OK, if nothing else, this should be good for a laugh
There's a backstory here before we get to the pictures. A long time ago (34 years, to be exact) in a galaxy right here... A new movie - "Star Wars" - was released in May. Whoop-de-doo, says I: there hasn't been any decent science fiction on the screen in years.
At the time, I was putting myself through art school, holding down two part-time jobs plus playing in a band; I didn't really have the time or money to spend on what would just be another disappointment.
About a month later, after a gig, we were talking about this "Star Wars" movie; it was still at the top of the movie lists, there were still waiting lines to get in to see the thing (hey - cinemas were single-screen then. If you found a duplex, that was a big theatre!) and everyone was talking about it.
Ah, meh, another fad.
About a week later, our pedal steel player came in all excited, saying he saw it and it was really good. OK; I trust the guy's opinion. So, I ask the young lady I had been dating if she'd like to go see Star Wars. She accepted, and that weekend we went to see it.
It was a life-changing experience. No sci-fi film in recent memory had the detail, story, pathos, humor and just plain cool stuff. I remember when the door blew open on the Tantive IV and Darth Vader stepped out of the smoke. I knew what *I* was going to be for Halloween (side note - that dream took over 30 years to realize, and is a story for another time!).
Holy crap! Action! Adventure! Funny robots!! We left the theatre numb, wanting more, knowing we'd soon be back to see the movie again...
Fast forward a couple months. Don Post announces the release of a Darth Vader mask. Yes!! I can feel the Dark Side starting to do my bidding. We go to a local fabric store and I buy some black material to begin making a cape, and I order a helmet ...
Oh yeah, this is a 3PO thread, isn't it? I'm getting there...
The fateful day soon came in late August when Post studios sent a letter saying the Vader helmets were delayed. The death blow came early September, when they said the delay would probably be until January.
I cancelled my order. Shift gears! Who's the next coolest character in SW? 3PO! I was tall (6'3") and skinny (about 120 pounds), so it could work. Art school had just started, and to make things even better, a buddy of mine (a great deal shorter than me) decided he'd do an R2-D2.
The prop/costume maker at that time had minimal resources for reference: "fan publications" (Famous Monsters type periodicals), official movie programs (yes! you could buy souvenir programs at the movies!) and if you were lucky, a major magazine such as Life would do a pictorial story. If you were *really* lucky, one of the fan periodicals would do a special magazine release. It so happened that Star Wars got a dedicated magazine. IIRC, it was 64 pages of grainy photos (some even in color!) and short articles. It had perhaps a dozen pictures of 3PO, of which maybe four had enough "detail" to be useful.
Another side note: for the benefit of the members who were not born yet in '77 (about 80%), the 15% that were between the ages of two and five, and the 3% that weren't into SW until later in life: there was no such thing as sharing digital information. Molding, casting, machining and fiberglassing were attainable only by the rich, and vcr's had yet to make their way into homes. Movies were *not* released for sale a few months after release; a movie stayed in theatres until ticket sales went down, then it slowly faded away in the second and third-run theatres. Once the movie went away, that was it.
Also keep in mind that I'm an art student, paying my own way. I have to buy illustration board seconds because I can't afford the good stuff, and I need to pay for stuff like food, gas, rent. Innovation, improvisation and guesswork are in abundance. So, low on cash and overflowing on confidence, I start my build. (Cheap materials, next to no reference, and bravado. This will only end in tears!).
We (my R2-D2 buddy volunteered to help with some of my build) decided paper mache would be best for the head. Although my school had a sculpture class, I wasn't in it, I couldn't afford the clay, no one knew a thing about casting, yadda yadda yadda.
Blow up a balloon and start slapping pasty newspaper on it. Working from memory and a blurry magazine picture, a likeness started to emerge.
But his nose. It's wrong. It *looks* like an inverted "V" in the pictures, but reflections, bad photos and faulty memory cannot quite nail it. Never mind. We'll fix in in post!
I *do* manage to score two radio knobs that, when the shafts are cut off, will work for the eye lenses! All in all, it' close enough for rock & roll, so it's time to move on to the rest of the costume.
Now, wouldn't it be cool if I could make this thing out of metal? It so happened that the local newspaper sold used aluminum printing plates on the cheap. Ten cents scored an 18" x 24" metal sheet, easily cut and rolled to make arms, legs... um, only one small glitch: they still had the printing ink on them.
Much solvent, elbow grease and plain wiping cleaned off enough for a set of arms and upper legs. Tme is running short; it's already early October and all I have is a mask and some metal tubes. Time for some more "artistic license".
Stove pipe connectors looked like shoulder joints. I found a nice Rubbermaid trash can that would work for a chest (decades before Le started using them!). A couple of plastic lids riveted together for the chest detail, and some coffee cans (yes, coffee came in metal cans. And you'd get it in one, two and three pound sizes. Pounds, not 12 oz.) for the knee joints. Lower legs and feet. Hmmmm. How about we cheat and make the calves and feet a single unit - as in a pair of old riding boots?
So, what's left? Hands? Check! Rubberized gloves. Neck? Check! A sectioned Cool-Wip container. Abdominal "masking" and wiring? Check! A black leotard and... wires, of course.
I think that's everything. What? I forgot something? The codpiece! Of course! Um yeah; no time to make one out of metal; cardboard is too flimsy. I'll find something. I'll just need to keep my eyes open when I shop for the final finishing touches.
As in paint: I've got brown boots, yellow gloves, beige mask, silver arms, red (Folgers) and blue (Maxwell House) knee joints... everything has to be gold!
Off to the discount department store for some rattle cans! This thing only has to last one night; spray paint will stick to anything for that long! While at the store, I looked for something I might use as a codpiece. I have less than 24 hours to get everything painted, and although I've tried pieces on, I haven't had the whole costume on (it will fit. Think positive!). OK, what would work for a codpiece? I have to get out of it, or at least be able to use the bathroom. What could I use for some 3PO tighty-goldies....
... EUREAKA! (Oh no. I didn't. Yes, I did. Tighty-whities. Sprayed gold.)
It would be dark Halloween night. Alcohol would be flowing like a river in flood. I will look as blurry to everyone as those reference photos I used, so go with what I got...
The rest is almost anti-climatic. I sprayed everything gold; it needed a second coat so I sprayed it again about an hour before we left for our party. Luckily, I wasn't able to drive wearing the costume - and just as well (take me away, fumes!).
We assembled me into the costume, it went together with only one small hitch: I didn't design the back of the knees in the thigh tubes so I could bend my legs to sit. Quickly fixed: my future brother-in-law put his hand behind my leg, grabbed my ankle and bent my leg into a sitting position. The metal knee-backs now had the proper shape (ow!).
It was a wonderful, fun party. Everyone loved the costume, and friends still mention it today. Yes, it was crude and sloppy by current standards. Heck, it was pretty crude back then. But for a scratch build with household materials and almost no reference, I'm pretty proud of it.
Without further ado, I give you the only surviving pictures of a Halloween in a past life:
Hey Threep! Nice pants!
Threepio meets Sudden Death
Threepio and friend (my bride of 30 years this August)