As part of the celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of French-Chinese diplomatic relations, a French theatrical production company brought two giant mechanical puppets to Beijing's Bird Nest stadium for three days of performances. The company, La Machine, is known for the 50-foot tall mechanical spider--named La Princesse--that it built and brought to Liverpool in 2008 as part of that city's Capital of Culture festival. Weighing almost 40 tons, La Princesse is operated by a team of 12 puppeteers strapped to its body and can crawl through cities at 2 miles per hour. Along with its spider robot, La Machine brought a new mechanical beast to Beijing: Long Ma, a 46 ton fire-breathing dragon-horse. Long Ma made its debut at La Machine's home town of Nantes, France back in August, and you can watch footage from that first performance below:
The Atlantic's In Focus photo blog has a large gallery of photos from the fantastical Beijing performance, and I've embedded video of La Princesse's 2008 romp through Liverpool below.
La Machine is also just one of two theatrical production companies known for their large-scale mechanical creatures. Royal de Luxe, also based in Nantes, is the company responsible for the giant marionettes that have trekked through streets and parks around the world. The designer of La Machine's Long Ma and La Princesse, artist François Delarozière, worked for 21 years at Royal de Luxe, where he designed The Sultan's Elephant.
We visit Frank Ippolito's shop to learn about making ultra-realistic fake hands as Halloween props. Frank walks us through the step-by-step process of molding your own hand and making a silicone casting, and then cutting and painting up the fake hand to look realistically gory. It's actually a special effect you can do by yourself without any assistance! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us by joining the Tested Premium community!)
I’ve mentioned my recommended path for aspiring multi-rotor pilots several times in this column. Before buying a large, expensive ship with a camera attached, I think it is better to begin with a RC flight simulator and/or a small quad. I think that this approach will help you hone your piloting chops before accepting the risks of flying a bigger aircraft. I’m still holding firm to that opinion. I realize, however, that I have never adequately addressed how to use those tools to become a competent multi-rotor pilot. Today, I want to share my techniques for becoming comfortable at the controls of any multi-rotor.
There are tons of small quad-rotors out there that are adequate for learning the basics. The main feature to look for in a mini-quad is a 2-stick transmitter like you’ll be using with larger quads. In my opinion, the closer the transmitter is to the standard size, the better.
Another prime feature to look for is adjustable sensitivity for the flight controls. Many quads lack this very useful ability. Some have two or three preset sensitivity levels, while others have a full range of adjustments. Either adjustment method is good for what we’re trying to accomplish. The idea behind adjusting the sensitivity is to detune the quad’s response to your inputs and make it easier to fly.
I learned to fly quads with the HeliMax 1SQ, which fits all of the requirements listed above and has proven to be very resilient. While I still fly the 1SQ frequently, I have a new favorite quad for my indoor training sessions, the tiny Estes Proto-X SLT. The SLT is an updated version of the Proto-X that Norm reviewed a few months ago. Whenever I turn on the Proto-X, It’s easy to imagine my living room is like a course for the Red Bull Air Races…plenty of obstacles ready to be conquered!
While, the actual quad appears mostly unchanged, the radio system received updates that make it much more beginner-friendly. The tiny, cartoon-like transmitter included with the original Proto-X is gone. It has been replaced by a significantly larger (though still smaller than standard) transmitter with adjustable control sensitivity. More specifically, there are two flight modes (standard and expert) with each mode having adjustable sensitivity.
Furthermore, the new Proto-X can be linked with any transmitter that uses the SLT protocol. This includes radios such as the Tactic TTX650 and the Hitec Flash 7. If you already have a favorite non-SLT radio, you can likely fly the Proto-X SLT with it using the AnyLink2 module. You have options.
Not exactly sure about the source of these photos, but here's a large gallery of photos of modelmakers and miniatures from the ILM model shop, circa The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The photos show the making of some iconic vehicles like the Republic fighters and cruisers, the Super Star Destroyer, and even Death Star 2. Most of these models reside in Lucasfilm's precious archives in Northern California, and some went on tour in the most recent exhibition of Star Wars models and props. You can find my photos from that exhibit here.3
From the inspiring and informative Soundworks Collection of mini-documentaries about the people and technology behind Hollywood audio production: "We feature Leslie Ann Jones, who is the Director of Music and Scoring at the legendary Northern California Skywalker Sound. Leslie Ann Jones has been a recording and mixing engineer for over 30 years."
Bonus weekend video! Norm shares a new sixth scale collectible figure set he just received: the highly-anticipated Batman Armory set from Hot Toys! This set not only has the armory display, but Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Alfred figures as well. Norm analyzes the quality of these sculpts and paint jobs, and compares this newest Batman model to past versions. No detail goes unnoticed!
Typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones (formerly of Hoefler & Frere Jones, who recently settled his lawsuit against former partner) writes an wonderfully insightful personal blog about typography and design. In his latest entry, he addresses what he considers the most challenging part of designing a new typeface: finding an appropriate name. Think about what a name evokes, and the lexicon of typographical nomenclature. Historically, typeface names would be derived from broad genres like Roman or Italic, but the Industrial Revolution forced type foundries to expand their conventions to suit descriptive needs. The naming of modern typefaces is complex--foundries balance the need to appropriately (and simply) describe the typeface with a word, while choosing something that will capture the attention of designers. Like the names of companies, products, and anything else sold, typefaces are brands.
We've met and worked with independent replica prop makers who specialize in video game props, but here's a company working directly with game developers to bring digital characters, armor, and weapons to reality. At New York Comic Con, we stopped by Triforce's booth to check out their newest scale statues and full-size replicas, as well as learn about their production process.
Tomorrow's a big day for prop collectors and replica prop makers. As we mentioned in our video of Adam's new Samurai armor from 47 Ronin, London and LA-based Prop Store is gearing up for one of the largest film prop auctions in recent memory, and easily one of the most important. The auction is mere hours away, and will be held live in London at the Westfield Mall's Vue Cinema. We were fortunate to see some of those props in person at Comic-Con as well, where Prop Store had iconic items like Marty's hoverboard on display (I touched it!). For those of us who can't make it to the auction or are curious about how much these props end up going for, we'll be able to follow along online at the auction website.
Since receiving it earlier this month, I've been spending lunch hours poring over the auction catalog and admiring the lovely photos and cool production info associated with each prop. Here are the props from the auction that I'm the most excited for, either because of their significance to film and effects history, their personal resonance, or because they're just so cool.
"A 1⁄4-scale puppet of the Alien Queen from James Cameron’s action sci-fi sequel Aliens. This puppet was used for the model miniature shots during the scene in which Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) drops the beast into the Sulaco’s airlock, only to be dragged down with it.
Conceived by director James Cameron and brought to life by Stan Winston Studios, the puppet is made of multiple components built around a metal armature for strength and was designed to be dropped to accommodate the shot. The head, crown and body of the puppet are made in dense urethane. The Queen’s teeth are cast in translucent resin to match the detail of the full-size creation. The arms are made of foam latex with urethane used for the tail, while the legs are made from latex and polyfoam. Due to their age, the outer limbs have deteriorated. Wire runs down the length of the tail and down the arms in order for the limbs to hang freely for the fall. The Queen’s carapace is finished in black with blue highlights to match the lighting of shots within the Sulaco hangar."
Remember a few months ago when I spent time obsessing over Quicksilver’s audio gear from X-men: Days of Future Past? I thought that exploration was enough to get it out of my system--until my friend Hadley told me that she would be cosplaying as Quicksilver for New York Comic Con. Without missing a beat, I proclaimed that I had to build her an accurate Stereobelt prop. And so my obsession began anew.
To recap: the Stereobelt, a little-known predecessor to the Walkman, predating Sony's portable cassette player by seven years and cobbled together from existing tech. Only one picture and a patent document of it can be found in all of the interwebs, yet the savvy production designers on Days of Future Past based Quicksilver’s unit on the Stereobelt, therefore giving him probable audio gear for 1973.
Setting out to create my own Stereobelt, I ran into an immediate problem: a lack of good reference material. Other than the magazine cover of Quicksilver, which showed only one side of the belt, I was unable to find any good reference of the other side or back. At this point, the Blu-ray hadn’t been released and unlike every other Marvel movie, there was no “Making-of” book. So, I started work on what I had reference for, figuring that I may have to improvise the opposite side and revise it when I could get ahold of the movie. I didn’t have a lot of time to build the Stereobelt, so my original intention was to keep it simple and print it as one solid piece. The front and back caps would cause some print issues since they were both tapered and would have to use supports to print as one piece. The caps would also print better if the slopes were oriented upwards, so I decided to compromise and print the body and caps separately and assemble using simple square pins and glue.
Unlike the Hellboy Millenbaugh Motivator, for which I took meticulous measurements using Photoshop, I totally eyeballed the size and proportions of the Stereobelt on paper. Once it looked right, I started building in 3D and quickly realized another issue - if I built this as one piece, painting and finishing would be difficult since it had a lot of trim pieces. I also liked the idea of being able to print this out in two colors, assemble with no painting and still have it look good, so I decided to break it up into more pieces.
Joey Shanks of PBS Digital Studios' Shanks FX show shoots a short video using 1/24th and 1/15th scale models of the Back to the Future Delorean to recreate effects scenes from the film. Shanks gives some tips for using forced perspective to make his models appear as if they're driving on a real road, and explains why using a smaller model might be better than a larger one.
During our visit to Immortal Masks, we not only got a chance to learn about their entire sculpting and production process, but also check out their entire line of creature masks. Sculptor Andrew Freeman is always working on new mask designs, and their team of artists can create variations on a sculpt with unique paint applications. Lifelike Bebop and Rocksteady masks caught my eye, but my favorite has to be the Ogre mask. Which one do you think is the creepiest?
Halloween's coming up, and we're looking for the best ways to transform into a terrifying creature of the night. Monster masks have been a longstanding horror effects tradition, and today's masks are more lifelike than ever. We visit the workshop of Immortal Masks to learn how the artists there sculpt, mold, cast, and paint amazing silicone masks that look and move realistically.
Military aircraft have always been popular subjects for RC modelers. Many builders prefer to craft their “warbirds” from the ground up, perhaps even using their own plans. The more popular option is to purchase a factory-built model that requires only a few hours (or less) to complete. Some of these Almost-Ready-to-Fly (ARF) models use traditional balsa construction, while others are made of molded foam.
The main drawback to buying a warbird ARF model is that it is going to look, well, just like every other one that flew off the assembly line. It is not uncommon to see multiple examples of a popular model at the same flying field on a Saturday afternoon--all identical except for the inevitable dings and repairs. On the flip side, there is often ample room to personalize these airplanes with the addition of a few simple scale-enhancing details. Applying some of these techniques will help your model to look more accurate, while also separating it from the mass-produced herd.
I chose a popular foam warbird ARF model to illustrate some of these detailing techniques, the Flyzone Focke-Wulf FW-190. You may recall that this is the same model that I used in my review of the Mr. RC Sound system. I picked this model for several reasons. Primarily, it is a good flying model. What’s the point of personalizing an airplane that is no fun to fly? Furthermore, the Flyzone model has an accurate scale profile and several details that are difficult to replicate (scale retractable landing gear, wing flaps, scale propeller, etc) are box-stock features. This allowed me to focus on easily-implemented details.
With few exceptions, military airplanes are not shiny and they are flown by a pilot. The somewhat shiny and pilotless FW-190 is thus ripe for quick and easy upgrades. To get started, I carefully removed the glued-on cockpit canopy. After breaking one corner free, I pried the entire border loose with a gently-wielded Popsicle stick. I also removed the propeller and nose spinner, which left the brushless motor exposed. I covered the motor and foam-rubber tires with masking tape to protect them from overspray. “Overspray of what?” you ask. Let’s call it an abundance of drab.
A flat-finish clear coat is an effective way to take the shine off of a factory paint job. Specifically, I used Rust-Oleum American Accents Matte Clear in a spray can. I’m sure that similar products will work equally well. I’ve used the Rust-Oleum on numerous foam airplanes as well the iron-on polyester coverings of balsa models. It will attack some foams, so always test it before possibly eroding your airplane into a Dali-esque melted blob.
Ten years ago, Richard Crudo, the current president of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers), went through a deep depression, and he’s certain most cinematographers went through the same. The reason? Film was coming to an end, and trying to stop celluloid’s demise would be like trying to hold back a tidal wave.
Before becoming the president of the ASC, Crudo worked as a cinematographer for many years (American Pie). “I was born, raised and worked in the film era, and I still think it represents the gold standard of visual imaging,” Crudo says. “However, one must be realistic. Film is essentially dead. And to try and keep it going on some rarefied level is certainly admirable, but it really has no application to the rest of us. Clearly we live in a digital world and it’s going to be a digital future. You shoot film, where do you get it processed these days? So many labs have closed. And a laboratory can’t be a boutique operation and be expected to operate with any level of efficiency or perfection.”
For a long time now, the writing’s been on the wall for cameramen and film fans alike. Once esteemed cinematographers like Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption), and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters, The Deer Hunter), as well as directors like Martin Scorsese (GoodFellas), made the switch to digital, you knew it was all over. Then again, you also knew that as long as directors like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, and JJ Abrams kept working, film would still be around, at least for a little while.
In fact, this summer Nolan and Abrams helped keep Kodak in business. The CEO of Kodak, Jeff Clarke, said in a statement, “After extensive discussions with filmmakers, leading studios and others who recognize the unique artistic and archival qualities of film, we intend to continue production. Kodak thanks these industry leaders for their support and ingenuity in finding a way to extend the life of film.”
Still, cinematographers today are long past the denial and anger phases of celluloid’s death, and they’re now in the acceptance phase. “The digital image that we see today is as bad as we’ll ever see, and it’s only getting better all the time,” Crudo says. “There’s a couple of developments around the corner that I think are going to cause it to exceed film. This coming from a person who would never dreamed he would be talking like this ten years ago. If I heard myself talking this way back then, I’d have chopped my own head off!"
“The scale has tipped 180 degrees from what it used to be,” Crudo continues. “Early on, you’d be very suspect about shooting digitally, and you wanted to shoot film because it was the established standard. Today I’d be very dodgy about shooting film vs shooting digital.” But it's not just about the manufacture and use of film stock that needs to be maintained. There's another side to the equation.
This was my first time going to New York Comic Con, and what a year to attend. Attendance approached (and possibly even surpassed) that of San Diego, and I had a ton of fun exploring a new convention venue and figuring it out from a photography point-of-view. The massive muli-floor lobby of the Javits Center--lined from floor to ceiling with glass--made for great daytime photos with cool architecture and signage in the background. The show floor's bright red carpeting was a little less accommodating. But in the two days I was there, I managed to get a few good photos to share with you. Thanks to everyone who stopped for a photo--and if you find yourself in this gallery, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with "NYCC Cosplay" in the subject line and I'll get you a full-res copy of your pic!
One of the coolest things I saw at New York Comic Con was NECA Toys' new Nostromo Spacesuit figures from their Alien toy line. (It's the costume Adam wore this summer at Comic-Con!) We take the fragile sculpt and paint master for this figure out of the display case and scrutinize its details to examine what NECA's artists got right. This is a gorgeous piece!
A package from a reader arrives at our office, so it's our duty to show off its contents on camera! This week's mailbag contains some woodworking tools made by Philip White, which will hopefully help in our own future woodworking endeavors! They're nice and weighty! Huge thanks to Philip for making and sending this package--see how he made these tools in this gallery!