The weekend of 9th – 11th August 2019 saw the UK R2-D2 Builders Club descend on Harper Adams University, Newport, Shropshire for a weekend of everything droid – racing, fund raising, knowledge sharing, panels and good times. Fantha Tracks were thrilled to be invited along to share some of the happenings from the event.
While we were excited to be invited along to the 2019 running of R2UK, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect when we walked through the doors of Harper Adams University in Newport. The event – organised by the UK R2 Builders primarily for members of their own ranks – is intended to be a three-day in-house celebration of all things droid, giving the builders club the opportunity to run panels, seminars and competitions and raise some money for Meningitis Now while doing it.
Set in the Shropshire countryside, Harper Adams University is a specialist university tackling the development of production, processing, animal sciences, with plenty of room for the R2 Builders to stretch their treads and roll out a weekend of events and activities. With a squad of members fully used to knuckling down and making things work, an agricultural university somehow felt like a perfect fit (despite the occasional whiff wafting in that wouldn’t feel out of place at the rear end of a Happabore).
Walking through the entrance to the main hall there was no doubt where we were as to the left a Friesian cow sat amongst a gaggle of astromechs, and a wander around the hall saw droids from across the UK lined up on display, ready and primed for action. There was limited edition merchandise on sale, including some beautiful prints and t-shirts designed by Nik Harber (had to get the stickers, definitely buying one of the t-shirts!) and a general air of easy, informal fun and knowledge sharing. In much the same way the armour and costume groups share out information, so these mechanically minded maestros also chat about quick and easy ways to make their droids roll a bit faster and a lot smoother.
Late morning saw Oliver Steeples onstage in the Theatre, giving a talk on ‘Droids From Star Wars’, which by his own admission he rattled through at hyperspeed. Despite that, this easygoing panel gave the audience a look at not only the non-astromech droids in the saga but ways on how to find parts, kits and means to make them a physical reality.
This weekend has also seen the launch of something that will almost certainly become an oft-seen event at conventions around the globe over the coming years. The first racing of the 39.1%’ers took place, with mini track droids zooming round a custom circuit at breakneck (well, breakneck if you’re 39.1% of the size you’re supposed to be) speeds. To watch the crowd and guys like Lee Towersey, Sam Prentice, Tim Berry, Oliver Steeples and Matt Denton race and cheer on these plucky pint-sized droids was a sight to behold.
We even got treated to some full-scale driving accuracy competitions with 1:1 scale droids (and a half-scale DeAgostini R2-D2 painted in R2-KT colours).
This was my first R2UK event and it won’t be my last. Fun, friendly, informative and welcoming, the R2 Builders have made a weekend that will not only bond their existing team together but should also encourage others to have a go and build droids of their own, and it was also a great reason for members of the Fantha Ttacks team to catch up as well. Domes off to the organising team.
I have travelled the length and breadth of the UK covering Star Wars events, chatting with actors and production staff from our beloved saga. Heck, I’ve even been to the USA for two Celebrations and on another visit nipped in to the Scum and Villainy Cantina off the Hollywood Strip.
At the beginning of August I was fortunate enough to represent Fantha Tracks at Hoo Fest, a comicon on a farm just 6 miles from my doorstep, the results of which can be heard on the next episode of Making Tracks. Just a week later I easily topped that.
Harper Adams University is a 2 mile drive from my house and just played host to the UK R2-D2 Builders Club. Along with fellow Fanthas Paul McQue and Mark Newbold, I was privileged to get a behind the scenes look at what goes on at a national meet.
Astromechs of all shapes and sizes were put through their paces on a custom track, with timed challenges featuring obstacles and checkpoints to negotiate. Lee Towersey displayed his R2 prowess, navigating the course with ease. A master at the controls.
What is striking is the creativity that is on display. It is way more than just an R2-D2 focus group. Astromechs of all colour options were on display. Beyond the obvious fan favourites of Chopper and R5-D4, the emotive R2-KT was present, resplendent in pink décor. Want a green droid? A yellow one? They were all at the university. Want something smaller? BB-8 was in residence too. Smaller than that?
From his first introduction at Celebration in Chicago earlier this year, D-0 looks set to snatch the award for cutest droid from our favourite BB unit. And as was the case with the astro droids, components to build your own D-0 were on show. A static completed model, plus a working version were also there. I guess if you want an entry level project, this is the one. Relatively small, comparatively inexpensive – and mega desirable. Go on, be one of the first.
D-0 ‘head cones’ and droid domes created by club members were on show, as featured in some of the focused talks. Yes, if you want to know how to ‘print’ the parts for your droid, these are the folk with the know-how.
As I say, if you want to build a relatively cheap droid, D-0 is certainly a good option. However, true to the Star Wars galaxy, “There is another….”. The egg droid – or 39.1%’ers – added more than a touch of humour to proceedings. As you can see from the pictures here, these are easily customised and they are great fun to race too!
If you can imagine a cross between Robot Wars, Wacky Races and It’s a Knockout, you’re in the right ball park. Seriously good fun, and a personal highlight at the event.
A fabulous event, it really was a great insight to the world of droid-building and I look forward to catching up with the enthusiasts again in the near future. I might even get involved. I quite fancy creating a droid based on the Fantha Tracks colours. Now that would be something….
Speaking as someone who has a tattoo of R2-D2 and BB-8, I was in droid heaven attending this event. I have a lot of respect and adulation for droid builders so it was truly an honour being able to cover R2UK for Fantha Tracks.
It was a fun, family friendly atmosphere with an emphasis on raising money for charities – what’s not to love about that? It was touching to witness the sense of community the builders have when a cheque for £1756.87 was handed over to Meningitis Now after a member’s daughter passed away.
The money was raised by raffling a De Agostini R2-D2. Matt Denton and Lee Towersey were happy to sign merchandise with donations going to Mind.org after they lost fellow CFX crew member, Steve Wright, earlier this year.
The 3 day event was split into 3 rooms. The main hall had a wide variety of members droids on display and a serious friendly competition race track where they could try getting the fastest lap while controlling their droid through obstacles and touching sensors that would give them a red or green light for a successful manoeuvre.
There was also a lecture theatre where informative talks were held. When I arrived on Saturday morning I just caught the last few minutes of former CFX R2-D2 operator, Oliver Steeples, talking about Star Wars droids. Later on Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of listening to Matt Denton talk about his animatronic career that included behind the scenes pictures and anecdotes of working on franchises such as Harry Potter, Jurassic World and Star Wars.
Lee Towersey also spoke about his Lucasfilm career in the CFX department on Sunday morning and put together a panel showing various clips of droids in The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi and Solo. Getting to hear behind the scenes stories about the filming process of how it was for droid operators, while watching the clips, was a really cool and fun experience.
Now I’m not a droid builder myself, but I have thought about looking into it, so I decided to sit in on some other of the talks that were focused on helping members along on their creation journey. Michael Baddeley, whom has already built D-O (that I fell in love with) from The Rise Of Skywalker, talked about subjects such as 3-D printers, what electronics to use for specific functions and how to weather droids to give them that used in-Star Wars-galaxy look.
The third room, that I didn’t venture into, was for builders seeking help and advice on building their droid. Again, this room showed that experienced members are more than willing to share their knowledge one-on-one as well as online.
On Saturday evening everyone gathered in the lecture theatre where Lucasfilm droid wranglers, Michael McMaster and Mike Senna, joined us live via the internet from California for a chat about how they became members and what fun experiences they’ve had. Michael McMaster’s Chopper build was in Rogue One and Mike Senna was controlling at the Oscars.
On Sunday afternoon a really fun 39.1% A-LT droid (from Solo) race event took place on the track. Congrats to the birthday boy, Sam Prentice, for winning that race. It reminded me of the fun that was had during the mouse droid derby races that took place at Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
To end the weekend all the builders gathered their droids for a photo op in the lecture theatre before the raffle draw took place. I was lucky three times and won a set of R2-D2 Pinewood crew pins, stickers and a pin set from Galaxy’s Edge that included the TOWERSLEE-15 Accelerometer.
So thank you to all the UKR2 builders I was lucky enough to mingle (and have a pint) with over the weekend, it was a fantastic time, congrats to all of you for raising so much for charity all while geeking out about Star Wars!
If you, dear reader, would like to know more about the droid builders group or have a question about your own droid build then don’t hesitate to reach out to them here.