Building Up to Maker Faire, Shawn Thorsson Brings ED-209 to Life: Part 6 — Assembly and Painting

Craft & Design Robotics Workshop
Building Up to Maker Faire, Shawn Thorsson Brings ED-209 to Life: Part 6 — Assembly and Painting

If you’re just now tuning in, you really need to go back and read the rest of the articles I’ve written detailing the various construction methods I’m using to build a lifesized replica of this guy:

It’s like that.

This is ED-209, the killer bad-guy robot from the hit 1987 film Robocop. I started the build roughly 90 days ago and I’ve been putting in more hours than any sane person can possibly justify to bring it to life. Fortunately, I’ve never been accused of having an especially high level of sanity (though the State of California has issued me a document stating that I’m not a threat to myself or those around me), so projects of this level are pretty much the norm for me.

At this point, time is running short. There’s less than a week to go before the gates will open at the Bay Area Maker Faire. My nights are haunted by nightmare visions of unfinished murderbot parts, and the floor in the workshop is completely littered with dust and debris and dangerous detritus of every description. Scattered throughout the mess are piles of parts that are recognizably pieces of big bad ED, so it’s clearly time for…

Thorsson’s Insane Project #209, Part 6: Making it Awesome!

If I’m going to get this right, ED-209 needs to be massive and intimidating. But it’s hard to be appropriately worried when you’re confronted by a stack of plastic stuff that looks like it escaped from a landfill:

Pile of ED does not instill fear or inspire awe.
Pile of ED does not instill fear or inspire awe.

As luck would have it, my dad happened to be bored and in a welding mood at about this same time. So instead of the knocked-together wooden frame I had in mind, I suddenly had a sturdy welded steel frame to hang parts off of. Then I started working out ways to hang the parts from it:

Dad and Mark starting to stack pieces up on the frame.
Dad and Mark starting to stack pieces up on the frame.

At this stage I still had a few small detail parts left to prototype, but that’s no reason I can’t get started on painting and weathering for the big parts. For most of my projects in the past I’ve been able to get by with an airbrush or spraycans. For a project of this scale, there’s just too much real estate to cover, so instead of building a mountain of dead rattle cans, I went with a High Volume, Low Pressure (HVLP) spray gun, just like they use to paint cars at an auto body shop. I started with a layer of primer:

Edimus Prime
Edimus Prime

Once the primer had set, it was time to shoot some paint at it. In this case, I ended up using an industrial coating. (The past few days have been a bit of a blur, so the brand name escapes me at the moment.) I just remember being overwhelmed by all of the flowery names that they’d given to the color chips in their palette.

This color was called "gray."
This color was called “gray.”

In addition to spraying everything gray, there were some detail areas that where picked out in another darker shade. (Also called “gray”.) Then there were the chrome details:


Once everything was painted in its respective base colors, it still looked pretty fake. This is where you run into a concept called “verisimilitude.” These are elements of fact and truth inserted into fiction in order to make it believable. It turns out that the human eye expects a certain level of dust and grime on everything, so when it sees something shiny and polished and new-looking, it give it a cursory glance and calls BS. So to make these big plastic parts look like a deadly killing machine, there would have to be a certain degree of age and weathering.

The original plan was to go over every nook and cranny with an airbrush using a specialty blend of acrylic paints and atomized iron oxide to build up a vaguely rusty, greasy, dusty look. But when it came down to it, like so many times before, there just wasn’t enough time. Instead, everything got a quick blackwash. “Blackwashing” is the process of coating everything with watered-down black paint and then wiping most of it back off. This makes the recessed areas look darker and leaves the raised areas lighter. The end result is pretty good looking:

Killer robot must have grime.
No killer robot could ever be complete without grime.

After the griming, even more details were picked out:

Shiny is shinier next to grime.
Shiny is shinier next to grime.

About this time, Mark came up with the notion that hydraulic rams like these would be greasy too, but only on the areas where the movement of the cylinder hadn’t squeegeed the grease off.

Pictured: verisimilitude.
Pictured: verisimilitude.

Once the weathering was done, it was time to assemble the whole thing:

He's got legs...
He’s got legs…

How does it all look when it’s finished? You’ll have to wait and see the completed build tomorrow at the Bay Area Maker Faire. In the meantime, if you’d like to seem more pics of the build coming together, check them out in the MAKE Flickr pool.

For now, ED’s getting on the truck:


Stay tuned…

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At a very young age, Shawn learned that the surest way to get the coolest toys was to make them yourselves. Now he makes costumes and props for films, promotional uses, and the occasional private commission. You can read more about his projects and scattered other adventures in his blog.

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