Latest StoriesArt
    Tested Mailbag: Numbers in Our Heads

    We start this weekend off with a mailbag opening, courtesy of Tested reader Craig! Inside, we find some 3D-printed blockheads that we can make use of at our next board game night. They're super cool--thanks, Craig!

    Live from Dragon*Con! - Episode 19 - 10/2/15
    CreatureGeek is back with Season 3! And this one is nothing short of wonderful. Frank and Len do their first live podcast together in the same room from Dragoncon 2015 in Atlanta, GA. This week’s guest is the incredibly talented Roy Wooley. You might know Roy from his double stint on FaceOff. But you should also know Roy for his beautiful designs and incredible makeups on films like The Hunger Games and Halloween 2. You can also see Roy’s work at the high end haunt Netherworld in Atlanta. Listen in as Frank and Len choose the winner from last seasons Smooth-On giveaway. All this and video as well. Thanks for listening and let us know what you think about the show in the comments! A big thanks goes out to Todd Whitehead from Alpha Geek Radio and Brian Dunaway, the podcast coordinator from DragonCon for making this episode happen. Thanks guys!
    00:00:00 / 45:07
    The Work of Master Model Builder Greg Jein

    Back in the early eighties, a number of magazines dedicated to special effects brought the work of artists into the spotlight. Publications like Cinefex and Cinefantastique helped a number of effects mavens became stars in their own right, like Rick Baker, Dick Smith, and Tom Savini, to name a few. But it wasn't just make-up artists that became well known among film geeks. Greg Jein became a legend in the model building world, thanks to his work on Close Encounters, 1941, The Hunt For Red October, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and more. Jein is still working steadily as a master model builder in the age of CGI--he was working on the show Black Sails when we reached out to him to talk about his career and current work.

    When Rick Baker started creating monsters out of latex, there wasn't the huge effects industry there is today. Jein didn't think of going into the movie industry as a model builder at first, "I just sort of blundered into the business," he told us with a laugh. "I used to watch a lot of war movies as a kid growing up," Jein said. "I still like airplanes. I used to go to a lot of airshows, and I started making some models. What actually got me started was I never had a major in college, so I finally took an art major."

    Through friends, Jein heard that Sea World needed some fiberglass props, and he eventually hooked up with an effects company called Cascade. "A lot of this stemmed from the Cascade guys, and the hi-tech commercials like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, the Green Giant…a lot of the Star Wars guys came from that."

    Jein then broke into making models for low budget films like Flesh Gordon, and John Carpenter's Dark Star. On Gordon, Jein was getting paid $75 a week, and there were times he didn't get paid at all, but he still had fun working on it, and his work on Dark Star soon brought him to the attention of Douglas Trumbull (2001, Silent Running).

    'Sense of Presence' VR Documentary Series

    Epic Games, makers of the Unreal Engine 4, are spreading the excitement for virtual reality with a new short documentary series called 'Sense of Presence'. The second episode just debuted, featuring interviews with game developers, Epic Games' own engineers, and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey about what it takes to build virtual spaces.

    Tested: How the BB-8 Sphero Toy Works

    We recently visited the workshop of Mike Senna, a droid builder who has made his own R2-D2 and Wall-E robots. Mike's next project is recreating the BB-8 droid featured in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens! We discuss what's known so far about how BB-8 was built for the film, how a remote-controlled model could be built, and take apart a BB-8 Sphero to see if we can learn anything from the small-scale toy!

    Visions of Mars in Film

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 9/22/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    MAVEN has reached Mars! "Hold up!" I hear you cry. "What the heck is MAVEN?" Well, I'll tell you. It's the latest in a long line of spacecraft sent to gather data on the Red Planet. Its full title is the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission, and it's the first of its kind, dedicated as it is to exploring in detail the upper atmosphere of Mars.

    But all that's a bit of a mouthful, so MAVEN it is.

    One of the puzzles the MAVEN mission controllers are hoping to solve is the mystery of how the sun may have stripped Mars of its early atmosphere, creating a barren desert out of a world that may once have supported microbial life.

    What they're unlikely to find are the irradiated survivors of a doomed Martian race, a bat-headed spider, an abandoned atmosphere processing plant or a race of green, six-armed warriors.

    All of the above have graced our cinema screens over the years, and little wonder. As one of Earth's closest celestial neighbors, Mars has long fascinated filmmakers.

    48-Camera Array Captures Fire Breathing

    Filmmaker Mitch Martinez demos his 48-DSLR camera array in filming some spectacular fire breathing stunts. The cameras are arced to cover 120 degrees around the subject. This kind of time-slice videography was of course popularized by The Matrix films, but today's prosumer and consumer camera technologies make it possible to replicate without the budget of a Hollywood film production. Find more of Martinez's bullet time sample videos here.

    The Art of "Shabby Chic"

    A short documentary about how furniture makers at Dileep Industries in India give new furniture an intentional vintage aesthetic with distressing and creative painting. Or put another way, weathering!

    Oculus Story: Uncovering the Grammar of VR

    We were out of the office last week to attend Oculus Connect, and I'm still digesting the demos, interviews, and insights from the conference (as well as a few more videos we shot). I'll have some coherent thoughts on Tested this afternoon, but until then, here's a relevant video from the upcoming Future of Storytelling event in NYC. Oculus Story Studio's Saschka Unseld is interviewed about some of the lessons learned from their two shorts ('Lost' and 'Henry'), and how storytelling in VR is different than traditional filmmaking. This comes from the same series of promos as that popular Glen Keane video, and the other interviews on the Future of Storytelling's Vimeo page are worth watching as well!

    How I Built a Furiosa Cosplay Prosthetic Arm

    This is a guest post by cosplayer and fabricator Michelle Sleeper, aka Overworld Designs. We previously shared Michelle's Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun project.

    Last year, I was talking with a friend of mine about some of our "holy grail" projects. I told him that it was one of my dream builds to make a T-800 Endo Arm, as an actual prosthetic for an amputee. You know the scene: in Terminator 2, Arnold cuts off the skin of his left arm to expose his robotic endoskeleton.

    I told him how it would be a dream project to build an Endo Arm like in this scene, for someone who is missing a limb. I've met or been made aware of a few people over the years who used their unique body attributes in their costumes, but I never had the chance to connect with someone.

    He said he wanted to introduce me to someone. This is Laura.

    Laura is a left arm transradial amputee, meaning that she is missing her left arm below the elbow since birth. She's also really into cosplay, and living in Atlanta, she has been a "featured zombie" on The Walking Dead. You've probably seen her in the shambling hordes.

    We met and I told her about my idea and what we could do, and she was enthusiastic. I felt really lucky because this really was one of my dream projects! She said she had done a few costumes in the past that incorporated her arm, but nothing really to the scale of what we planned. The idea was to 3D print a CAD design for the Endo Arm and possibly wire it up to an Arduino and some sensors and servos to make the fingers open and close. It was going to be a fun and really challenging build, and I was really looking forward to getting it started.

    And then, Mad Max: Fury Road came out and changed everything.

    The Hybrid World of “The Boxtrolls”

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 10/7/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    The Boxtrolls is the third feature to come out of Oregon-based animation studio LAIKA, both of whose previous productions Coraline and Paranorman were Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature Film. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, and adapted from the book Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, it tells the story of Eggs, a human boy raised by Boxtrolls — strange cavern-dwelling creatures who live in hiding beneath the cobbled streets of Cheesebridge. When Eggs meets Winnie, feisty daughter of Cheesebridge dignitary Lord Portley-Rind, the upper and lower worlds collide and the sinister truth behind the dastardly Archibald Snatcher's mission to exterminate the Boxtrolls is revealed.

    "The Boxtrolls" is a hybrid animation film with its roots firmly in the stop-motion tradition.

    Like its predecessors, The Boxtrolls is at heart a stop-motion feature. However, thanks to developments in both methodology and filmmaking technique, it is described by LAIKA as a "hybrid" film integrating the traditions of stop-motion with the latest advances in visual effects.

    Michael Hollenbeck animates the Archibald Snatcher and the Red Hats.

    "Coraline was almost entirely shot in camera," explained LAIKA visual effects co-supervisor Steve Emerson. "There is some CG in that film, but for the most part the director, Henry Selick, was after something entirely practical and in-camera. The big shift for us came with Paranorman. That's when our producer and lead animator, Travis Knight, started talking about this vision of creating hybrid films."

    In the LAIKA lexicon, hybrid filmmaking means taking a stop-motion film and expanding it visually beyond the confines of the animation stage. "As a genre, stop-motion is typically confined to smaller environments and a limited number of characters," said Emerson. "With hybrid, the idea is to use technology to open up these worlds, and do things that you wouldn't typically do in stop-motion, like have large crowds, or big effects, or wide vistas."

    Back to the Future's 30th Anniversary Celebration

    This is it. October 21st, 2015 is fast approaching, and fans of the Back to the Future trilogy will recognize it as the date in BTTF II when Marty arrives in the fictional future version of Hill Valley. As fans, the date is momentous--an opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first film and look back at the culture of fandom, futurism, and DeLorean time machine replicas that it spawned. Expect fan screenings and celebrations to take place around the world, the most notable of which is going to be the We're Going Back event running from October 21st to the 25th in the Los Angeles area. This event is organized by Ken Kapalowski and Joe Walser (who also spearheaded the DeLorean restoration project), and it's an expansion on the hugely successful 25th anniversary events they put together back in 2010. They brought fans to original filming locations from the film, hosted talks and retrospectives from actors and producers, and recreated scenes like the entire Enchantment Under the Sea dance.

    As Ken told me over the phone, this year's celebration expands those activities, and gives fans who couldn't make the 2010 event another opportunity to participate. The structure of We're Going Back is interesting--instead of hosting it at one centralized place, it's going to take place all over the LA area, with attendees shuttled between locations in a convoy of busses and a fleet of DeLoreans. A whole slew of activities at original filming locations are on the docket, including Doc's mansion, Hill Valley High School, and The Twin Pines Mall. The organizers are even recreating Hill Valley at a small town outside of Burbank, and debuting the new Back in Time documentary. Original film props will also be on display and up for auction, and Hendo and Boosted Boards are attending to give demos of their technologies. I'm hoping to be in attendance that weekend to celebrate!

    In Brief: Jasper Anderson's Projection Effects Projects

    I bummed to have missed Son of Monsterpalooza this past weekend, but checking out photos from the creature effects show clued me to the work of artist Jasper Anderson, aka Mr. Chicken's Prop Shop. Jasper, who's a friend of Frank, makes kits that take advantage of projection effects--eg. projecting an animated face onto an animatronic head blank. His Sybil the Clairvoyant kit is like a DIY version of the Madame Leota effect found on Disney's Haunted Mansion ride, and gives me ideas for other applications of rear-projection heads. For example, putting animated faces inside space helmets for display!

    Norman 1
    Tested Mailbag: An Actual Bag!

    This week's mailbag turns out to actually be a bag! Reader Jack M. dropped this care package off at our offices, and we dig the stuff we find inside. Our podcast finally has a sweet CNC plaque! Thanks to Jack for sending us this mailbag, and see you all next week!

    Everything is a Remix, Remastered

    I saw director Kirby Ferguson present this HD remaster of his seminal 2010 web series Everything is a Remix at this past weekend's XOXO conference. If you haven't seen it yet, it's an important exploration and analysis of the creativity in media, invention, and modern copyright law. Ferguson, who's currently working on his next documentary series--This is Not a Conspiracy--also has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his research, as well as sell some pretty cool merch. I love the "Basic Elements of Creativity" t-shirt!

    The Future of Practical Creature Effects

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 9/9/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    What does the future hold for practical creature effects? Ah, was there ever a question more likely to raises the hackles of fans of old-school special effects? Or to cause a look of blank bemusement to cross the face of the average moviegoer? Ever since Jurassic Park, argument has raged over which is better: a CG dinosaur or its mechanical equivalent? Whenever the issue is raised, emotions run high; discussing it at all is only marginally safer than poking a nest of snakes.

    But is it an issue? Is it valid even to ask the question at all? Isn't it time we rejected all that "either/or" nonsense and concentrated on simply getting the job done in the best possible way? There's only one way to get a decent answer: ask the experts. So that's what I've done. I put my question to a group of top professionals from the field of practical effects, left them to ponder… and then stood well back. You want to know what the future holds for practical creature effects? You're about to find out.

    Richard Taylor
    Co-Founder & Creative Director, Weta Workshop

    "At Weta Workshop, we very much believe there is still a dynamic place for physical creature effects in the entertainment industry. While there has been a huge shift towards CG creatures over the last ten years, there are still directors who are interested in utilizing more traditional, real-world effect solutions for characters in their films.

    "There is no doubt that films such as the latest Planet of the Apes, with work by Weta Digital, give a clear indication how extraordinary characters can be fully realized through CG, but there remains a very compelling reason to have real actors in prosthetics and creature costumes on set to create particular characters for the right project. A great example is the recent blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, which uses a huge ensemble cast of aliens of which, I believe, only three are digital. Here is a wonderful use of traditional makeup and creature effects (created by a truly superb and world class team) to do something absolutely extraordinary.