Shawn Thorsson’s “Dead Space 2″ Getup

More sci-fi cosplay badness from prop-maker, costumer, and MAKE pal Shawn Thorsson. I haven’t played Dead Space 2, yet, but I enjoyed the first one, and I have to say that protagonist Isaac Clarke’s “Engineering RIG suit” appears to have changed little for the sequel. Lots of build details over at Shawn’s blog, and more pics in his Flickr set. [Thanks, Shawn!]

Update: If you’re curious about the mind of the man who made this (and who wouldn’t be, honestly?) don’t miss Shawn’s Halloween guest editorial How-To: Achieve Total Halloween Domination!


How-To: Achieve Total Halloween Domination!

By Shawn Thorsson

When we started thinking about makers of Halloween wonders who we could invite onto MAKE to share what they do, Shawn Thorsson leapt to mind. This guy doesn’t make costumes and props, he creates something of a reality distortion field around him and his creations. You can’t stand next to one of his, say, mind-bending HALO costumes, and not feel a little bit like you’ve stumbled through Alice’s looking glass. In this piece, Shawn gives a pep talk and invites makers to go for broke (hopefully not literally) in crafting some of that Halloween magic for themselves. “It’s way too late to make anything elaborate for this year’s costume,” you say? According to Shawn, it’s been too late all year. He starts the day after Halloween, so we’re right on track for next week. -Gareth

Shawn’s HALO costumes at Maker Faire Bay Area. Photo by Blake Maloof.

Halloween was made for makers. Let’s face it, there’s only so much fun you can have with homemade Christmas tree ornaments. Saint Patrick’s Day is pretty much limited to food-coloring your homebrew green, and on the Fourth of July, homemade fireworks are usually a bad idea (or at least that’s what the local police keep telling me).

Halloween is where you really get to flex those maker muscles. It allows you to turn impressing your friends and neighbors into a two-pronged attack, dressing up your home, and then yourself. And you can get away with a lot more, too. On Halloween nobody…er.. bats an eye if you spatter your house with blood, cover yourself in brain matter, and leave corpses strewn all over your front lawn. The rest of the year, these are considered major faux pas (or at least that’s what the local police keep telling me).

So, first, let’s discuss dressing up your home. If you’re a maker, you know that it’s not just about making things, it’s about making just the right thing. Anybody can stop at their local retail outlet a week before All Hallows breaks loose and buy an anemic hoard of plug-in inflatable lawn n’ garden atrocities, but all they’ll get is a passing glance as their neighbors funnel their kids onto the front porch to panhandle candy.

All of this can be yours at Wal-Mart for $19.95. Scary.

I’m a maker, so a passing glance isn’t good enough. I want my decor to make the neighbors complain until they get the local zoning board involved. Pro tip: It’s also a good idea to make approaching your house such a traumatic experience that you won’t have to buy a ton of candy to give out all night.

Case in point: a few years ago, I decided to dress up my front lawn to look like a cemetery. Rather than buy some cheap vacu-formed cartoon-looking tombstones and tufts of cotton cobwebs, I put in some hours. The project hid in my garage until it was ready to install. Then, overnight, my unassuming suburban yard turned into this:

Nothing says “Halloween” like a seriously morbid eyesore

The fences were cobbled together from PVC conduit and insulation foam, the tombstones were carved from more insulation foam. I hung a man from the tree — no, not a real man — a pile of leftover clothes and a pair of old boots. I even added a motor with an eccentric weight to make the right foot twitch every so often, just to give the kids across the street something to think about as they went to sleep that night, jacked up on pillow sacks worth of candy. My point is, with just a little ingenuity and effort, the same amount of cash you’d blow at the Mart can be turned into something that people will still be talking about years later (albeit in thanks for the fact that I’ve since moved).

When I was working on this particular project, I found all sorts of useful resources online. I’m always finding new ones too. For starters, there’s, a listing of how-to articles for making your own haunts more haunted, and then, of course there’s where you can find countless tutorials for making most anything you can think of.

While you’re dressing up your house to disturb the townfolk, make sure not to neglect yourself. For me, there’s nothing worse than the made-in-China PVC jumpsuit bought at the local Halloween pop-up store or Party City that has some sort of character painted on it. Nothing says “I got whatever crap was left at the last minute” than a cheesy costume-in-a-bag. Then there’s the ever-present parade of cute girls who seem to pick whatever shows off the most skin. Why no class it up a bit and really impress people.

I have a fondness for science fiction to which my last few major costume projects can attest. For me, the goal is to step out on Halloween night looking like I just walked off the screen of a blockbuster movie or video game, or through a portal from another world. The challenge used to be for my outfit to look at least as good as the studio-produced versions, but with the prevalence of CGI in films, I now have to find ways to build things that even Hollywood couldn’t manage making in real life.

Can you guess which one of these guys stands a chance against the hot girl in the Slave Princess Leia outfit at the local bar’s costume contest?

If sci-fi’s not your thing, Halloween is equally great for showing off that steampunk mech-suit you’ve been aching to build or your homebrewed superhero or whatever other insanity has been sizzling in the bottom of your brain pan since last year.

Now, I usually recommend getting started on a costume sometime in November. If you’re going to look like you just stepped through a rip in the fabric of spacetime, you’re going to have to commit to some serious hours to cast such an illusion. Unless you have to go off to war or help avert a nuclear holocaust (not unheard of for me) that gives you twelve months worth of prep/build time. Use that time to research and brainstorm the best way to put together whatever outfit you’ve got in mind. Scour the internet and pore over books; watch movies over and over again trying to answer the “how’d they do that?” questions. Sketch out ideas, collect reference images, and read everything you can find to help you out. Then you get to sculpt, mold, cast, paint, sew, break, fix, warp, fit, and refit things to your heart’s content. In my case, I’ll find myself working right up until the last possible second and go out wearing something that still has wet paint on it.

There are a whole host of websites that can help you out with costume projects. I usually start out with, a site wholly devoted to replica props and costumes (my username there is “thorssoli”) and then start Googling from there. There’s also, a site which sells everything you need to sculpt, mold, cast, and paint your own custom latex Halloween masks. Feel like making your own Stormtrooper costume? I learned everything I needed for mine at The main thing, when taking on a major project like this, is to look around to see what everyone else has done, then do it better.

Somewhere along the way, the journey becomes more important than the destination. When i’m done with a costume project, I shudder to think of how much time and money went into it. Wherever I go, I always take top prizes in costume contests, but there’s no better prize than when someone asks “Where’d you get that?” and you get to witness their amazement when you say “I made it.” (It helps if you carry a few progress pictures with you so you have a retort when they cry “bullsh*t!”)

There’s no better time than Halloween to show off your creativity, your maker chops, and your willingness to completely go over the edge. Be warned though, this can be the beginning of an addiction. I’m currently in the planning phases for my 2014 Halloween costume.

MAKE Halloween Contest

Inspired to make something for Halloween? Be sure to enter it in our MAKE Halloween contest to win cool prizes. Costumes, decor, food, whatever you create for Halloween, is welcome in the contest.

Read our full contest page for all the details.


Rubik’s Cube Mario Portrait

A timelapse of my friend Martin making a Mario out of 49 cheap Rubik’s cubes. Pictures are taken at five second intervals, so the whole thing took about half an hour.


Zero to Maker: Adventures in 3D Scanning

David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is on a journey, intensively immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’s regularly chronicling his efforts in this column — what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing (um… or not). –Gareth

“And what is this? What does it do?,” I asked Jesse Harrington, Autodesk Maker Advocate, whose job it is to camp out at TechShop and help makers with everything Autodesk-related.

“Seriously,” added Andrew Taylor, TechShop’s Event and Marketing Coordinator, “I feel like I’m in the movie Source Code. Have you seen that?”

“Yes! It DOES look like that,” I agreed as I watched Andrew sit down in the chair and slide into what seemed like the appropriate position.

The backlit canopy with a skeletal network of roughly 20 SLR cameras angled at a central focal point had caught our attention as soon as we walked into the room. Jesse explained to us that this was the Photofly project, Autodesk’s new technology that uses digital photographs to create 3D models, while Andrew harmlessly followed the on-screen directions to center the chair.

Then, SNAP! Andrew and I both jumped as all of the cameras shuttered simultaneously. That was it: quick and painless. I took my turn in the chair, and remained unphased as the simul-shutter snapped my photo. I got up to check the results but was disappointed to find that it didn’t instantly create the model. Our attention was quickly captured by one of the other displays in the futuristic Autodesk showroom. I didn’t think much about it until I received a generated email a few hours later, and was blown away when, later that night, I had a 3D model of my head swirling around on my iPhone screen.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of Photofly. In fact, the topic was one of the main reasons we made the trip to the Autodesk showroom. Jesse and I were having a casual conversation a few days earlier at TechShop and he inquired into what classes I had been taking recently. I started gushing about the Next Engine 3D scanning class I’d taken the night before – how incredible it was. The class consisted of me and only one other student. We spent time going through the process of setting up the scanner, running a scan, then manipulating and cleaning up the image in software. Because we only had two students, we had time at the end of class to discuss projects we planned to use with the scanner. I, of course, was there on an educational mission, but the other student’s project was fascinating: he wanted to scan sea shells. The unique shape of a shells was a perfect use-case for the Next Engine. We discussed the intricacies of the shell, the process for combining images and scans of both the outer and inside views of the shell – quite a challenging use, but perfect for discussing the unique advantages and limits of the technology. So far, I’d spent most of my time on the CNC machines that take digital designs, and with the aid and ease of technology, turn them into physical objects. I had been totally ignorant of the scanning technology that takes real, physical objects and turns them into digital bits – making them malleable and compatible with computer-aided design (CAD) programs. Of course, telling all this to Jesse was preaching to the choir. He could sense my excitement, which is why he mentioned Photofly and suggested the tour at Autodesk.

The whole experience – the class, tour, and discussion – left me with a sense of amazement over this technology. I wasn’t, however, able to imagine how this could make an important impact. It seemed a little like a novelty – fun to play with but not practically useful. It wasn’t until I read a short entry on the MakerBot blog that everything came full-circle: Project Shellter: Can MakerBot’s Save the Hermit Crab Community. The story profiles Miles Lightwood, MakerBot’s artist in residence, as he and the team set out to crowdsource a solution to the hermit crab habitat shortage.

Wow. What if my fellow student, someone with only a few hours of training at TechShop, is able to leverage this technology to create a habitat solution for these creatures? How cool is that? My Zero to Maker journey continues to re-inspire me with such possibilities!

Follow David’s Zero to Maker exploits


Plywood Living Hinge Design for Laser Cutters

Another cool technique for your bag of CNC panel-cutting tricks.  The booklets and photos shown here are from the Dutch firm Snijlab lasersnijden (which, obviously, translates as “Snijlab Laser Ninjas”).   The method is kind of like kerf-bending, but the cuts go all the way through the substrate. [via Boingsy Boing]



Made by Hand: Now in Paperback

Made By Hand Final Paperback Cover

The paperback edition of my book, Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself went on sale today. It includes a new section with a recipe for making kombucha and instructions for making a nice-sounding 2-string guitar out of a tin can.

Here are some quotes about Made by Hand:

“It’s not merely good, it’s foundation-shaking.”
– Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog

“This is a must-read book.”
– Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters

“Made by Hand is impossible to set down once you start reading it.”
– James Gurney, creator of Dinotopia

“What Mark Frauenfelder knows is that making a ukulele out of a cigar box is not just fun (and finally a good use for your thousands of old cigar boxes), it’s a way of restringing and retuning your whole life.”
– John Hodgman, minor television personality

“It’s as inspiring as it is entertaining.”
– Chris Anderson, editor in chief, Wired Magazine

“Made By Hand is a wonderful, thought-provoking, and timely book that shows us why and how we need to take back control of our lives.”
– A.J. Jacobs, author of The Guinea Pig Diaries and The Year of Living Biblically

“Rich, though-provoking, and utterly readable.”
– Maya Donenfeld, maya*made

Here’s the book’s description:

From his unique vantage point as editor-in-chief of Make magazine, Mark Frauenfelder takes readers on an inspiring and surprising tour of the vibrant world of do-it-yourself.

He spent a year trying a variety of offbeat projects such as keeping chickens and bees, tricking out his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. His whole family found that DIY helped them take control of their lives, offering deeply satisfying ways to spend time together.

Frauenfelder also reveals how DIY is changing our culture for the better. He profiles fascinating “alpha makers” leading various DIY movements and grills them for their best tips and insights.

You can read the first two chapters of the book here.

Order Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself on Amazon.


Arduino Controlled Crystal Ball Detects Mood

ITP student Bruna Calheiros explains the Magic Crystal Mood Ball she made for a class assignment:

To make this I used 5 RGB LEDs (Digital Output), resistors, wires, a TMP36 temperature sensor (Analog Input), a breadboard, and an Arduino Uno. I built a base for the “crystal ball” and put the circuit with the Arduino inside, and made a little black altar with stars in a box so the LEDs could shine inside.

The mood is based on measuring his temperature and changing the color of the RGB LED to the its respective color. As in a mood ring, I set different colors for different temperatures. The temperatures coincides with mood state that the person is in.

For example, if you are feeling comfortable and calm, the temperature of your skin is going to be normal (about 27 degrees Celsius or 82 degrees Fahrenheit), and the ball is Cyan.

It’s a nice touch that Bruna made a paper guide to what the user’s mood is, and the documentation on her site is extensive, in case you’d like to try it yourself.


Providence-based Betaspring Startup Accelerator Looking for Maker Companies

Providence-based Betaspring, a mentorship-driven startup accelerator program, is looking for maker companies for their Spring 2012 session (applications are due November 18):

Earlier this year, Betaspring expanded its network of mentors and resources to develop a dedicated track for physical technology companies. Accelerating physical technology companies is a natural fit for Betaspring, with Providence providing us with a strong community of makers, DIY technologists, and direct access to supporting organizations like the Rhode Island School of Design, the Steelyard, AS220 and the new AS220 FabLab.

We don’t pick favorites, but two of our star alumni companies are building physical technology ventures that serve as strong examples of Betaspring’s interest in and ability to accelerate seed ventures with a physical technology bent.

Betaspring ’09 alum NuLabel Technologies is developing new label technology that allows for the production of labels without liners… Betaspring alums GreenGoose are also showing off how digital meets physical with a product that uses wireless sensors (pictured above) to turn everyday activities and household products into interactive fun.


How-To: EL Wire Wings

Learn to make some no-sew glowing EL Wire wings – be a Tron fairy or luna moth this Halloween! Branden writes:

I have always loved making things. This came fairly naturally since my parents are both supreme makers in their own right. Afer all they taught themselves how to do lost-wax casting so they could make their own wedding rings! Over the last decade though, I’ve done most of my creating with 1s and 0s – lots of software and some generative art, but not many physical objects. That started to change when I got my hands on Issue #1 of Make magazine.

In the years since then I’ve aquired the makings of a halfway decent wood shop and electronics bench, but mostly I’ve just tinkered. I’ve learned a lot and had quite a bit of fun, but haven’t produced many finished projects. I was aquiring the skills, but hadn’t found that proverbial “itch” to scratch.

That changed in 2011 when my wife and I decided to celebrate our 10th anniversary by attending Burning Man. Being that it’s held in the middle of the desert, it gets really dark out there at night. Because of this it’s very important to be lit up so that you’re visible to the other people, cyclists and vehicles. So there was my muse – I wanted to make something for my wife that lit up, was easy to wear, and looked cool. How about some EL wire wings?

CRAFT Halloween Contest

Inspired to make something for Halloween? Be sure to enter it in our MAKE Halloween contest to win cool prizes. Costumes, decor, food – whatever you create for Halloween is welcome in the contest. Read our full contest page for all the details.



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