I’m a prop maker and designer, not for movies per se, rather I make works from my imagination that fit into the ethos of defined genres of science fiction and fantasy.

I started about 20 years ago building sabers and sci-fi-themed items from scratch as a hobby. Now it’s a full-time job handcrafting personalized sabers through Genesis Custom Sabers.

The Sand and Sarlacc Speeder created by Rob Petkau. Courtesy: genesiscustomsabers.com

It may sound strange to some, but there’s actually a large and super-cool community of us online. (You can see my work on my YouTube channel.)

I love what I do. I can sum up why with one word: “imagination.” 

I get to let my imagination run wild, and then make the things that really stand out to me. Often that revolves around a prop, which relates to a character, or a storyline, but it can also be as obscure as creating something from a question, like, “How can I make this beer fridge look like it’s from Star Wars?” 

If you are like me then you will know the joy of that flow state of creation, where you are immersed in an idea for hours on end. 

The Creative Process Without CAD

One of the main things I do is design and build illuminated sabers. These are not replicas of sabers you’ll see in the movies, but rather creations for people to imagine themselves in that universe. I make functional props for anyone to become a Jedi or Sith. 

The sabers are essentially aluminum machined handles with electronics, lights, sounds and a durable polycarbonate “blade.” 

But getting here wasn’t easy. If you’re a maker like me then you’ll understand how something can be so cool when it exists in our imagination but can become tiresome while traveling the road required to transform the idea into reality.

When I was first learning how to build these props, I encountered plenty of design failures and mess-ups. There are plenty of roadblocks to overcome when bringing an artistic creation to life.  

I had to find a solution and CAD software was the answer for me. 

Realizing Designs with Onshape

Years ago, I would send scans of pencil sketches with dimensions to people I knew who could start the process of turning the designs into something usable at the machine shop. I wanted to learn CAD, but the time investment and expenses involved led me to continually put it off. 

That was until someone told me about Onshape. It was in beta at the time and I could sign up for free and just … play. That’s where the magic happens for us makers. All we need is an idea and a “sandbox.” The sandbox can be a bin of LEGOs, a pad and paper, or a cloud-native CAD platform. 

With Onshape, I was off. 

Before long I was eating up tutorial videos, learning the lingo, and surprising myself with what I could do. Onshape for me became an interface between my imagination and my physical senses. It lets me turn my ideas into a model I could see and experience. 

Several of my designs have come to life thanks to Onshape. 

In particular, this saber, below, called the “Speeder” is my imagined design for a Jedi in the Star Wars novels. In the story, a character named Corran Horn, created by the brilliant author Michael Stackpole, was described to have a saber made from a junked speeder bike handle grip. There was no concept art available that I resonated with. So I designed my own. (You might even see it come up if you Google the character.) 

Star Wars-inspired saberThe rendered design for a Star Wars-inspired saber.

The original was made from parts I had available at the time, but I always wanted to refine the design. After I learned Onshape, I slowly crafted a new version that has now become one of my best-selling designs.

My design for Corran Horn’s Speeder Saber can be downloaded below!

Download Design

With the power of CAD at my fingertips, things are different. Over the last year or so I have modeled parts for the Star Wars-inspired Beer Fridge, mod parts for Nerf guns, Lightsaber parts, panels for a desk prop, sci-fi light fixtures, and a host of other things. These works have come to life through 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC machining.

But all of these went through the interface of Onshape to be transformed into reality.

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Rob Petkau is a guest writer passionate about igniting the imagination, the creative process and helping others turn ideas into reality. Learn more about his work by visiting the Genesis Custom Sabers website.