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.
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.
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.
“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 ten 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”