Whether you’re a diehard fan, or a casual viewer, no one here at The Geek League can deny that Star Wars has had some impact on their love for the science fiction genre. For Mike Senna, seeing Star Wars in theaters in 1977 sparked a lifelong love that eventually led him to turn fiction into reality.
In 2001, Senna, a computer programmer from Orange County, CA, joined the 501st, a Star Wars costuming group, with a Stormtrooper costume he assembled himself. Inspired by the group’s charity work, Senna set out to find something unique to add to the mix, which led him to discover the R2 Builders club. By 2003, Senna had created a life-like, functioning R2-D2 robot that became an instant hit everywhere it went, from charity events to children’s hospitals. But Senna’s creations didn’t stop there.
“I saw what affect the R2 had on the kids and adults,” says Senna. “The kids were fascinated and I could tell in some, it really affected their outlook, especially the kids that had long stays in the hospitals. After years of really great experiences with R2, I wanted to do another character that could be more expressive back to the kids. Something that could communicate more emotion and could really bring that much more to the kids who needed it.”
So, in 2010, the self-confessed tinkerer began work on his latest robot creation, Wall-E. Senna took to the Internet to enhance his pre-existing knowledge so he could design all the robotic mechanisms himself. “The knowledge was gained over a lifetime of curiosity. Thank God for the Internet!” says Senna. “Before the Internet, I was one of those guys that read through Encyclopedias (if you know what they are)!”
Senna set out to make an extremely life-like replica that looks, sounds, and acts exactly like the Pixar character. No matter the challenges, Senna was determined to achieve his goals and bring even more joy and inspiration to the children he encountered.
“I treated each challenge as something I just needed to try to do, even if I had to try a couple times to get it right,” says Senna. “I had to allow myself to fail and try again. That’s what makes anyone successful. You don’t learn by doing it right every time, you can’t let yourself be defeated. You stick with it, even if you need to ask for advice or help. I try to treat any challenge the same way. But you must go one step further, I believe to truly be a useful person, you must share what you have learned. I also help give panels on R2 building and will in the future do the same with Wall-E.”
Because of his hard work and attention to detail, Senna’s R2-D2 spawned a relationship with LucasFilm. From time to time, George Lucas’s film production company will recommend Senna’s R2-D2 for events in the area. Senna also hopes to develop a professional relationship with Disney/Pixar, if at all possible. However, Senna still prefers smaller gigs with little fanfare, namely children’s charity events. These smiles and happy faces are what make it all worthwhile.
“There was a blind child early on, who got to experience what R2 looked like by feel,” says Senna. “I let him operate the dome and sound effects with the transmitter and explained how the remote control worked. A lot of smiles, a lot of playful kids, a lot of hugs for R2. Just seeing the kids who have had a rough time suddenly light up, it’s awesome.”
(Photos courtesy of Mike Senna’s blog.)