Star Wars Episode 7 News

Friday, November 22, 2013

Building a Better R2-D2.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.” 

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Source: StarWars.com


12 comments:

  1. Amazing. Can I have one?

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  2. Good to know Arduino has been used to add random movement to artoo's dome. This device is ideal for this kind of tasks. I have atended an Arduino robotics course, but I couldn't do anything as sophisticated as R2-D2 :-D

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  3. You have to really admire these guys. It makes perfect sense for JJ's team to utilize their knowledge and have them a part of the production.

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  4. So how will Kenny Baker fit in it?

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    1. That's the whole point... He won't.

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    2. That would be unfortunate.

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  5. It's really cool that they're making film replicas so accurately.

    But frankly I'd me more impressed if these astromech droids had real functionality.

    For instance, obviously we don't have any real hologram projector. But we do now have digital projectors that one would think could fit under that dome. An R2 unit could project a movie onto a wall, or if it has a router inside somewhere could tap into WiFi and project the internet onto a wall. Perhaps the slot on the back of R2's head could be replaced with a docking station that has a USB port and all the other ports for inserting various media into such as the data chips from digital cameras and such. Speaking of which, some of those lenses on the dome could be a camera of some sort, either video or stills, perhaps as a kind of mobile CCTV unit. Also, other robots are built by hobbyists that are able to think and move on their own, why can't this be done with an R2 unit? How about introducing an automobile diagnostic computer into the R2, so that it functions in a useful manner with a car or a plane or a boat similar to the way it might function in the movies with an X-wing?

    Just a thought anyway. Maybe this might be a good challenge?

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  6. Poor Mr. Baker, replaced by machines :(
    This is really cool though!

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    Replies
    1. Haha, ironic, isn't it? Replaced by the very character that he was portraying...

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  7. Interesting stuff. I feel safe that R2 will be awesome in the new movies

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  8. Another person relpaced by a robot! There is no room for the guy inside !!

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