, as well as the various cables and such.
R2’s dome needs its own motor in order to rotate.
He also needs a voice. This involves three components: a 12-channel relay switching unit, an MP3 player (in red), and an amplifier. If you don’t know how to solder, you’re going to learn.
There’s also a motor controller and 12v battery inside R2, and all of it is controlled by a handheld transmitter.
Here’s a peek inside R2’s head:
And of course there are a multitude of little parts that all need to be fabricated….
There are some parts that could be machined, carved out of styrene, 3D printed, or cast in resin. Your choice. This one’s pieces are cast resin.
So, after innumerable hours and a whole lot of work, you have your own fully-functional R2 unit; what do you do with it?
You could park him and let him stare at you…
…sit down and be his friend….
Or take him out on the town to make new friends…
A world of adventure and excitement awaits you as the proud owner of an R2 unit!
So what are you waiting for?
And like I said, if the prospect of spending all those hours (Russell said this guy took almost four years of work in between the regular demands of life) cutting, drilling, sanding, painting, and soldering sounds daunting, you could buy this one. R2D2@atomicjunkshop.com.