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    "Talking Turkey with Steve Johnson" - Episode 23 - 11/27/15
    Happy Thanksgiving Everybody (In the US). We have a special treat for you this holiday weekend - a brand new CreatureGeek! We welcome back Mr. Steve Johnson, one of our favorite guests on the show and also one of the most colorful and interesting people working in the effects industry today. Steve's resume includes Ghostbusters, Predator, Big Trouble in Little China and so much more. On this episode, Steve talks about his upcoming book, enjoying sobriety and working with some of the most iconic creators in effects. Thanks for spending time with us with holiday weekend and enjoy this new episode of CreatureGeek!
    00:00:00 / 01:08:14
    Building The Worlds of SyFy's "The Expanse"

    This past Monday, SyFy network released the first episode of The Expanse online, with the rest of the season airing in mid-December. It's an ambitious show--an adaptation of a popular novel series that's already on its fifth book. One of the reasons for the books' success is its realistic depiction of space travel 200 years from now. Given the conceit that mankind has invented a spacefaring technology that allows for regular travel between Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt, the story is about the relationships between the cultures that have formed on Mars and asteroid colonies, and their relationship with Earth. What happens when you have generations of humans living on a mining Asteroid, and Martians who are more invested in the development of their planet than the interests of Earth? Thoughtful world building makes for compelling science fiction.

    The production values of the show are impressive as well, with the need to tell an intertwining story from three very different types of environments. I got on the phone with Seth Reed, the production designer of The Expanse, to learn a bit about how set and production design contributed to that world-building.

    Thanks for chatting with us, Seth! To start things off, can you talk about the role of a production designer and what your responsibilities were in the production of The Expanse?

    Seth Reed: As the production designer, my responsibilities included designing everything that was behind or around the actors. That included all of the set decoration, scenery that we built, all the colors and fabrics and textures--pretty much the world. The props were within my department--the propmakers were pretty independent, and always are, but it all happens through the production design department. We provided all the graphics and everything that appears on those props as well.

    (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

    The show is set around three basic areas as we switch between the three main characters. There's Earth, Ceres Station, and outer space on board different ships. Can you talk about how you and your team built out the look of each of those locations?

    Well for Earth, we haven't really seen much of it [in the first episode]. We saw Avasarala's place, her office, but not that much. You see a few visual effects shots, which I was involved in, for setting up the look of Earth [200 years from now]. Earth is a more crowded place, with tall buildings designed with soft and geometric edges--a lot of times with points or simple spires at the top.

    In Brief: Taking Apart the ToyTalk Barbie

    Super interesting: security blog Somerset Recon recently took apart Mattel's Hello Barbie, a new doll that incorporates IoT technology to allow children to have conversations with it. The communications tech comes from ToyTalk, a startup (founded by ex-Pixar folks) that has spent the past five years working on ways to develop software to make more interactive toys. They've released interactive apps before, but the Hello Barbie has communications hardware built-in, allowing it to record a user's voice interactions, send it to ToyTalk's servers, and feed back a response from a library of over 8,000 line of recorded content. Somerset Recon found a small circuit board with Wi-Fi, flash memory, LEDs, and a Marvell controller. This is essentially a Marvell IoT board that can is internet-ready and can drop into a variety of different toys. The next step for Somerset is to dive into the system architecture and evaluate its security implications.

    Art Toy Collaborations at Designer Con 2015

    At this year's Designer Con, we met artist Kyle Kirwan, who shared with us his Willo creature sculpture. In making rotocast resin releases of his figure, he ended up with a bunch of imperfect castings. That gave him the idea to send his figure to other artists, and together they've created this gallery of beautiful sculpts, each with a unique take on the original.

    Getting Character Eyes Right in Movies

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 3/25/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    When a character appears on a movie screen, which part of their face do you look at first? The eyes, of course.

    You can't help it. As a human being, you're programmed to make eye contact, whether the person in front of you is flesh and blood, or just a fiction of jostling pixels. Like the proverb says: "The eyes are the mirror of the soul." I reckon that's true, but the quote I really want to share comes from the writer G K Chesterton: "There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect."

    Chesterton's words feel right for the movies, don't you think? At its very best, cinema is an art form that bypasses the brain altogether and engages directly with the emotions. And how do we read emotions in other people? You guessed it: through their eyes.

    For a visual effects supervisor, creating a synthetic character with believable eyes is a monumental challenge. I'm sure you can think of a few movies where they pulled it off. And even more where they didn't. Below is a still from a film in the former category: an animated short featuring some truly incredible eyes. The film is called Madame Tutli-Putliand, if you're anything like me, your two responses upon seeing the title character will be (1) "Wow, look at those eyes" and (2) "Uh, hold on … what exactly am I looking at here?"

    Have you worked out how they did it yet? Don't worry, I'll put you out of your misery a little further down the page. Before then, let's take a closer look at a few visual effects that have left me, well, wide-eyed.

    The 10,000 Year Clock of the Long Now Foundation

    From the documentarians of Public Record, a beautiful video about the goal and building of the Long Now Foundation's 10,000 year clock project: "The Clock of the Long Now is a portrait of Danny Hillis and his brilliant team of inventors, futurists, and engineers as they build The 10,000 Year Clock-a grand, Stone Henge-like monolith, being constructed in a mountain in West Texas."

    Photo Gallery: The Art of DesignerCon 2015

    Frank and I had a great time meeting artists and checking out their works at this year's DesignerCon--check out our walking tour and conversation about the show! For a closer look at some of the pieces on display, here are photos I took of the sculptures, prints, and figures that caught my eye. They're just a small sample of the toys brought to DesignerCon--there's just so much awesome there!

    Tested's Walking Tour of DesignerCon 2015

    DesignerCon is an annual gathering of sculptors, illustrators, and toy makers who bring their latest projects and works to fans. It's like the artists-alley of every major comic book convention put together! Frank and Norm give a walking tour of the show and talk about the culture of designer toys and collectible pop art. Keep an eye out for some really creative designs!

    Bits to Atoms: Designing the 3D Printed Gowanus Monster

    Prowling Brooklyn's polluted Gowanus Canal, the Monster sinks innocent kayakers and grabs unaware hipsters, pulling them down into the depths. The Gowanus Monster was a commission I did for Bold Machines, a product development workshop headed by Bre Pettis, one of the founders and former CEO of MakerBot. The Monster was done as one in a series of proof of concept characters for an animation, all of which can be downloaded for free. This is how I created it.

    Sean's 3D-Printed Gowanus Monster

    Bold Machines was very interested in my Octopod design and tasked me with designing another submarine to fit their storyline. Initially they wanted to add some local flavor and referenced the Quester I, a homemade sub built in the 1960's by a Brooklyn shipyard worker. A local legend that never did launch and is currently marooned in the middle of Coney Island Creek. They were also really interested in having some type of tentacles for grabbing ships. I was not getting much design inspiration from the Quester I, but tried to stick to a small craft and took some inspiration from lampreys. Mechanical arms would fold back into the body, springing open to grab ships or treasure.

    Version 1 with Quester I and lamprey inspirations

    They liked it, but wanted something more like the Octopod--in fact, they wanted the Octopod, but I wasn't ready to let go of my baby and it would have needed a tremendous amount of work to print on an FDM machine. Going back to the drawing board, I decided to create something that would be found in the same fleet as the Octopod and based it on a fellow cephalopod--the cuttlefish.

    The Practical Effects of James Bond Films

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 12/9/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    The James Bond movies comprise the longest continually-running film series ever, beginning with the release of Dr. No in 1962 and continuing all the way up to the present day… and beyond. While the Bond films aren't exactly effects-driven, they still require the services of a crack team of illusion-wielding agents both on-set and in post. The output of these SFX and VFX mission specialists typically includes spectacular chase sequences, a big reveal of the evil mastermind's hidden lair and, almost certainly, lots of inordinately large explosions.

    The first Bond film of all, Dr. No, features just such an explosion during its climactic scene, when Bond causes a nuclear reactor to blow up, destroying the bad guy's island base. Later films delivered more big bangs, from the airplane crash at the end of Goldfinger through to the pageant of pyrotechnics that closed You Only Live Twice, when agent 007 infiltrates the volcano-crater headquarters of arch-villain Ernst Blofeld and sparks off – you guessed it – a giant explosion.

    The visual and special effects in these early years were the province of industry stalwarts such as Roy Field, Frank George, John Stears and Wally Veevers. There was even a brief contribution by legendary matte artist Albert Whitlock, who provided some essential scene-setting spectacle for Diamonds Are Forever, and whose paintings are showcased on Peter Cook's ever-reliable Matte Shot blog.

    Artist Albert Whitlock contributed a number of matte paintings to "Diamonds Are Forever".

    When Live and Let Die came along in 1973, the 007 team recruited Derek Meddings, whose modelmaking background with Gerry Anderson on shows such as Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds allowed the "big set" visions of production designer Ken Adam to be realised in miniature form.

    Tested Mailbag: Sipping Assistance

    Mailbag time! This week's package contains some accessories we could use for our beer and soda cans--a neat 3D-printed idea. We of course test it with some Japanese sodas. Thanks to Brett for sending this mailbag! Have a great weekend, everyone!

    "War Stories with Brian Wade" - Episode 22 - 11/13/15
    Happy Friday the 13th everyone! On this brand new episode of CreatureGeek, we welcome Brian Wade. Brian's resume spans 30 years and features an incredible array of classic films including The Terminator, Tales From the Darkside, Starman, The Last Starfighter and only the best horror film ever made (in our opinion at least) John Carpenter's The Thing. We also talk a little about his uncredited work on one of the greatest TV shows of all time Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Watch your back today and listen to the latest CreatureGeek!
    00:00:00 / 45:50
    Building Massive Crowds in Movies

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 11/3/2015 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    Movies are getting bigger. It's a trend that a lot of people complain about. "Too much spectacle!" they grumble. "Too many battle scenes!" they protest. Once the nay-sayers have started, it probably won't be long before they trot out that tiresome 21st century pejorative: "Too much CG!" Well, I've got news for you. Hollywood's obsession with size is nothing new. Ever since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have been falling over themselves to put as much clutter on the screen as is humanly possible.

    When it comes to actual human beings, it turns out that's quite a lot. As long ago as 1915, publicity teams went into overdrive to promote D.W. Griffith's epic The Birth of a Nation, proudly boasting that the American Civil War drama featured 18,000 extras and a whopping 3,000 horses. Thus began the crowd scene arms race, as successive productions vied to populate their pictures with ever-increasing volumes of performers.

    Just check out these numbers:

    • Metropolis, 1927 – 36,000 extras
    • Ben-Hur, 1959 – 50,000 extras
    • War and Peace, 1966 – 120,000 extras
    • Ghandi, 1982 – 300,000 extras

    Phew! Getting crowded round here, isn't it? Assembling a crowd is one thing. Choreographing it is quite another. It's hard to imagine getting a group of 300,000 people just to stand in the right place, let alone direct their movements. Then there's putting them all in period costume, laying on enough craft service tables to feed them all lunch, and the not inconsiderable task of communicating to them all simultaneously that the cameras have actually started rolling and it would therefore be helpful if everyone could stop picking their noses and face in the right direction.

    Luckily, filmmakers desperate for a more manageable crowd have always been able to turn to a more reliable source of obedient extras: visual effects.

    In Brief: 3D Printed StarCraft Armor Cosplay for BlizzCon

    For this past weekend's BlizzCon convention, cosplayer Bindi Smalls created a great armored costume of the character Nova from StarCraft using a LulzBot TAZ 3D printer. She modeled the armor pieces using Blender, adapting them to fit on a body scan created from a previous convention. The prints were coated with Smooth-On XTC, which we've tested in the past for smoothing out print lines. The armor pieces were then finished and worn on a custom spandex suit from FabricOnDemand. The entire build is documented in this Imgur gallery. (h/t Reddit)

    'La Noria' and Creating Horror in Animation

    I recently learned about La Noria, an animated short that has been the passion project of filmmaker Carlos Baena. Baena, who has worked as an animator at ILM and Pixar, wanted to tell a personal story that was different from the tone of animated films audiences had been used to. Specifically, La Noria is a rare animated horror film, inspired by the works of Spanish filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro. A short clip in the film's Indiegogo project video shows how focused lighting, intense sound, and eerie creature design build an awesome atmosphere of suspense. It's also interesting that La Noria is being created by collaboration between artists around the world. The project is currently in the animation phase, and looking for more support to help it get finished. Carlos corresponded with us over email to talk about La Noria and his vision for telling a horror story with computer animation.

    Tell us about the story of La Noria.

    La Noria is an animated horror short film. It's a simple dark story about a boy who encounters some creatures in the middle of the night and who turn his life upside down. I wanted to give my own version of what monsters mean to me. Since college, I've felt there has been a beautiful side to the dark arts, and this film has allowed me to explore that.

    What differentiates an animated horror film in your view from horror told through live action or other forms of animation?

    Image courtesy Carlos Baena

    Currently the difference is that we haven't seen much horror in animation. Part of the motivation to do this on my end was to see more of these kinds of films. My hope would also be that there is no difference in doing horror films in animation or in live-action. Horror is horror regardless of the medium.

    What can computer animation bring to the genre, and what are the challenges of creating tension and horror in the medium?

    With computer animation I'm trying to bring a different feel to it. Something that's more stylized in some ways that only animation can do, while keeping realism in other ways. Creating tension and horror in animation have the same challenges as in live-action, except in animation it unfortunately takes a lot longer to make. Every single prop, character has to be designed, built, rigged, animated, etc. Story wise, you try to tap onto those moments that creep you out, the dark corners of your imagination, and figure out ways to engage an audience.