Note: This post is longer than usual, due to amount of description as to how I came to various conclusions. So don't g
So now that I knew what I could do and wanted to do, it was time to figure out with what I would do it.
I knew I needed an Arduino, and a Wav Shield. I happened to already have the former (that I never used) so I proceeded to order the Wave Shield from Adafruit. If you're ordering an Arduino for the first time, and you're Canadian like me, consider Spikenzie Labs as it'll save you a ton on shipping and currency exchange. That and they're cool folk out of the Montreal maker scene.
Now, before I proceed with the rest, I feel I should highlight these points for anyone doing a DIY project of their own. It applies to all builds as it applies to this one:
So while some initial materials sourcing will happen at this step, understand I will end up sourcing other things later.
So, first we need to find a base material. Basically, what everything else will be stuck to. Usually I start with a rough sketch over a photo. Basically, block out shapes. Always look at something at its most geometrically simple, since you can always add detail later. Anyone who learnt to draw should recognize this trick as starting a face with an oval and a torso as a triangle.
So, looking above, the easiest shapes to cut out would be one for the base of where the cyclotron(the round thing that sticks out at the bottom) will go, in a shape kinda like a reverse 6, or a yinless yang.
The base below it would be mainly flat, except where there's something like a 'step' to the right, Quite possibly the base itself would also be two layers, where one ends further from the right than the other.
So now to figure out the material to use. It has to be be somewhat thick, since that cyclotron base is easily a few inches tall. I also live in a 4th story apartment in a primarily wooden building. Bandsaws are out. So the material should be easy to cut with manual blades or, at worse, Dremel cutting wheels.
[ Here I feel I should state that I was in no way interested in a fully movie accurate recreation. It should be good enough to look a lot like a Proton Pack, even if it doesn't hold up to detailed measurement. http://www.therpf.com/ is an awesome resource if you truly want example and instruction on how to get it movie accurate, but that wasn't my intent with this. Some of my projects have detailed scaling, but expect lots of rough measurements on this project. ]
So, the materials I was thinking of off the top of my head were the following:
So, Styrofoam is thick and can be fairly easy to cut, doubly so if I were to acquire a foam cutting device(basically a tiny heated element that acts like a hot knife through butter). However, it's very weak, dents easily and is a giant pain to paint. If not perfectly sealed, any bit of spray paint that gets through the sealant will melt it like xenomorph blood through a ship's hull. It's not pretty. Also, Styrofoam is veeeery messy, even with the proper cutting tools.
Far less messy. Basically as lightweight. Also used a lot for actual professional prop work. You often see this as a pink coloured foam board insulation at the hardware store. It's a lot cleaner to cut and a lot more amenable to being glued. However, it still melts like a green skinned occultist in Oz at a car wash if you get any paint on it, so it needs to be sealed carefully. And while it dents far less easily than Styrofoam, it's also fairly weak. The pack will be worn at a convention, after all, where it will be jostled and hung on my back, complete with electronics and power supply.
I shortlisted this one, but in the end I went with:
Ahh, the favourite fallback of armour cosplayers everywhere. This stuff is sold at many retailers and hardware stores and they look like puzzle pieces. Typically to either childproof a room or footproof a garage. They often come in different colours, too. Black would be perfect for this but all I could source locally was grey so that's the colour I got.
EVA foam is tough, relatively cheap, bounces back if dented, still glues easily and will handle the weight of anything I put in it. Also cuts very easily and, should something get passed the paint, is black on the inside. Perfect, even if somewhat heavier than the other foams above.
[ Here, alas, is where this being a finished rather than ongoing project starts to be an issue. Since it was never intended to be properly build logged, I have few pictures of the materials in pre-build condition, so some imagination will be needed. I'll do what I can. ]
The cyclotron is that big round thing with the red cycling lights at the base of the proton pack. I figured something like a cake pan or something would do. But let me share another trick I often take advantage of:
Always check thrift stores and dollar stores before buying anything.
Seriously. Dollar stores and thrift stores have so much junk in them in so many shapes and sizes, you'll find a geometric approximation of most anything you can think of. Doesn't matter what colour it is, or if it's transparent, think solely of the geometry. Since paint will end up covering all of it anyways. And you can always add to it if some detailing is missing.
In my case, I went to a thrift store and found a translucent lid for a desert tray which looked close enough for me to take it home. It was a translucent white too, which I figured would be great for diffusing the eventual red LEDs to boot. Also, being plastic meant any modifications to it would be a lot easier than drilling holes in metal cake pans. Total cost, $3.
I picked up a couple plastic boxes of various shapes and sizes, thinking, given the boxy shapes, they might come in handy.
The 'Neutron Wand' is the gun part you point at slimy things. The main components, aside from light bits and knobs, are a clear tip, a box for the wands and lights are, a handle that connects to a tube-enclosed wiring harness that goes back to the pack, and some cylindrical bit to put a second handle on. It's also the piece the fewest people pay attention to regarding detail, so it removes part of the pressure to hold at least reasonably accurate.
The easiest part is the wiring harness: I picked up 25' of that tubing from Princess Auto for a pittance. It's basically just some flimsy plastic tube with a slit all down its length so you can thread wire through. Even the movie prop had this and, if you pay attention, you can see some zip ties holding it together. And there was the second thing I picked up from Princess Auto: black zip ties. Perfect.
I knew I'd be running some actual wiring between the pack and the wand, so I decided on some Cat-5 Ethernet networking cable. There are 8 pieces of good quality wire in those, already nicely wrapped up and done in a way to minimize interference. Again, perfect.
[ As a side note, many of my projects wind up using Cat-5 cable or bits of Cat-5 cable. If you see any at a yard sale or thrift store, pick that stuff up. It's infinitely useful ]
The box, bits and handles were going to be trickier.
TO THE DOLLAR STORE! </batmanmusic>
At the dollar store, I picked up two hose heads that had quasi-hand-shaped handles. A toy dart gun and an LED colour changing pumpkin LED as well as some random bits of roughly knob shaped stuff I figured would look fine with a coat of paint.
The pumpkin LED was a good find since most of those integrate the colour changing circuit inside the LED itself: just add 3.5V-5V. Figured it would be perfect for the tip of the gun and wouldn't even require any fancy Arduino work besides controlling when it gets its electricity.
So, the dart gun I cut apart to get something which at least approximated the wand passed the box part to see if it'd work. Looked good enough. Cutting was was super simple with an X-Acto since it was made out of millimeter thick cheap plastic anyways.
I did something similar with the hose heads. Removing the actual 'multi-spray' head with a screw driver and cutting away some of the rubber handle until it approximated what it looked like in the movie(well, after a coat of paint, from far).
The box was tricky. It would have to house at least some electronics, hopefully a speaker and small amp, and batteries for the same. And it would have to be sturdy since it would bear the weight of the two halves of the wand plus the constant torquing by the wiring harness.
I couldn't find any simply pre-made solution to this, so I settled with getting a piece of craft plywood from a Michael's craft store (a properly stocked dollar store might have it too, mine didn't, so I paid the Michael's tax).
I figured I'd doodle something close and cut it into shape with my Dremel and glue or screw the ever loving heck out of it later.
Odds and Ends:
Both the pack and the wand have lots of knobs and cylindrical bits. I had amassed a collection of thick cardboard tubing from stuff like window blinds, gift wrap rolls and posters or prints shipped to me in the past. Absent those, I suppose some bits of PVC piping, wooden dowels, bits of toys would have done.
I also grabbed a bunch of bottle caps from plastic bottles, little things you screw on lampshades with and random bits of knobby things from the dollar store or my trash stash.
[ If you don't have a trash stash, you'll get one the more you build things like this. And you'll find all kinds of in-a-pinch bits of doohickey for such projects ]
I also grabbed some cheap jump rope cords from the dollar store to do some faux-wiring and already had a roll of 'rainbow' ribbon cable from some other projects. You can generally find that stuff super cheap on eBay and is even more invaluable than Cat-5. Get some.
The last component is the piece with the straps with which I'd be strapping it on myself. I cheated a tad and used the same base I used on my older Proton Pack: an ancient wooden camping backpack I picked up at that salvage yard. The pack part had rotted years before I ever set eyes on it but the frame was still perfectly fine.
Had I not had this pack, any cheap or half-busted camping backpack from thrift would have done the trick.
So that's it for this extremely-long-already post!
Ironically, the next few posts will likely be shorter, since fabricating can be described more succinctly than the logical thinking behind repurposing junk :)
Stay tuned next time for "Assembling the Pack Base"!
"Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out."
Réal is a jackass of all trades, master of none, with interests in politics, human interface design, animation, video games, VR, technology, and making random stuff. Has a skill to have both too much time on his hands and nowhere near enough to get stuff done.