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    Join Us at 'Cinephile', Our Comic-Con 2015 Party!

    Editor's note: Bumping up this announcement as a reminder that our Comic-Con party is next Friday! Members can RSVP now!

    We're thrilled to announce that we're throwing another party at this year's San Diego Comic-Con! Last year's Incognito party was a wonderful opportunity to meet Tested readers and showcase Adam's costumes in a celebration of cosplay. This year, the party is called Cinephile, a celebration of our love for film and cinema. If there are fifty movies in your top ten list of favorite films, this event is for you. The party is on Friday, July 10th, and will be held at the Fluxx nightclub on 4th in San Diego (very close to the convention center). We'll be bringing props, costumes, and projects from the cave to the party, as well as unveiling a few surprises!

    Admission is free and the party is open to everyone age 21+, but Tested Premium Members will get priority access as well as early entry. Existing members can RSVP for the party right now!

    The Enduring Story of Matte Painting in Film

    Editor's note: This story by Cinefex's Graham Edwards is part of the 'VFX ABC' series exploring the lexicon of special effects. It's republished here with permission. In the VFX ABC, the letter "M" stands for "Matte Painting".

    Take any film aficionado's top ten list of favorite movie tricks, and the chances are you'll find the venerable art of matte painting near the top. But what actually is matte painting, and what makes it so special?

    To put it in a nutshell, a matte painting is a piece of artwork used to fill in part of a scene that can't otherwise be photographed. Take a cathedral interior, for example. Assuming you can't find a real cathedral to shoot in, do you really want to shell out half your precious budget on constructing that mile-high vaulted ceiling? Wouldn't you prefer to build your set up to a convenient height of, say, ten feet, then use a painting to patch in the rest?

    Or, let's say you want to photograph Count Dracula's castle perched precipitously on top of a mountain. Are you prepared to ship a construction crew all the way out to the Bavarian Alps? Are you ready to face a mob of locals with torches and pitchforks protesting about how you're defacing the landscape? Doesn't it make more sense to photograph a suitably rugged portion of rocky terrain, then hire a skilled artist to paint in the vampire's looming lair?

    In short, isn't the most straightforward solution to use a matte painting? Of course it is.

    Unfortunately, matte painting isn't quite as simple as that…

    In Brief: John Lasseter on the Role of Technology in Storytelling

    On Medium, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has recently been posting transcripts of speeches given at its events, such as tributes to filmmakers from directors Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. The latest is a wonderful speech by Pixar's John Lasseter, given at "The New Audience" panel discussion in May. It's about his approach to storytelling, and the relationship filmmakers and audiences have with technology. Well worth the 10-minute read, or you can watch the video of Lasseter's talk, embedded below:

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Telemetry Systems

    One of the fundamental challenges of flying RC aircraft is that you are separated from the machine you are controlling. You must assess the health and status of your vehicle from a distance using only limited visual and aural cues – rarely an easy thing to do. Sometimes the first symptom of a failing system is a trail of smoke that inevitably leads to the ground.

    RC telemetry systems provide the means to accurately gauge certain parameters of your model during flight. Think of it as a remote dashboard. Do you want to know how hot your motor is running? How about an alarm that can warn you when your model reaches an altitude of 400 feet? Telemetry devices can provide those things and more.

    What Telemetry Requires

    There are several different ways to receive telemetry data. Some telemetry systems are standalone units with a transmitter/sensor package in the model and a receiver on the ground. For FPV flyers, On-Screen-Display devices take the data from onboard sensors and overlay it on the real-time video feed. The result is something like a heads-up display found in many modern full-scale aircraft. An increasingly popular form of telemetry system is the type integrated into the model's radio system. The pilot's handheld transmitter sends flight commands to the aircraft while also receiving downlinked data. The same onboard receiver that interprets commands also transmits telemetry data. In this way, both the transmitter and receiver are actually transceivers.

    Telemetry data can be viewed in the transmitter screen, but you'll want to use the tactile and aural feedback options when flying.

    The majority of radio manufacturers offer telemetry-capable systems in their lineups. The example that I've chosen to highlight in this guide comes from Futaba. As of this writing, there are three Futaba aircraft transmitters that are telemetry-capable (10J, 14SG, and 18MZ) as well as a handful of receivers. With these systems, their telemetry features are embedded in the S.Bus2 circuitry of the components. That nuance begs a brief explanation of S.Bus2.

    LEGO with Friends: Carl Merriam, Part 1

    For this week's LEGO with Friends series, we're joined by a very special guest: LEGO product designer Carl Merriam! Carl, who we first met at a local LEGO convention, is visiting all the way from Denmark, where he works on the LEGO Minecraft team. We chat with him about what it's like working at LEGO and how these sets are designed. It's going to be an awesome week! (The first episode is free for everyone, but the rest of the series will be for Premium Members.)

    Building a District 9 Alien Rifle Replica, Part 2

    Over the course of this month, Punished Props' Bill Doran is building a 1:1 scale replica of the alien assault rifle from District 9 to unveil with us at Comic-Con. Bill's build logs and videos will walk through his design and fabrication process, and his finished piece will be paired with a surprise at SDCC. Place your questions for Bill in the comments below!

    Welcome to the second installment of the District 9 rifle prop build! The project is moving along at a good pace and I've made a lot of progress. While the main body of the gun was made mostly in flat layers, there are a bunch of cylindrical pieces and it would be a pain to build them from flat sheets of material. Instead, I opted to bust out my lathe.

    Working with Foam

    For these pieces, I used a urethane tooling foam called RenShape. It comes in several densities. I ended up using the most dense foam I had. This stuff is so dense that you would think it's made of rock.

    I was also made aware by my pal Harrison Krix that sometimes this kind of foam could cause curing inhibition in platinum cure silicones, so I performed a simple test. I took a small sample of each of the four densities I had on hand and dumped silicone over them all. Sure enough, the two least dense foams caused some inhibition, while the two most dense ones did not. Hence the decision to use the most dense stuff!

    Chris Walas' Makeup Effects for 'The Fly'

    We recently profiled the work of Chris Walas, who created the incredible animatronic creatures for Gremlins. Walas other memorable works include effects on films like Enemy Mine and David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly. His make-up effects for The Fly were wonderfully sick, and with Walas's help, Cronenberg gave us a sci-fi horror film that blew away the original. We were fortunate enough to get Walas to talk about that project.

    Walas had a hell of a learning curve on Gremlins. In the days of practical effects, effects artists had to reinvent the wheel to make something come to life, and it was a hard process to make an army of animatronic creatures. As Walas recalls, "I should say that I was personally terrified for the entire show. It was a gigantic project for me, beyond anything I had done before, and time and the schedule were not on my side."

    Once he got Gremlins under his belt, "It was a very empowering experience for me," Walas says. "I think I gained a lot of confidence out of it. The Fly wasn't really that much of a leap so much as it was a journey down a different path. The Fly was all about the make-up and the emotional reality of the work. It was less crazed fantasy and was less puppets from start to finish like Gremlins was."

    For Walas, one of the most important lessons he learned from Gremlins "was the fact that there is always more than one way to do an effect. There's always another option. We developed a lot of our own technology for Gremlins that we adapted to The Fly, particularly along the animatronics line, so we had an existing library of hardware available. That became critical on The Fly as we had to rethink some effects due to the tight schedule."

    As far as his creative relationship with Cronenberg, Walas says the director "is fascinating to work with. He's very intelligent, observant, and understanding. He's also challenging and supportive. He has a very clear idea of what he wants and how he sees things, so the design phase tends to go quickly. His design directions also tend to be more emotional and psychological than most directors. Most directors will describe what they want physically. They'll say, 'It needs to be bigger; make the eyes red; add more horns.' David's descriptions were more like, 'It needs to be in more pain, and I want to see confusion in its eyes.' I would say David's style is much fuller and covers a wider design approach than most directors."

    Tested Mailbag: Our First Gundam

    It's been a while since we've opened a mailbag at the office, and this mystery package doesn't disappoint. Its contents seem appropriate given our current week of build with Frank Ippolito. What a lovely way to finish our week! Thanks to Oliver for sending us this care package! Subscribe for more videos!

    The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Astro Teller

    Adam Savage welcomes Astro Teller to The Talking Room! Astro is Google's 'Captain of Moonshots', directing the Google X lab where self-driving cars, smart contact lenses, and other futuristic projects are conceived and made real. Adam sat down with Astro at the Tested Live Show this past October to chat about the benefits of thinking big and failing quickly.

    Testing: TinyDuino Modular Electronics Platform

    For the past week and a half, I've been playing around with the TinyDuino set that Tiny Circuits founder Ken Burns sent our way. I first saw this postage stamp-sized development board and its accessories at this year's Maker Faire, where Ken's team was showing off numerous Tiny Shield configurations that make use of an ATmega 328 processor (the same chip in Arduino's own Uno board). TinyDuino was successfully launched on Kickstarter as a bite-sized alternative to the Uno board, designed to be stackable with a plethora of shields that add connectivity, storage, communication, and inputs to the microcontroller. Like Uno, its processing power is relatively puny--ideal for simple wearables--but its size allows for some creative implementation. For example, this 3D-printed Space Invaders arcade cabinet, for which Tiny Circuits will release STL files so you can make your own. (They are all about Open Hardware.)

    A more typical use of TinyDuino pairs the processor board with a USB shield for programming and some kind of LED matrix or display (all powered by a small rechargeable lipo battery). I particularly like the use of a microSD shield and the 96x64 pixel OLED Tinyscreen to run loops of animated GIFs. Snap that same screen and processor on the joystick controller shield and you get a miniature two-stick console that can play clones of classic games like Asteroids or OutRun. Tutorials and sample code are available for all of the shields, the Tiny Circuits forum is filled with useful advice for beginners.

    The TinyDuino starter kits aren't expensive, and the size of the stacked boards is appealing. Plus, all of the hardare is made in the US at Tiny Circuits' Akron, Ohio factory. Find more TinyDuino projects on their Hackster page!

    IKEA Synas LED Display Cases

    Wanted to share this recent find with you guys. While shopping at IKEA last weekend, I was drawn to this LED light box display case in the children's section, and promptly bought two of them. The Synas is an acrylic display cube that measures nine inches wide (24cm), with LED lights embedded in the base. The edges are rounded and it was really simple to assemble. At nine inches tall, it's a little small for 12-inch/sixth-scale standing figures, but perfect for small LEGO builds and 6-inch Hasbro figurines (eg. Star Wars Black Series). I would combine it with short acrylic or wood risers to display smaller pieces, and will experiment with dressing one up like a self-contained diorama. IKEA hackers have also modified it to use as a DIY light table, though I haven't tried that yet.

    IKEA has the Synas listed at $35, which is pricey for an acrylic case, but my local store (Emeryville, CA) had it on sale for $30.

    How Legacy Effects Built Jurassic World's Apatosaurus

    No big spoilers for Jurassic World, but this behind-the-scenes video from Legacy Effects shows the design and fabrication of the sole animatronic dinosaur that got screen time in the new blockbuster: "For Jurassic World's most touching scene, Legacy was asked to bring a gentle giant to life. Go behind the scenes with the Legacy team as they use both new and traditional methods to create an animatronic Dinosaur!" It's a beautifully animated robot that really contributed to the scene. Bonus: another SoundWorks Collection featurette profiles the sound design and editing on the film at Skywalker Sound.

    Jim Eustermann - Episode 15 - 6/19/2015
    Frank and Len welcome out guest Jim Eustermann, an actor/SFX makeup designer who has worked on Species, Pirates of the Caribbean and much more. Does Jim consider himself an actor or a SFX person? Listen in to find out. Thanks for your support of the show and thanks to Tested for providing us a happy home. Got an idea for a guest or a topic for a future CreatureGeek? Sound off in the comments!
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    Prototyping a Spray Painting Quadcopter

    Becky Stern from Adafruit sent over this video of a recent quadcopter project: "Recently some friends and I worked on building a quadcopter that can spray paint as it flies. The sprayer device works by depressing a lever with a servo motor, which the bot controls as though it were part of a camera gimbal (a more common payload) from the RC transmitter. I suited up a 3D Robotics IRIS+ with a sprayer device and proceeded to fly it around inside, with middling success." Read more about Becky's experiment and lessons learned at her Adafruit build log.

    How To Make a Handheld Camera Gimbal Mount

    There's no question that motorized gimbals do a fabulous job of hiding the bumps and bobbles when you're using an action camera. They're pretty much required equipment for multi-rotor flyers who want to capture decent footage from on high. Recent reviews of the DJI Inspire 1 Mount and the Feiyu-Tech G3 Ultra convinced me that I needed a gimbal for my ground-based video shoots as well.

    As I was browsing the selection of handheld gimbals, I ran across the Yuneec Steady Grip. Like the Inspire 1 Mount, the Steady Grip merely provides an alternate method to hold, power, and control a gimbal that would otherwise reside on a multi-rotor. The unique pistol-like form factor of the Steady Grip made me realize that I already had most of the parts that I needed to build my own handheld gimbal mount. So I abandoned the store-bought approach and went D-I-Y.

    The basic parts needed for this project are a complete gimbal assembly, a surplus pistol grip transmitter case and a servo driver.

    Gathering Parts

    My prime motivation for this project was the desire to easily swap one of my gimbals between its aerial mount and the handheld mount. Being able to utilize a gimbal I already owned presented a substantial cost savings. Adding a gimbal to the bill of materials for this project would likely make it more expensive than just buying a handheld gimbal system outright.

    I chose to use the GB200 2-axis gimbal from my Blade 350QX2 quad. The entire gimbal assembly can easily be removed from its mount on the quad by lifting a lock tab and sliding the base off of its rails. I had already upgraded the gimbal with the proper frame to hold a GoPro Hero 3 camera.

    To emulate the style of the Steady Grip, I plundered my stash of old RC systems. Among them are several pistol-grip transmitters that I haven't used in years. I located a well-used Futaba Magnum Sport that looked like it would do the trick. It didn't matter that the electronics of the radio were still in good shape. I really only needed the plastic shell. Finding a new use for one of my squirreled-away "treasures" has certainly done nothing to improve my hoarding tendencies!

    The GB200 gimbal used for this handheld mount is the same one that I use on my Blade 350QX2 multi-rotor. I can move the gimbal back and forth between the two mounts.

    I wanted to be able to control the pitch of the gimbal while it is in the hand mount. On the quad, this function is controlled by a channel of the radio. I used a servo driver (also called a "servo tester") to transfer this capability to the hand mount. I'll explain later just how that works.

    Different gimbals may require a wide variety of input voltages to operate. I wanted to be sure that I provided the correct voltage for the GB200, but I could not find any specs that defined what it should be. I measured the voltage output at the gimbal power pins on the Blade 350 at around 4.3 volts. With that value in hand, I felt comfortable buying a 5 volt voltage regulator for the hand mount.

    Building a District 9 Alien Rifle Replica, Part 1

    Norm's note: We're super excited to announce a new collaboration project with Bill Doran (aka Punished Props) and Smooth-On. Over the course of this month, Bill is building a 1:1 scale replica of the alien assault rifle from District 9 to unveil with us at Comic-Con. Bill's build logs and videos will walk through his design and fabrication process, and his finished piece will be paired with a surprise at SDCC. Place your questions for Bill in the comments below!

    It's no secret that I love me some space guns, and District 9 had some of the most incredible weapon designs from the mad geniuses over at Weta! Ok enough gushing, let's dive into this build!

    Design and Reference Material

    The design for this gun was mostly based on the 1:1 replica that Weta released a couple of years ago, but I also took a lot of inspiration from the 1:4 scale replica that I have sitting on my desk. I took measurements from these sources and laid out the gun in SketchUp. The 3D design was layout in flat layers, in the thicknesses that I knew I would be using from the MDF wood stock.

    Once all of the layers were designed, I was able to have them printed out, full scale, as 2D blueprints for each piece. These shapes were then spray glue adhered to flat MDF stock to prepare for cutting and gluing. The idea is that I can build up a prototype of the gun in layers, clean it up, and then mold and cast pieces for finishing.

    It took a lot of extra time to "build" the gun in SketchUp, but the effort was worth it. The blueprints I was able to print out made for a pretty fantastic kit, once all the parts were ready to be cut out. Also, I had already pretty much gone through the entire build once, planning it all out before even buying my material.

    Tested Meets the New BattleBots!

    BattleBots is coming back, and we couldn't be more excited! We've been granted exclusive access to the BattleBots pit, where teams from all around the world have brought their new robots to be tested in the combat arena. In the first of a three-part series, we meet with eight of the teams to learn about their robots' fighting potential and how new technology has changed how BattleBots are built.