So here’s the post that I know a lot of people have been looking forward to, an update to the Daft Punk Helmets. Ive gotten a lot of interest and questions about these so in this post I am going to go much more in depth and might recap a little bit from the original article. So first things first, who is Daft Punk? And why should you care to know who they are? (Even if you don’t care about electronic music at all.)
A Short History
Daft Punk begins with the story of two friends who met in school over in France, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, (referred to in this article as Guy-Man and Thomas). They joined forces with a few other friends and created a rock band dubbed Darlin’, (named after the song of the same title by the American group The Beach Boys which was an influence on the group). The Band was short lived, and only stayed together six or seven months, however in that time they managed to release a few songs and play a few shows. That was enough at least to get a review in a UK music publication… for better or worse the review was not very positive and heralded their music as “…a bunch of daft punk…” which was supposed to be an insult. This was all about the time that Darlin’ disbanded, the drummer (Laurent Brancowitz) Left the group to join up with Phoenix, Guy-Man and Thomas pursued other experimental projects. Soon they were experimenting with electronic music and the rest after that you can say is history! Amused by their cynical review they adopted the name Daft Punk and started releasing tracks. After a few popular singles they released their first album Homework in 1997 of which Around the world was the first large scale single.
From there Daft Punks influence has reached far beyond just some techno group, they have been nominated for seven Grammy awards over the years and won two of them. Their music has been featured in movies (Tron Legacy most recently where the entire soundtrack was produced by Daft Punk), commercials, radio ads, video games and just about anything that needs a soundtrack. Their songs have been covered and sampled by many artists including Girl Talk, LCD Soundsystem, Kanye West, Black Eyed Peas, Gorillaz and Janet Jackson just to name a few. To this day anyone I talk to who tells me “…I have never heard of Daft Punk and I have never heard their music…” I always reply, “Oh you may not know who they are, but you have heard a lot of their music and you probably like them without even know who they are.”
Why do They Wear the Helmets?
From the very beginning Daft Punk as a group has had two things going on, they were a bit shy, and they didn’t want to be thrust into stardom when their music hit big. In an interview Thomas is quoted, “… We want the focus to be on the music. If we have to create an image, it must be an artificial image. That combination hides our physicality and also shows our view of the star system. It is not a compromise…” (the “star system” he refers to is how the industry treats the superstar performers) Even when they released their first album Homework, they preferred to wear masks while performing, and if photos were published as part of a press interview they would have their faces blurred or replaced with animation. In 2001 they released their next album Discovery, and this is when they also debuted the now infamous robot masks. when asked about it in an interview Thomas stated “We did not choose to become robots. There was an accident in our studio. We were working on our sampler, and at exactly 9:09 a.m. on September 9, 1999, it exploded. When we regained consciousness, we discovered that we had become robots.”
The Robot Persona has become their trademark and public image ever since, and while the basic designs of the helmets have remained unchanged there have been several generations of the helmet costumes all with different features. Far and away the most popular to date have been the Discovery era helmets with their Iconic LEDs and ability to display animations. For this reason I chose to make replicas of these as do 90% of others that attempt this build.
Why are you building your own?
Briefly discussed in my original post, and earlier in this one, these helmets have literally become Daft Punks public image. To that end, there is no such thing as go out and buy a costume or collectible replica of these (although miniatures, collectible toys and other things were produced) If you want an actual, working, wearable helmet… you have to make your own or get someone to make you one… there is no other way. When starting a Daft Punk helmet build there are a few ways you can go, a quick search on Google will provide you with more than enough examples. Thomas has the most popular helmet of the two for some reason, perhaps its because his is actually quite a bit easier to build. I on the other hand plan to build both Guy-Man and Thomas helmets to have a matching set. If your attempting Thomas, the most popular technique is to buy yourself a baseball batting helmet, or a skate helmet and print off this template. From there cut it out and tape it on, and after a little bondo and paint (and usually two soda can bottoms) you got yourself a helmet replica! This is how I tried my first helmet, and lets just say I’m never posting any photos of the results. As you can see on YouTube any build of this kind will yield anything from horrifying, to comical, to even somewhat decent. It all depends on your skill and attention to detail.
The method I’m using for my second attempt is to cheap out and have someone make it for me. There are many who would say this means I cant really claim this as my own project, but the way I look at it I’m not getting a complete helmet, I’m finding parts and still putting them together on my own. Case in point, if you go to the store and buy a model car, it comes in a box, you break all the little parts out and glue them together and paint them up all nice, when that model is sitting on your shelf do you tell people that you built it? Of course you do, because when you still put some work, money and effort into it… its still yours. However, you must ALWAYS give credit where credit is due! I was unbelievably fortunate to find someone with incredible talent and skill who was willing to help me. Mr. Krix over at Volpin Props was working on these and agreed to send me a cast of each helmet to help me along. I have to say after seeing his work he has an incredible level of skill and his detail is impeccable. As far as making quality, true to life replicas of these I am extremely lucky to have these casts. To see his process for creating the casts you can see his site or a quick over view of both his Guy-Mann and Thomas builds. If your looking to build a set as I am I would recommend going through Volpins posts on each of these as he had done a wonderful job documenting the steps he took during his process if you have the time and skill to follow along. A lot more information not on his site can be found over at Replica Prop Forums where Volpin created a public thread to both research and allow feedback on this project.
As far as the electronics go? I come from a Mechanical Engineering background so when it comes to electronics its all black magic as far as I know. I’m going to admit I had no clue how I was going to do this one. At first I thought I could use some pre-built systems but that led to into two problems: First, like the helmets themselves, there is no such thing as an off the shelf Daft Punk circuit board… Second, anything I would try to adapt, (Christmas lights, those LED Message name tags or belt buckles) would either be woefully inadequate to do the helmets justice, or would have to be so heavily modified that I was going to be way out of my league. I needed help, and I was able to find it after running into a Mr. Davis at the Detroit Makers Faire last summer. If you don’t know about the Makers Faire, or the Make community, I strongly urge you to look it up, especially if your into crafts or cool gadgets or building things. Either way, Mr. Davis was an electronics guy, and he agreed to help me setup my lighting systems. He affectionately named my project E.L.P.H. for (Electronically Lit Punk Helmets), which I have to admit has grown on me as a pretty cool working name for these.
So where are you now?
When I made my original post I was just coming off of my failure of my first attempt. I had just contacted Volpin and was eagerly looking forward to cast of Guy-Mann. Right now I’m so excited to say that a few weeks ago I received the casting of Thomas and they look better together than I could have ever hoped. So now its on to the harder stuff, I’m currently working on two things, making a mold to form a visor for Guy-Mann (which has been a constant challenge for me since receiving his cast early this year) the problem is I don’t want to cut into the cast until I get a visor to test fit on it, but Its hard to make a visor without cutting or forming on the casting. My first try was to mold it with plaster, but that was a disaster, then I tried pulling paper Mache over it, but that to failed, next I tried measuring out a wooden structure to sand into shape but that proved to be way to problematic because the wood wasn’t uniform. Finally my current attempt is to take a page form Volpins technique on Thomas and use MDF to make a profile and fill it in with foam which afterwards will be covered in bondo and sanded to a smooth finish. All to make a mold that I can vacuum form a visor over. (I think this is why most people only build Thomas and avoid Guy-Mann)
For the Thomas end of it there isn’t a whole lot to do except sand and finish his casting up, and later on this month I plan to be sending them both out to be getting chromed. I thought about spray paint but after putting this much time into these and seeing the difference between real chrome processing and spray paint chrome… I think it’s a no brainer on which is going to give me a better look.
I’m a little behind in the electronics department, mainly because this is the only thing I will have nothing to do with other than installation into the helmets and because I started this part a lot later than everything else. Gratefully, I can steer you over to Mr. Davis’s page where he has done a full write up on the first leg of the electronics for this build!
The accessories to the helmets haven’t been started yet, I’m looking at jackets that match the leather ones worn by the duo, or I might just skip that because the group has plenty of photos where they are wearing the helmets in normal attire. The Gloves are a necessity though, and I don’t anticipate any problems with making those. To make the hand plates for the gloves I can either vacuum form them like Volpin chose to, or I can make them out of some other material… as long as they are smooth enough to send along with the helmets to the chrome shop later this month.
I wanted to throw in a little FAQ section mainly because I get asked the same things over and over again about these:
- Where did you get these helmets?
- The raw castings were made for me by Harrison Krix at Volpin Props
- Can I Purchase these from you?
- From me?…no… I’m sorry these are all I have and the gentleman who made them for me has moved on to other projects, I doubt he would make me any more ESPECIALLY if I sold mine to someone.
- Can I Purchase these from Volpin?
- I don’t know, Ask him… hes a very busy guy and you can follow his work on his website, all I can recommend is ask him nicely and hope for the best!
- How much is this build costing you?
- Plenty in time, sleep and aggravation… if you want to know the dollar amount I guess your going to have to build your own and see where you end up.
- Do you plan to make extras to sell?
- No, I’m making these for myself only… I don’t plan on making any for anyone else.
- When will you finish them?
- I honestly don’t know, I hope it will be soon though, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
- Are these the real Daft Punk Helmets?
- In the sense that they are physical, you can touch them… then yes they are real… Daft Punk had their helmets made custom for them by the Alterian company, and the original Discovery helmets were made by LED Effects Inc and were capable of doing much more than my replicas will.
- Can I make a copy of your Helmets?
- If you just want to measure them for reference… take some photos from different angles, sure! put in the time and make some! If you want to make a cast of them to re-Mold… then no… I don’t think that’s fair to Volpin and all the hard work he put into his castings.
- Are you going to make a full face LED like the real helmets?
- While my helmets are going to have LEDs in them just like the real ones, im not going to cover the face like the real helmets (Guy-Manns helmet has a full face LED display in addition the the color bars on the side) Im doing this for two reasons, first it would be far to expensive to add that, and second I want to be able to wear these out in pubic and walk around with them, so I need to be able to see. The real Helmets got around this by having pinholes for the wearer to see out of but it offered minimal visibility.
- When will I see these on EBay?
- Are you going to make any other Helmets?
- There are only two Daft Punk Helmets… and I am by no means a prop maker. I only took this on because this is something I’ve always wanted to do. As far as other helmets or props? Ive thought about doing a Deadmau5 helmet (Also a very popular build for those into the electronic music scene). As of right now I’m undecided on that one, I will know more once both of these helmets are finished.