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    Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 2: The Build

    Just before leaving for his tour in Australia, a delighted Jamie stops by Kernerworks to see an early comp of his racing spiders design in action for the first time. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.

    Tested Mailbag: Awesome Fan Art!

    A mystery tube arrives at the Tested offices, and we have no idea what's inside! But the struggle to liberate its contents pays off, as this edition of the Tested Mailbag reveals an awesome piece of art that one of our viewers sent in. Thanks so much to stc_doodles for the terrific drawing--we love it!

    How To Make Kill Bill's 'FUCK U' Shoes

    In Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, one detail that appears on-screen for only a second are the soles of Uma Thurman's shoes. Those sneakers aren't off-the-shelf Onitsuka Tigers--they have the phase "FUCK U" molded right into the treading. It's a prop we've wanted to replicate for a long time, and we're finally able to do it with the help of effects artist Frank Ippolito. Here's how you can make your own pair! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us by joining the Tested Premium community!)

    The Packard Merlin: How Detroit Mass-Produced Britain’s Hand-Built Powerhouse

    Few engines throughout history have achieved a near mythical status among its admirers. Fewer still can share credit for the rescue of an entire nation. Perhaps only the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine can claim both distinctions. During the Battle of Britain, it was the Merlin that powered the Royal Air Force Hurricanes and Spitfires that were England’s only effective defense against German air attacks. With the battle won, and the engine’s reputation thus established, the Merlin would become the stuff of legend and the powerplant of choice for numerous other aircraft.

    Even before the 1940 air battles over England, it was apparent that demand for the Merlin was far outpacing Rolls-Royce’s ability to produce them. The Ford Motor Company was asked to build 9,000 Merlins for both England and the US. Ford initially accepted the deal, but later reneged. Henry Ford explained that he would only produce military items for US defense. Interestingly, Ford of Britain in Manchester, England ultimately produced 36,000 Merlin engines, beginning at the same time period. Of course, Ford’s American factories would indeed become vital to the war effort. They manufactured unfathomable quantities of airplanes, jeeps and other war materiel--but not Merlins.


    Following Ford’s refusal to build the Merlin, a similar deal was presented to the Packard Motor Car Company. At that time, Packard automobiles were considered the “Rolls-Royce of America” by virtue of their luxury and quality. The company also had experience producing airplane engines and large V-12 powerplants used in speedy PT Boats. Packard accepted the offer from Rolls-Royce and earnestly began preparations to build Merlins at their Detroit factory.

    Two Countries Divided By A Common Language

    There are many obvious challenges posed by producing a British-designed engine in America. Just the task of converting all of the measurements from metric imperial to US Standard units was daunting enough. This job was made even more difficult by the unprecedented complexity of the Merlin. The 1,649 cubic inch V-12 engine is comprised of more than 14,000 individual parts (knoll that!). It was, and still is, often called “a watchmaker’s nightmare.

    Engineers at Packard soon discovered that Rolls-Royce did not design the Merlin for mass-production. The manufacturing tolerances were much looser than Packard’s standards. This was because Rolls-Royce had never implemented mass-production techniques to their assembly lines. Rather, they employed highly-trained “fitters” to assemble the engines. The fitters filed or otherwise massaged individual parts to achieve a precise fit. They even tightened critical bolts by trained feel, rather than with calibrated torque wrenches. In effect, each Rolls-Royce-manufactured Merlin was a hand-built engine that reflected the company’s traditions of premium quality and craftsmanship.

    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.)