Design Liberties

When accepting this assignment, I might’ve failed to mention a small detail to the boss folks: I don’t own a car, let alone a DeLorean, for displaying the finished prop. Instead, mostly inspired by Jeri Ellsworth’s NES purse, I had this goofball idea of a slim, battery-powered device that could be installed and photographed in ironic settings: on a bicycle, on public transit, hung from a Flavor Flav necklace as “bling,” and so forth.

While the general idea could have been accomplished quickly and easily with an iPad running the Flux Capacitor™ app, I wanted to preserve somewhat the staggered design of the original, and it had to have real 7-segment LED displays…there’s no substitute for seeing the genuine thing. In much the way that nixie tubes have a certain vintage coolness about them, LED displays too are reaching a nostalgic threshold, iconic of 1980s technology.

Using stock parts required some design compromises. The date and time formats would be changed to fit these 4-digit displays (the film prop used back-painted glass fakes for the month display, with some segment changes being physically impossible, making a 100% match unattainable anyway…iPad wins there). Also took liberties with some LED colors and various spacings, but overall the piece is still highly recognizable.

For the sake of a quick demo, I had to cut this short. Though all the displays are addressable, the destination and last-departed dates are simply fixed values from the first film; there’s no interaction. I may revisit this to add a keypad later, but for now it’s all just a fancy clock (it does show the current time accurately, using a ChronoDot RTC). Also, the vector files are not available, because they’re utter garbage! Creating something of finished kit quality requires many iterations and refinements…but with a rushed, one-shot piece like this, course corrections would come in the form of a Dremel tool and epoxy putty. If you plan to build one, give it some time and prepare your blueprint carefully.

This guide was first published on Jul 29, 2012. It was last updated on Jul 29, 2012.
This page (Design Liberties) was last updated on Jul 14, 2020.