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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey everyone, I'm trying to devise a way to build, well, a Death Star prop about 5 feet in diameter or so.

I've been doing some small scale tests with paper mache and such, but my core problem is how to create the armature/framework upon which it will be built?

My only condition is that I have to retain the ability to access the inside in order to have it backlit. I'm planning on drilling pinholes through surface to light from behind, ala Star Wars.

I've contemplated chicken wire on the outer surface, but I keep coming back to my core problem--how to concoct a sphere and/or curved ribs around a core frame. And what that frame looks like. I keep running into basic overengineering issues here.

Any ideas, suggestions are greatly welcomed! Thanks!

· Registered
224 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks everyone for the ideas.

I'm torn between two options:
1) I saw another Halloween fan did an Indiana Jones costume AND a boulder (chasing him, which was funny). They used a wire ladder frame to start, bent it into two circles and used that to create a basic frame for the sphere... paper mache and clay, chicken wire, etc from that.
2) Build two geodesic domes from cardboard or laminated plastic, fuse them together.

Either way, it's going to be a LOT of paper mache.

And a lot of work!

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224 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
OK, time for an update here. I wish I could have better news, but sadly my execution of this project was pretty lousy, truth be told. In order to give guidance to anyone else who wants to make a large sphere, here’s some good, bad and ugly thoughts below along with pictures. My intent was to build the Death Star and have a Star Wars themed front yard, complete with other props (that I ended up not getting around to at all). My plan was to have this Death Star backlit from inside, with pinholes cut out to allow light to shine from within, along with painting it and detailing it appropriately. That was FAR too ambitious.

• My paper mache recipe was awesome and it made for a good use of the medium. I hadn’t used paper mache before this since probably grade school. I used Elmer’s liquid glue, liquid starch (drying/hardening agent), drywall compound, flour, water. Using half-sheets of newspaper, it was a messy but worthwhile endeavor.
• Layering: not only paper mache, but the paper clay, then another few layers of paper mache, then painting it with several coats (first gray, before I changed the plan), then white, then adding details, then some glow in the dark paint in places, finally a polyurethane coat made this thing hard as a rock! It really is pretty durable, barring that it doesn’t get knocked over, roll around thus stressing the wire frame and bowing it out. I'm going to secure it with a few guy wires to anchor it off.
• My wife’s patience with my commandeering the garage like I usually do each year around this time.

• Time: Good Lawd, did this thing take up WAY too much time, from original fabrication, to the many layers of mache and such. I admittedly got a very late start on the project, but had to call an audible once it became apparent that my sphere wasn’t, well, spherical. My personal travel schedule and time commitments on weekends didn’t help my efforts. I’ve got a Star Destroyer 8’ long model using foam all plotted out if anyone wants it, haha….
• Construction: I made the fatal mistake of using vent soffit strips as the outer perimeter of the globe. I assumed—incorrectly—that I’d be able to use thick gauge farm wire and, along with covering it in chicken wire—that I’d be able to shape it into a proper sphere, even knowing those plastic strips were too flexible and not rigid enough. Bad call. Major blunder. This doomed me, even with proper measurements of wire hoops to try to get a good round shape. To no avail.

• After making the mistake of wrong rib material, and my internal (temporary) spar solution didn’t work, I still thought I could salvage the sphere by using paper clay to “round it out.” It became almost immediately clear that was going to be a massively time and labor intensive operation. Paper clay is fun to work with and eminently shapeable and moldable but, even when you try to put as much insulation into the mix as you possibly can, it’s still a wet, heavy muck that compromises and weights down the paper mache underneath. So I’d ADD tons of it to build out a section, and it would actually sink in a bit after it dried. So it became a fool’s errand.

• Well, insofar as building a large sphere, I would have taken more time, using even thicker gauge wire to cut equal length ribs and constructed a semicircular jig to make them all equally curved. Or used heated PVC tubing to craft the outer ribs, reinforced with PVD on inner spars.
• Always have a Plan B!! Thanks to my neighbor, who is a good friend and brutally honest, he suggested I turn it into an eyeball. I already had the Death Star “eye” built up on the outside, so I said screw it, we’re making a ginormous creepy eyeball and I’ll just do the front yard cemetery this year and be done with it.
• I’ve historically been good at my time allotment and budgeting for prop building, whether it’s large (my Ghostbusters set up last year) or small, but I grossly erred on this one. I know we always tell ourselves that we should start earlier, but it’s SO hard to be building stuff in a garage in Houston in August. It just sucks the life out of you. Lesson learned.
• Enjoy the pics….


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