Step by Step directions on how we constructed the BB8 shell at the end of this article.
It was a very BB8 Halloween, and for my wife and me, a Bold Beautiful 8 years of marriage was reached on this favorite holiday of ours in 2016. This was also the year our oldest son (2nd on the way) achieved his longest life goal to date, by dressing up as BB8 for his trick or treating adventures. It may have been the best Halloween yet… a success all aROUND… pun intended.
Funny to think that this kid had this costume idea in his head way back from the prior Christmas when he was gifted a BB8 bicycle helmet by Grand Dad. A whole 10 months, which at this point was close to 1/5th of this guy’s existence. What a nut! Although, I can kind of relate, that’s like me being fixated on Gardening for the last 7 or so years.
Anyway… The costume was clearly incomplete with just a helmet so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. If you didn’t already know, the wife and I are fairly well suited for these types of projects. Our backgrounds in theatre and stagecraft is more or less the embodiment of our entire family culture. That and Star Wars of course. We’ve been fortunate to practice these skills through a variety of different projects, including one that gave me the framework for BB8’s body construction.
Several years ago I created a mascot head for Stuey McBrews, a local pub in Lee’s Summit, MO. It was a simple paper mache technique that sandwiched the paper and glue mache around a layer of plaster bandage. The round form used was an inflatable kids sized yoga ball which was deflated once the layers had dried. This made for a surprisingly strong shell. I heard reports of vodka bottles being thrown at the Stuey mascot head with zero damage. This would be the perfect technique for a costume made for a not so sure footed toddler. Between that and the helmet he was good to go, or fall and safely roll away. He never did end up falling but I kind of wanted to see that, not going to lie.
We even got to use our brains a little to lay out the painted pattern, which did confound us for a minute, but we were just over thinking it as usual. After that we sharpie’d in some detail, rubbed some graphite on for roll patterns and distressing, then sealed it up. It turned out great, and every star wars fan we came across was so excited to see him “rolling” down the road. This project took a bit of time but if your kid has a dream that spans 20% of his life, you summon the force and DO! My favorite part of the night was when we were walking down the sidewalk in between houses and out of nowhere he awkwardly looked back at me the best he could in that big ball and said, “Dad, I love you”.
Now for the Step by Step if you are so inclined…
- Inflatable Ball of some kind
- Brown Paper Grocery Bags
- Glue, we used “Weldbond” but Elmer’s works
- Plaster Bandage
- Sand Paper
- Spackle Paste
- Foam Insulation tubes
- Foam cushion type material
- Hot Glue Gun
- Acrylic Paint
- Sealer, we used Polycrylic
- Size Matters – The first step in this whole process is really to determine the size. You’re going to kick yourself a lot if you get this wrong, or your kid will. Finding the right sized inflatable can prove to be difficult too so start looking early.
- Grocery Bags – Tear up several paper grocery bags into manageable pieces. The larger the ball the bigger the pieces can be without creating lots of unwanted wrinkles. It also helps if they are close to a triangle shape for this same reason. Lastly it helps a ton if you crinkle and soften them up a bit so they become more pliable and porous.
- Lube It Up – The Vaseline works pretty well as a releasing agent for when you’re ready to deflate the ball and remove it. There are other options for this too.
- Glue Time – We used a glue called “Weldbond” simply mixed with water. The viscosity you’re looking for is basically equal to a fresh can of paint. A good test is if you pour a thin layer onto a plate and drag your finger though it quickly. If your finger leaves a bit of a wake or trail behind for a split second you’re good to go. If your mix is too thin you will see zero trail left behind.
- The Cover Up – It’s wise to get one layer done in a single setting. I waited a day before adding a second layer of the paper bags. The third layer is where the ball gets it’s real strength with the addition of the plaster bandages. I cut these bandages into triangles for an easy and smooth application. This may take more than a day to fully dry depending on the humidity. The fourth and final layer then is another paper bag layer with the same glue mix as before.
- Built for Comfort – We went the extra mile and hot glued on some foam piping around the neck and arm holes to make the costume more comfortable to ware. We also used fabric foam, hot glued in like shoulder pads so it sat just right on his shoulders. It ended up being so much more simple than the spider web of straps and suspenders I thought it was going to require.
- The Finish – This combination of layers is impressively tough but not completely impervious. It will even continue to get harder as all the layers dry for a few days. After that its all about sanding and spackleing to your desired smoothness. You aren’t going to end up with a glass marble but you can get pretty close if you really want to. Finally it’s time to prime, paint, and seal.
If anyone out there in internet land tries this method out for a BB8 or any other creation we’d love to see the pics, and may the force be with you!