spacer Halloween 2010 - the DALEK

See our 2012 Project: Viktor gets a Head Viktor gets a head  
See our 2011 Project: Bioshock's Big Daddy Big Daddy    
My son and I make a Halloween costume each year. In the past he's been such things as an astronaut, a steam punk robot, a kid with a fish eating his head, and in 2009 Boba Fett. This year we tried for our most ambitious costume yet; a DALEK from the popular TV series "Dr Who".

DALEK Costume
Chris and his DALEK, ready to EXTERMINATE!!!

Halloween costumes only have to last a few days so I've always been one to build using the cheapest materials I can find. Usually this means using discarded cardboard boxes, some acrylic or spray paint, and a roll of tape. This year we splurged and added styrofoam balls and some caster wheels.

The DALEK stands about 5' tall and fits my 11 year old son well. Standing inside he can easily peer through the vision slots we cut into the bottom of the domed head.

Construction Details

We based our design loosely on an 'official' set of build instructions found via MakeZine. In case these instructions go off-line here's a local copy

<cover> <page 1> <page 2> <page 3> <page 4> <page 5>.

We had to make some compromises. The base is slightly narrower due to the necessity of fitting through doors, and slightly shorter to keep the proportions roughly the same.

The DALEK is divided into four sections; the base, the shoulders with appendages, the neck, and finally the head.

Building the Base

We started with a sheet of 3/16" plywood. This provided something firm onto which we could mount the caster wheels. The piece we used was a scrap left over from a furniture project and was 30" by 48". This dictated the maximum dimensions of our base. I was able to cut both the bottom and top pieces of the base from this one sheet. Next I used some left over pieces of 1" x 2" pine to cut four supports that would attach the bottom and top pieces of the base together. I also glued three roughly 4" x 4" pieces of thicker plywood onto the bottom in the places where I thought I would attach the caster wheels.

Once the glue was dry, we skinned the base with cardboard taken from discarded boxes. I was lucky that the shipping department where I work frequently has large boxes to through away. I did however find other useful boxes in the local cardboard recycling bin. To hold things together I used Tuck Tape. This is a transparent red tape used in home construction in my area. It is tenaciously sticky. In the past I've used gray duct tape. While more durable I find it's not quite as sticky as the Tuck tape.

DALEK inside view from top of kneck
Looking into the DALEK from the top of the shoulders.

Building the Shoulders

To build the shoulders I cut a solid disk of cardboard. While this would need to become a ring, I initially left the centre intact in order to give it strength. Four pieces of cardboard we used to support the disk at the correct height above the base. From this point on we eyeballed most dimensions as some of the numbers we got from the plans seemed out of whack for our build.

After skinning the shoulders I cut out the centre of the topmost disk leaving about a 1-1/2" ring. I saved the inner portion of the disk as this was useful for building the neck. We also cut out sections that would hold the plunger arm and the exterminator weapon. Boxes were formed around these holes.

Appendage Mount Points
Appendage mount points on the DALEK shoulders.

Building the Neck

Neck constructionWe decided to attach the neck and the head together. Ideally the head should swivel on the neck but this proved to be too difficult for the time frame and available materials. So the neck and head became a removable, single unit that would sit atop the shoulders. This made getting into and out of the costume much easier. Access was from the bottom. Fortunately the unit is quite light and easy to tip over for access.

DALEK neck detailThe cardboard disk that had been cut out of the top of the shoulders (centre disk in picture) was reused to help keep the neck and head centred on the shoulders. The neck is basically constructed as a cylinder. Some vertical ribs are taped to the neck and some rings are added to complete the look. Our rings are not centred correctly vertically. Originally I sized the neck based on the dimensions from the 'guide' but it just looked too tall. After the neck was essentially done I used a razor knife to shorten it.

Building the Head

Wedge shape dictates 3D shapeThe head is the most challenging part of the costume but building a dome out of cardboard is not really that difficult. The trick is to build it out of wedges that, when taped together, automatically form the curve.

If the wedge shapes are triangles, you get a cone when you join then. If you bulge the wedge in the middle, the cone will also start to bulge in the middle. If the wedge you create has a middle width of about 70% of the base width, then you should get a hemisphere.

To determine the height of the wedge, just take a thin piece of cardboard and try bending it from the top edge of the neck to the centre of where the dome should peak. Once this test strip has the correct curve and spans the distance it will match how tall your wedges should be

Here's an inside view of the neck and head unit. As you can see my wedges weren't perfect but no harm done. I taped pairs of wedges together and then test fit these pairs against each other to get the right curve. Sometimes I had to trim a pair so that things fit together. The better you make the wedges, the less time you'll spend trimming.

Inside view of DALEK neck and head
Inside view of the DALEK neck and head. The wedges don't fit perfectly
but that's nothing a pair of scissors and more tape can't fix

Finishing Touches

The finished DALEKThe plunger arm, the exterminator weapon and the antenna are all made from folded and taped cardboard. I'd looked at plungers in the local discount store but they still wanted $3 which was over budget. Using the same principles as used for the dome I created a plunger for nothing. Bonus. The casters were about $3 a piece but three were sufficient.

I gave the entire DALEK a coat of a beaten metal finish, bronze-brown paint. One can did the trick. Parts of the neck were painted black. Finally, haphazard gold highlights were added to give that aged look.

The biggest expense next to paint was the 24 styrofoam balls. I lucked out and found these selling at $1 for four 3" balls at the local "Loonie Lizard" dollar store. I cut these in half using a razor knife to give the required 48 hemispheres. The "styrofoam safe" gold spray I bought was anything but safe. It ate the styrofoam like popcorn at a movie. I ended up painting the balls with acrylic paint first and then spraying them gold. Hot melt glue secured them in place.

And that completes the saga of the DALEK build. My son won first place at the Safety Patrol Halloween party and had a hoot.

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