Zorg Bomb Access Card
A Bit of Backstory
I’ve been obsessed with The Fifth Element for a while now but I’m only just getting around to lusting after the props. During a recent watch, I decided I wanted to make something from the film. Many flock to the gorgeous ZF-1 gun or maybe Corbin’s pistol. I wanted something to get my feet wet; Something that wouldn’t require a ton of tools or materials but had a big payoff.
Toward the end of the film, Zorg comes back to the Mondoshawan ship to look for the stones (again). As he walks up to the Diva’s room he has to disarm a bomb that he previously placed. The timer ticks down from 7…6…5. Zorg drops a transparent card into the timer and the numbers stop. It’s this card that I’m fascinated with.
From a material standpoint, it’s pretty basic. There are two methods that come to mind for making this prop. The first would be to use a transparent PCB. Use some etchant and strip off the copper plating to reveal the clear substrate. There is a good chance that this is how it was done for the cards used on set since they would be durable. However, this would add a lot of steps and I’m not certain I can get ahold of the materials given that we are under a lockdown for COVID-19. Instead, I’m going with my second option.
I recently purchased a Cricut Maker and this project seems perfectly within the wheelhouse of the machine. I have plenty of acrylic and polycarbonate laying around for the base of the card. I’ll run copper vinyl through the Cricut and then overlay this atop the plastic. A little matte clear coat to dull things down and then finishing it with some weathering to make it look used. This gives me the ability to do both sides without much fuss and I’m using minimal materials and steps.
A Lesson in the Size of Gary Oldman’s Face
A crucial step in making this prop is sorting out the dimensions. At first, I thought the card might share sizing with a credit card. Looking at screen grabs it’s immediately obvious that is not the case. It’s much more slender and seemingly taller. We only see the card for a few second and we never really see it in totality up close. The best we get is a blurry shot of Zorg looking at the card but this will work just fine!
Math time! The card looks to be right around the length of Gary Oldman’s lower lip to the top of the bridge of his nose. The card is being held out in front of him a bit so we have to adjust and measure slightly smaller. Throwing the image in photoshop I drew some lines to represent his height and the face segment we need. The internet says Gary Oldman is 5′ 9″ so I used that as my base measurement. Dividing his overall height (864 px) by the length of the face segment (50 px) lines we get 17.25. To convert this to inches we take 69 inches and divide it by 17.25 to get 4 inches. If that’s not just perfect, I don’t know what is!
Figuring out the width was the same process and gave me 2 inches which means our total card dimensions are 4 inches in length and 2 inches in width. The thickness of the card is tough to get since we never really see the edges clearly. We are also talking about a very small number of pixels to count and the chance for variability goes up. Ultimately, I went with a choice of acrylic at 1/8 inch.
I took a piece of thin cardboard I had laying around and cut it to size. This let me hold the prop and get a feel for it. I held it in my hand and mimicked the screenshots and its just right!
The most critical piece of this whole thing is in the delicate copper traces. I carefully stitched together screen grabs from the film and adjusted for distortion as much as possible. The shot isn’t straight on after all.
Once I had this, I could jump into Illustrator and start tracing (punny) everything out. It was slow and tedious but went just fine. Despite my careful alignment, I noticed a few places that I had to apply some logic to.
You’ll notice that some of the pads above are not precisely aligned on top of their real world originals. I did my best to correct distortion in the source image but I have to assume I didn’t get it perfect.
In areas like this where there were doubts, I chose to align elements with similar ones as opposed to putting them directly on top of the originals. In the above image you can see this with the square pads outlined in blue. The left pair are directly over the source pads. The right pair however are slightly above. This brings the second pair in vertical alignment with the left set. I believe this would have been the way the original existed so I applied this to the entire graphic. The full file is available in a dxf and svg below in the Digital Resources section.
I had questions from the jump on whether the Cricut Maker could handle this fine of a resolution. As luck would have it, it’s fantastic at making the delicate cuts needed. It’s not all sunshine and daises though. While the Cricut does a great job at slicing through the foil precisely, there are a few places that consistently break free and I lose bits.
This problem most often surfaces on the smallest pads but I can also get the D to consistently pop loose. I’ve tried using tweezers to put the pads back in place but it’s not reliable. I am investigating the best way to get these pieces to stay in place while still separating from the flashing. It’s possible that a laser may be a better bet so I’ll be looking into using a Glowforge to cut vinyl/foil.
Being the impatient person I am, I grabbed my transfer tape and moved the traces over. I lost a TON in the process — far more than to the Cricut. I blame this on my lack of patience along with the fact that I had considered the traces trash anyway since they had so many pads missing. This was really just a “lets see if the copper looks right on the acrylic. Fuck, if it doesn’t look incredible! I’m extremely pleased with my choice in acrylic and copper foil The foil is just thick enough to look like a real copper pad on top of a circuit board and the acrylic looks delightful. I want to experiment with roughing up the back side of the acrylic as its glossy compared to the front. Both sides of the card need to have the same finish but I wasn’t able to source dual-matte-sided plastic.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to find many resource images online. The ultimate database for prop replication The RPF is completely devoid of mention for the object. I grabbed several screenshots of the card from the film and I am providing them here for anyone else wishing to make them for yourself.
I created a template for cutting out the clear acrylic sheet for the card foundation. This is laser-ready and can be used on your own cutter, a service like Ponoko, or printed and cut out by hand.
Here are the files for cutting the copper foil traces. They have been optimized for a laser or Cricut.
Laser cut acrylic card blanks. Upload the machine cut file above and select the material you want. I chose clear matte acrylic in 1/8″ thickness. Alternatively, you can get the clear glossy acrylic and use a high grit polishing compound to dull it down some.
Cricut Maker – Not absolutely necessary and you could cut it out by hand. I happened to have one and it makes quick work of this sort of thing. If you plan to do more vinyl cutting in the future, you might consider a Cricut. It’s a wonderful tool to have in any Maker’s arsenal of tools.
Vinyl transfer paper – Used to transfer the design. I wouldn’t recommend any general use tape and it’s going to be too strong. You can however find non-Cricut transfer tape from a multitude of manufacturers. I happened to have this particular product on hand.
Hobby knife – Any sharp craft knife will do but if you’re in the market for a new one the Z series from X-Acto is the bee’s knees. The zirconium nitride blades stay sharper for longer and are a treat to work with.
Sorting out the trace cutting issue and playing with the plastic back treatment. I will be updating this post along with both my Twitter and Instagram with progress photos. Follow me on both for a chance to win one of these cards!