Daft Punk. Air. Water. Those are my three most important things for survival, in order of importance. I love Daft Punk like Gollum loves the One Ring. This post, however, is not just a window into my worship of our robot DJ gods: It’s also a kickass instructional guide on how to make both Daft Punk helmets. That photo above, by the way, is me.
A number of pictures and articles can be found online about DIY Daft Punk suits, but the vast majority lack technical detail, or end up looking like a deformed baseball helmet. The few sculptors that have made perfect replicas spent thousands of dollars, and use expensive prop-making tools that the majority of us don’t have. That said, I absolutely love their work, but this post is about getting 90% of the way there at 10% of the cost and time.
I made both Daft Punk helmets back in 2007, with no prior knowledge of the tools required. This article will shed some light on that process, and show you how to make your own kickass helmets. I wouldn’t describe this process as ‘easy’, but it’s totally doable and fun as hell!
Everything you can imagine.
Seriously, I needed a lot of things. Screwdrivers, hammers, saws, shears, torches, heat guns, a million other things, and sandpaper. Ohhh, the sandpaper. Each step requires its own materials, so expect a lot of trips to the hardware store. At the very least, you’ll need a garage to work in. A workshop would be amazing, but I did it in my friend’s garage.
3 weeks—3 months (It’s up to you)
You could blast through this in a couple weeks if you don’t have a job or school. Unfortunately, most of us only have nights and weekends, so this project will require some insane dedication. I did over the course of many weekends in 2007, and a few more in 2008 when I made an updated helmet. Fortunately the payoff is walking around like Daft Punk, so it is worth it. If you’re in rush to make a Daft Punk Halloween costume, you can never start too early.
1. Planning & Drawing
Before anything is built, you’ll need to know what you’re building. Ultimately you’ll end up with helmets that you can wear, but there are plenty of other devices to be built along the way.
You’ll be building the following items: a wire cutter (unless you have one), a styrofoam helmet mold, a bondo helmet mold, a vacuum-form machine (unless you have one), and the final helmets.
The first major piece will be the first mold. And if its going to fit on your head, you better figure out how big your head is. I built both helmets with my friend Brandon, so we took turns taking pictures of each others’ heads. Basically a side-view of your skull that you can drop into Photoshop. Then we displayed side-views of Daft Punk’s helmets on top of our heads, and positioned them to make sure they fit.
Also, laying down and having your friend trace your head is a fun and wonderful way to make sure you get a 100% accurate size of your noggin. Spend a lot of time drawing your head and a general helmet over it to make sure your final helmet will actually fit.
2. Hot Wire Cutter
The first mold will be made of Styrofoam, and you’ll need a hot wire cutter to shape it. Large versions are often used by sculptors and architects to make models. Essentially it’s a long, hot piece of wire that melts the foam as you push it against the wire. You can buy a fancy one online, or be quick and dirty and build your own. We built our own. When I say ‘we’ I’m referring to my friend Brandon who built the helmets with me.
Wire Cutter Construction:
These are less complicated than they sound. We built a simple platform and arm out of wood. A sheet of plywood with a hole drilled in the middle served as the base. Some 2x4s and 2x2s are used, but anything will do. The wire is a guitar string. You’ll want a string with medium thickness, as the thin ones will break, and the thick ones are too hard to maneuver. You’ll basically tie the string around a screw or post at either end and keep it very tight. Buy a handful of strings, they will break.
How does the guitar string heat up? Well, you’ll need a transformer: 25 volt / 2 amps works, but so do plenty of others. Ideally you’ll want one with a knob or switch, so you can control the current. The electrical current will be applied directly to both ends of the guitar string usually by wires with alligator clips at the end. Turn on the transformer, and it will create a circuit. Guitar strings, however, aren’t good conductors. Unlike copper wire, steel wire will heat up significantly when electricity is applied. It’ll glow red hot.
3. Styrofoam Cubes
You’ll need to shape your mold out of at least a 12×12″ foam cube. I’d suggest 14×14″ or even bigger, just to give you some wiggle room. Where exactly do you pick up giant cubes of foam? You don’t. This is a specialty item, and we didn’t want to wait for an online shipment. So we made our own cube.
Styrofoam cube construction:
Buy a large sheet of thick foam from Lowe’s or Home Depot. These are generally used as insulation in walls, and come in six foot sheets, twelve foot sheets, etc. You’ll want to ask the staff to saw them in half – at least – so you’ll fit them in your car. Ultimately you’ll need to make roughly 12x12x~2″ (or 14x16x~2″) squares out of this, but it’s best to buy the foam in as large of sheets as possible.
Use your wire cutter to cut squares of equal size. Depending on thickness, you may need anywhere from eight to fifteen squares to stack up a full cube. We used spray adhesive to join the squares together. Spray, then stack, then wait. Continue the process until you have cubes large enough to sculpt a helmet from. Adding significant weight on top of your foam cubes ensures a good bond.
4. Foam Mold Construction
Brandon at our messy foam workstation, circa 2007.
This is where your hard work ends, and your harder work begins. Sculpting the first mold is both artistically and technically challenging, so expect to spend a lot of time getting this perfect.
You’ll need the drawings of your head and the helmet for the foam cube. We started by drawing a side-view of the helmet, a front-view, and a top-view onto our cubes. If you’ve ever taken a drafting class, this will be familiar. The side-view is a profile, the front-view looks like the face of the helmet, and the top-view will essentially be an oval.
We looked at tons of photos. Do a Google image searches for Daft Punk and save every single angle you can find. Some great resources: Hedi Slimane, Google image searches for “Electroma”, and searches for “Daft Punk Helmets”.
Now you need to carve your three views with the hot wire cutter. Obviously if you carve one view entirely, and rip off the excess foam, then your other two drawings will be gone. My approach was to carve 3/4 of a view, then stop, go back, and do 3/4 of the next view, and so on. That way less pieces fall off, and you can use your drawings as a guide for a bit longer. Keep in mind, that very quickly, most of your drawing will be laying in bits on the floor. The views on each side of the cube are helpful, but you’ll have a lot of artistic license.
Important note: Go very slowly with the hot wire cutter. Moving too fast cause the string to bend into a bow shape, which means the center of the string is lagging behind the top. This can cause awkward waves resulting in the top looking fine, but the bottom being extremely warped. You are cutting through a lot of foam, so give yourself a bit of excess space. The exact helmet shape will be sanded, the wire cutting is just for a big, rough outline.
2007 – Left: Brandon working on the Guy helmet. Right: Me working on the Bangalter Helmet. Oh the hair.
Sand. Sand. Sand.
After wire cutting your cube, you’ll have an amorphous Daft Punk-esque blob. It will takes hours upon hours, even days upon days of sanding to make a perfect model.
Start by carving with knives and razors. This is great for cutting off big unnecessary chunks. For both helmets, I suggest cutting off the ears. On Thomas Bangalter’s (silver) helmet the ears are concentric circles, and on Guy-Manuel’s (gold) helmet they’re large ‘U’ shapes with protruding circles. These are much easier to make separately and attach later.
To sand the mold down, we needed sanding blocks. Using paper with your hand alone gets aggravating really quickly. The blocks will save your fingertips and your sanity, all while producing a cleaner, more accurate surface.
Thomas Bangalter’s silver helmet will hereby be known as “Bangalter”, while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s gold helmet will be known as “Guy”, alright?
Bangalter’s helmet has a large visor on the front, so sanding in large horizontal motions works really well. Guy’s helmet is almost entirely a large dome, so moving in sweeping large circles repeatedly is a great way to achieve a smooth surface. Bangalter’s helmet has a lot of hard edges and ridges in the face, so I used the edge of the sanding block pretty often to get all of the tight corners.
Sanding the foam will produce a lot of dust, so be careful. Sweep dust away, work outside, or use a mask to prevent breathing the dust in. Clearing dust away also helps you get a clearer look at the overall shape.
You’ll want to start with high grit sandpaper: 80-100 grit. Get the general shape outlined, then move on to 200 grit, 400 grit, etc. Get as absolutely precise as you can, but there are a lot more layers added later.
Use the hot wire cutter to carve the shapes of the ears. Then sand them as accurately as possible, using photos as a guide. These can be attached with spray adhesive or bondo.
5. Bondo. Lots of Bondo.
As you can see, a lot of time spent sanding leads to some pretty kickass results. Constantly monitor your source photos. Pay attention to all the details, and you’ll have a pretty stunning foam helmet. Unfortunately foam is just the base. You’ll need a mold that’s as hard as concrete if you want it to withstand the casting later on, which means you’ll need Bondo.
Bondo is a polyester resin normally used for auto body repair. More accurately, its a stinky, toxic silly putty that turns hard as rock in a matter of hours. Let me reiterate that: Bondo gets very hard, very fast. That’s what she said. Sanding the foam helmet is easy, sanding the Bondo helmet is a bitch. Get as accurate as you can with the foam model, but realize you’ll be spending a lot more time on the hardened Bondo than you’d expect.
You can buy Bondo from any large hardware store. It consists of a grey putty, and a red hardener. Mix the two together and you’ll have thick, viscous brown butter that can be applied to your foam helmet. We used disposable plastic cups and knives to mix and apply our Bondo. Bondo can set in as little as fifteen minutes so you’ll go through a lot of cups and knives. Don’t use the Bondo on any expensive tools unless you want to throw those tools away later.
Spread the Bondo carefully, thickly, and evenly. I can’t stress being careful enough. What may seem like a little wet drip on some corner of the helmet could turn into 45 minutes of sanding a few hours later. The smoother your wet Bondo is, the easier it is to sand. Start sanding as soon as it feels dry to the touch. Bondo gets progressively hard over a few hours, so the sooner you start the easier it will be on your arms.
Crappy 2007 cellphone photos – Left: Brandon Bondo-ing Guy’s helmet. Right: Me Bondo-ing Bangalter’s helmet.
Keep applying Bondo. Every nook, every cranny. The foam is really just a platform for an indestructible rock-like mold. Make sure the Bondo layer isn’t too thin. Thin areas will lead to cracks, which would wreck the mold.
Both helmets after having received round one of Bondo and a good sanding.
Sanding the Bondo layer is rough. Any bumps or divets can be painful to get rid of. Sanding can take days. Above you can see green lines on Guy’s helmet. This was to indicate where we had not added enough Bondo. When we sanded it broke through back to the foam, where the spray adhesive ridges are. It is very very important to cover these up completely. We attempted a plastic cast later on, and these ridges – although almost invisible – were greatly amplified. That cast had to be thrown away.
Keep mixing more Bondo, and keep applying it to any thin areas, and especially areas with divets or holes. You can always sand a bump down, but a divet is impossible to fix without filling it in. Using the sanding block on both Bangalter and Guy’s helmets at this stage is essential. Bondo is too hard to sand by hand, plus the sanding blocks will give a smoother finish.
Close up of the round one Bondo coating.
6. Even More Bondo
2007 – Left: Holding my Daft Punk baby. Right: Brandon holding his Daft Punk baby.
The first hard layer of the molds is pretty rough (somewhere between concrete and sandstone). While definitely durable, all of the little scratches and ridges would totally wreck the plastic cast. This is where the final layer comes in: Sealer.
What goes on top of the Bondo is type of sealant. In our case it was a lot like the Bondo hardener, a red putty that would spread and harden. The difference is that its harder, thus it can be sanded with a much finer grit. We’re talking 400 grit up to 1000 just be safe. This sealer was used specifically to cover scratches, fill gaps, and cover divets.
Same process: Cover the mold, and sand it for hours. The sanding block and hand sanding are beneficial at this point. Keep in mind that this is the final mold – any scratches at all will be present in the final helmet – so details are really important. The ears are probably the most problematic section. You don’t want the ears to appear goopy or uneven, so a lot of time should be spent thickening and perfecting the sharp ear shapes on both models.
Have patience. Sanding the sealer goes slowly, but it’s extremely important. Get both molds perfect, as you absolutely will not want to come back to sanding after you start casting.
Almost finished molds.
You may or may not notice some discolorations in your mold. This is due to sanding through the sealer and into the original Bondo. This isn’t that bad, but can make for an awkward look. We did whatever we had to do to get a smooth finish, so this meant sanding through sealer until everything was even.
7. Vacuum-Form Machine
If you’re really lucky – and I mean really lucky – you already have access to a professional vacuum forming machine. Professional prop makers have them, so do fabrication companies, and the Mythbusters. That’s about it, so you’ll probably have to make your own. Fortunately that’s what I did: Here’s how to do it.
A vacuum formed cast requires two things: Heat and suction. The heat is applied to a large sheet of plastic which causes it to sag. The suction is applied below the plastic, which is sucked tightly around the mold. The plastic quickly cools and you have a perfect plastic copy of your mold. This actually would allow you to make dozens of Daft Punk helmets if you wished. We probably made a dozen, but only two or three that ever turned out awesome enough to keep.
The machine consists of two main parts: A vacuum / suction table, and a frame for the plastic. The vacuum table is essentially a large box – attached to a shop vac – with holes drilled on the top to allow air through. The frame is not unlike a picture frame, wrapping around the edges of the plastic to hold it in place as it sags.
Our vacuum table was essentially 4 2x4s with plywood on either side. Every corner is sealed with a hot glue gun, to ensure good suction (that’s what she said). There is a large 1″ hole on top to mount a pole that the mold can rest on, and a ~1″ hold to plug the shop vac tube into. You absolutely need to have the mold floating a bit above the surface, as seen here, otherwise the plastic can’t get sucked around the edges. You can mount the mold on a pole by drilling a large hole into the bottom of the Styrofoam.
That baby powder is also a tool. Sprinkling baby powder (talcum powder) on the mold will help prevent the cast from sticking and give you a better release when you’re finished (that’s what she said).
Unfortunately, I never knew I’d write a blog post about this work three years after I did it, so I don’t have any pictures of the plastic frame. But it’s dead simple. You need to take a measurement of your oven because its where you’ll heat up the plastic. Find the largest size frame you could fit into your oven: That’s the size you’ll make your frame and your vacuum table.
Let’s say the size is 18×24″ (could be larger or smaller). You’ll need to cut plastic sheets (more on that in a second) at 18×24″ with a frame and table that are 18×24″. It’s okay if the table is larger, but the frame needs to be the same size or smaller so you can press it against the table to form a seal.
The frame we built was a large 1″ wide rectangle. One on top of the plastic sheet and one below. These were screwed together through the plastic to discourage slippage. This means every cast required screwing and unscrewing – which wasn’t ideal – but we had limited options.
10. The Plastic Helmet
Now it’s helmet making time. Everything else is a prelude to this step.
The plastic we used was Polyethylene Terepthalate Glycol. Also known as Pet-G. It’s awesome plastic for thermoforming, which is what a vacuum form machine does. This plastic starts sag (melt) at a relatively low temperature, and hardens pretty strong. Additionally, there are transparent versions of Pet-G, which is necessary becuase we’ll need to see out of these Daft Punk helmets. Yay Polyethylene Terepthalate Glycol Halloween costumes!
You can find the exact .060″ thick 24×48″ sheets we purchased here: US Plastics – .060″ Pet-G
I cut these 24×48″ sheets into three 16×24″ pieces each. You’ll make a lot of mistakes with your first casts so its important to buy several sheets, enough for a dozen casts.
Mount a sheet in a frame, and pre-heat the oven. If you’re not comfortable using your own oven – as this releases a bit of toxic fumes – use somebody else’s oven! They’ll never know. Like I said earlier, make sure your frame and sheets are sized to fit exactly into whatever oven you’re using (with perhaps 1/2″ wiggle room so you don’t get stuck, that’s what she said).
An ideal temperature for this plastic was around 275 degrees Fahrenheit, but you may want to play with that. Place the frame with the plastic inside the heated oven. Now watch carefully for 3-6 minutes, you’ll need an oven with a window to monitor the sag. The ‘sag’ is how much the middle of your plastic sheet droops. The hotter and weaker the plastic sheet gets, the more its pulled down by gravity. There is a minimum sag needed, a few inches, in order properly wrap the hot plastic around the whole helmet. There is also a maximum sag, a point where the plastic becomes so weak that it falls to the oven floor. I suggest lining the bottom of your oven with tin foil to prevent major damage.
Get your plastic sheet to an optimum weakness / sag (perhaps 6″). Ideally you’ll have partner ready with the vacuum table. Your mold should be mounted on the table, with a bit of baby powder. The shop vac should be plugged in and turned on. It’ll be really loud, but this only takes a few seconds.
For both helmets, you’ll need to cast twice. One for the front, and one for the back. The entire helmet cannot be removed from the mold in one piece. Try angling the helmet on the table specifically for a front cast or a back cast. The real Thomas Bangalter seems to be two pieces as well, so this necessary and accurate. The Guy helmet can be split in front of or behind the ears.
Pull the hot plastic out of the oven with oven mitts. Immediately, and I mean immediately place the frame over the vacuum table with the vacuum table already on. Press down on all edges to ensure a tight seal and watch as the hot plastic wraps tightly around the mold. After 30 seconds it should be safe to turn off the vacuum.
Vacuum forming is hard. If the plastic is not hot enough, it wont pull tightly. If it’s too hot it will rip. Trial and error is the best way to learn, so buy lots of plastic.
11. Removing the Plastic
By now you have a sexy plastic helmet wrapped around your mold. Unfortunately you now have a large, hard plastic bowl wrapped around a dome. It may seem impossible to get off. There is a solution, and that solution is exacto-knives and strength.
Cut very cleanly with an exacto-knife, around the edges of the helmet. You should have a lot of excess plastic, so cut right down to the bare minimum of what the helmet needs. Be extremely careful not to press the knife down into the mold itself, you don’t want to start sanding again!
Clear plastic cast of the Bangalter helmet. Still dusty with baby powder.
This is another process with a lot of trial and error. For the Bangalter helmet you’ll be making a clean cut across the very top of the helmet. Look at reference photos for the exact location. Be sure sure to include 1/2—1″ of overlap so the pieces can be joined together later.
Front and back pieces of the Bangalter helmet.
12. Painting & Other Bits
Almost there. After all of the effort you’ve put in you could choose to have your plastic helmet chromed by professionals. There are companies that specialize in giving metallic mirror finishes to plastic. Due to time, budget, and logistical constraints it may make far more sense to simply paint the helmets. We chose to paint both of our helmets.
Before you open up your spray-paint, the halves have to be joined. The most durable solution is fiberglass. This is a relatively simple procedure and all of the materials can be bought at almost any hardware store. You’ll need sheets of fiberglass, the actual fiberglass resin, and chip brushes. Chip brushes are crappy paint brushes that cost a few cents and are great for fiberglass because they can be thrown away. Fiberglass will wreck almost anything it touches if you let it dry. So you’ll want to use it only on the inside helmet seam and the chip brushes.
The Banglater helmet was joined by a couple of 12″ long strips of fiberglass running along the inside seam. You may want to hold the halves in place with scotch tape on the outside prior to applying the fiberglass. Unlike Bondo, fiberglass is very slippery and unstable before it is dry. Make sure you lock the halves in place, placing the back half of the helmet inside and under the front half. A small amount of overlap is necessary for strength.
You’ll apply the resin on top of the fiberglass strip – making sure to fully soak the fabric – and make contact with the plastic. After it dries you’ll have a rock solid helmet.
The Guy helmet painted gold.
Metallic spray-paint is the obvious choice for both helmets. The first step is to mask the visors. This is a simple process for the Bangalter helmet. A few strips of masking tape cut to a point with an exacto knife. The Guy Helmet will require a bit more tape, and covering the front with newspaper should speed up the process. No paint should get on the visor, obviously.
Mount the helmet on a pole or anything to get it off of the floor. Chrome spray-paint was used on the Bangalter helmet, metallic gold on the Guy helmet. Do several very thin coats. Thick coats will drip, and Daft Punk is not drippy.
A note about the chrome spray-paint. It sounds magical, but unfortunately, it’s at its best in very thin coats on surfaces that aren’t to be handled much. I made two separate Bangalter helmets, and even after allowing the paint to dry for days I still got really nasty fingerprints in the paint after trying the helmet on. It’s possible that chrome paint takes a very long time to settle. Metallic silver might be more forgiving, but a bit less shiny. The metallic gold on the Guy helmet has no fingerprint issues, but isn’t quite as reflective.
Try buying a few different paints and experimenting with some test plastic. Nothing saves time and headache like a test.
Arguably the sexiest and most important feature of the helmets are the visors. Guy’s black dome and Bangalter’s dark stripe visor. We tinted both visors in different ways with different results. The Bangalter helmet uses window-tinting film, found at any auto store. Normally this is applied on the inside of your back windshield but I used it on the inside of the visor. Its incredibly clear but a nightmare to put on. Additionally – if you aren’t extremely careful – you’ll create small bubble that can’t be gotten rid of. My helmet to this day still has small bubbles in the visor. Be very careful with the window film.
A more elegant solution is used on the Guy helmet: Brake-light tint spray. This is a spray that’s used on car brake-lights to make them appear black when they’re off but still allow the light through when the brake-lights turn on. A generous coating on the inside of the dome makes the Guy helmet perfectly black; no bubbles or defects whatsoever. But there is a major downside: Blurriness. Brake-light spray isn’t made for windows or clarity, it’s just for light to pass through. The Guy helmet’s visor is dark, but quite blurry and a bit of a nightmare to wear indoors. The Bangalter visor is a bit messy in bright light due to the bubbles but still gives clear sight.
All that said, both will suffer from the breathing problem. When you wear a plastic dome around your head – in an all leather suit – you’re going to get hot. A hot head with warm breath means your visor will fog up. The actual Daft Punk helmets have fans to cool the guys down. I haven’t installed fans (and don’t intend to) but it may work. Another solution I’ve thought of, but haven’t installed is small mask inside the helmet. A painter’s mask with a tube directed downward might direct the wearer’s breath outside.
On the inside of the helmets it’s necessary to add padding. Weather stripping from a hardware store is a great solution. Its essentially foam strips that are sticky on one side. Padding the sides of each helmet, as well as the back and mouth areas, ensure that the helmet keeps a tight fit.
The Bangalter helmet has a mouth strip and nose strips that have been cut out with an exacto knife. The real Thomas Bangalter helmet does in fact have several nose slits under the visor, they’re just hard to see. This is pretty much essential if you like breathing when you wear the helmet.
The Guy helmet has rows of wires on the back, and microchips on the ears. Any old motherboard or remote control can be chopped up for the ears and glued in. The wires can be purchased from a hardware store, and glued in as well. Try getting alternating colors like white, red, green, blue, black, etc.
The Completed Daft Punk Suits Suits
Leather jackets can be bought at any large department store. Leather pants can be found online. Leather boots and leather gloves are easy to find. Go to an outdoor goods store, and you’ll find masks for skiers that project the head and neck. Wearing this black skier mask under the helmet gives you the complete look, and works way better than a turtleneck. Note that awesome leather pants might take a while to find (searching for “motorcycle pants” seems to yield decent results eventually).
So, without further adieu, Brandon wearing Guy-Manuel’s helmet:
And myself wearing Thomas Bangalter’s helmet:
Also check out:
Daft Punk: Final! – Volpin Props
Awesome Daft Punk Inspiration – Abduzeedo
Shoot Sucka – Brandon’s DJ Blog
Any thoughts about these Daft Punk helmets? Drop me a line in the comments!