It’s been a year since we embarked on our crazy DIY BB-8 venture. I received a message on Instagram recently from someone who scrolled almost a year back in my feed and found a photo of Charlotte as BB-8. She asked how we made our costume, so I figured it was time I shared!
I intended to write a blog post about this last year and never got around to it. I do have a lot more in-progress photos saved somewhere, but I think they are on an older laptop (I’ve upgrade in the past year) so I’ll have to dig for them. For now I’m using photos I posted to Instagram. I’ll update this post later if I find the other photos!
BB-8 Costume – Brainstorming
Our family loves Star Wars. Who doesn’t? We have two daughters, now ages 8 and 10. They both have grown up loving Star Wars with Mr. MFB and I. Naturally both of them fell in love with the latest Star Wars universe android cutie: BB-8.
Last year for Halloween 2016, the girls decided to both be something from the Force Awakens movie. Madison was an easy prospect: she wanted to be Poe Dameron and I found an awesome Poe jacket on the Disney store website. Combine this with some orange cargo pants and black shoes: DONE.
Charlotte wanted to be BB-8. There were only a couple of options last year in the stores, and none of them very realistic (inflatable BB-8, BB-8 dresses or pajamas). And she wanted it to be realistic. Seriously kid? It’s a good thing you’re cute. And that you have crazy parents who DIY the heck out of everything.
After searching the internet for instructions on making a BB-8 costume, I found a lot of DIY paper mache projects that looked pretty good, and some much more advanced projects using composites and industrial strength materials. We were blown away by the homemade BB-8 costume that a cosplay family came up with for their little girl for Wondercon 2016. Have you seen the video of this cutie? Click below. SO STINKING CUTE.
I also found a really great post on Tumblr with a fantastic homemade BB-8 costume that gave me lots of ideas. You can check out that post HERE.
My final source of inspiration was this amazing working BB-8 robot by Tech Builder. Instruction video HERE.
We chose an in-between method for making our BB-8. We used paper mache on the inside of the body, and fiberglass on the outside. This entire project start to finish took us 3 weeks working on the weekends and evenings through the week. Much of this time was waiting for paper mache, fiberglass, and paint to dry. This could be done faster, but it’s not going to happen in a weekend if you choose to use fiberglass. A paper mache project could probably be finished in a weekend with a lot of determination.
Regarding size: this is really up to you. I could have created a much bigger BB-8 costume that my daughter could completely disappear into, like the kiddos above. However it would have had to be quite a bit larger. Charlotte was 7 at the time that she wore hers, and my kids have always been way above average in height. We decided not to make a super big BB-8 because we knew from the start that we were going to keep this afterwards. Now almost a year later, BB-8 still lives in a corner of our living room. Everyone who comes over comments on it, and I always get comments whenever a photo of my living room gets shared on Instagram. It’s pretty close to the size of the actual movie BB-8 and we like that. A younger child could easily crouch down and disappear. Charlotte was good at shrugging her shoulders and pulling her head down inside, but her legs would not fit inside.
Materials used for the body:
- Patience, time, determination and a whole lot of crazy love for your kid.
- Exercise ball or large beach ball
- Lots of newspaper
- Liquid Starch (Sta-flo)
- Fiberglass fabric
- Resin and activator
- Lots of sandpaper and an electric sander
- Spray primer
- Spray paint – white, silver, orange
- Paint pen – gray
- Masking tape in multiple widths OR a vinyl cutting machine with adhesive vinyl
- Ruler and compass
- Dremmel tool with cutting and grinding attachements
- Small dollhouse hinge
Materials for the head:
- Bike helmet
- Plastic candy bowl or mixing bowl a bit larger than the helmet
- Spray foam insulation
- A few strips of newspaper and starch
- Spray primer
- Spray paint
- Paint pen
- Clear or black plastic Christmas ornament for ‘lens’ eye piece.
- Something for the scanner eye piece – we used the end of a cheap flashlight
- Something for the antennae – we used a cheap BIC ink pen and the handle of a small paintbrush
The build – Paper Mache Body
Paper mache. We used newspaper and liquid starch, Sta-flo brand. This can be purchased at most grocery stores, Walmart, or online at Amazon. It’s in a blue jug. You could also use Elmer’s glue or flour and water. I like the liquid starch for easy cleanup and no smell. If your kids like to make homemade slime, you might already have this in the house.
The ball we used was a big exercise ball, bought on Amazon. I also ordered a large beach ball but the inflated ball did not have a perfectly round shape, but more oblong.
I cut strips of newspaper with a paper cutter roughly 2 inches wide. Lots and lots and lots of strips.
I balanced the exercise ball on an empty trash can in the garage with a cardboard box on the floor to catch starch drips. I poured the starch into a large bowl and dipped each paper strip into the starch, ‘wringing’ out between 2 fingers to remove excess starch. I covered 901% of the ball, leaving a rough opening at the bottom of the ball. We later cut out holes in the top and bottom for my daughter’s head and body when the whole thing was finished.
Over the course of several days I did 4 layers of paper mache, alternating the direction of the strips on the each layer and allowing the ball to dry in between layers. I poured leftover starch back in the Sta-flo bottle between layers so I wouldn’t waste any.
Mistake 1 – I placed the ball outside in the sun to dry after the 3rd coat of paper mache. Either the ball expanded or the paper shrunk due to the heat and the light, and a big fat break happened on one side. I had to patch this crack and it never looked completely round on this side after that. Blah. I deflated the exercise ball and taped the crack shut from the inside with duct tape, and patched some layers of paper mache over the outside. I inserted and re-inflated the ball after the patch was done to provide stability while we did the next step: fiberglass.
Fiberglass over the Paper Mache
I could have painted the paper mache ball and called it done, but I wanted something more sturdy. My daughter is dead clumsy and I was afraid that if she fell down in the costume, the whole thing might cave in. We also thought it would be cool to keep the BB-8 after Halloween was over, so we decided to make the body more rigid with fiberglass.
I had never used fiberglass before, but I’m pretty adventurous so I said “Why not?” Mr. MFB and I watched some YouTube videos and dove right in. We purchased fiberglass fabric and resin in the automotive department at Walmart.
This process was messy, but not terribly difficult for a beginner. I used a sharpie to trace a long leaf-shaped strips (like the segments of a beach ball, but thinner). Use new or very sharp scissors to cut out the shapes. Dull scissors just wont cut it. Literally.
Mr. MFB mixed resin with the activator (came with the resin) and I donned thick rubber gloves and held the fiberglass leaves over the ball while he poured the resin over top and smeared it around with a cheap paintbrush (throw away after). I helped rub in the resin to saturate the fabric, since I had the gloves on. We overlapped the segments just a bit, and allowed to dry/cure for about a day.
We repeated with a second coat of fiberglass and resin. Allowed to dry.
Two more coats of just resin to fill in any gaps or bubbles we saw. Allow to dry.
SAND SAND SAND SAND SAND SAND SAND SAND SAND
SO. MUCH. SANDING.
I used an electric palm sander with first 150 then 220 grit sandpaper and sanded the heck out of this thing. Then sanded some more. There were a few divets where the resin settled or an air bubble popped, and a bit of a raised area where the fiberglass seams overlapped. It was not perfectly round and smooth, but no one noticed much once it was painted. We just said he was a “Battle worn BB Unit.”
Painting the body
One coat of spray primer in white. Two coats of white spray paint, semi-gloss.
I wrapped string around the body in 3 directions and drew circumference lines with a pencil. I intentionally made the BB Unit control panel circle things at an angle so that they were not at perfect directional positions (north, south, east west, etc). This gave the BB-8 the look that he was in motion, and also hid any mistakes I made in the alignment of the graphics.
The ORANGE color:
I drew out some circles with a compass and pencil. I made some graphics on my computer and cut them out of removable adhesive vinyl with my Cricut machine. Applying them was a challenge because of the curved surface. I think I could have done just as well with masking tape, but it might have taken longer. If you go the masking tape route, just tear off small pieces to go around the curved areas, then mask off the rest of the ball with scrap paper.
I sprayed the orange graphics and allowed to dry. I carefully removed the masking tape, hopeful that it wouldn’t peel up any white paint. (This only happened to me on the helmet) You can spray some orange spray paint into a paper or plastic cup and use a small paintbrush for touch ups.
I have the Sphero BB-8 remote control droid, and he was helpful in drawing out the details on the body. I first sketched designs with pencil then outlined with a gray paint pen (I already had a set of Uni-Posca paint markers, but buy just a single pen of whatever brand your craft store has). I used a flexible curved drafting ruler for some of the lines around the ball. I created a cardboard template to trace for the small circles. If you keep wet wipes close at hand, or paper towel and alcohol, you can clean up mistakes and try again before the paint pen dries.
This takes patience and a steady hand. Turn on some Star Wars and watch a marathon while you draw on your droid.
The last thing I painted was the silver areas. After deciding which areas I wanted to be silver, I drew and masked off the silver portions to spray. Again, I masked off the rest of the ball to protect from over spray.
Finishing the body
Using a Dremmel tool, the Husband Unit cut a whole for our daughter’s head and sanded the edges smooth, and cleaned up the hole at the bottom of the body the same way, then sanded smooth. We ended up using a piece of 1” thick upholstery foam to protect her shoulders and neck inside the body. We bought a square intended to upholster seat cushions, cut it to fit, cut a slit and hole to go around her neck, and stuffed it inside. We didn’t secure it with anything, it just sat on her shoulders inside the body of the costume.
We also attached a small candy bag inside the body with duct tape, and Mr. MFB cut a semi-circle out of one of the silver control panel graphics, then re-attached it with a small hinge, like the kind you would use on a dollhouse or a jewelry box which we found at the craft store. Our daughter was able to stick her hand and arm out of that hinged panel. He asked her if she wanted holes for both arms but she just wanted one. She thought that was more authentic!
It was really hot last Halloween so my daughter ended up not wearing her glove. However, we had a black knit glove with some orange and blue tissue paper taped to the end of the thumb to simulate fire. She could have stuck her hand out of the costume and given a ‘thumbs up’ with fire like BB-8 did in the movie.
We found a plastic candy bowl at Five Below that was the perfect size and shape for BB-8’s head, and bought a cheap bike helmet also at Five Below.
We cut the end off of a cheap plastic flashlight and drilled a hole in the plastic bowl where we wanted this piece to be. We set the flashlight piece aside to be inserted after painting was done. We also drilled small holes for the antennae to be inserted later. Our antenna pieces were a plastic Bic ink pen and the handle of a small paintbrush.
The Husband Unit cut about 2 inches off the lip of the bowl so it was closer in depth to the helmet size. We secured the helmet inside the bowl temporarily with hot glue, then filled in the areas between the bowl and helmet with lots of spray foam insulation. We sprayed extra foam outside of the bowl and helmet around the lip so we could later carve the angled under-side of BB’s head. Allow to dry. Use an Xacto blade or even a steak knife to chip out any foam that squirted through the holes in the helmet, and carve the edge of the foam around the edge of the bowl to an angle.
Lightly sand the foam edge smooth.
We then slapped some drywall compound over the foam to provide a hard surface to paint, then sanded when it was dry. It ended up cracking, so I added just a couple of quick layers of paper mache strips to this angled portion and allowed to dry before painting.
Painting the helmet
I sanded the plastic bowl-turned-helmet really well and applied 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of white spray paint. In hindsight, I probably should have bought a plastic spray paint since I was painting plastic. When I later removed masking tape, some of the paint came off and I had to sand and paint again. The primer I used said it was okay for plastic, but it still peeled.
When the white was dry, I drew the graphics with pencil using a ruler and compass. Masked off the areas that needed to be orange and sprayed them orange. Allowed to dry. This is when I pulled off the masking tap and the white primer and paint came with it. I had to lightly sand and paint the white again, then mask and paint the orange again.
Last masking job was the silver area on top, sprayed, allowed to dry.
Finally I drew in the rest of the details by hand with a combination of sharpies and paint pens in silver, black, and gray.
Finishing the Helmet
The large glass ‘eye’ piece was half of a plastic Christmas ornament from the craft store, painted black on the inside with several coats of black craft paint. You could use spray paint too if you already have black, but I didn’t want to buy a can just for this small piece. We used a sanding/grinding attachment on our Dremmel tool to grind down the edges a bit so this piece would fit on the curved edge of the bowl/helmet. It was held in place with clear epoxy. I cut a half-inch strip of peel-and-stick black craft foam to wrap around the base, hiding the imperfect fitting.
We inserted the flashlight eye piece and antenna pieces and secured with some clear epoxy.