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    Tested Goes to Comic-Con 2014!

    We've arrived at San Diego for Comic-Con! Will and Norm rush to pick up their badges and then hit the convention floor for Wednesday's preview night. We give you a preview of what to expect on Tested this week--let the geeking out commence!

    Adam Savage's Hellboy Mecha-Glove Replica

    One of Adam Savage's favorite movie props is Rasputin's mecha-hand from Hellboy. It's an elaborately machined prop that's only in the movie for a few minutes, and Adam has spent over four years painstakingly replicating it. Now that it's finally done, Adam walks us through all the individual components and how he fabricated each.

    Adam Savage's Prop Replica Drawings

    In the process of building one of his replica props, Adam accumulates an extremely detailed inventory of all the components of that prop, with specifications that match the original as best as possible. Now, Adam has taken up drawing as another outlet for his obsessions, sharing that wealth of knowledge in beautiful sketches and original graphic designs. Find out how you can get one of these art prints here.

    How To Build a Life-Size Dragon

    Norm's note: Frank first showed us his Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate dragon sculpt before this year's E3. Frank has since written up his build, which we wanted to share ahead of this week's Comic-Con--where the Gore Magala creature will be on display at the Capcom booth.

    I love video games and video game culture, and last year was stoked to be asked to be a part of a team doing the Zombie makeups for Capcom's Dead Rising 3 booth at E3. It was there that I befriended the creative services team in charge of all of these cool trade show events and displays. Jump ahead to a few months ago, when I received a call from the team lead at Capcom to bid on the making of a display sculpture for one of their upcoming games: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

    The concept was to have a 20-foot tall backdrop with a huge image of one of the game’s monsters, and have the front third of it coming out of the backdrop. Big is sort of an understatement here; once I did some quick math to put it into scale, the sculpture I would have to create would be almost 8 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and 12 feet long. To bid on something of this size is really tough. Most trade show displays are carved or milled out of bead foam and then hard coated, which leaves very little finished detail. But this monster has a lot of detail. So I had to figure a solution that could provide that kind of detail while keeping costs reasonable. After that came an engineering problem: how would this thing support itself? Additionally, it has to be transported to multiple venues and be durable enough for the public to interact with. So it also needed to come apart. Not easy!

    After some back-and-forth details of the deliverables and specifications, and some careful planning and budgeting, I was awarded the job, which would be guilt in my newly expanded shop. Here is what my team and I came up with for the design of this build.

    Karakuri Puppets, Japan's Automata

    "Japans modern day robots can be traced back to the Karakuri. Today Hideki Higashino is one of the few remaining craftsmen who is determined to keep the history and tradition of Japanese Karakuri alive." This past Saturday, production house Bot & Dolly hosted the fourth annual Robot Film Festival in San Francisco (MCed by friend of Tested Veronica Belmont). It was a celebration of films starring and documenting our fascination with robots, with showings of short films and the 2005 Japanese science fiction film Hinokio. The film festival has made past entries available online, and 2013's films--including the one above on Japanese Karakuri--are just wonderful. I especially like that there's a category for Best Human as Robot Actor.

    How The Evil Dead's Tom Sullivan Mastered Low-Budget Effects

    When Sam Raimi went to college at Michigan State, he formed a tight group of filmmaking friends. Scott Spiegel, who wrote Evil Dead 2, bonded with Raimi over their mutual love of The Three Stooges. Bruce Campbell became Raimi’s square jawed leading man, and Rob Tapert would become Sam’s long time producer. Another important member of that filmmaking fraternity was Tom Sullivan, who did the make-up effects for The Evil Dead. If Raimi's seminal horror debut is renowned for its low-budget production, it was Sullivan who gets the credit for providing those memorable scares with such limited resources.

    Part of what made The Evil Dead so enjoyable was its very homemade feel. It was a completely independent movie, and like the best low budget movies that break out into the mainstream, enthusiasm and spirit triumphed over whatever technical flaws the movie had. Sullivan was a major facilitator in bringing Raimi’s insane vision to life, and as a long time horror fan, I welcomed the chance to talk to him about his memories of working on The Evil Dead.

    Tom Sullivan first met up with Sam Raimi because his girlfriend was attending Michigan State as the same time as the wunderkind director. Sullivan had heard about Sam’s Creative Filmmaking Society, where he would show his 8mm movies he made in junior high and high school, and charge a buck or so for admission. “Sam was surrounded by a group of friends who were all interested in filmmaking and acting,” Sullivan says. “He had his own little company.”

    When Sullivan met Raimi, they immediately hit it off because Tom was fascinated with stop-motion animation, special effects, claymation, and puppets, and these were all filmmaking techniques that were right up Raimi’s alley. All were solitary pursuits for Sullivan, and now he found a filmmaker with a like mind he could collaborate with.

    In Brief: An Object Lesson on Scotch Tape

    The New York Times has a lovely short story about the origin of 3M's Scotch tape, which was invented in the 1920s by an engineering-school dropout who spent two years experimenting with chemical mixtures becoming landing on a combination of cabinetmaker's glue and glycerin as the adhesive for the now ubiquitous masking tape. The other half of the invention was of course choosing cellophane (introduced in the US in 1924) as the backing for the transparent tape. The name Scotch, apparently originated as a colloquial slur for "cheap." And as Will likes to point out, we're still not exactly sure how adhesive forces in glue and tape works in every situation. Even that sticky barnacle glue stuff that enamored Darwin.

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    Animating Robocop 2's Cain Robot with Phil Tippett

    One of science fiction film's most memorable and menacing creatures is the Cain cyborg from Robocop 2. Cain was brought to life with a full-size robot prop and several intricately machined stop-motion puppets, all which have survived and live at Tippett Studio. We get up close with these iconic props and chat with legendary special effects animator Phil Tippett about the process of designing and animating Cain.

    Alternative Universe Movies: John Boorman's Lord of the Rings

    John Boorman is the director of such masterpieces as Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Deliverance, Excalibur, and more. He also almost directed Lord of the Rings, and to think what he could have done with the classic Tolkien tale absolutely boggles the mind. At that point, there was no way a major studio would have backed three movies that told the whole story. It was a miracle New Line Cinema went ahead with three movies when Peter Jackson tackled the trilogy decades later. Still, with a brave and experimental filmmaker like Boorman, you get the feeling it could have been a hell of a movie if he had the opportunity to make it.

    Boorman wrote a bit about his opportunity to direct Lord of the Rings in his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy. Boorman had just made Leo the Last for United Artists, and David Picker, who was then the head of the studio, approached the director about potentially adapting the Tolkien epic. The first problem was, you guessed it, trying to cram the entire story into one movie. “To compress the three volumes into a three-hour movie was a hugely ambitious undertaking,” Boorman wrote. “But I was grateful to have the chance to try. I was interested in the central metaphor, that the One Ring is of such power that it corrupts whoever possesses it.”

    To help him, Boorman hooked up with Rospo Pallenberg, an Italian architect living in New York who wanted to be a screenwriter. Pallenberg first became aware of Boorman’s work when one night he had an argument with his wife, and walked out into the rain in a huff. Seeking shelter, Pallenberg ducked into a movie theater, which was playing Point Blank, Boorman’s classic crime thriller starring Lee Marvin. Pallenberg loved the film so much, he sat through it twice that night.

    Eventually Pallenberg was introduced to Boorman, who was in New York staying at the Sherry Netherland, having a meeting in his suite about Leo the Last. After the meeting, Boorman took Pallenberg into the suite’s closet, turned on the light, and thrust the three Lord of the Rings books at him. “Do you know them?,” Boorman asked. “Maybe we can write a screenplay together.”

    Manually Rewinding a Massive Motor

    This video shows how a large motor, on location at San Leandro-based Koffler Electrical Facilities, is re-wound, serviced, and tested, by hand. The large motor is used to power a pump that removes water from a submarine dry dock facility at Pearl Harbor. The Koffler facility also has a massive 50' lathe, which is shown off in this video.

    Limited Offer: Get an Adam Savage-Designed Art Print

    Hey everyone, Norm here. I wanted to check in to give you all an update about what's going on with Premium Memberships on Tested. As Will and I discussed in a Google Hangout back in May, we've heard your feedback about what kind of Premium content you want to see on the site, and what you want to get out of supporting us with a membership. To that end, we've been mixing things up and trying out new kinds of videos, including new shows available to everyone that's brought to you by Premium Members. In June, Will spent time in Adam's shop learning woodworking and welding to build a custom computer desk, and all this month we're releasing daily videos of project builds. That's just the beginning--we'll be trying out new video series the rest of this year, all of which we wouldn't be able to do without your support.

    We're also pleased to announce a new subscription offering. For a limited time (to coincide with Comic-Con and our big party), new members will get an exclusive art print designed by Adam. It's an awesome piece of original art that Adam has created as a side project while working on one of his prop replicas. We'll be unveiling the piece next week at Comic-Con, but here's a teaser: Over the four years spent building one of his favorite movie props, Adam has accumulated hundreds of reference photos, drawings, and schematics to fuel his obsession. Adam is sharing that wealth of knowledge in a unique art print--the first he has designed for public release--with his sketches and personal notes that break down all the individual components of this iconic prop.

    Every new annual member will get the print, as well as entry to our Comic-Con party if they're in San Diego next week. And for existing members who've already supported us, we're working on a way to make the print available to you as well in the near future.

    That's just the beginning. There's some really cool stuff coming later this year, including more exclusive Tested products, big video projects, and events. As always, we'd love your feedback about what you want to see on the site--Tested as as much yours as it is ours. Learn more about Tested Premium memberships and how you can support the kind of stuff we're doing here.

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 3

    In part three of our PrintrBot Simple 3D printer build, we reach a few steps that are deceptively complex. We also use this time to review the steps taken so far, and find some mistakes that need to be fixed before we can continue. No disassemble! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    Brick-A-Pic Kickstarter Project Creates LEGO Mosaics

    When I visited LEGO Master Builder Nathan Sawaya's art gallery in New York last September, I asked the brick artist about how he designs and constructs his beautiful LEGO mosaic renditions of iconic and classic paintings. Sawaya told me that he creates those 2D LEGO paintings all by sight and hand--choosing the individual brick colors one at a time to adapt the original piece of art. Not all of us have that skill, so a new Kickstarter is attempting to automate that design process using clever software. Brick-A-Pic takes any image and processes it for LEGO's relatively limited palette of colors (16 current ones, 29 retired colors). The software will be available on their website, and Brick-A-Pic will even compile the pieces needed to build the picture in a kit if you want to pay for it. I like that the designs aren't restricted to 1x1 pixel pieces, and the samples they've shown look pretty lovely.

    The Brick-A-Pic Kickstarter video is embedded below. Now to think about what image I may want to turn into a LEGO portrait...

    Show and Tell: LEGO Mystery Build #7

    Time for another mystery LEGO build! This week's kit comes from one of Norm's favorite custom LEGO designers, and is a wonderful tribute to an important piece of computer history. Place your best guess as to what's being built in the comments!

    How To Walk Like an Ape (for Performance Capture)

    For the new movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, motion-performance actors went through some schooling to teach them to walk like quadrupeds. We chatted with Apes' movement choreographer Terry Notary about how to act and move like an ape, and take a hands-on lesson!

    The Special Effects of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    "We actually call it performance capture." That's how Matt Reeves, director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, quickly corrected me when I asked him a question about the state of motion capture technology. This was two weeks ago, at the press junket for the new film. Reeves, along with the film's actors and visual effects supervisors, fielded questions for an hour from a packed hotel suite of entertainment reporters. It was the first junket for a big hollywood film that we've been invited to, and the experience was a little surreal. It felt a lot of like a Comic-Con panel, but for just 30 people instead of 3,000. And we had all seen the movie at an early screening the night before (it's really good). And with that opportunity to speak directly to the filmmakers, I wanted to learn about the process of filming a movie on location with the latest in motion performance capture technology. Unlike some films that use performance capture with primarily green screened sets (think Avatar), Reeves chose to build out many of the film's locations as actual physical sets, like the massive ape village, for the actors--both for human and ape characters--to interact in. And the computer generated characters were maybe the best I've ever seen in a live action movie. At this junket, I was able to ask a few of these technical questions to Reeves, actor Andy Serkis, and the film's Visual Effects Supervisors Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon. Here's what they had to say.

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Tested: Matt, you've talked about how directing this movie differs from directing one without performance capture, without a lot of CG, and how that required you to shoot scenes many times over. Can you go over that process?

    Director Matt Reeves: My biggest fear, having never done this [kind of movie] before, and being such an admirer of Andy’s--specifically being affected so deeply by his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes--was “How was that done?” I didn’t really understand [the process]. As much as I understood the technical side from the outside, I had this fear that somehow the technology would get in the way with my interaction with Andy. Because there would be this technology between us.

    So then, I looked at all the footage, and what I saw was Andy, working with the other actors, and he’s amazing. The trick to what gives Caesar such soul is that Andy has soul. So that part of it was immediately demystified. I was very happy to see that. The hard part comes after that [inital filming].

    So [first], I’m working with Andy, we’re talking through a scene, and then he does this beautiful scene with the actors. Then we’ve got that shot in reference. And then we’ve got to shoot that shot again. Sometimes, when there aren’t humans in [the scene], we have to shoot it with no one in the shot. The camera operator has to try to reproduce what he did when he was trying to follow Andy, including the sometimes surprising moves that he would make. And other times, I would have to get the humans, who had just played a very beautiful scene with Andy, to play the scene by themselves. Because those shots, were then used to put Andy, [rendered] as Caesar, into the scenes.

    So the shots where the actors have had that beautiful connection with Andy, often were not the shots that were going to be used [in the final film], so I had to let them know “Your performance is still not in the movie yet. We have to get it right now--you have to remember what Andy did. And Andy, then, would get on a microphone, and try to talk the other actors through, the beats they’d just experienced together. It was a very unusual process.

    Building a Custom Computer Desk, Part 4

    After a month of building, Will's almost done with his custom computer desk project! In this episode, Will finishes welding the legs together, and preps the top of the desk for mounting to the frame. It's all coming together, with lessons and tips learned from makers following along with the project. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    How the Original Star Wars Comics Saved Marvel

    Back in January, Lucasfilm announced that the Star Wars comics were heading back to Marvel, after being published by Dark Horse, who had been putting out Star Wars comics series since 1991. This wasn’t a surprise because Marvel and Lucasfilm are now both under the Disney umbrella, and Star Wars comics actually debuted at Marvel way back in 1977. In a sense, it's returning home.

    Some have credited the Star Wars comics for keeping Marvel in business back in the ‘70’s, and it also became part of the film’s enormous merchandising bonanza when the saga became a blockbuster. Before all that, however, the movie--and the comic series--were a tough sell.

    Roy Thomas, the former editor in chief of Marvel, remembered first meeting George Lucas and the film’s publicist Charles Lippincott, in early 1975. “They were eager for any kind of publicity they could get,” Thomas recalls. “I don’t think there was exactly any media blitz in the works from 20th Century Fox. You’d think there would be, but it wasn’t advertised much. I don’t remember much about the conversation except they talked about it being a sequence of movies, and it was called The Star Wars, it still had the word ‘The’ attached to it.”

    Lucas and Lippincott had already approached Stan Lee about a Star Wars comic and were turned down, so they went to Thomas to see if they could get something set up. In early 1976, they came to Thomas again, armed with the Ralph McQuarrie production sketches for the movie. “They started showing me the sketches, Charlie Lippincott flipped each one over, and he told me the story. It wasn’t likely I was going to be swayed because science fiction hadn’t sold very well in comics, and Marvel hadn’t really done movie adaptations that much.”

    Still, as Lippincott told the story of Star Wars, and flipped through the illustrations, Thomas’s head started spinning. “It was the first time I was hearing names like R2-D2, C-3PO, Obi-Wan, Planet Tatooine…Then they flipped over to the drawing of the Cantina sequence, and I said ‘I’ll do it.’”

    As Thomas recalled, Stan Lee changed his mind when he learned Alec Guinness would be in the film. Marvel decided to do a six-issue adaption, and Lucas and Lippincott were hoping now-veteran artist Howard Chaykin would illustrate the comic.