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I, Robot: Man builds life-sized Rock’em Sock’em Robot costumes, wins contest, tells us how he did it

Feb 8, 2013, 12:12 PM EDT


This past Halloween I was hanging out at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and happened upon these two gents. Not only were they wearing life-sized, homemade Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot costumes, which is awesome, but each was sipping a beer through a straw. Of course, I had to interview them.

It took some time to track down the guy who built the costumes, but earlier this week he got back to me, and we did the Q&A you see below. He also sent some photos of the construction process. Please be aware that this interview includes one of my favorite quotes ever: “In 2010 I sewed together a skunk costume, but was unable to create a spraying mechanism in time for Halloween.”

Sad, really.

Here’s Sean Nicholls of Santa Rosa, CA, who explains how he built the costumes, and his further plans for world domination.

OFF THE BENCH: I assume that you are in one of the costumes — which one? Who is the other guy?

SEAN NICHOLS: I manned the “Red Rocker”, while my buddy Bobby K. controlled the “Blue Bruiser”.

Did you build them together? Anyone else in on the project?

–Unfortunately, we live pretty far away from each other, so I had to do the construction alone. I turned my garage into a robot laboratory, and spent all of my free time working on these costumes. I tried to keep it simple and use any recyclable materials I could find. I got some help with the glowing LEDS from a local electronics shop, and had to buy over a hundred dollars of colored duct tape. Working on lunch breaks, and after work. It took me about two months to complete. Luckily my buddy is the same build as I am, so I was able to simply duplicate all of the body parts I made for myself.

Where do you live? Were you both just visiting Tahoe?

I live in Santa Rosa, California. Bobby lives up in Lake Tahoe. Two years ago he invited me to the “Freaker’s Ball” Halloween party, and that’s what started the whole process.

source:  Why did you decide to do this? Just for the contest?

We spent our Halloween at Harrah’s, in 2011, and decided to enter a few costume contests. Our costumes were good, but not good enough to win. There was one group of costumes that won every contest that we entered, and I wanted a piece of the prize. I made it a goal of mine to win the costume contests the following year, so I got to work. It was time consuming, but in the end, we won first place in two costume contests.

Do you have an engineering background? Or are you just creative?

My friends would tell you I’m creative. I do not have an engineering background, it would be nice, but math is not my strong suit. I did take a 3-D design class at Santa Rosa Junior College, but mostly I just enjoy a good challenge. Nothing beats that feeling of accomplishment.

What do you do for a living?

I work full time selling appliance parts, not my ideal career choice, but it pays the bills. I run the shipping and receiving department, and that is where I collected all the cardboard to build these suits. I do a lot of painting, illustrating, and airbrushing on the side, and I am currently working on a clothing line called Hella Gnarly Apparel.

Have you built any other costumes?

Over the years past I have constructed a few other costumes. In 2008, I constructed 3 proton packs using cardboard and old broken parts I found lying around the workplace. Then got some jumpsuits, ironed on names, and two friends and I were the Ghost Busters. The following year I decided to be Shredder from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I made the shoulder pads, shin guards, gauntlets, and spikes all out of cardboard and paper mache’. I then painted them silver, and airbrushed on the detail. I also wore that costume to Bay to Breakers in San Francisco. In 2010 I sewed together a skunk costume, but was unable to create a spraying mechanism in time for Halloween. Two years after the release of “Where the Wild Things Are”, I bought a ton of faux fur from a local craft shop and sewed together a “Max” costume, and wore it to the Freaker’s Ball. Which brings us to 2012, the year of the Robots.

source:  What do you like most about Rock’em Sock’em Robots?

After this build I could go the rest of my life without seeing another Rock’em Sock’em Robot, but hey, nobody can hate robots. My favorite part of the game would be the spring loaded heads of course. I had plans to make our helmets pop up, but I didn’t start the project early enough to complete them.

What was the reaction from people at Harrah’s? Did you wear them anywhere else … like to the grocery store?

People’s reactions at Harrah’s were priceless. We could barely walk for more than six feet before someone stopped us to get a picture. When one person stopped us, more people would start lining up to snap a photo. I told my friends, with a paparazzi following like that, I now know what it feels like to be famous. We couldn’t even go to the bathroom without people asking to get their pictures taken with us. At one point we got surrounded by four security guards, and they made us remove our helmets for “security reasons”. You wouldn’t believe how many people would walk past us and scream “Transformers!”, or “Real Steel!”. Luckily I only had one drunk guy come up to me and hit my helmet, he didn’t do any damage, so I didn’t have to knock his block off.

I’ve walked around town in them, but I haven’t worn them to the store yet. As clumsy as I am, I’d knock over expensive wine, or trip over an old lady. A few of my friends are planning a photo shoot with the costumes, and my band will be using them in an upcoming music video.

Plans for next Halloween?

Next year I definitely want to go bigger and better, but these costumes are going to be hard to beat. I have a few Ideas up my sleeve. Let’s just say, I plan on going back to Tahoe for Halloween 2013, and I plan on winning.


OK, let’s get to work. First, we fashion an arm out of cardboard.



Hinge bolts.






Pretty much exactly like Tony Stark’s workshop.



You’re gonna need to cut some ping pong balls in half for the rivets.



After the duct-taping … outdoor test.


A more complete pictorial here.