wall-e

Before the Disney/Pixar film WALL-E premiered in 2008, replicas of its robot star were already showing up on the internet. That’s because at least one replica builders’ group had a head start.

Scot Washburn explains: “I found an early trailer for WALL-E and posted it to the R2-D2 Builders Club around the end of September 2007. There was such a positive response that … on October 8th, I created the WALL-E Builders Club.”

The club has grown to nearly 700 passionate bot replica builders who mainly exchange information online, but sometimes meet at nerdy conventions.

So, what inspires grown men (almost exclusively) to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to replicate a cartoon robot?

“He’s a very sympathetic character,” says club member Guy Vardaman, a web developer from Burbank, Calif. “He’s innocent-looking — yeah, those large eyes. But he also looks somewhat rugged, with his tank-tread drive and all of those scrapes and dents on his body. He looks realistic, too; like you can believe he’d actually work.”

Maybe that’s what launched a thousand WALL-Es: he looks easy to make, at least as a static replica. Articulated WALL-Es, with a working drive, sound effects, and radio control, are harder to come by.

“My WALL-E will be radio controlled, so he’ll move around on his treads,” says William Miyamoto, 42, a stay-at-home dad and actor from Los Angeles.

“I plan on articulating his head and arms. He will also have a sound system so he’ll say things and play sounds on command.”

The club is collaborating to design a track drive that members can replicate. Members point out a myriad of benefits to working in a group, such as the pooling of talent, expertise, and purchasing power, plus the trading and sharing of parts.

But there are also the more human aspects. As one member put it: “When you’re building something that takes months or years to finish, you can run out of steam. The encouragement of the group can make all the difference.”

WALL-E Builders Club: makezine.com/go/wall-e