2001: A Space Odyssey — Monolith Costume

Written by: admin@makezilla

Picture of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- Monolith Costume

The eerie, singing Monolith from Kubrick's masterful movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is a  otherworldly artifact that inspires humanity to imagine without bounds. Its featureless, solid black exterior acts as a metaphor for the cinema screen on which humans (and apes) see hallucinations and visions that push their comprehension to its limits.

After watching the movie recently, I thought the Monolith was the perfect oddball costume idea. It didn't fit into any ordinary Halloween archetype (except perhaps 'movie character'), and I could use it whenever I pleased, instead of just once per year. Also, by wearing it around, I hope to encourage more people my age (20's and younger) to watch this great movie from 1968.

Many people have made replicas of the Monolith since the movie was released - all of those that I found online were intended as a stationary structure. My goal was different: make a lightweight, mobile Monolith inside which a person could hide. That person should be able both to control the internal sound system of the Monolith and move it around while inside.

I had a great time taking it out on Halloween with my brothers. Such a large structure invites people to interact and play around with the Monolith.


Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

The original Monolith was constructed out of Lucite in the exact proportion of 1:4:9 in term of depth:width:height.

Lucite being impractical, expensive and heavy, I decided to build my costume version out of light wood flooring screwed onto a wood base.

My dimensions were altered also from the original 1:4:9. I decided on a 78" height : 36" width : 24" depth frame, which felt like the optimal proportions at the time. Looking back, I  would increase the height to 81-84" to make the Monolith stand out more. You want to strike the right balance between an imposing structure and fitting it in your car and house/garage. Anyway, you can play around with the measurements - they aren't set in stone ;-).

-- 2 sheets of 4' x 8' flooring (front and sides). I used underlayment because it was the most lightweight wood I could find at the department store.

-- 6 1" x 3" x 8' wood boards (frame of monolith).

-- 2.5 yards of opaque black cloth (back of monolith). The cloth should be about 60" across, at least that's what Joann's gave me.

-- 4+ bottles of black spray paint. 

-- 3/4" and 1 1/2" wood screws.

-- 2 simple door handles to lift the Monolith.

-- (Optional) Sound Equipment. I used a boom box powered by an iPod. In the future, I imagine adding a more integrated, louder setup, but this jerry-rigged version worked pretty well.

-- All common tools. Saw, Drill, Screwdriver, Stapler or Staple Gun, Scissors.

Step 2: Construct the Frame

Picture of Construct the Frame

First, I constructed the frame of the Monolith. It's a Box. A big Box. You could probably come up with the following by yourself, but here is the method I used:

I cut two pieces of framing to the height of the Monolith (78" in this design), and two pieces of framing to the width of the monolith (36"). Then I joined them together in a simple square, as you can see in first couple of pictures, with the wide part of the beams facing outward. I used two 1 1/2" screws per corner.

Then, I cut 4 beams to the depth of the monolith (24") and attached one - pointing out - at each corner of the square frame. See the pictures for what the junctions look like. (two 1 1/2" screws at each corner)

After that, I cut three more width pieces. I attached one at the back of the two top depth pieces, and another at back of the two bottom depth pieces. The third beam was also attached on the top depth pieces, so that it ended 18" back from the front panel of the Monolith (see pictures). I did this because I didn't have enough underlayment wood for a 24" deep sheet on the top :-). But, it worked out for this best - the gap gave a the sound a place to leave the finished Monolith and it never got stuffy inside the box during Halloween.

(Apologies for the pictures in this step, as I didn't take them until after the whole frame was assembled)

Step 3: The Walls of the Monolith

Picture of The Walls of the Monolith

After building the frame, I cut out the front, sides and top of the Monolith from the underlayment. This step is easy (if you built the frame precisely!), but be careful and thorough when aligning the boards on the frame.

I started by cutting and screwing on the front (78" x 36"), then the two sides (78" x 24"), and finally the top (36" x 18"!). Using 3/4" screws at about every 9" or so (sometimes making them even closer together) provided a sturdy connection between the underlayment and the framing pieces. Even though the screws are visible on the outside surfaces, once they are spray-painted black, you can hardly notice them. I suppose you could even put a thin layer of clay or glue over the heads if you are going all out.

After I attached the sides, I added the two door handles. These are attached at about waist height. This part of the design definitely was not optimal - carrying the Monolith required a lot of effort because the handles did not provide enough leverage. I encourage anyone building this to experiment with different lifting options. One possibility that I might add is a shoulder harness, then you could use your torso to lift and keep it stable.

Step 4: Make your Monolith Sing?!

There are many options for installing a sound system in the Monolith. One solution I thought about for a while is mounting one car speaker on each side and hooking up an amp and a 12V battery to power. It would be loud and, if done correctly, inconspicuous.

However, I didn't want to spend the ~$75-100 needed to buy the components before I proved the design. So I went with a solution I had on hand - a boom box powered by an iPod.

The boom-box rests on two cross beams that sit near the top at the back of the Monolith , going from side to side. These cross beams are supported by one depth beam on each side (running from the front to the back of the Monolith). The gap between the support beam and the top beam on each side was about 4.5" for my boom box (adjustments to fit other boom boxes might be necessary). The cross beams felt rigid enough without screwing them into the support beams, but depending on the weight of your boom-box, you might want the additional stability.

After assembling the base, I cut two sound holes into the top wall of the Monolith. I placed these roughly in the front-middle of the top board. I avoided cutting any speaker screens into the front, because I think the costume would lose it's Monolith appearance without a flat, featureless front panel.

Wait to attach the boom box until you have spray painted the Monolith at the end.

Step 5: The Wizard of Oz Back Curtain

Picture of The Wizard of Oz Back Curtain

For the back of the Monolith, I went with a two overlapping curtain to let me get in and out without having to cut a door into wood frame.

Cut the 2.5 yard cloth into two 2.25yd x 30" pieces. One curtain will attach to each corner of the back of the Monolith, and they will have enough overlap such that someone looking at it from outside cannot see inside. Each curtain hangs down from the back top beam, with a little overlap on the side of the corner it is on (about 6" -- see the pictures). If there is 6" of curtain on the sides, then the other 24" will extend 2/3 of the way across the 36" back, and the two curtains will overlap over the middle 1/3 of the back of the Monolith.

Screw each curtain across the top beam, and then staple it along the side so that it lies flush against the side wall. Make sure you fold the edges of the cloth over itself when you are attaching it so that it doesn't fray (like I remembered to do for the screws, but forgot for the staples).

After that, screw each curtain into its corresponding lower corner. Then choose points along the bottom to screw each curtain into, such that you have enough give and slack in the curtains that you can pull them back and enter and exit into the Monolith. I found that about attaching them 1/3 of the way in on each side worked well. There was enough loose fabric that I didn't tear the curtains when going in and out.

Once you have the curtains fixed in place, you can trim the excess so that they fall down the back without dragging on the ground.

Step 6: Finishing touches

I drilled two small 1/2" sight holes on the right side of the Monolith to let me look out while inside the costume. I needed some clue where I was going while lifting the giant box. Cutting them into the front wall would ruin it -- so I just compromised and made sure that I moved forward slowly when I used it on Halloween. Usually, people moved out of my way when the box start creep forward. Trees and building were less cooperative, but I could often spot these obstacles out of the side before I ran into them.

Once you are satisfied, paint it black. Go for an even, glossy coat so that it doesn't look like a smudged iPhone (I need to redo mine). Spray painting the screws and staples takes away the obvious silvery shine. Add the boom box, the iPod hookup (loaded with the soundtrack for 2001), and take it out for a cruise around town.

People reacted to the moving Monolith in all sorts of ways - surprise, enjoyment, confusion, fear, vandalism (knocking / punching), and wary questioning (police tend to think its concealing a giant bomb) among others. I would love to take it onto Times Square, or some other bustling downtown block and videotape the reaction.

To extend the design further, I want to install a better speaker system & a better lifting system. But, I am most excited about adding some EL wire or LEDs to get some color into the design. I'm not sure yet how to do this while keeping close to the original Monolith idea. Something similar to the 'Stargate sequence' toward the end of the movie would be cool to toggle on/off.

Thanks for reading! If you have any ideas or improvements, I would love to hear them in the comments. If you haven't seen 2001, you should definitely watch it.