An ILM R2 Story

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Duncanator

Sr Member
Hey John...It's great to read through your build thread. Since the cat is now out of the bag in regards to the domes, I thought I would fill in some of the blanks.

Don and I first started talking about the potential of a dome run in 2002, after the R2 Builders first group appearance at Celebration 2 in Indianapolis...(which I headed up)...Once I actually got the info and files, (which DIDN'T come directly from Don as I recall), I contacted my buddy Ron Barclay to help partner with me to make them a reality...Thus the R&J domes were born! :)

The very first batch was a small run that included the ones for you ILM guys, as well as a few close friends in the group to get them out there and make sure everything worked as designed. I can't remember how many Ron originally shipped out to ILM, but you got the first ones off the laser.

Interestingly enough, I bought one of them back from Grant earlier this year before his untimely passing...While bittersweet, that dome will be on my personal R2 when I finish it in a few months.

In regards to the dome in Ep3...

I'll never forget getting a very vague call from Don in 2004 asking if he could potentially get another dome later if need be...(to which I said "absolutely")...He wouldn't tell me what it was for, but I read between the lines...Fast forward to C3 in 2005, and he told me about the domes brief appearance as R4-P17 in the buzz droid scene. Since then, alu and/or fiberglass pulls from our RJ domes have appeared in TFA, SOLO, and Rogue One for sure...I'm not totally sure about TLJ or TROS.

And...The Viscount light HP's were found by John Sherrell. Once Jeremy Firth over in England tracked down the original part and part number, John was able to secure a fairly large cache of them. He bought all they had and had them shipped here to Texas. He then sold them to builders for what he paid for them...$30 each. :)

Again, thanks for sharing your pics and stories. I've been following the ILM guys builds for nearly 20 years. It's great to see and hear the back story.

Jason

Hi Jason!

Thanks for filling in some blanks for me too. I thought Don was our point of contact with the Club, though I recall Fon Davis and a few others were heading up most of the CAD work.
And thank YOU for doing the parts run! We were so thrilled to get the domes for a reasonable price. We aren't the guys making millions of dollars from the movies we worked on, so cost was definitely a factor for us too. They came out great!

Grant had just finished his R2 before his passing. It's sitting in Fon's shop in LA now. Fon, Grant, Billy and I were hoping to have a get together this year to pose with our finished droids, but Covid has put that off for a bit. We'll do it eventually. Maybe we'll get a cardboard standee of Grant for the photo. :confused:

I remember John Sherrell coming to ILM to deliver the reading lights. That really introduced me to the ethos of the R2 Club - sharing and fairness. He could have jacked up the price on those and we would have paid it, but he didn't. You all are good folks!

And now your domes are "screen used"! How sweet is that?! And I believe all the new film droids are essentially fan-made robots. Maybe they are still using your domes?
The new Disney films don't use any of the original droids. George sold Disney the rights to the stories and to make more movies, but he kept all the original props. He also retains all of the real estate properties like Skywalker Ranch and the Letterman Center (ILM) which Disney pays him rent for.
 
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Pwrsrce

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Thanks man...Don was definitely my main connection point for sure. It's just that when the dome discussion started up, I think it was ultimately someone else that sent me the files. I also received a beautiful foam filled skirt master from you guys...Those are STILL being offered and used on R2's even to this day. :)

The day after Grant passed, I was in my garage working on some stuff...I picked up the dome and it had GRANT written on the inside with sharpie. I originally wondered if it was his sig, but after talking with Billy, I believe he's the one that actually wrote Grants name in it to keep them all straight.

The first time I met Sherrell was when he hand delivered my lights to me. Turns out he only lived about 20 minutes from my house. Very stand up guy.

When you guys are finally able to get together, definitely post some pics...I know that those R2's represent a real journey for all of you. (y)
 

HackinSpock

New Member
Hi Jason!

Thanks for filling in some blanks for me too. I thought Don was our point of contact with the Club, though I recall Fon Davis and a few others were heading up most of the CAD work.
And thank YOU for doing the parts run! We were so thrilled to get the domes for a reasonable price. We aren't the guys making millions of dollars from the movies we worked on, so cost was definitely a factor for us too. They came out great!

Grant had just finished his R2 before his passing. It's sitting in Fon's shop in LA now. Fon, Grant, Billy and I were hoping to have a get together this year to pose with our finished droids, but Covid has put that off for a bit. We'll do it eventually. Maybe we'll get a cardboard standee of Grant for the photo. :confused:

I remember John Sherrell coming to ILM to deliver the reading lights. That really introduced me to the ethos of the R2 Club - sharing and fairness. He could have jacked up the price on those and we would have paid it, but he didn't. You all are good folks!

And now your domes are "screen used"! How sweet is that?! And I believe all the new film droids are essentially fan-made robots. Maybe they are still using your domes?
The new Disney films don't use any of the original droids. George sold Disney the rights to the stories and to make more movies, but he kept all the original props. He also retains all of the real estate properties like Skywalker Ranch and the Letterman Center (ILM) which Disney pays him rent for.
Not to barge in on the conversation, but I just wanted to say that I have been loving your stories about R2 and ILM!

I am currently a senior in High School making an animatronic BB-8 (it's going to be done very soon) and I have been heavily inspired by the work done at ILM since its inception. From what I heard, ILM's animatronic prop shop more or less dissolved after ep III correct? I pretty much know I want to work on film special effects like animatronics, props, and such, so I was curious if there are still small opportunities at ILM to do those things.

Once again, I apologize if I barged in the conversation, but I am just really curious about what you would say. I am planning on majoring in robotics or mechanical engineering in college with a film studies minor, and I am hoping one day to intern maybe at ILM, Legacy Effects, or other companies that have special effects (a pretty bold path I imagine)

Thanks for hosting this thread, it's been great.

Matthew Winchell
 

bwayne64

Well-Known Member
Anyone else having trouble seeing the pictures in this thread. I'm on my phone so it could be that, : (
 
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nkg

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
The old RC droids did have some way to rotate the dome remotely, but you are right - the heart and soul of R2's head performance came from Kenny Baker's hands.

Actually, I have some news on that front if you're interested! I spoke briefly with Bill Shourt today. He's the guy who worked at ILM in 1976/77 who modified the RC R2 once it arrived in California. The droid was used for the pickup shots that were done in Death Valley, and he improved its motors and steering.

He confirms my earlier research - namely, that the RC R2 did not have head rotation abilities during filming. He added a dome motor later in 1977, after the film had been released. It was this modified R2 that was used at public events such as the Academy Awards show, and in the "Making of Star Wars" TV special, which clearly shows dome rotation.

All shots of R2 turning his noggin in the first film were done with a human motor of some form. My favourite is this one from one of the Death Valley pickups:

fingers.jpg


The three RC R2 droids built for Empire were all capable of dome rotation, and you can see this in the film. The Bespin shootout scene where R2 spins around shows this dome rotation ability to good effect.

Anyway. Sorry to hijack this thread, but this confirmation from Bill is an interesting tidbit, I thought!

The hinged crossbar makes it much easier to access the guts of R2. I thought about doing it for mine, but decided I didn't need the extra complexity. We'll see if I regret that later.:unsure:

It does seem like a pretty cool idea for ease of maintenance on a movie set, where time costs a ton of money. :) Did the Empire droids have those, or just the ILM droid?

- nkg
 
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Duncanator

Sr Member
Not to barge in on the conversation, but I just wanted to say that I have been loving your stories about R2 and ILM!

I am currently a senior in High School making an animatronic BB-8 (it's going to be done very soon) and I have been heavily inspired by the work done at ILM since its inception. From what I heard, ILM's animatronic prop shop more or less dissolved after ep III correct? I pretty much know I want to work on film special effects like animatronics, props, and such, so I was curious if there are still small opportunities at ILM to do those things.

Once again, I apologize if I barged in the conversation, but I am just really curious about what you would say. I am planning on majoring in robotics or mechanical engineering in college with a film studies minor, and I am hoping one day to intern maybe at ILM, Legacy Effects, or other companies that have special effects (a pretty bold path I imagine)

Thanks for hosting this thread, it's been great.

Matthew Winchell

Hi Matthew! I'd love to see your BB-8.
If you want to do animatronics, I would recommend looking to southern California. There are a lot more places doing film work.
ILM doesn't have a modelshop any more. When ILM moved from San Rafael to the Presidio in San Francisco in 2005, the modelshop and stages remained behind. Around 2006-07 they bought themselves away from ILM, and went by Kerner Industries. 32Ten Studios is still in those buildings today.

Disney's Imagineering is doing some amazing aerial robotics work for Marvel superhero additions for the parks. Grant had been working with them over the last few years. I'd love to do that!
 

Duncanator

Sr Member
Actually, I have some news on that front if you're interested! I spoke briefly with Bill Shourt today. He's the guy at ILM who modified the RC R2 once it arrived in California. It was used for the pickup shots that were done in the studio and in Death Valley, and he improved its motors and steering.

He confirms my earlier research - namely, that the RC R2 did not have head rotation abilities during filming. He added a dome motor later in 1977, after the film had been released. It was this modified R2 that was used at public events such as the Academy Awards show, and in the "Making of Star Wars" TV special, which clearly shows dome rotation.

All shots of R2 turning his noggin in the first film were done with a human motor of some form. My favourite is this one from one of the Death Valley pickups:

View attachment 1358799

The three RC R2 droids built for Empire were all capable of dome rotation, and you can see this in the film. The Bespin shootout scene where R2 spins around shows this dome rotation ability to good effect.

Anyway. Sorry to hijack this thread, but this confirmation from Bill is an interesting tidbit, I thought!



It does seem like a pretty cool idea for ease of maintenance on a movie set, where time costs a ton of money. :) Did the Empire droids have those, or just the ILM droid?

I love that picture of the fingers peeking around R2's dome!

Great info on the dome drive history. Definitely not hijacking! By any chance did Bill say if he was the one who installed the SSPS-105 servos?
Or did he use a different system? I don't know if they made them back in 1977.
 

HackinSpock

New Member
Hi Matthew! I'd love to see your BB-8.
If you want to do animatronics, I would recommend looking to southern California. There are a lot more places doing film work.
ILM doesn't have a modelshop any more. When ILM moved from San Rafael to the Presidio in San Francisco in 2005, the modelshop and stages remained behind. Around 2006-07 they bought themselves away from ILM, and went by Kerner Industries. 32Ten Studios is still in those buildings today.

Disney's Imagineering is doing some amazing aerial robotics work for Marvel superhero additions for the parks. Grant had been working with them over the last few years. I'd love to do that!
Here's my website with a lot of photos of bb-8: www.matthewwinchell.com

I'll also post some here.
IMG_20200428_135950.jpg
PXL_20201008_004241369.jpg
 

nkg

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
I love that picture of the fingers peeking around R2's dome!

The thing about that shot that I find absolutely hilarious is that those digits have been there, right in front of us, the whole time. Every release of the film, from the very first 35mm prints, all the way through to the Special Edition, contain that person's fingers! We just never noticed them since the fingertips only appear for about 6 frames, and they're pretty close in colour to that of the Mojave desert sand.

A shot a few seconds later includes a dark blue coat sleeve or something similar, down by the base of the dome. Here's a screen grab from a 35mm film scan. This sleeve, that I think Mark Kiger was the first to notice, was digitally erased for the Special Edition.

Screenshot 2020-10-17 at 11.41.44.png


Great info on the dome drive history. Definitely not hijacking! By any chance did Bill say if he was the one who installed the SSPS-105 servos?
Or did he use a different system? I don't know if they made them back in 1977.

I have a bunch of followup questions, and I can ask him if he remembers. Those servos were apparently released in 1975, but I have the feeling that they're more likely to have been used in the ESB domes onwards. I'll see if I can ask Ron Hone - he worked on the mechanizing of the ESB era droids.


- nkg
 

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Duncanator

Sr Member
I have a bunch of followup questions, and I can ask him if he remembers. Those servos were apparently released in 1975, but I have the feeling that they're more likely to have been used in the ESB domes onwards. I'll see if I can ask Ron Hone - he worked on the mechanizing of the ESB era droids.


- nkg
Wicked awesome information!
So it sounds like the Sieko servos may have been in use since Empire? It’d be great to get confirmation on that.

Thanks for sharing!
 

nkg

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Wicked awesome information!
So it sounds like the Sieko servos may have been in use since Empire? It’d be great to get confirmation on that.

No, that's definitely in the "conjecture" category for now. :) I'm making enquiries. The problem with specifics like this, as I'm sure you know, folks who worked on the original props rarely remember deeply specific minutiae all these decades later... And, boy, I can hardly blame 'em. I don't remember what I had for breakfast sometimes.

- nkg
 

Duncanator

Sr Member
Thanks man...Don was definitely my main connection point for sure. It's just that when the dome discussion started up, I think it was ultimately someone else that sent me the files. I also received a beautiful foam filled skirt master from you guys...Those are STILL being offered and used on R2's even to this day. :)
I just realized what you said about the skirt. I made the pattern for that skirt! That is so crazy that it is still being used:D
 

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Lan Jenn

Well-Known Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
I just realized what you said about the skirt. I made the pattern for that skirt! That is so crazy that it is still being used:D

It's been one of the most consistent items in the club. Jason sent the foam master to me in 2002 for molding and offering them, and I've made four versions over the years, each one with improvements. I make the Generation IV skirt now with threaded inserts for mounting to various bodies and frames. I'd love to hear more about the master you made.

Having my fiberglass parts in the films and at Disney has been cool. I wonder if I'll ever make my own.
 

Duncanator

Sr Member
It's been one of the most consistent items in the club. Jason sent the foam master to me in 2002 for molding and offering them, and I've made four versions over the years, each one with improvements. I make the Generation IV skirt now with threaded inserts for mounting to various bodies and frames. I'd love to hear more about the master you made.

Having my fiberglass parts in the films and at Disney has been cool. I wonder if I'll ever make my own.

When I made the R2 skirt pattern, I used plexiglass and styrene. Styrene was used for the curved surfaces, and plex was used for the flat ones.
I cut most of the parts on our lasercutter to make them as exact as possible. It was one of those rare times when I got to use that fancy equation to draw a cone section for the curved ends. Woot! :p

Our bodies were cast with the skirt as part of it. We made a rigid fibreglass mold that came apart into 5 pieces - 4 quadrants of the barrel and the bottom with the skirt. This was the same way the Empire and later bodies were molded.
It was necessary to do it this way in order to get the mold off the barrel with all of its undercuts. When laying up fibreglass castings, we would gel-coat and glass each section with the mold disassembled, and then put all the mold pieces together and seam the joints.

The skirt (or any section) could be laid up separately, and that is what must have been sent to you.
 
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