Few droids in this world are as recognizable as R2-D2, and thanks to the R2 Builders Clubs, impeccably reproduced R2 droids have been seen zooming around Maker Faire Bay Area for the past three years. They are responsible for countless smiles at the Faire, and this year they are coming back with their droids. We recently chatted with group member Chris James (third from the right in the group shot above) to get insight into the group, what skills are needed to build an R2, and what motivates them to participate in Maker Faire Bay Area, taking place this year on May 21 and 22 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds.
1. Tell us about The R2 Builders Club.
The R2 Builders Club was founded in April 1999 by Dave Everett of Sydney, Australia. The club began with only a few enthusiasts pooling their resources and sharing ideas to create plans for building their own life-sized R2-D2 droids. It has grown considerably since then, and now has members all over the world. When I first started, there was me and my friend Gerard in the Bay Area who were into this. Now, there’s close to a dozen builders in the Bay Area, including Don Bies, former ILM model maker and Episode II & III Droid Wrangler. While we do meet throughout the year in person, a lot of the help and support happens online.
2. What are you planning for this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area?
I’ve been working primarily on a new control system based on Arduino. I’m also trying to get another droid together for the Faire. A couple of other relatively new members are also working to get their droids ready for the Faire. We’re also planning on hosting another panel/talk, so watch the schedule for that. It’s a good way to get an introduction to the group and ask questions.
3. This will be the fourth Maker Faire you’ve participated in. Give us some insight into your perspective over the years and why you continue to come back.
I like Maker Faire because of the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. I always learn something new and appreciate the ingenuity of the other makers. The core principle of Maker Faire, of people sharing and being part of that, is what makes me return every year. And it’s an opportunity to reconnect and renew friendships with other makers I’ve met over the years.
4. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I’ve always been a maker. Growing up, I struggled in school. I loved math and science, but had to work really hard at it. One teacher reassured my mom that I’d find my niche, probably at making stuff with my hands. She was right. I have always loved design and drawing, metal shop, wood shop, etc., and then I discovered computers and programming. Both of those core skills, being able to make and build stuff, combined with programming, have been instrumental in building R2-D2.
My high school teacher in Wales, Des Evans, taught the shop classes and gave me the confidence to be the builder I am today. My wife continues to be my inspiration and sounding board.
5. Is your project strictly a hobby or a business? Does it relate to your day job?
Building an R2-D2 is strictly a hobby for me. Many people ask if I have a mechanical engineering background, or what background is needed to build an R2-D2. I’m actually a software engineer. Some of the analytical skills as a software engineer help me in building R2-D2, as does my programming background. However, as a general rule, all that is needed is a willingness to learn; builders come from diverse backgrounds. We have a common love of Star Wars and, in particular, R2-D2. In our local group, there’s a music teacher, a philosophy professor, a car mechanic, and laser expert, to name but a few. What’s great about the group as a whole is our camaraderie, and how we pool resources and help each other. Through building R2-D2, I have made friends all over the world who I talk to all the time.
6. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
Not so much a new idea, but I’m excited to see the renewal in the DIY spirit that Maker Faire embodies. Some of it may be due to the economy, but I hope it continues to grow as people rethink some of the “advances” and realize that some of the lifestyle choices we make are detrimental to the Earth — reinventing, reusing, and doing it yourself is the way to go.
7. What is your motto?
I have many mottos, not all repeatable or applicable here, but my personal favorite is “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
8. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
Follow your passion, don’t be afraid to be different, do what you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to fail.