March 2000 – Junior Year 80’s History Party
In the 1999/2000 school year my high school offered a combined History/English tag team class. When we were studying a particular portion of history we would be reading literature from the same period. During our studies on the 20’s our book was The Great Gatsby and to top it off we had a class party taking up half the school day. Everyone was dressed up as flappers and gangsters with my teacher coming as Charlie Chaplin herself!
When the spring semester rolled around it was announced a second half day party would take place in March, but this time the theme would be the 80s! Now the 80s are one of my favorite decades, I like 80s music as it has a good beat, I like 80s cars such as the DeLorean, but I don’t like 80s clothes. Our class was given the choice of coming dressed in 8os style clothing or as a character from and 80’s film or television show.
I immediately began my plans for my Robocop costume. I watched the three films repeatedly and pulled screen shots off of internet fan sites. This would be my first foray into the realm of cardboard and the process was a long one. The entire suit took three months to construct and several trips to the hardware store and Walmart to scope out materials.
There were several criteria my suit would have to meet:
- Stand up to the wear and tear of a full day at school. (7 hours)
- Allow me to see out of the helmet.
- Allow free range of motion to participate in the mandatory 80’s dances we had learned.
- Allow me to get into the suit unaided
- Allow me to drive at least partially in the suit to school.
Since the suit would have to stand up to so much abuse and movement I ruled out foam as a base material, and aluminum or steal plates while realistic were too expensive and heavy. I settled on cardboard for the main structure, it would reveal itself to be pliable enough to shape into curves and angles for the torso. I at once loved the way I could manipulate cardboard and have since made it my chief construction material.
The torso is comprised of cardboard, covered with metal plumbers tape from Home Depot. This tape gives the shiny appearance of metal, but does not crinkle like aluminum foil, plus it bonds to cardboard with it’s own adhesive. The shoulders are knee pads covered in the same tape.
The helmet is a plastic baseball helmet with the brim removed and a band of cardboard surrounding my head. The visor and neck seal are made up of a plastic roofing material which I can see through similar to sunglasses.
The legs are made up of two sets of car windshield sun screens rolled around my thighs and calf’s and secured with velcro and attached to my belt.
The shoes were an old pair of tennis shoes. I fitted a small PVC pipe into a larger one attached to the calf piece to create a working piston similar to the movie suit. This would pump in and out as I walked (with my Robo walk).
The gloves are fingerless racing gloves over cloth gloves which provided the one unforeseen hitch to my design. The soda at the party was held in large tubs of ice and water, I could not reach into this tub without soaking my gloved hand. Fortunately my classmates came to the rescue and I remained hydrated. (which was difficult in such a hot suit).
I arrived at school in my tiny Ford Escort, dressed in my under suit and leg pieces. The shoes, arms, torso and helmet were too cumbersome and too dangerous to wear while driving. I quickly completed my transformation, secured my car and Robo-walked up through the front gates. I knew it would be a gauntlet of people from the parking lot to the small gym, but every step brought me past looks of amazement and awe. One classmate shouted out “Are you C-3PO?” I had no reply to this nonsense. C-3PO is gold, and Robocop is silver, you do the math.
When I had finally made it to the small gym my grand entrance was christened with more looks of astonishment and applause. I had kept my suit a secret from everyone at school yet everyone knew exactly who was beneath the cardboard and foil. I was congratulated by several classmates and friends on my amazing suit and asked the same three questions repeatedly:
Question 1: Can you see? ……………………………………….. Answer: Yes.
Question 2: Are you hot in there? …………………………… Answer: Yes, extremely.
Question 3: Where is your gun? ……………………………… Answer: In my leg.
Question 4 immediately after Question 3: Can I see it? … Answer: No.
The party was a success, my suit a triumph. While there was no costume contest that day I was told by my friends that I would have won it. I would go on to wear my Robocop suit periodically over the next several years. Around my college dorm to show off in 2003, in a campus safety sketch in 2004, and once for Halloween in 2005.
The suit now is retired, only the helmet remains on my shelf, but it sparked my fascination in building with cardboard. This project showed me how an imagination, combined with a plentiful and cheap building material can create a wondrous thing.