2015’s Brad Bird film Tomorrowland is one of my favorite films in recent years. I have already posted a blog on my love of the film. I realize the film has had mixed reviews. I feel it really appeals to people that are dreamers and especially to those that remember the times where the future was a better place full of progress and innovation not the depressing dystopias that dominate youth fiction and movies. While it did not explode at the box office or win any awards Tomorrowland also has a quality I call re-watchability, that is it is a film that I enjoy watching it multiple times. Some films are amazing works of art, like Citizen Kane, but I don’t want to watch them all the time others, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, are so breathtaking I don’t want to spoil the uniqueness. Some films are just wonderful to come back to and spend time with time and again. Tomorrowland is one of those films for me. When I come across on cable I stop on it and I have re-watched it more than a few times on Blu-ray over the last few years. It holds up upon repeated viewings and further endears itself. Its message was not lost on me or my family and has influenced how I teach and some of the messages I try to convey to my students.
Besides the above, the film contains, what is without a doubt my very favorite prop of the last 20 years…Frank Walker’s jetpack. I love jetpacks. Nothing says retro futuristic / Buck Rogers / Sci-Fi like a jetpack. I love the design of the pack as it reminds me of the old props from films like Star Wars that were made of found items. It is also associated with a great scene in the film when the jetpack works for the first time. [spoilers ahead] I could not agree more with what young Frank tells Governor Nix at the 1964 World’s Fair “If I looked up and some kid with a jetpack fly over me, I would believe anything was possible, I would be inspired.” I truly loved the way the scene unfolds as young Frank plummets to the ground only to have the jetpack start working as he is thrust up and away as Michael Giancchino score kicks in. I can’t describe the feeling I had in that moment, I could literally feel my heart racing and I was soaring and felt like a child again and as I looked up and saw that kid in a jetpack I believed for a moment that anything was possible…I was inspired.
This project has been a labor of love for almost 3 years now. I have not worked on it non-stop but rather working on it here and there and adding to it as I had the time and found the parts. As I stated, one of the things of loved about it was how it was made from real parts like young Frank would have had access to. One thing I realized quickly due to the accumulating weight was that the pack in the film was probably a combination of 3D printed elements based on actual items from the era.
The key part that I recognized was the pair of Electrolux vacuum cleaners. These are such great designed pieces when I was a child I thought my grandmothers old vacuum cleaner looked like a rocketpack, so I loved that the film also saw their potential as well. They basically use the front and back of the cleaner along with the decorative name plate on the side of the pack . I found them early on eBay for a steal and disassembled the cleaners after emptying their old contents thoroughly in my backyard. I had to do some trimming of the interior metal, so it would all fit together.
The button that opens the vacuum was removed and replaced with an Caplugs Cec-10.
The core red tanks of the jetpack are made from antique fire extinguishers. It was quite a chore to find 2 matching antique tanks that were the right size. It involved a lot of antique malls and flea markets to find one I liked and then just waiting on eBay for another with a hefty shipping cost due to the weight.
This is the key to why I think It had to be 3D printed as these tanks are beasts and weigh a ton. I had to cut to the right height which was quite a workout for my forearms and a hacksaw. I then placed the Electrolux fronts and backs on the tanks. I used a lot JB Weld to assemble the parts and used an automotive filler putty, Bondo, to fill in the gaps between the Electrolux base and the tanks.
Below the Electrolux base is the tops of the wheel handles of antique fire extinguishers that I backed the turquoise collar and then antiqued with gold paint to look like the brass showing through and then aged further with a black wash of paint. I was stumped as the origin of the rocket thrusters on the bottom. Some thorough research went on over the RPF with people thinking they may have been exhaust manifolds or some other car part. Eventually a member made a set in CAD, 3D printed them, cast molds, and offered resin replicas. I bought a set and painted with a base coat of silver and a very complicated routine of rattle can pain application of metallic root bear, transparent metallic blue and purple all to match the look of overheated and distressed metal.
One of the most iconic pieces that I knew I had to find was the very retro silver circle that features a star pattern and Saturn. The piece is actually an ornament from the center of a steering wheel of an Oldsmobile from the 50’s. All that was needed was to fabricate a plate in the correct shape to mount the ornament to.
Above the ornament is a glass bowl that is some sort of fuel filter/sediment bowl. I don’t believe anyone has identified the exact piece. I chose to replicate it out of odds and ends like bottle caps and a plastic test tube.
Below the Oldsmobile ornament is some sort of cover plate. It is apparently modeled after the cover to a motorcycle transmission. But that would make it too large. No one has correctly identified the actual piece so again I made a replica from plexiglass and some polystyrene half rods.
The top of the Electrolux has a pair of cylinders. Speculation ranged from lawn mower mufflers to engine disputers. I opted to recreated them out of PVC parts and plexiglass. I painted and aged them. I added various wires and tubes leading in to the inner fuselage. I created the curved pipe by heating up PVC pipe with a heat gun and joined them to the Electrolux tops with some plumbing cover plates made for bathroom shower pipes.
The jetpack is flanked by two handles. What else would a young boy use but bicycle handlebars. I tracked down some vintage Stingray handle bars and Schwinn hand grips. The handle bars are cut in the middle and made to extend and rotate via a swivel socket from a socket wrench. At first, I bought a pair of yellow grips but later realized there were white grips that had aged and yellowed. I found a perfect old used pair on eBay for 5$.
Behind the thrusters are a pair of WW2 entrenching tools/shovels that would protect the wearer from some of the heat.
The jetpack now sits in a display with a place of honor for what the pack and the film represent for me and my family. To complete the display, I have a replica of Casey Newton’s NASA cap, a set of the Tomorrowland pins from both eras, and the hardest piece to track down, an actual Edison Tube with The Marseillaise (The French National Anthem) which Frank Walker uses in the Eiffel Tower.
Until next time …
The Imagine Ears features the DIY projects, adventures, and thoughts of a father and daughter who use a shared love of all things Disney to create memories together through encouraging her interests in architecture, design, Imagineering, while exploring history and science.