The Swarm

December 16, 2007

The Daft Punk Girls: How the helmets were made

David Prince

UPDATE: Daft Punk recording new music in Paris studio…

Back in October, we decided to seek out fellow Daft Punk obsessives by running the Daily Swarm’s first and only Daft Punk Halloween Costume Contest. We saw how many people were googling “how to make a daft punk helmet’ and figured we’d find some creative ways of making replicas of the impossible-to-get-even-for-$65,000 originals. Sure enough, the Daily Swarm received more than 30 entries from all over the country and the world, and the collective creative energies were pretty amazing. Check them all out here.

But as we pointed out on October 31, the contest was over before it even began: as soon as he pictures started trickling in from Vegoose of the “Daft Punk girls” and their near-picture perfect recreations of Daft Punk’s Discovery-era helmets we knew who was going to win. Sure enough, a day later an email arrived from Wisconsin from Caitlin Kliesmet and Margaret Kim, two of the biggest Daft Punk fans we’ve encountered who had decided months before to to put their engineering and design skills to the ultimate test. Now, as the girls are about to extend their 15 minutes of fame with an appearance in SPIN mag’s Daft Punk “Entertainers of the Year” feature, we sat down with Caitlin and Margaret to find out exactly how the masks were made.

TDS: What was the game plan? How did you start?
Caitlin: Well, initially we planned to modify helmets and we spent forever trying to find costume helmets, bike helmets, skateboard helmets, anything that would work and we largely struck out. So we went another direction based on my dad’s costume building experience and some recommendations from a guy that does pro model building.
Margaret: I kept suggesting motorcycle helmets, but they are too expensive
Caitlin: We ended up using home insulating foam – those big pink sheets that you can get at the hardware store.

TDS: How did you shape them?
Caitlin: We cut them up and glued up blocks about 1 cubic foot then we carved out the basic shapes with an orbital sander/dremel/other sanding tools.
Margaret: We drew up plans from pictures, Electroma, everything we could get our hands on.
Caitlin: All the external pieces are a mish mash of whatever parts looked right. The “ears” on the silver helmet are just casters glued to the bottoms of jars.

TDS: What about the electronics?
Caitlin: The electronics are all home-built circuit boards. My dad and I built all the circuits from scratch.
Margaret: They both light up with varying speeds.
Caitlin: We were intending to have multiple options for the lighting patterns, but we didn’t have enough time.

TDS: Any words flash besides “human”?
Caitlin: No, it’s a “hard-coded” item, we didn’t have time to build a full scrolling LED panel so we just mounted up the word “human.” If we do another version, it would definitely have programmable options.

TDS: How did you affix the circuitry to the helmet?
Cailtin: On the silver one it’s just mounted into the visor, the LEDs are mounted to a piece of plastic and the piece of plastic is stuck into the visor.
Margaret: With the gold one, there are LEDs mounted behind stage gels.
Caitlin: Yeah, the gold one we actually cut out pockets in the foam base and mounted the LEDs to plastic and then mounted the plastic to the helmet.

TDS: What’s in the backpacks?
Margaret: Batteries and the circuit boards. 16 AA batteries each.
Caitlin: The backpacks also have the potentiometer knob to vary the speeds of the lights. The three knobs on the back of the backpacks – one actually works.

TDS: Can you see out of them?
Margaret: When the silver one is lit, I can’t see. During the day, when it’s not lit, i can kinda see where I’m going.
Caitlin: almost impossible. there is a small slit in the front of mine.

TDS: Is it hot in there?
Caitlin: Pretty warm, as much as you would imagine for your whole head being in a helmet. It gets stuffy really fast.
Margaret: It’s kinda hard to breathe in mine and foam gets all up in my nose.

TDS: How long do the whole process take?
Caitlin: 2 months or so and several hundred man hours.

TDS: What about the gloves?
Caitlin: The gloves are as close as you can get to a perfect recreation made of PVC instead of metal.
Margaret: We had to dremmel and sand PVC for hours and hours.
Caitlin: You would need vacuformed plastic or shaped metal to get them exactly the same.

TDS: What kind of response did you get at Vegoose? Did you wear them anywhere else?
Caitlin: Talk about 15 minutes of fame….people wouldn’t leave us alone.
Margaret: On Halloween, we entered a costume contest at a bar in Milwaukee… maybe 5 people knew who we were, including the DJ.
Caitlin: We got a lot of “are you Robocop?” Someone thought we were the Terminator. But pretty much everyone said that it was the coolest costume they had seen even if they didn’t know who we were. People that knew who we were were largely speechless or started laughing uncontrollably and going “omgomgomgomgomgomgomg.”

(Caitlin and Margaret can be found at humanrobotgirls*at*hotmail*dot*com.)

As promised, Caitlin and Margaret will soon be getting the grand prize: deluxe editions of Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 CD set, plus mint copies of the rare rave flyer from Daft Punk’s first ever U.S. gig (interestingly enough, the set occurred not far from where Margaret and Caitlin grew up, though they were way too young at the time to be raving in the cornfields). We also picked a second place pair of robots who will be getting a prize package from the Daily Swarm: Hayes Johnson and Stephen Fitzgerald. While we were leaning towards Ghostly International’s Sam Valenti and Missy Livingston’s Electroma-inspired bride and groom get-up, the video below tipped the scales. Flattery will get you everywhere.

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