R2's dome was what started it all. I'd been a lurker on Astromech.net for quite a while, but hadn't take the plunge. I was overwhelmed by the information there and the complexity and expense of building a Droid. One late night, I had a weak moment when another club member posted a used, incomplete dome for sale. Some negotiation and a few days wait later my prize arrived.
The previous owner had imagined this dome as a static display piece. As such none of the panels opened. It was a very nice club dome, and included the 3 Holo Projectors and a resin Radar Eye. At this point, I should explain what a club dome is.
Part of the point of the Astromech Builder's Club is to standardize measurements and specifications so that our Droids actually look and behave the same way the film Droids do. Many dedicated club members have spend a LOT of time in the Lucasfilm archives measuring film used props and publishing that information to the club. I'm in their deep debt. The club as a group also has buying power when it comes to making Droid parts that would be difficult or impossible for an individual member to make. One of those specialty parts is the dome. Daren Murrer has been the driving force behind a movie accurate dome for the club for nearly 20 years. He has spent a LOT of his own money tracking down companies that can produce an aluminum dome blank accurate enough for us club members. These domes don't arrive as finished pieces, but as two domes...in my case a blank inner and a laser cut outer dome. The panels in the outer dome are partially cut by laser, but still need to be separated from the outer dome and finished. The domes are either hand made by a craftsman or in recent years made by a completely custom hydro-forming tool.
Once I had my dome, I was committed. At that point, I wasn't sure I'd be able to take on building a complete Droid, but I could make a fully animated dome that would be a great display piece for my office. I started by disassembling the dome and removing the old paint. As it turned out, there were several pieces missing that I had to track down from other club members.
The first thing I needed to do was to cut the panel holes in the inner dome. I used a combination of a jigsaw and a Dremel tool. I needed to save the cut out pieces as they'd be used as the inner portion of the opening panel. I used the outer dome as a template for the openings.
The cuts weren't pretty, but I knew I'd be able to clean up the openings with a file after I was finished.
Each of the removed panels needed to be fitted with its own hinge. The hinges were provided by another club member, but I modified them extensively before installing them.
The hinges are attached to the inner dome with a special "captive" stud. The outer dome covers these when installed.
After all the panels were fitted, I mocked up the dome with all the panels installed before moving on. This was a pretty exciting moment!
The mounting of the Holographic Projectors (the moveable eyes), PSIs (Processor Status Indicators) and Logic Displays were next. These parts were once again provided by the club, but in finished form.
They were mounted with the same kind of captive studs.
The projectors themselves are animated by two servos held in place by a bracket I cut from aluminum sheet. This is an early version which has since been modified to accommodate twisting by little fingers...
The PSIs holders.
They are also held in place with studs. I had to cut the holes in the dome and then grind the front holder flush with the inner dome.
The Logic display surrounds also needed to be fitted to the dome. Front:
The electronics for the dome lighting (PSIs and Logics) were built by me from blank circuit boards made by another club member. I'd done soldering before, but it was a challenging project. Lots of tiny solder joints.
For the panels to move, they each needed to be equipped with a servo. These are the same type of servos used in radio controlled airplanes and cars.
The springs are there to protect the servos if the panels are pulled open by inquisitive little fingers. Just after that shot was taken, I decided to cut the inner dome to make the inner and outer fit together better. My dome was hand made, and they were just a little too different in shape to fit together well without cutting.
I was pretty close to assembling the two domes at this point so I polished the outer dome a bit.
At this point I noticed that the inner panels of the very top panels would be visible when they were open, so I decided to make them a bit prettier. Before:
While my dome came with a resin plastic Radar Eye, I decided to keep with aluminum and bought a new super film accurate version by Daren. The same Daren responsible for the dome blank. It is a beautiful chunk of metal!
Attaching that beautiful eye on to the dome really made it look like R2 was in the room.
A VERY smart club member named CuriousMarc designed a neat integrated solution for controlling sound, lights and servos in R2's dome. It was so easy to hook up, even I could do it. These functions can even be controlled from a iPhone. The photo below shows my mock up of the basic components before I installed them into the dome. If you want to see some really cool stuff, visit Marc's website Curiousmarc.com.
Getting all the electronics mounted and the servos fitted took a lot of time and there was quite a lot of swearing.
The servos are all mounted on little aluminum mounts that are made for model airplanes. Each one had to be adjusted so it opened its panel just the right amount.
Speaking of the panels, I knew I'd eventually paint them blue, but I wanted to assemble the entire dome and test it before painting first. To dress them up a bit before paint I decided to polish them. i got a little carried away!
I was finally able to finish assembling the dome and see all the panels open and close for the first time under their own power.
I'd installed a small speaker so I cold hear R2's signature sounds as well. Marc had created some preprogrammed sequences that would open and close the dome panels and change the lighting while playing Star Wars themed music or R2 sounds.
Here's a quick video I made showing some of the basic features of R2's fully animated dome!
It was totally amazing. Even before I'd learned to program new animation sequences, I was hooked... I was going to have to build the whole Droid. But more than that, I wasn't content to put together parts that someone else had made, no matter how beautiful they were. I wanted to design my own parts and customize R2 as much as possible. It was the beginning of a fantastic learning experience for me!