From Aliens to Avengers Endgame, YouTube team builds superhero gadgets for millions

"The funny thing about YouTube is, everyone assumes you're American." James Hobson of Kitchener is The Hacksmith on YouTube, where millions of people watch him engineer superhero movie gadgets like Iron Man's helmet to Thor's hammer.

'Every little kid wants to fly like Iron Man,' says James Hobson, known as The Hacksmith

Ian Hillier, left, and James Hobson stand in the workshop where The Hacksmith YouTube videos are made and beside a project to replicate the power loader in the movie "Aliens." (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

James Hobson and Ian Hillier started building different projects together in high school.

After they went to college, "We were able to make cooler and bigger and better projects," Hobson says.

The two friends co-founded Hacksmith Industries. Hobson is largely the face of the company, going by The Hacksmith on YouTube. They find cool gadgets, weapons and tools from movies and try to recreate them in real life.

Their channel has more than 5.4 million subscribers and all of the projects they feature are built and filmed in Hobson's workshop, located behind his home in Kitchener. Hillier says they have very understanding neighbours.

Superhero stuff

Along with various tools, from a drill press to a 3D printer, the shop is filled with projects they've completed: a Star Wars style light sabre, Captain America's shield, a Batman batarang, a Wakandan shield, a power loader from the movie Aliens and a few test versions of Thor's hammer.

People often ask Hobson where the team gets its ideas and he says in a way, it's a confusing question.

"There's so much content out there. I can watch any movie and pick something from it and be like, 'we can make that,'" he said.

A Captain America shield that's been put to a few tests is seen hanging on the wall on the main floor of the workshop while in the background is a broken version of the shield. That broken shied is currently part of the backdrop for The Hacksmith videos and was smashed by the version of Thor's Stormbreaker Axe that the team made. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Inspire future engineers

Hobson and Hillier may be the epitome of people doing what they love for a living, but they also love that the videos they shoot are helping encourage young people to think about science and engineering as possible careers.

"I've seen so many comments from people being like, 'I didn't know engineering was cool,'" Hobson said.

The Hacksmith team has made a few versions of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Here, Hobson shows off one made of lead and one that has magnets that keep it stuck to the metal table, making it impossible to lift (although there is a trick for engineers who wear an iron ring to be able to pick up the hammer, making them truly worthy, Hobson says). (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"So what we realized is: what we're doing is actually very inspirational to get kids into science, technology, engineering and math."

Both Hobson and Hillier have left full-time jobs to make a living with the YouTube channel. There are 10 people who work for the company in total and over the last three years, they've also had 14 high school co-op students and two co-op students from the University of Waterloo.

After Elon Musk started selling a "not a flamethrower" on his website for The Boring Company, Hobson says he and the team talked about making their own from parts found around the workshop. This version does work and cost them about $50 to make. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Capt. America shield 'blew up' YouTube 

When asked about his favourite projects, Hobson says there are three.

The first one is the exoskeleton from the movie Elysium, which was one of the first projects they featured on YouTube back in Aug. 29, 2014.

The second one, and the one they're now known for, is Captain America's electromagnetic shield.

"That's the one that truly blew up the channel," he said. That video has more than 20 million views and was made ahead of Captain America: Civil War.

His third favourite is a recent project: Thor's Stormbreaker battle axe, from Avengers: Infinity War.

The axe "took a creative turn" he said in highlighting many of the details that went into it.

In "Avengers: Infinity War," Thor obtains the Stormbreaker axe to replace his hammer. This is The Hacksmith's version of that axe. It's 47 kg (105 lbs), made with Canadian steel and the handle is wrapped with more than 150 metres (500 feet) of aircraft cable that they acid etched to make it darker. Hobson says the creation of this axe "took a creative turn" as they figured out ways to add the features to the axe as well as make the handle, which in the movie is made of wood from the character Groot. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

They used Canadian steel to make the axe and "Canada" was stamped on the raw steel they began to work with. Normally they might try to remove the manufacturing imprint, but the placement of "Canada" worked well and was "a happy accident," Hobson said.

"Let's not grind that off, let's leave it as a kind of tidbit to our Canadian heritage because the funny thing about YouTube is, everyone assumes you're American," he said.

The team created the staff from the film Shazam, including using flint in the base to make it spark and the bulb lights up. They built the staff in just one day. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Fly like Iron Man

The whole team is set to see the highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame, which opened Thursday. Hobson says he's not sure what new tech, if any, he'll be able to make from the movie.

"Unfortunately Iron Man is getting more and more complex. Now he has nano-tech armour, which is just completely unrealistic [to recreate]," Hobson said.

Flying like Iron Man has been a project Hobson and the team have returned to a number of times. They never quite got it right, and it was becoming a very expensive project. But then they discovered another company, Gravity, had made a suit.

Hobson got to try it out last year, lifting himself with the packs on his hands. Next month, he's going to try out the suit again in Atlanta and that experience will be featured in an upcoming video on the YouTube channel.

"Every little kid wants to fly like Iron Man," he said. "The goal at this Atlanta event is hopefully flying without the tether at full power, so we'll see if that happens. But I'm pretty excited."


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