WonderCon 2009: R2-D2 Builders

StarWars.com Team | March 5, 2009

R2-D2 goes where the action is, so it shouldn’t be surprised that he and his droid pals invaded this year’s WonderCon as usual. Fans ran up and hugged, kissed, patted and posed with everyone’s favorite astromech droid. Those lucky attendees who wanted the ins and outs of droid building got a special treat with the “R2-D2 Droid Building Basics” panel on Saturday.

R2-D2 builders Chris James, Ryan Goff, Steve Simmons, and David Calkins shared their experiences and demonstrated working droids. They chatted about materials, tools needed, basic electronics, and radio control information to make your own Artoo beep, move and save the day.

Special guest Don Bies, former ILM model maker and Star Wars Episodes II and III droid wrangler also showed up to encourage fans to channel their inner Anakin (the good one, not the baddie).

Starwars.com chatted with R2-D2 builder Chris James about what it feels like to be daddy to his own R2-D2.

Can you describe what the R2-D2 Builders group is all about?

We’re a loosely organized international group of fans who love to build droids and share them with the world. Founded in 1999, the club has continually striven to develop resources to allow others to accurately reproduce their own astromech droids. We know have almost 8,000 members, but I would say there’s closer to 500 active builders at any one time. We make all sort of astromechs, not just R2-D2, but that’s were our roots are. Some of you may have also seen R2-KT (R2KT.com); she was build by members of the club.

What tips did you give would-be builders at your WonderCon panel?

It’s hard to cover much in an hour, but we try and give an overview of what can be done, demo our droids, and cover the tools, different materials and skills needed to get started.

The four top tips are always — planning, patients, do lots of research, and know your limitations. Without following these basic tips you can quickly make some expensive mistakes. Oh! And the fifth tip — Don’t try stuffing the electronics from a Hasbro Interactive Droid in a life-size Artoo. You don’t want a 200 lb droid running you over.

What was it like having Don Bies on the panel? Was this his first panel with you all?

It was great having Don there to share some real life stories of dealing with Artoo, both on and off set, and how the droids were built and maintained over the years. As far as I’m aware, this was the first R2 Builders panel that Don has participated in. He’s also an active member and been a big supporter of the club for many years.

Why do you think people love to see R2-D2 in action at conventions?

Artoo has always been endearing and a big fan favorite, and people can’t help but give him a hug. My theory is that people want to believe that what they’re seeing is real, and we try our best to keep that alive. He’s also a lot more approachable than say someone in a Darth Vader costume, especially for children.

Where can fans find you all next?

For readers in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ll be at the Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 30-31. But you’ll see droids from club members throughout the world at events as large as San Diego Comic-Con International, or at your local 4th of July parade, maybe even your local mall one afternoon. You never know when or where R2-D2 will pop up next.

Where on the Web can fans find out more about your group?

The official club website is Astromech.net, and my droid build and activities are documented at Artoo-detoo.net.
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Check out the complete photo gallery here:
WonderCon 2009

Be sure to read all our coverage of WonderCon here.

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