Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daft DeLorean photoshoot!

If you're just arriving on this page, please be sure to visit parts one  two and three of this build, which showcase the sculpting  moldmaking and electronics aspects of the project.  

I haven't done a photoshoot post since 2009 with the Big Daddy suit at the Aquarium, but the Thomas helmet brought in some of the most beautiful shots I've ever had taken of my work. Pair this with the fact that Catherine of God Save The Queen Fashions created an absolutely perfect replica of Daft Punk's "Human After All" era leather costumes, and the overall illusion is simply spectacular.

As with my other entry, I would be remiss to neglect mentioning all the help I had with this project. It would not have come together without the efforts of the following people:

Coding for this helmet (Arduino and iOS) was handled by James Moss
The Daft Punk leather suit, which you see below, was fabricated by Catherine Jones of God Save The Queen Fashions
Chroming of the helmet and gloves was handled by Creations n' Chrome
Photography on this page is courtesy of Dan Almasy
Custom circuit board printing was handled by Batch
Awesome DeLorean provided for the photoshoot by Derek Lukaschus

First, the recap video because if you don't want to read the process, at least you can watch it!

Now, onto the pictures!

Thanks for taking a look!

Want more pictures? Higher resolution? Check out my Flickr stream!

Daft Punk Helmet (Thomas) Final!

Its been a long road, but not nearly as long as my Guy Manuel project. I learned a lot from Guy, most notably what NOT to do, which allowed me to streamline this process considerably. The end result was more solid, more polished, more professional, and about ten times a complex as the Guy helmet, and it gives me a special pleasure to announce it finished.

Before I get into the "how-I-did-it" thing, some credit is due to fantastic artisans who assisted in helping me bring this project to light. Below you'll find each specialist's web page, and I can say their work is of the absolute highest caliber.

Coding for this helmet (Arduino and iOS) was handled by James Moss
The Daft Punk leather suit, which you see below, was fabricated by Catherine Jones of God Save The Queen Fashions
Chroming of the helmet and gloves was handled by Creations n' Chrome
2 photographs below and the last on this page, courtesy of Dan Almasy
Custom circuit board printing was handled by Batch
Awesome DeLorean provided for the photoshoot by Derek Lukaschus

If you're just arriving on this page, please be sure to visit parts one and two of this build, which showcase the sculpting and moldmaking aspects of the project. 

Don't feel like reading? You're in luck! 4 months go by in 3 and a half minutes:

And, if you'd rather just see more pretty pictures like the ones below and skip all the sawdust and soldering, feel free to hit this link to see more fancy photowork.

Onto the build! The last time I had an update on the project, the mold had been finalized and I had one prepped polyester resin casting heading out for chrome work.

While this was out at Creations n Chrome, I got to work on the visor LED matrix. To check for some semblance of visibility, I made a mockup printed on transparency film of where the LEDs and wire traces would be situated. Nothing exact, but good enough for a proof-of-theory.

Vision was adequate, which was very encouraging!

I decided the actual structure to hold the matrix in place would be built from 2 sections of 1/16" aluminum plate, with the drilled-out subvisor tension-fit between them. Below was the start of all that ambition.

After scribing all the lines, the plates were cut on a scrollsaw. The two large holes in the plate are where two vent fans are situated, which pull fresh air in through the lower nose vents on the underside of the visor. I can't say enough how much these saved my live when wearing the helmet, especially in the Atlanta heat in summer.

Uprights were cut from 3/16" aluminum hollow tube, and tapped to accept a machine screw. 5 of these hold the plated parallel to one another.

This styrene plate was the mockup for the subvisor. You can see the tabs on the top which align with cutouts on the mounting plates. This has a double feature of keeping the subvisor bent on a gradual curve as well as keeping the entire thing in place without the need for any glue joints.

Quick test with my mockup helmet to make sure everything fits!

Then came the drilling... All the holes for the subvisor were drilled by hand on my drill press. The material used was .060" PET plastic.

More mounting points were drilled and tapped into the subvisor frame to allow for the circuit boards to be mounted later. If you go this route, make sure to insulate your boards against the aluminum to prevent dead shorts and the dreaded blue smoke.

And then I polished them. Because, why not?

The subvisor with protective plastic still in place. 320 holes!

These are the chips that drive the matrix. Each holds one MAX7221 multiplexing LED driver with input as well as output sides of the board to make this a scalable design. Each will drive one 8x8 matrix and are designed to be daisy-chained together. Boards were designed in CadSoft's Eagle PCB editor. They're not a bad design, but there are improvements to be made in future designs.

You can see the 2 small 5V fans situated on the subvisor frame below.

Since I needed to bend the leads on 320 red LEDs, I made a small jig to keep things a little more precise. Using this, I only had one in all 320 wired backwards when it came time for testing! If you're looking for LEDs for your next project, I get mine from

A second jig was made in some scarp aluminum square tube for soldering the columns together. Since the subvisor curve is a simple (that is, one axis) curve, I was able to do these solder joints outside the assembly.

Repeat 40 times.

Once the columns were in place, I was able to solder the rows together.

Since nothing was glued in at this point, I was able to push the LEDs back out of the subvisor and wire up the rows and columns without worrying about getting crud all over the clear PET sheet. At this point, I also painted the backs of all the LEDs black to reduce the amount of light leaking back into the helmet, and the wearer's eyes.

And then mounted back into the subvisor frame. A lot of tidying up to do.

This was an exercise in frustration. Next time, I'll be sacrificing board size in order to have slightly larger solder pads for the matrices. Bleh.

A comment from a fellow member of the Replica Prop Forum asked if I was going to be adding Thomas' ear LEDs as well. I hadn't planned on it, but the more I considered the idea the more I wanted something there. These are simple I/O boards which illuminate a clear disc mounted in the ears with 7 different colors. The final effect was well worth it!

I also tossed together a quick mold of for the side light bars. Easier than building 2 from scratch and trying to make them identical!

In the end, my fancy boards for the side lights got pushed out of the way by my slightly ambitious 8x40 matrix. I made some simple I/O lights (literally days before the debut of the helmet at Dragon*Con in Atlanta!) to fill the gap left behind. The lead arrangement on them isn't my most stunning work, but they get the job done.

To bolster my spirits somewhat after this small letdown, I got the following photo form Creations n' Chrome. Stunning.

Still more to do! I put together a visor buck from MDF and styrene sheet for the PET visors. My first attempt at vacuumforming went alright, but the draw distance was rather far and the final piece was a bit too thin.

Instead, I strapped a 2.5" tall sheet of PET plastic to the buck, then heated it with a heat gun until it held shape. Perfect!

At this point, things needed to start going into that shiny chrome bucket. First went the ear lights, shown here being tested off a breadboard until the power supply was finalized.

Then the visor went into place. I don't have much in the way of documentation on this process, but if you're interested in using RIT dye to tint PET plastic, check out this post on the RPF. Tekparasite uses one of my helmets in his project, and came up with a really great method of getting superb results without all the finisky nonsense of niteshades spray tint.

The matrix is controlled by an Arduino Yellowjacket. James cooked up an iOS program that allows the helmet text to be changed over WiFi, as well as allowing the user to select certain patterns. For Dragon*Con, a switch was implemented that ran down my sleeve so I could toggle through animations more easily. The hardest part isn't seeing or controlling an iPhone with the helmet on, its actually getting it out of your pocket with those glove plates in the way!

This switch plate, mounted to one of the ear pucks, controls various parts of electronics. From left: 5V regulator, YellowJacket & matrix, corner & ear lights, vent fans.

The aforementioned voltage regulator. After building my own linear regulator (and finding out it would probably set my hair on fire) I decided to order this one from Pololu. 7A continuous current and up to 24V input! My helmet ran on 11.1V 3S LiPo batteries, but could have easily run on a 7.2V 2S as well.

Vent fan placement - remember, if you live anywhere that gets above 50ºF outside, you need these!

A few images of the final wiring getting tidied up.

It works! With the LEDs off and with ambient lighting, you can see the matrix behind the visor. Since I decided against using video glasses or a camera, I needed the visor to be as light as possible to avoid light reflection back into the helmet. For those who will ask - you can see very well with the helmet on! The brighter it is outside, the easier it is to see as the incoming light is stronger than the ambient light inside the helmet.

That said, if you try to wear it in pitch black, you're pretty much blind. Still, it looks cool!

Below are just a few of some of the amazing pictures my friends have taken of this bucket for me. There are more on my Daft Punk Thomas Photography blog entry, so be sure to check that out as well!

Images courtesy of Bill Doran: (see his Flickr for more images here)

Image courtesy of Anne Almasy: (see her Flickr for more images here)

If you'd like to see more photos of the build process, be sure to check out my Flickr stream here

Thanks for reading!