The purpose of this page is to document the process I went through to create my first Animatronic Wheatley. Over the course of two months, I spent my free time assembling one of the greatest projects that I’ve ever attempted. Thankfully, everything has worked out, and I have a working Wheatley! I know he might be a little rough around the edges but, quote Wheatley himself, “It’s still a work in progress, don’t judge me yet!”
Thanks for viewing!~ Luke A.
P.S. If you’re feeling rather lazy, I won’t be super-offended if you just scroll to the video at the bottom of the page. Go ahead! However, as always, feedback/sharing on social media is always accepted. 🙂
Before I jump into my ramblings about this project, let me warn you: This is NOT a step-by-step, exactly detailed, how-to-make-your-own Wheatley site, nor will it ever be. To tell you the truth, I didn’t quite document the whole process myself. I’ve got a few drawings, some notes here or there, a couple videos, but no definite list of each step. My outlook on it is this: The fun is in doing it on your own! Sure there were reference photos and videos, but no one told me how to put Wheatley together piece by piece. It was a discovery process that yielded more problems, and thus more fun, than I ever imagined. Please! If you are thinking about using this site to help you in your own endeavor, by all means! Use it! Just make sure you are having fun while you do it.
For those of you who don’t know who Wheatley is, I will elaborate:
Wheatley is a fictional character from the video game Portal 2. Voiced by the wonderful British actor and comedian Stephen Merchant, he becomes your character’s sidekick and guide during the first half of the game. Later on, some bad things happen and [SPOILERS]. I won’t go into much detail.
There were a few “Wheatley Projects” (as I call them) before mine, and they deserve credit as being a great part of my inspiration:
Furin’s Wheatley Puppet
LauraSan’s Wheatley Puppet (Based on Furin’s)
Alexander, Brooks, and Connor’s Animatronic Wheatley
(A Freshmen Engineering Project for Drexel University)
Bio-Bot’s 1/2 Scale Wheatley Project (Unfinished)
Without these other projects, I would not have thought my Wheatley possible. If you’d like to view each of these other projects, as well as others that I have found, Click Here.
When I decided to start this project, I made several little schematics and drawings; basically I got out all of my ideas on how to make this project work. Most of these drawings are now lost to me, due to there being so many. At one point they littered almost every scrap of paper I owned, me drawing them whenever time would permit. Here’s what is left of them:
Also, the Portal Authoring Tools from Steam (specifically the Model Viewer) really helped me visualize what type of motion Wheatley has and what I might be able to do.
Building Wheatley took a lot of time and money: Two months and about $350. Before you freak out, let me explain why. I was in my Senior year of High School, and graduated in May 2014. From February to April (the duration of the project), I was attending school and then working at my job right afterwards. Factor these two things out, and Wheatley probably could’ve been completed in three to four weeks. As for the money, I estimate maybe $100-$150 on wasted materials. One of the hardest, most frustrating, yet most enjoyable parts of doing a project like this is the fact that you’re messing around, tweaking things here and there, trying to find what works. Sure it would’ve been cheaper and more efficient to have a perfect list of everything I would’ve needed, but the fun is in the problem solving! Do I regret wasting some money on this project? A little. But the outcome makes it so much better.
As far as parts go, let me give you an idea of what I used:
(Please note that this is NOT a complete parts list.)
Arduino UNO Rev. 3
20 Second Recording Modules
Velleman Sound-to-Light Kit
2 Standard Servos
1 Micro Servo
1 Servo Tester
2 Axis Joystick
22 Gauge Hookup Wire
2 12″ Styrofoam Hemispheres
Rayovac Value Bright LED Flashlight
…just to name a few.
Here’s a video of the first thing I assembled: The Velleman Sound-to-Light Kit.
Later on, I decided to replace the LEDs with a small Angel Eye I found on ebay.
Another fun fact: So far, Wheatley runs comfortably on 109.5 Volts split up between AAAs, AAs, and 9v batteries. While we were at Comic-Con, his batteries were housed inside his body. Now that it’s over, I have moved them to be near the controller, making sure that I don’t have to open Wheatley up ever again.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking (because I was asked this several times)…
Why not just hook him up to a car battery or something? Why all the batteries?
The answer is simple: Portability and Ease-of-Access.
When I started this project, I didn’t know that Wheatley would be coming to the Salt Lake Comic-Con Fan Xperience 2014 with me. When I did know, I decided that he needed to be portable. AAAs, AAs, and 9V batteries were the simplest thing I could find, so I went with that.
Now that I had gathered most of my materials, the next step was figuring out how to bring Wheatley to life. Starting simple, I focused on his eyelids. As you might have seen in the Brainstorming images, I had originally designed his eyelids to be pulled by fishing line, with springs to put them back into place. Finding this to be too difficult and costly, I eventually decided on using a Micro Servo and a gripper kit to open and close both lids simultaneously. After tweaking the servo and attaching the unfinished eyelids, this was the result:
As far as Wheatley’s overall movement, that turned out easier than I expected. After digging around on my favorite DIY site Instructables.com, I discovered a wonderful guide by biomech75, titled Arduino + 2 Servos + Thumbstick (joystick). This article became the base of Wheatley’s movement. After making some simple adjustments to the Arduino code (so Wheatley didn’t tear his own head off!), I assembled the Servo mount out of a wooden dowel, smaller wood pieces, and a piece of scrap metal. I also had to use a couple of rubber bands to counter the weight of the eye plate. Here’s a video of him moving for one of the first times:
Sorry about the video cutting out at the end. My phone died. lol.
Up to this point, the only thing that I had done with the Styrofoam was mark it up with masking tape and permanent marker. After some careful planning, I began carving out the details of Wheatley’s inner and outer shells. Using an X-Acto Knife (marked to control depth) and a Styrofoam cutter (for the bigger holes), it only took a couple days to get the shells looking like a Personality Core. I also used the X-Acto method to carve the details on and around where the eye plate sits. Here is a photo of what it looked like when I was done:
You can also see the handles in this picture. They were made out of a combination of cardboard, wooden dowel, coat hanger wire, hot glue, wooden buttons, and a bit of Hula Hoop. I used some metal brackets I found at Wal-Mart to hold them in.
After the shell was completed, I turned my attention to the most pivotal part of Wheatley: His eye plate (face). Designing and building the eye plate to allow his eyelids to function as they should was another great challenge. I ended up cutting the Styrofoam disk that I started with into 12 separate pieces and then gluing/taping them back together. This probably could’ve been avoided, but due to my material, budget, and skill limitations it was the only way I was able to remove enough material to allow his eyelids to open and close. When all was said and done, here’s what it looked like:
The white eyelids shown here are for visual effect only, and were not used in the final version.
Moving on to the eye itself. This was one of the most time-consuming parts of this project. I had to use a candle and a pocket knife to carve out the plastic reflector from a flashlight. That took about two hours. Once again, limitations. Once that was out, it was only a matter of drilling a couple of holes for the lighting wires, gluing the lights in, and adding the graphics over the top. I used varying materials for the graphics, such as printer paper, clear plastic, and stickers. Once the eye and the eye plate were assembled together, and the eye turned on, it was as if life was breathed into Wheatley. I think I cried a little.
Ahh Wiring; my old Nemesis. (lol)
This project really helped me understand and appreciate the power of Printed Circuit Boards. What a time saver! Unfortunately, my skills at even trying to make one are so severely lacking that I actually laughed when the thought crossed my mind. Thus, while this project did teach me how to solder, I had to wire basically everything by hand. Here’s a picture of what it looked like before I consolidated all the wires and assembled the controller:
Once everything was built and in working condition, the obvious next step was to make Wheatley look like Wheatley. I started by covering his shell in paper mache. Props to Scott Stoll for coming up with the wonderful recipe found at his awesome Halloween website, www.stolloween.com. When I mixed up the paste, I added a splash of bleach to extend the life of the project. For the paper, I used Viva paper towels. They absorb the mixture very well, add durability and texture to the overall project, and sand quite easily when they are dry.
As for the paint-job, I am very grateful for my neighbor and oldest friend Hydee Yearling. She has been creating art for longer than I can remember, and her skills and styles are uniquely awesome! We used flat white spray-paint for the shells, and gloss grey spray-paint for the handles (gloss grey was the only grey Wal-Mart had at the time!). The eye plate, eye lids, parts of the handles, and detail on the shells themselves were all done with acrylic paint. Again, much thanks to Hydee for the time she put into helping me with Wheatley. On the day we painted, we stayed up from 7:00pm until 3:30am! Here’s a video of what it looked like after we were done:
After I completed the wiring for the controller (shown on the previous page), Hydee came back and did a final touch-up, adding the cracks, chips, scrapes, and dents, as well as some printed graphics. We finished the paint job off with a matte clear-coat. If you’d like to see more of her work, you can check it out here: Curious Dee.
And now: the moment you’ve all been waiting for….
Praise for Wheatley v1.0
This is some of the praise that we received on the first Animatronic Wheatley Project. I say “we” because my cousin Alisha would’ve hit me if I hadn’t mentioned her. She was the one who originally introduced me to the Portal franchise, and has a really big soft-spot for Wheatley. She supported me emotionally (and sometimes financially) throughout this whole project, helped keep my morale up, held things while I glued, she helped paint a bit, and read me fan-fiction while I worked. She also went with me to Comic-Con, filling my need for a Test Subject. Words cannot express how thankful I am for her, both on this project and everywhere else.
“I took a look at your blog and was impressed by what I saw (looks much more polished than ours was). It’s making me want to actually get back and make our Wheatley V2 that we’ve been planning to work on for awhile. We’ve had the Arduino purchased and have just been too caught up with school.
~ The Blue Sky Support Group
~ Mercedes VFire
Cosplay Stitch and Seam
When my little bro saw this, he was baffled that you actually built him. Props dude.
Awesome!!! Your genes are coming through loud and strong… I smile and you did a great job…
Completely awesome! Great to show high school level engineering classes! Good job!
I had no idea one of these existed. I have a Space Core puppet that I want to turn into an autonomous version. He’d just sit there and babble/move just like the Skyrim DLC version. At least that is the plan. May I ask what servos you used for the eyelids? They are very impressive and fast. Mine just don’t come close to that kind of speed.
Very cool … keep up the great work man.
YOU ARE BRILLIANT
Bravo, excellent work
I like both your Wheatley and his tumblr, it must have been very fun to do °o°
Hi Luke, I’m very interesting about this project and it is amazing. …
I’ve also got a few GIFs:
Finally, here’s Wheatley reading Fanfiction:
Well, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my first Wheatley project. Please feel free to ask questions or comment below. Have fun and remember:
the cake is a lie…
Or is it?