My girlfriend and I always spend too much money on supplies to make our Halloween costumes, which is a big reason why this year we decided to be classic cardboard robots. But as usual, we felt the need to take it further.
Before I actually started building, there was a lot to think about and conceptualize. If you’re thinking of being a realistic robot, a question you should ask yourself is- what is my function as a robot? Your design should reflect that, and any lights, gears, gauges and other gadgets should be directly influenced by what kind of robot you are.
I knew that I wanted to dance, so it was important that I make my costume as articulated as possible. I also decided early on that I wanted to be able to play music. My iPod is broken and I didn’t want to buy a new one for Halloween. I thought about one of those futuristic vertical loading CD players, but skipping might have been an issue, so I was thinking a tape player would be ideal. I happened to find an awesome one for $5 at Goodwill.
There are so many aesthetic directions to go in for robot. Some of my favorite robots are C-3PO from Star Wars, and the False Maria from Fritz Lang’s silent epic Metropolis. Since we were using cardboard, something as sleek as either of those seemed unrealistic, but looking at how the costumes were jointed to accommodate the human inside was very helpful. Computer animated films Wall-E and Robots were also very inspiring, as were all the robot costumes on this site. Another inspiration for how to articulate my costume were the ball joints on Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and I borrowed a little from MegaMan’s look too.
I started out by making all the pieces out of cardboard. I used one of those box cutters with the break off blades. As soon as my cuts started looking a little ragged, I’d break off a new tip, and the cuts would be clean again. Each piece was cut out of a single cardboard box then folded into a three dimensional shape. I put duct tape over all the edges for added strength and so that you wouldn’t see the corrugation that gave it away as cardboard. I then cut the same shape out of poster board and hot glued it over the cardboard. A lot of the boxes were a little beat up, and the poster board gave it a clean finish for when I spray painted everything blue.
For added detail, I hot glued strips of silver-painted poster board with blue rivets (spray painted brad paper fasteners) down each leg and arm, and down the middle of the costume. At my shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees I attached styrofoam bowls which I had painted silver and added blue detail to the back of. This gave a better impression of mechanized robot joints.
In the torso piece, I cut a window for the tape player to poke through, which was strapped to my chest. I also cut a hole in the back, and put a screen in for ventilation. In addition to keeping me slightly cooler, it also seemed realistic for a robot to have a vent, as many electronics- from computers to hair dryers- have some kind of ventilation to keep them from overheating. The torso piece was fastened by two nuts and bolts in the back, and one on each shoulder.
The bottom part, which looked like underwear or a diaper also had a bolt on each side, and a little strip of elastic between the legs. It had a strip of foam in front and back to make it more comfortable and keep it from slipping down. The lower arm pieces bolted closed around by wrists. The upper arm and upper leg pieces were held on with elastic, and the lower leg pieces and head slipped on and had a little foam in them to keep them in place.
For feet and hands, I took an old pair of black slip ons, and a $2 pair of black gloves, and hot glued painted poster board in jointed, armor-like designs.
For the head, I used two more of the Styrofoam bowls for ears with coat hanger wire and ping pong ball antennae. To maximize my peripheral vision, I had screen wrapping around the front and sides of the head. I used three layers of screen to diminish how much people could see my face inside, and spray painted it blue, taping off two round shapes for eyes which remained silver.
The robot eyes were circles of poster board that I hot glued three things to- a ring of blue coated electrical wire from a thrifted RCA cable, a poorly made fiber optic device from Walgreens (I was hoping to use EL wire, but didn’t have time) and then on the outside of the ring, silver zipper, which gave it a gear-like look. I had a small slit with screen for a mouth which I also bordered in zipper. Inside the helmet I attached one of those whirring mouth whistles to sound like robot servos making my joints move. I got a pack of them at Walgreens that looked like vampire mouths.
I had two mix tapes- one of Halloween songs, and one of robot songs, and I had cassette tape cases glued to my robot thighs (painted silver with a blue brad at each corner).
All together, there were 15 separate robot pieces- hands, feet, lower legs, upper legs, my robot diaper, torso, lower arms, upper arms, and head. Having each piece separate allowed me maximum mobility, while still giving my movements a robotic, jointed appearance, greatly enhanced by doing angular and isolated body movements with a little popping and locking and moon walking.
Since it rained on Halloween, and I was made of cardboard (the shoes got ruined), I didn’t get to go out much. Instead, my girlfriend and I played the evil robots to our nephew’s super hero and had an epic battle in the living room. A couple days later, I went to an outdoor dance party though, and my costume was a huge hit. I walked a couple miles home, and 85% of the people I passed called out to me about what a cool robot I was. I think I’m gonna wear this suit on street corners and do some dancing for tips!
To see the costume in action and more on how I put it together, check out the video.
This is the total list of my supplies:
- cardboard boxes
- poster board
- styrofoam bowls
- window screen
- brad paper fasteners
- spray paint
- acrylic paint
- duct tape
- hot glue
The headpiece also used:
- RCA cable
- wire hanger
- 2 ping pong balls
- fiber optic shoelaces
- vampire lip whistle
And underneath everything:
- tape deck
- black gloves
- old shoes
- unitard from previous Halloween costume