>> Monday, September 9, 2013
For this year's DragonCon, I built a steampunk K-9 to accompany Jo's Lady Doctor costume in the Masquerade. Together, we won Best in Show in the Youth category!
K-9 from ThinkGeek, which I got Jo to go with the Barbie-sized TARDIS I built her. Despite being just a couple of inches long, it's all to scale, which allowed me to do the math and extrapolate a larger version.
I started by building a mock-up out of foam core. I got it mostly right from the start, but this allowed me to mess up and not waste wood. (And time!) The foam core is just held together with masking tape and straight pins. I designed it to fit on a remote controlled car base I bought, and ended up making it almost 1:1 scale with the original K-9...
Late in the process, we realized that a key would make a brilliant tail for a steampunk dog. Originally, I was just going to buy an antenna and spray paint it brass. I think the key turned out much cuter.
When I was finished, I cut all the taped joints apart and used my foam core pieces as pattern pieces. I traced them on a very thin plywood, and cut them out with a Skill saw and jigsaw.
I don't have very many pics of me actually building K-9, strangely. I love process pics, but so often I did the building later in the evening while watching TV, and the light was always terrible for taking pics. I always said, "Oh, I'll take a picture tomorrow in the good light." And then I never did. But here's me using a vise to hold together the tricky angles of the face while I screwed it together. In the back of the head, you can see the small square dowel I used in the corners to give my something to screw into besides the thin plywood.
And here's the finished product! It took me a few nights to stain him brown, but I love the result.
The TV K-9 has colorful buttons on his back. For the steampunk K-9, I used two great brass faucet knobs we found at the Home ReStore in town. I think they were maybe $2 each. The joiner pipe is actually a piece of wood dowel I spray painted brass. The keyboard (in lieu of colorful buttons) is made up of individual wooden keys. I found a person on Etsy who laser cuts them out of wood, then applies pictures of antique keys to them. They look like authentic typewriter keys, but they're fake! They're a lot lighter--and a whole lot cheaper than real typewriter keys, which go for a pretty penny on eBay.
The tail is wood, spray painted to look brass. Again, much lighter! And there was no way I was going to be able to make something like that out of real brass.
The neck is dryer tubing spray painted brass. It took the spray paint really well! And I didn't have to attach it--all I did was bend it around the head, and the angles did all the work. The collar is a brass hand towel ring with the mounting piece cut off of it. The bone tag is wood, again painted to look brass. A rule I've heard that I'm trying to live by is "looks great from six feet away." I think all this looks great close up, but it all passes muster six feet away, which is really the level of detail we want on our costumes.
The nose was a real score at the Home ReStore, which is a Habitat for Humanity store that recycles old fixtures and building materials from torn down houses and renovations and resells them. This faucet was an awesome find. Jo and I spent a very happy couple of hours rooting through the plumbing bins at the store, looking for treasures like this. I hadn't planned on putting a faucet on the nose, but it was too good to pass up--and ended up sort of making the whole thing.
We had a lot of options for K-9's ears. I almost went with another pair of faucets made of wood and brass, but these curtain rod ends won out in the end. They were just too cool looking. They're plastic--about the only plastic thing on the whole dog, except for the remote controlled car underneath him--but they look brass, and they have the added benefit of being lightweight, which was an issue on the head.
K-9's eye bars are wood, painted brass. The eye itself is of course the knob off a garden hose bib. I loved it--particularly as the original K-9's eye is a red circle. I left the maker's ring on there too. It was too awesome.
The big "K-9" on the side are wooden letters from A.C. Moore, again spray painted brass. I screwed them in from behind, so you can't see the screws. You'll see screws everywhere else though. My original plan was to cover those with "brass" trim, which was going to be a brass duct tape I found. In the end, I loved the look of him without all the brass trim. I think going without was a good call. He's already pretty blinged out as it is!
The other side had a door. This served two purposes. One was practical--it gave me a way to reach inside and attach the cotter pins to the posts that connected the K-9 unit to the remote controlled car. The second was part of the show: we put a tea cup and saucer in there, and at a certain part of Jo's performance, K-9 raced over to her and she took out the cup and pretended to pour tea from his nose! It was a real hit. This space also, coincidentally, made a nice storage area for his controller, spare battery, charger, etc.
For the curious, here's the R/C car I used as the base. It's not your cheapo mall-bought R/C car. I got this at HobbyTown USA, where they know their machines. At first, I was worried it wouldn't be strong enough to move the wood and brass K-9 I built--but I ended up having to take it in to the shop to have them help me slow it down! It's a beast of an R/C car, and it worked great.
The steampunk K-9!