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Home Alumni Alumni News Recreating one of the world’s most memorable helmets

Recreating one of the world’s most memorable helmets

SAIT researchers Emerson Burns (left) and Jim Nikkel modeling the helmets.The inherent cool factor of being a SAIT researcher goes way up when reverse engineering and 3D printing a replica of the infamous Daft Punk helmet becomes an item on your to-do list.

"I've wanted to make this helmet for over 15 years," says SAIT researcher Jim Nikkel, who graduated from the Engineering Design and Drafting program in 2012. "And here we are with the right equipment and the expertise to do so - so we did!"

Daft Punk is known widely for the slick, robotic helmets that hide the identity of front men Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem Christo. The iconic helmets are ever-evolving masks that have left fans intrigued by the mystery of the faces behind them. Since 2001, whenever they appear in public or perform live, the two Parisian musicians conceal their identities by wearing these elaborate headpieces. Thomas Bangalter's helmet is typically made of sleek chrome with a simple LED display, while Guy Manuel's helmet is a masterpiece in gold with bright and colourful displays.

A difficult model

Nikkel, along with fellow researcher and SAIT graduate Emerson Burns (Mechanical Engineering Technology '08), built what they describe as an almost-perfect replica of the over-the-top techno helmet worn by Guy Manuel.

"The helmet was difficult to model," says Burns. "When we reverse engineer something, we usually have a physical part to work from. We spent hours looking at photos and researching whatever we could find on the internet. We found as many high-res photos we could that showed the front, side and top views of the helmet and worked from there. We started by 3D scanning our own heads to determine how big the helmet needed to be."

From there, Nikkel and Burns began building a virtual model of the helmet using 3D CAD design software and referencing the images they had found. The model was then broken into parts and printed on a 3D printer. It sounds simple, but the team ran into a number of problems and had to change directions a few times - each new path creating a new learning opportunity.

"We really had the expectation that it had to be as perfect as possible," says Nikkel.

The team spent their evenings and weekends working on the project for at least two months in the fall of 2015 before finishing the helmet as it is now - complete with customizable LED lights on the visor.

"I wore it for four hours straight at a Halloween party last year," says Burns.

"But I don't think it will ever be completely perfect," says Nikkel. "It will never be finished."

Once printed, each element of the helmets had to be assembled. The helmets required several coats of paint, which enhanced the team’s expertise in finishing 3D-printed objects. Nikkel and Emerson added LED lights into the helmets.

Hands-on learning

Although this project was done on their own time, Nikkel and Burns both say their learnings have had a direct impact on their work as researchers for SAIT's Design, Fabrication and Testing team in the Applied Research and Innovation Services department.

"This has really improved our understanding of the whole process," says Nikkel. "We've been able to take that knowledge with us when serving clients. We know how long a project will take, what we could do differently and what might go wrong.

"It's really all a part of a life-long learning mentality. Most of the people here at SAIT are dedicated to trying new things. If you're open and passionate about it and you apply that attitude, you're going to do a better job."

Written by Alison O'Connor