How to Build Giant Space Invaders as Public Art

Craft & Design Photography & Video Woodworking

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I asked Jason Torchinsky, one of my favorite makers/artists, to describe how he built his gigantic Space Invader sculptures for the IndieCade Festival (the international conference festival of independent games taking place October 7-9 in Los Angeles). Jason used the original space invaders shapes as templates and scaled them up to one pixel per square foot. Here’s how he did it:

Img 0695The most important thing I learned while building Invaded! is also the most obvious: big things are big, heavy, and hard to move. We all know this, of course, but knowing it while making sketches in your notebook and knowing it while desperately trying to manhandle a 12′ x 8′ x 3′ wooden space invader into a truck is a vastly different thing.

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My goal for these sculptures was to make something that would reference video games and just be fun to be surrounded by. They’re what I imagined happened after every Space Invaders game I played ended — the few remaining invaders make it to the surface and then, you know, hang around. In victory.

Invaded Sketch2
I suspect that my entry was selected by the IndieCade commission because of how basic it is. As outdoor works, the Invaders have to stand up to rain, sun, and all the abuses the general public likes to dish out to unattended objects. These Invader sculptures are built like wildly impractical outdoor sheds, so they’re well suited to outdoor living. They’re built from wood (or as I like to call it, “tree meat”) — specifically 3/4″ and 1/2″ plywood and many, many 2x4s — and lots of caulk. The basic structure is formed by the shaped faces, cut from multiple 4′ x 8′ panels of 3/4″ plywood, then held together with a series of 3′ 2×4 stringers, mounted mostly at the corners, of which, in something pixellated, there are many.

Invaded Earlyconceptsketch
The scale was determined by taking a single pixel and scaling it up to one square foot. All the pixel patterns are pretty much exactly from the original game, save for the saucer, which would have turned out to be 16 feet wide, and I just couldn’t manage something that big. The 12 foot wide invader was bad enough. 

Img 1616Another important lesson I learned that may prove useful to anyone deluded enough to make things this big is that the level of precision possible with plywood and hand tools isn’t great. At best, it seems to be about 1/8” of precision for cuts, and this is made worse if your working surface isn’t particularly level. Mine wasn’t. At all. I built these on an old brick driveway, and that alone made keeping the 90° angles square a nightmare of disappointingly diagonal lines. 

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I’m pleased with how they turned out, and people seem to like them, so far. When I looked at them before I placed them on site, all I could see were seams, paint drips, wonky edges, and lumps of screw heads. The good news is that in context, at this scale, those things sort of blur away. I’m sure a professional cabinet maker could have done these perfectly, but money and time made that impossible. 

If I had to do it again I’d make them in sections, for easier transport. Also, if anybody thinks they may enjoy one of these in their yard, home, or yacht, let me know! You just may be able to get a deal!

The Indiecade Conference and Festival runs from October 7-9, 2011

12 thoughts on “How to Build Giant Space Invaders as Public Art

  1. Emily Cornwell says:

    I want one!

  2. Lauren Glenn says:

    Damn……  I knew I should’ve moved to the right and shot ahead of that alien….

  3. Joel Rothman says:

    Must have!  Wife says no, but I say yes!

  4. justin smith says:

    Oh man, I’m totally interested in one… or maybe two of those. I have a friend with a patio that would be perfect! How much are we talkin here?

    1. Jason Torchinsky says:

      email me!

  5. justin smith says:

    Oh man, I’m totally interested in one… or maybe two of those. I have a friend with a patio that would be perfect! How much are we talkin here?

  6. Justin Thiel says:

    Hey like no joke on buying one..I would love one in my basement game room.

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Mark Frauenfelder is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Make: magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.

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