Latest StoriesArt
    The Making of Interstellar's TARS and CASE Robots

    My favorite part of last summer's Interstellar was the novel design of the film's two robotic characters, TARS and CASE. This video shows how the robots were created, and the rig that was made so that puppeteer Bill Irwin could manipulate the full-size robots.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 4

    The previous three articles of this series were all about getting the Strider Mini Quad assembled into an aerial racing machine. With all of those steps complete, it is now time to put the Strider in the air. I will cover my initial test flights, some configuration changes I made, and my thoughts on flying a quad racer.

    Test Flights

    I planned for my initial test flight of the Strider to be a quick, knee-high hover in my backyard, lasting only long enough to confirm that the controls operated correctly. Things started off well and all of the controls worked perfectly. Things worked so well in fact, that I spent more time hovering than I anticipated.

    A few minutes into the flight, the Strider unexpectedly tumbled into the grass and I heard something bounce off of the fence. In my excitement to get the quad in the air, I had neglected to adequately tighten the prop nuts…a rudimentary task that I really should not have missed. Remember when I mentioned that I was much too astute and diligent to need CCW-version motors? I guess I asked for it.

    There was zero damage to the Strider, and I quickly found the flyaway prop. The offending prop nut is another story. It is definitely somewhere in my back yard, but I gave up looking for it. Lawn mowers are great at finding (and hurling) such things, so it’s only a matter of time before we are reunited. Luckily, I had a pair of replacement prop nuts that, while not the same color, fit the threads on the prop shaft.


    Subsequent flights took place at my RC flying field, where I have plenty of room to let the Strider run free. I began with a few line-of-sight flights in Attitude Mode so that I could get a feel for the quad’s speed and handling. I don’t know how my Strider compares to other racing quads, but it’s fast! Because of the quad’s small size, I had to be very careful to keep it in relatively close, or it would quickly morph into a tiny black blob in the sky.

    I soon became comfortable flying the Strider in Attitude Mode, so I switched to Rate Mode. The stock Rate Mode settings in the CC3D felt pretty aggressive to me. So, I toned down the rotation rates and added about 30% exponential (using Open Pilot GCS) for subsequent flights. Even though that helped tame the quad, I decided that I still wanted an easier transition to Rate Mode. The solution was using Rattitude Mode.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 3

    Through the first two articles of this series, I assembled the bulk of the Strider Mini Quad frame, installed the propulsion system, and configured the flight controller. This time around, I will concentrate on the components of the First Person View (FPV) system, as well as the camera used to record in-flight videos.

    The FPV System

    The components that I chose for the Strider’s FPV system are quite common. The camera is a PZ0420 with a 2.8mm lens and IR filter. It mounts directly to the camera mounting plate that is provided in the Strider kit. The mounting plate is then sandwiched between the center plate and top plate of the frame. Since the center plate of the Strider frame features an integrated Power Distribution Board (PDB) there are 5-volt and 12-volt power taps for the camera located directly behind the camera mount. There are also inputs for the video and audio (if your camera has it) signal wires from the camera.

    The camera I used does not have audio capability. It includes a 3-wire pigtail for power, ground, and the video signal. I shortened the pigtail considerably to reduce unnecessary wire on the airframe. The camera can accept 5-17 volts, so I plugged the pigtail into the 12-volt tap of the Strider.

    My video transmitter (VTX) is a TS832 5.8GHz 600mW unit. Like most VTXs for FPV, it requires a FCC amateur radio license to operate. I attached the VTX to the bottom side of the top plate using self-adhesive Velcro. The rear end of the Strider center plate includes another set of power taps and nodes for connecting the video and audio signals. I again used the 12-volt tap and video signal.

    I upgraded the stock VTX antenna with a circular polarized model. I also added a 7cm long extension between the VTX and antenna. The extension provides a flexible link between the antenna and its mount on the VTX. This isolates the VTX from the hard knocks that the protruding antenna is bound to endure.

    When you are shopping for VTXs, antennae, and accessories, be sure to pay close attention to the gender of the connectors. Some components use standard SMA connectors, while others use reverse polarity (RP-SMA) connectors. You want your equipment to have the minimum number of connections and adapters, so get equipment with compatible connectors from the start.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 1

    Racing quadrotors have captured the interest of a lot of people. They’re fast, nimble, and tough. Best of all, having a First Person View (FPV) system installed lets you get a sense of what it’s like to be onboard your speed machine. In the past, we’ve presented a video of Norm building a racing quad with the help of Carlos Puertolas (Charpu). We’ve also given you a buyer’s guide that outlined all the equipment you need for your own racing quad. This week, I’ve prepared a four-part series that will cover each aspect of getting a racing quad built and flight-tested:

    • Part 1: Frame Assembly
    • Part 2: Flight Controller Setup
    • Part 3: Configuring the FPV System
    • Part 4: Flight Testing and Tuning

    A friendly reminder: if you are new to multi-rotors, racing quads are a horrible place to start. Get yourself something a little more sedate to help you learn the basics. Once you’ve honed your flying skills, racing quads are much more practical and enjoyable.

    Frame Assembly

    The quad that I’ll be building for this series is a Strider Mini Quad provided by Red Rotor RC. The Strider is a 250mm-class ship with a carbon fiber frame. There are a few features on the Strider that negate purchasing some of the common components found on racing quads. The Power Distribution Board (PDB), lost-model alarm, and On-Screen Display (OSD) are all integrated into the frame itself. This saves you the cost of buying those components separately, as well as the hassle of installing them.


    Red Rotor provides an online assembly manual, so make sure you are using the latest version. In addition to what’s provided in the kit, you will need a few basic tools and supplies: metric Allen wrenches, zip ties, heatshrink tubing, soldering iron, etc…pretty basic stuff. To prepare for the build, I sorted all of the included hardware in a plastic ice tray. There are four different length screws in the kit and this helped me keep them all distinct.

    The first few steps of assembly are very straightforward. They involve fastening the bottom plate of the frame to the center plate. They’re simple assembly tasks with nuts, bolts and spacers. All of the parts lined up perfectly, so things progressed quickly.

    Marty Cooper's Aug(de)mented Reality 3

    Talented animator and friend of Tested Marty Cooper (aka Hombre McSteez) just released the latest of his Aug(de)mented Reality compilations. This batch features the animation he made for our live show last year with Adam! My favorite is the one with the sink sponge. You can follow Marty's work on Instagram, where he often posts previews of animations in progress!

    In Brief: Photos from the Blade Runner Model Shop

    Not sure about the origins of this gallery, but 142 photos of the models and miniatures shop for Blade Runner popped up online a few days ago. There are plenty of close-up shots of vehicles like Police and civilian Spinners seen in the film, showing off Syd Mead's beautiful designs. Other highlights include the making of the Offworld Blimp (which modelmaker Jason Eaton has faithfully recreated) and the fiber optic light laden headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. Coinciding with the discovery of these photos, Popular Mechanics republished a retrospective of Blade Runner's special effects, written by none other than Adam!

    Norman 3
    The Whitney Family: Pioneers in Computer Animation

    The special effects you see in films today are the result of a collaboration between sometimes hundreds of different artist, animators, and engineers. It's a team-effort, and no one person gets all the credit. But in the very early days of computer animation, being a pioneer in the field could make you a star in your own right, at least in the eyes of directors. While John Whitney’s name may not be as recognizable as, say, John Lasseter, but among computer animation artists he is a legendary figure who paved the way for modern special effects.

    Before we all had home computers, Whitney was a pioneer in the art of CGI, a medium he naturally moved into as an experimental filmmaker. His son, John Whitney Jr., tells us that his father was “never married to any particular methodology or technology. His interest was always on the filmmaking. He followed a never-ending search for an instrument, a technology, or a methodology to getting his ideas on the screen.”

    Whitney Sr. created slit scan, a split-screen effect with cascading images on both sides of the screen, which made its way into 2001. The Whitneys also got two minutes of computer animation into Westworld, going all the way back to 1973. Years later, Whitney Jr. was responsible over twenty minutes of computer animation in The Last Starfighter.

    Whitney had been making animated experimental films since the ‘40’s. He started the company Motion Graphics in 1960, and created his own analog computer. Whitey Sr. invented motion control camera work, and he turned military equipment, like anti-aircraft gun directors, which utilized analog computers, into filmmaking gear. (Whitney first utilized motion control in the spiraling open credits sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.)

    Whitney’s experimental films include Catalog (1961), Matrix III (1972), and Arabesque (1975), which all showed his artistry with computer generated animation. His work would prove very inspiring to a generation of future animators, as well as his immediate family.

    Where a lot of children rebel against following in the footsteps of their parents, Whitney Jr. knew that experimental filmmaking was in his blood. “There was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do,” he says. “I had already made a career choice by the time I got out of high school, which was make abstract films.”

    Some engineers would see this would be the way of the future, and they hooked up with the Whitneys because they were the leaders in the field before anyone even knew a field existed. “John had a great vision,” says Larry Cuba, an animation artist who was first inspired to go digital by Whitney. “He could see all the way into today. It was pretty clear what was coming.”

    But at the time, getting access to a computer was very difficult. The Cray mainframe computers were the fastest for the time, but it would still take all night to get the work done. Even if a company would let you use their computer for a movie, you had to sneak in and do it on the nights and weekends so you wouldn’t disrupt the company’s business.

    The Leviathan Sci-Fi Concept Trailer

    This three-minute sci-fi short film has been getting a lot of play, and the attention is well-deserved. Produced as a concept pitch for a full-length feature, the short is stuffed with beautiful visual design and animated action. Plus a giant flying space whale. It was directed by Ruairi Robinson, who at one point was working with our pal Gary Whitta on the Akira live-action adaptation. So there's your Tested connection! (h/t Boingboing)

    Jamie Hyneman's Robot Racing Spiders: Postmortem

    At the conclusion of the Robot Racing Spiders project, we check in with Jamie to talk about what went right and wrong with this experiment. Jamie walks us through the mechanics of the spider build, how his design was implemented, and what he didn't expect to happen.

    Conjoined Wings: Aviation’s Pullers, Parasites and Piggybacks

    Even in the early pioneering days of aviation, engineers recognized the potential for teamwork among aircraft. By lashing two or more aircraft together, the combined machines could often accomplish things that neither vehicle was capable of on its own. It’s the wild blue yonder’s embodiment of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

    This concept of mating together different aircraft is one that has persevered even as the art of aeronautics has constantly evolved. Whether powered by a rotary engine spewing castor oil or a space-bound rocket engine, the advantages of airborne teamwork are equally valid.

    Here are a few examples of aircraft that were joined together to work together.

    USS Akron and Curtiss Sparrowhawk

    The USS Akron was a rigid airship that was used by the US Navy from 1931 to 1933. The huge 785 foot-long aircraft was unique in many ways. Its design was the result of a collaboration between the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Corporation and Luftschiffbau Zeppelin of Germany. Zeppelin sent engineering advisors to Goodyear in Ohio. The German engineers incorporated new design and construction ideas that they had been unable to explore in their home country. You can read about many of those innovations here.


    The most novel aspect of the Akron’s design was that it could accommodate up to five Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplane fighters in an internal hangar. The Sparrowhawks could be launched and recovered while the Akron was in flight. A large hook located above the fighter’s upper wing engaged a trapeze structure on the airship. The trapeze could then be raised or lowered to move the biplane into or out of the hangar bay.

    The original concept for the Akron had the airship’s crew on the lookout for enemy ships while the Sparrowhawks warded off attacks by enemy aircraft. The policy soon transformed to have the airship acting as a home base while the fighters ranged out in search of the enemy’s navy. The effectiveness of this strategy was never tested in wartime. Less than two years after the Akron’s commissioning, it was lost in a storm off the coast of New Jersey, killing 73 servicemen. The same fate befell the Akron’s sister ship, the USS Macon, off the California coast in 1935. Thankfully, only two men perished in the crash of the Macon.

    Adam Savage's Custom Quadcopter Gear

    Since getting his DJI Inspire 1 quadcopter, Adam has been flying it regularly to learn its abilities as a videography platform. And as he becomes familiar with its operating procedures, Adam can't help but built custom accessories and gear to optimize his flight setup. From flight log notebooks to battery charging racks, we check out some of Adam's specialized flight equipment.

    My Shining Maze Build Notes

    I didn’t intend to make a replica of the architectural model of the hedge maze from The Shining.

    Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. There’s an exhibition from the Kubrick archives traveling around the world right now, and I’ve seen it three times in two cities so far. Twice at LACMA in Los Angeles and again at the TIFF in Toronto. There’s a whole section in the exhibit devoted to The Shining, and in that section, I started for some reason to get excited about the Overlook Hotel maze. It’s such an iconic character in the film, and one of the ways in which the film departs significantly from the book. I also took note that the maze they had in their exhibit didn’t meet my standards for accuracy. So I started to gather information, with the idea that I might make my own.

    The film is based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name and follows a family: Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrance as they take on the task of being winter caretakers of the legendary (and fictional) Overlook Hotel. The Overlook is a hotel with a history. Jack is even told in his job interview that there is a history of caretakers getting “cabin fever” and murdering their families. The Overlook is a malevolent entity with designs of its own for Jack.

    The Overlook was designed for the film by legendary art director Roy Walker, and is based in part on several different real hotels. The first flyover shot of the Overlook is in fact a shot of the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon.

    For the rest of the exteriors (with actors in front of the building), a facade of the Timberline was built on the Elstree lot in England.

    The interiors were all sets built at Elstree. For research Kubrick sent his people to hotels all over the United States to find inspiration for the interiors. The main room Jack does his writing (called the Colorado Lounge in the film) was inspired (like a lot of other details about the Overlook) by the Great Lounge in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, Calif.

    The Red Bathroom in which Jack meets Grady (one of the former, ahem, caretakers) was modeled after the bathroom at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Biltmore Hotel in Arizona.

    From theoverlookhotel.com: "Many Overlook Hotel design elements were lifted directly from the Awahnee, including the double red doors, the hotel lobby, the Colorado Lounge, and the pervasive Native American motifs. These photographs of the Awahnee illustrate just how strongly it influenced much of the Overlook’s interior design."

    A note about theoverlookhotel.com: It’s run by my new friend Lee Unkrich, Pixar director and fellow Kubrick obsessive. He provided me with some incredible research, archival material and information that allowed me to make this maze FAR more accurate than would have been possible otherwise. His help has been invaluable.

    The Strange Origins of Familiar Sounds

    There comes a point in every human’s life when they realize that almost everything around them was created by someone. Every word was written by human hands, every special effect painstakingly assembled by teams of artists, and every sound recorded and played. Today, we’ll trace down the beginnings of ten sounds that you’ve probably heard over and over in your life and tell you how they came to be.

    Giveaway: Ender's Game Props and Costume

    To promote its upcoming March 9th auction of over 400 original props and costumes from the 2013 film Ender's Game, Prop Store sent over a few small props from the film for us to give away to Tested readers. (That's you!) The props package includes a Dragon Army patch set (left and right) worn by officers at the Battle School, an original military school beret, and tags for an extra named Hendee (I believe based on Ender's Game producer Lynn Hendee). The props were worn by extra Larry Kramer, whose name is written on the back of the name tag. (Kramer was also apparently the Dean of Stanford Law who scored a walk-on part in the film).

    To enter to win, just place a comment below and we'll pick a random winner after the auction ends on March 20th. You can find a few more pictures of the props below. Be sure to check out Prop Store's Enders Game online auction this coming Monday at 9AM PST.