A closer look at the process of building a fan made R2-D2 which was recently announced as the first Star Wars: Episode 7 cast member and the people behind it...
This article was published on StarWars.com in July 2013 by Arnd Riedel and Oliver Steeples - the 2 guys from the Bad Robot picture, who were announced as part of the Episode 7 Creature Effects team. Here they're talking about an Artoo unit made for Celebration Europe but surely the Episode 7 version won't be very far from it.
Building an astromech is not a quick job, as there’s no “complete kit” available, and it can take years to get to a point where you can say your droid is finished. And once there you soon discover glitches. Things break, the middle foot rattles, the dome turns too slow, etc.
So basically, most builders are always improving their droids, striving for more perfection. Also, there’s the inevitable wear that your R2 unit has to endure at a convention. Thousands of hands touch him (and we allow girls to kiss him on his dome), so he needs a clean-over once in a while. Sometimes children get too enthusiastic and parts get broken off. No big deal usually and as the saying goes, “If it breaks, you didn’t make it strong enough,” so we just make a new part.
Of course, with the announcement of Celebration Europe, many R2 Builders in Europe went into overdrive. Everybody wants to have his Artoo ready and running for that epic event where thousands of visitors will see your creation. In the local forums and blogs, you can see astromechs growing every day. Resin parts are cast as quick as possible, and there’s a lot of buzz about the best electrical wiring schematics.
Once a droid is complete the builder then has a dilemma,: is it factory fresh from the end of A New Hope or just out of a Dagobah Swamp? By using water-based paint you can pseudo-weather a droid to get it to a stage where you are happy with it. For examples of weathering and to see what can be done, come over to the Builders stand at Celebration Europe.
On my Artoo, I recently changed the feet for new ones. The old ones had the motorized wheels in the rear of the feet. However, research by fellow R2 Builders had shown that it is much better to have the wheels in front of the feet. So I built a new set of feet (out of steel, by the way, as the feet are well abused at conventions). The new ones give Artoo much better handling characteristics, and perfect turns on the spot.
I also wanted to have a central “kill switch” so that in case of some severe malfunction, you can just hit the (well-hidden) switch on the droid, and everything is off. That required quite a lot of new wiring in the droid.
The final improvement for Celebration Europe is a dome automation controller. Usually, we control the dome with our remotes, but in certain situations, it is good to have your mind and your hands free to drive the droid, while the dome turns on its own in a random pattern. This is achieved by a very small electronic gadget called a “servo controller” that consists of an Arduino microcontroller with a C++ software program. A switch on my remote enables me to select between auto mode (dome turns on its own) or manual mode (I control the rotation).
Together with the “beeping” the random dome movement makes Artoo look so much more “alive.” And that’s what we strive for; getting Artoo to become alive at Celebration Europe.
Arnd Riedel and Oliver Steeples are both longtime club members of the R2 Builders, with Oliver representing the UK and Arnd representing Germany in the “R2 Builders Council.”