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    The Puppeteers Inside Jabba the Hutt

    This is awesome. Filmmaker Jamie Benning interviewed puppeteer Toby Philpott about the puppeteering of Jabba the Hutt for Return of the Jedi for this short documentary. The behind-the-scenes footage from inside Jabba is incredible--four people worked together to bring him to life. Quite a bit more complicated than the inflatable Jabba used in George Lucas' Super Live Adventure show. (h/t Gizmodo)

    Why I Built Robotic Racing Spiders

    When Evernote approached Adam and me and offered to support us in building anything we wanted, I suggested we make something that would never otherwise get made. Something that was unusual, that nobody in their right mind would take the trouble to do. Something I would build, just because I can!

    And the first thing that came to mind was to build big spiders that would be super fast and use a tendon-like system to pull the legs around. I would use synthetic fibers that were ultra light but stronger than steel, and guide them with pulleys. Lots of pulleys. I mean, with cables and pulleys you can lift tremendous weights. While we did not need to move lots of weight in this case, I figured that the load on pulling something like a leg around really fast can be huge, and break normal mechanical things.

    So I designed these spiders with all this in mind. Unfortunately, I wasn't going to be able to build them entirely myself because I was going on tour in Australia with Adam. I decided to engage the services of what used to be the Industrial Light & Magic model shop -- now they’ve formed a company called Kernerworks -- and use Evernote to manage and keep tabs on the project from the road! Through our back and forth, we documented the whole process of building the spiders, because this kind of thing is all about the process.

    You don’t really need racing spiders, but trying to make them can be really rewarding. We wanted to show that, and thanks to Evernote, I think we succeeded.

    Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 1: The Pitch

    When given the opportunity by Evernote to build anything he wants, Jamie chooses a complicated exercise in engineering that he's mulled for years: racing robotic spiders. But the project comes at a time when Jamie and Adam will be abroad, so it's Evernote and a solutions shop called Kernerworks to the rescue. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.

    Shooting The Aerial Stunts of 'Jupiter Ascending'

    Despite the film's tepid reviews (currently 22% on RottenTomatoes), I was compelled to watch the Wachowski siblings' new film Jupiter Ascending this weekend. It was partially due to Angela Watercutter's recent Wired column reminding me that no one makes films like the Wachowskis, even if they're more often misses than hits, of late. They're masterful world builders, and can spend $150 million to show you things you've never seen before on film. Among those in this movie: badass space cops, robot bureaucrats, evolved dinosaur soldiers, and perhaps the most technically impressive chase sequence I've ever seen. Closing the first act of the film is an extended aerial chase through the skyline of Chicago in the minutes during daybreak. Gizmodo reports that this sequence was shot in six-minute increments over a span of six months, using a custom helicopter-mounted camera rig that both stabilized the shooting and meshed together footage from six 5K RED Epics. Bullet-time for cityscapes.

    In the final cut, what made the scene look so incredible was that the background plate was actual footage of Chicago, not a CG recreation as is often the case. Think about a film like Man of Steel or even Matrix Revolutions, where the aerial fights are composites of either CG actors in miniature sets, blue-screen actors on top of CG sets, or completely computer generated. Superman fighting Zod through Metropolis' skyscrapers doesn't feel real because those buildings aren't real--there's a false sense of space. In Jupiter Ascending, stunt actors were actually dangling on helicopters flying at 50 mph while being filmed with the custom rig. You get a real sense of space and place, and it's exhilarating.

    Pictorvision, the makers of the Multicam Array, have since offered their services for films like this year's Avengers 2 and Furious 7, which may explain how they shot that ridiculous car-crashing skyscraper sequence in the latter film's recent superbowl ad.

    Lifelike Polar Bear Puppet Roams London

    To promote the launch of a TV show, Sky Atlantic commissioned a fabrication company Millenium FX to build a life-size polar bear puppet to roam the streets to London. This promo video shows the results of the stunt, as well as some cool behind-the-scenes footage of the 8ft puppet's construction. Two puppeteers operated the 44 pound bear from within, creating a very believable performance! (h/t Adam)

    Show and Tell: LEGO Mystery Build #11

    This week's Show and Tell is our first LEGO mystery build of the new year! And here's a kit that was sold out for a long time before LEGO recently reissued it--and it was worth the wait. As the time-lapse engages, place you best guess as to what Norm is building in the comments below!

    Photo Gallery: Jim Henson's Creature Shop

    We were extremely privileged to visit the Los Angeles branch of the legendary Jim Henson Creature Shop, where fabricators, animators, and puppeteers carry on the craft made famous by Henson. Our video interview with the shop's Creative Supervisor explored puppeteering history and some cool new modern technologies, but I wanted to give you guys a sense of the scope of workshop. It really is a fabricator's paradise, with tools for machining, moldmaking and casting, electronics work, and of course, puppet building. There was a lot we couldn't photograph or show on video, but my favorite room was the puppet fabrication space, where walls were lined with shelves of foam, mulit-colored fabric, and puppet components (like eyes). Thanks so much to the Jim Henson Creature Shop team for letting us stop by!

    The Snake River Canyon Jump: Redeeming Evel Knievel's Legacy

    If you were a kid growing up in the ‘70’s, chances are Evel Knievel was one of your heroes. A motorcycle daredevil, he was a real life superhero to many kids who wanted to fly on their bicycles and Big Wheels, and he a major icon in seventies pop culture along like Fonzie, Kiss, and The Six Million Dollar Man. Knievel represented virtue and heroism, and he always tried to preach a positive message to the youth of America that we indeed live in a great country, and you can be whatever you want to be in life in you put your mind to it.

    One famous lecture he gave before performing a stunt, which is hilarious in hindsight, warned kids about the evils of drugs, comparing them to race car drivers who cheated by putting nitro in their cars. The cars go faster for five to ten laps, “then they blow all to hell. And you kids, if you put nitro in your bodies, in the form of narcotics, to think you’ll do better, you will, for about five or ten years, then you’ll blow all to hell.”

    Yet like another seventies icon, Billy Jack, Knievel was deeply flawed in his personal life, to where the contradictions of his private and public personas were glaringly obvious. For many years he battled the bottle, he had a violent temper, and his career essentially ended when he beat the shit out of a journalist with a baseball bat over an unauthorized biography that enraged him.

    Before that fateful incident, there was another event that showed the world that Evel wasn’t Superman after all, the Snake River Canyon jump in Twin Falls, Idaho.

    On September 8, 1974, Knievel attempted to fly over Snake River Canyon in a custom built rocket, but the parachute opened early, and he never made it to the other side. Many were under the impression that Evel chickened out and deployed the parachute early, a perception that haunted him for the rest of his life.

    The rocket was built by Robert Truax, and he never got over this incident either. Truax was a famed rocket scientist, but he’s today known for building an infamous rocket that didn’t work. Now his son, Scott Truax, is hoping to redeem the legacies of Evel, as well as his father, by recreating the Snake River Canyon jump, working from the original research and plans, and fixing the rocket’s initial flaws.

    Tested Visits Jim Henson's Creature Shop!

    When we talk about puppets in television and film, Jim Henson is the first name that comes to mind. Henson's legacy endures at his Creature Shop, where fabricators, engineers, and animators continue crafting the art of puppet-making and performance. We're privileged to be able to visit Jim Henson's Creature Shop, where we chat with Creative Supervisor Peter Brooke to learn how modern technologies combine with classic techniques to bring characters to life.

    In Brief: LEGO Announces Next Ideas Series Kits

    LEGO today announced the results of the latest review board decisions for kits submitted through the Ideas program. Submissions receiving more than 10,000 votes were under consideration, and two from a pool of 9 were selected to be official kits: Wall-E (designed by Angus MacLane, a Pixar animator!) and a Dr. Who set (designed by Andy Clark). Rejected submissions include the X-Men Mansion, Luke's Lightsaber, Brent Waller's Ghostbusters HQ, and Hubble Space Telescope. The board doesn't explain why individual projects didn't make the cut, but consider a variety of factors including licensing, playability, and safety. I'm super excited about the Wall-E approval, and can't wait to see how the final product will look. LEGO's in-house designers will base the final construction design on MacLane's submission, but can make changes as they see fit--as they did with last year's Ecto-1 set.

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    In Brief: Millennium Falcon Mod for FPV Quadcopter

    RC Quad builder Oliver_C modified his custom FPV racing quadcopter with a thick polystyrene hull to resemble the Millennium Falcon. The skin modification, complete with bright LED strips for the thrusters and headlights, added just 300 grams to the quad's 800g. That, along with balancing, made the quad still flyable, though not as efficiently as before--max speed and flight time were reduced, and it was very susceptible to wind. Oliver's build log for the quad is on RCgroups, and the mod photos on Imgur. Video of his flights with the completed mod embedded below. (h/t Reddit)

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    In Brief: The Anatomy of an Aborted Disney World Ride

    I have a great appreciation for the design of Disney's theme parks, their attractions, and the Imagineers who think them up and build them. Last year, I picked up the two official Imagineering coffee table books, which provided a lot of fun behind-the-scenes and historical photos. But they didn't go as in-depth as I had hoped in explaining how attractions like The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean actually worked. For that kind of insight, you're actually better off reading the blogs of Disney enthusiasts like Designing Disney and Passport to Dreams. The latter has recently published an incredible exploration of The Western River Expedition, which Disney fans consider to be one of the greatest theme park rides never made. The three-part series uses design art, screenshots from unused video presentations, and an in-depth analysis of the architectural model built for the ride to tell the ride's story. (h/t Adam Rogers)

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    Watch this Animated Short: Le Gouffre ("The Gulf")

    "Le Gouffre is the first animated short film produced and directed by Lightning Boy Studio, a young creative team based in Montreal. The film tells the story of two spirited travelers who come across an incredibly wide chasm on their journey and decide to build a bridge to cross it." It reminds me a little bit of the video game Brothers, and a little bit of Fable--the painted aesthetic helps. The short was animated over two years and funded through a Kickstarter campaign. There's also a nice behind-the-scenes video here.

    Show and Tell: Papercraft Skull Kit

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares an awesome cardboard kit of a miniature human skull. Unlike previous papercraft kits we've built, this one is assembled by stacking laser-cut sheets of cardstock, almost like the layers of a 3D print. You can find it online here!

    LEGO with Friends: Patrick Norton, Part 1

    Here's the first episode of a new series for Tested members: LEGO with Friends! This week, Patrick Norton of TekThing stops by to help assemble a few kits while we chat about his new projects, CES, and why hummingbirds are awesome. Follow along with with us by signing up for a Tested Premium Membership here! (The first episode is free for everyone, but the rest of the series will be for Premium Members.)

    10 Vehicles Made To Survive Doomsday

    With a new Mad Max movie coming out, our thoughts are turning to the kind of cars we’ll be zipping around the post-apocalyptic hellscape in. Luckily, we won’t be restricted to a beat up Subaru Outback, because people are building vehicles designed to last just about anything. Here are our picks for vehicles made to survive doomsday.

    Adam Savage Visits the Hollywood Costume Exhibition

    We spend the day at the incredible Hollywood Costume exhibition currently on display at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles! Adam Savage explores the gallery with his friend and exhibit curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis--the designer of Indiana Jones' iconic costume. They discuss the role of the costume design in cinematic storytelling and the wonderful stories behind some of the 150 costumes on display.

    10 Beautiful Abandoned Subway Stations

    If you ride the subway in most major cities, “beautiful” isn’t the word that first comes to mind. Utilitarian, sure, or semi-hygenic. But back in the day, architects and engineers really worked to make underground train platforms worth spending time in. Many of those stations are no longer in service, so here’s our subterranean tour guide to the most beautiful abandoned subway stations.