Thursday, May 28, 2015

2015 Bay Area Maker Faire: an Exhibitor's Story

A couple of weekends ago I had the privilege of putting together an exhibit at the Bay Area Maker Faire.  This was my fifth consecutive appearance at the Faire.  If you were there, you more than likely will have seen my booth:

But you might not recognize it in the above photo.  That's because most of the time it looked more like this;
Maker Faire41

If you'd like to see more of the preparations and logistics that went into getting everything to the show, read on...

Notionally I started my preparations for this year's Maker's Faire as I was packing everything up at the end of last year's Maker Faire.  My crew and I had just finished up the ED-209 project and everyone was pretty thoroughly worn out.  We'd rented a 25' moving truck to carry everything and the whole massive undertaking had taken its toll.

By the time we were unloading things back at the shop, it was well after midnight and it took two more days before I had fully regained my footing, sorted through the piles of stuff in the workshop, and mostly had everything put away.

Fast forward half of a year.

By this time I'd blissfully forgotten all of the stress and strain that goes into carting a bunch of my work to the other end of the Bay Area.  That's about the same time as the annual Call to Makers goes out again and it's time to put in an application to be an exhibitor at the Maker Faire .


For four out of the last five years, I've had a huge new something to unveil at the Maker Faire.  This was not one of those years.  So, I started by hopping in the truck with the Lady Shawnon and cruising down to the Make Lab to pick up my ED-209 replica from his usual hangout at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts (aka the Innovation Hangar):
Shawnon Meets ED for the First Time

It was a long day that involved an exploded tire and a couple of hours toiling over some very stuck lugnuts on the side of the highway overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, but in the end I got the giant killer robot back to the workshop, safe and sound.

The many improvements to ED-209 included a new paintjob for the dome, a new bearing and turning mechanism for the waist, and this upgrade gadget to make it easier to attach the arms:
Gun Pod Upgrade

Since I wasn't sure I'd have enough people to get anyone in costume and walking around, I dusted off my big, sexy Dark Angels Space Marine costume so we could put a pipe skeleton inside and prop it up against a wall.

But it wasn't all about dusting off the same old things I've already had at the Maker Faire, I had to spruce up a few of the new things that haven't been there yet.

Looking back over the year worth of projects since the last Maker Faire, one of the things I figured I really needed to have in the display was a couple of the weapons from the EVOLVE project.  Out of the four that I made, I ended up molding enough of the parts to make duplicates of two of them: the Harpoon Gun and the Lightning Gun.  So remaking them was really just a question of pouring another set of parts, trimming and gluing them up, and painting them.

Here's the Harpoon Gun coming together:
Harpoon Gun v2.0

It's still my favorite of the four Evolve weapons.  If only because it means I get to strike poses like this:
Who's the Man?

Here's the Lightning Gun version 2.0 all painted up:

One of the key upgrades which didn't fit into the mad rush timing of the original build was the working plasma ball:

Not too shabby:

I also churned out a couple more Space Marine helmets that I've been meaning to add to my collection.  Here they are early in the painting stages:
Space Marine Helmets in Base Colors

On the subject of helmets, there's also these two clone troopers I'd been tinkering with:
ARC Trooper Hammer and Captain Rex Helmets

And I even managed to pull the War Machine helmet project off of the backburner long enough to get it painted:
War Machine Helmet Weathered

With all of these new helmets to show off, I was going to need more display racks.  So I had the Lopez twins (my Carvewright CNC machines) cut out a few piece for me while I made up a quick frame with some 2x4s:
Maker Faire07

The end result was a relatively interesting little shelf and wall section:

I think the sizing was just about right:

As the night wore on, my friend Trevor and I had replaced the grating on the gun racks, added hinges and struts in a few places, and finished up the last minute improvements to the display booth itself.  This included putting a new coat of almost black paint on everything that didn't look brand new.  That took me well past midnight, to neatly segue into...


The next morning was the first day we were allowed to load things into the event center.  Bright and early, we started dragging props and costumes out of storage.  Here's the first wave:

We also got ED-209 all loaded up in the utility trailer:

And neatly stacked all sorts of stuff into the new cargo trailer:

We loaded the back of my friend Matt's truck with everything we could fit into it, jammed the backseat full of helmets and weapons, then hitched him to the cargo trailer and he got on the road.  We also got the booth parts loaded in the back of the big green truck, hitched up the utility trailer full of ED-209, and set out in the rain to drive to the Faire:

Once we'd arrived, we started by unloading ED-209, the pile of helmets and weapons from my backseat, and the booth panels.  Here's the whole thing starting to come together:

Once we'd finished assembling the booth, Matt pulled his truck and the cargo trailer around to the expo hall so we could start filling it with even more cool stuff:

Once we'd set everything up, it looked like so:

Here's a closeup showing the new helmet stands in operation:

I think they worked out pretty well:

Here you can see the new and improved gratings on the gun racks:

If I'd really been thinking ahead, I'd have brought enough batteries to actually light up the eyes in more of the helmets:

Big sexy was looking sharp:

That night we ran out to the hardware store with a to-get list that covered every little detail that was still on the to-do list.  The evening finally ended a little after eleven o'clock when I passed out on the floor of my sister's place, not far from the event center.


I woke up anxious and alert at 6am.  Exhibitors were allowed into the event center at 8am, so I had time for a leisurely shower and a bite of breakfast (mostly coffee).  Then, after rushing through all of the last-minute chores and fixes, by noon on Friday we were all ready to go.  The gates opened early in the afternoon and we started getting a trickle of visitors:

Then, within a few short minutes, we were completely swarmed:

The bulk of the visitors were dangerously enthusiastic schoolchildren who were trilled to try on helmets and point prop guns at each other.  For me it was an exercise in reaching a zen-like state where I would somehow remain calm despite seeing a couple of children put on a pair of my costume helmets (items I personally built, involving quite a bit of time and effort) and head butt each other as if they'd rehearsed it.


After a successful first day, I finally got a chance to get out and see a few of the sights around the Faire.  Here's the Nautilus car, a regular visitor:
Maker Faire09

This guy's there every year as well:
Maker Faire08

That evening, the good folks from Make: Magazine served a massive paella dinner prepared by Gerard's Paella.  We sat around revelling in the fact that we'd finished setting everything up, were ready in time for the show, and everything that was left at this point was an easy coast to the finish line.  It was a good end to a great day.
Maker Faire10


In past years, Radio Shack has sponsored free coffee and pastries for exhibitors at the event.  With their recent bankruptcy woes, they've stopped doing this.  I'd have had to go without caffeine if not for the fact that a kind soul from the event staff noticed my distress and hooked me up.  Thank you Juliann.  Crisis averted.

Otherwise, after easing into the event with a nice, half-day sort of "soft opening," we were thoroughly prepared for the mad rush that began the moment the gates were opened on Saturday morning.  Since it was a weekend I was able to get more of my crew to come down and help out with answering questions and watching to make sure that nobody walked off with any of my props:
Maker Faire18

Here's Dani and Daniella answering a few questions about the making of the Mandalorian helmets we had on display:
Maker Faire17

As usual, people were excited to get a chance to try on some of the helmets and pose with the various weapons:
Maker Faire19

Some of them were abscolutely adorable:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 63

A couple hours into the morning, I managed to get a few folks into costume.  Here's Dani in one of my Halo 3 Spartan suits:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 62

The guy who seemed to be having the most fun in costume was Matthias in another one of my Spartan costumes:
Maker Faire34

He really got everywhere:
Maker Faire20

Maker Faire25

Maker Faire23

Maker Faire26

Later in the day, I got Katya into the Ironman costume.  It's a little tough to photograph with all of the lights:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 52

Here's the closest thing to a full-length shot I managed to get:

At some point in the day, she was stopped by a pretty good Tony Stark lookalike:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 59

A little later, I got Anna into the Shae Vizla costume:

We even managed to break out the Isaac Clarke costume, which looked great on Neil:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 65

The day finally wound down when everybody started getting kicked out at around 8pm.  A few of the folks in my crew had to head straight home, but the rest of us ended up going out to dinner.  About halfway through the meal, I started falling asleep at the table.  So I ended up back at my sister's place to sleep and rest up for...


After stopping on the way into the faire to get coffee outside, we did a little bit of sprucing things up and uncovering the display before it was time to face the onslaught again.  Within minutes of opening the gates, we were completely flooded with folks looking to discuss their various projects and checking out all of the stuff we had on display:

I was very grateful to have enough people helping me out that I could actually take a few minutes out to enjoy the whole experience:

Normally I just end up spending the entire weekend swamped with questions, but after doing this four years in a row, I've learned to have enough of my knowledgeable helpers on hand to make it a bit easier on me:
Maker Faire42

And of course, there's always this guy:
Maker Faire41

As usual, folks couldn't resist the urge to try things on:
Maker Faire40

Some were more interesting than others:

And most of them were downright adorable:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 61

I also managed to get some folks into costume that day.  Here's Loki in one of my Sith Acolyte costumes:
Kate's Maker Faire Snapshots 55

On Sunday afternoon, I managed to get about 45 minutes worth of walking around and seeing some of the other exhibits.  One of the first things I spotted was this guy:
Maker Faire16

That behemoth is called "Rhino Redemption" and was built by Reared In Steel in Petaluma, CA.  In fact, I pass it every day on my way from home to the workshop:
Maker Faire15
Check out their facebook page here:

The Rhino can breathe fire and makes all kinds of noise (in addition to being driveable) but it's in good company.  When you're outdoors at the Maker Faire, there's something breathing fire at every turn.  Here's a pretty cool mantis statue that would occasionally belch flames:
Maker Faire14

Spotted this sign next to another flaming statue:
Maker Faire11
Sadly, I never found a sign warning that water is wet.

Around the other side of things were these two pillars of fire that would occasionally send up a big spout of flame as well:

And it was impossible to miss this astrolabe-looking installation, complete with even more flames:

And while I brought along my own giant robot, it was neat to see a number of even bigger giant robots scattered around the event.  Here's one:
Maker Faire13

Out of all of the things I saw in my brief tour of the other exhibits, one that I really loved was this one:
These lovable little tree/dragon creatures are the "Abori," created by Emily Coleman.  You can get your own at

The crowd finally vanished shortly after the event was closed on Sunday evening.  So I sent Matt and Carlos out to the parking lot to get the trucks and trailers while the rest of us started breaking down the display.  Within minutes, it had almost completely ceased to be:

Carlos had his two youngest sons along for the day, so I put their tiny hands to work picking up all of ED-209's spent shell casings:

The last thing out was the stack of pieces of ED-209:
Packing Out

That night we drove home, unhooked the trailers at the workshop, stacked the loose helmets neatly on the bench to be sorted later, and unloaded the booth parts from the bed of the truck.  

As is my custom, I took the day off on Monday after the Faire.  It gave me a chance to rest and recuperate and reflect on the weekend of madness.  

Taken for all in all, things went pretty well this time around.

Next time I'll have to have a big, new, something awesome to show off.  Any suggestions as to what it should be?


  1. You have to make the Hulkbuster from the new Avengers Movie! :)

  2. Something from Warframe. That game has an awesomely unique visual style, and tons of big awesome stuff to make.

  3. I second the idea of something from Warframe; specifically one of the eponymous frames. The visual style is very impressive. Though that's not very "big" (Even Rhino isn't THAT big).