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    Photo Gallery: Theo Jansen's Strandbeests in San Francisco

    We've very privileged to have artist/scientist Theo Jansen's Strandbeests in San Francisco for the summer, in an exhibition at the Exploratorium science and discovery museum. Last week, Theo took two of his creatures to San Francisco's Crissy Field beach, where they roamed against a Golden Gate backdrop. Here are some photos from that outing, as well as the exhibition, which opens today!

    Barnaby Dixon's Elegant Finger Puppet Concept

    We've gotten a flurry of tips from readers about puppet maker Barnaby Dixon's finger puppet concept, and you were all correct--this video is amazing. The two-handed puppet is wired with hand and leg mechanisms that give it lively movements and gesture capability. It really comes alive in Barnaby's hands. While we're on the topic of puppets, Academy Originals recently profiled Laika studio's Head of Puppetry in an in-depth behind-the-scenes video.

    Adam Savage's Maker Faire 2016 Talk!

    It's been called the Maker Faire Sermon, but you know it as Adam's annual talk at the Maker Faire festival. This year, Adam spoke on a mechanical giraffe, sharing stories about his recent visits to maker spaces around the country, bouts of self-doubt, and his mission going forward. Plus, some great questions from the crowd!

    Meet Ryan Nagata's Sci-Fi Ray Gun Collection

    While visiting prop maker Ryan Nagata's shop, Adam Savage learns about Ryan's collection of custom ray gun replicas. These beautiful hand props are each unique in their design and inspiration, and would right at home in a mid-century sci-fi serial. Check out the one based off of WETA's Dr. Grordbort Righteous Bison!

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's Surreal Effects

    In director Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman plumbs a consciousness-bending story about a man, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who attempts to ease the pain of a breakup by undergoing a procedure that will erase all memories of the relationship from his mind. Joel's attempts to interrupt the erasure mid-procedure – all from within his subconscious – set the story in a world that is part reality, part waking dream.

    That surreal world was the stuff of visual effects, more than 100 realized by Custom Film Effects. Buzz Image Group took on only 16 shots, but each was a critical depiction of Joel's altered mind as, one by one, his memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet) are deconstructed, abstracted and, finally, erased.

    The memory abstractions are sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle. In a sequence early in the film, Joel – in his car – follows Clementine as she walks angrily down a sidewalk. "This was a hand-held, non-effects shot," said Buzz visual effects supervisor Louis Morin, "but in the scene, Jim Carrey says a line about everything falling apart – and Michel wanted to emphasize that feeling." To visually support the idea of a world falling apart, Gondry suggested removing one of Clementine's legs in the scene. "I said: 'Okay, it's possible – but this is a swish-pan, and it is going to be so fast, nobody will see it.' But he wanted to try it; so we replaced Clem's real legs with CGI legs, did 3D tracking and remodeled the sidewalk she was walking on."

    Determined to limit the number of visual effects in the film, director Michael Gondry used in-camera trickery wherever possible. For a scene in which Joel transports Clem into his childhood memories, production built a forced-perspective kitchen set to render Jim Carrey child-size.

    The first attempt at the shot bore out Morin's initial concerns. "Nobody could see it," said Morin, "because it was so fast. I asked if they had a longer take of Clem walking, and they did – but in that one, she wasn't turning her head properly. So we combined takes in the swish-pan, tracked the head from the first take onto Clem in the longer take, and put in a whole CGI background." In that background, a car crashes behind a fence, unnoticed by Clem. "That was a CGI car and a CGI fence. It was a shocking event to keep the audience on their toes, to say, 'Look – some pretty unusual things will be shown to you in this movie.'"

    Building a Studio Scale Death Star Laser Tower Model, Part 3

    This month, prop maker David Goldberg shares with us his build of a studio-scale replica of the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. Previously, David covered sourcing his reference, creating a 3D model, and the core structure fabrication. Today is all about the finer details!

    The original models built for the Star Wars films were detailed with hundreds of little parts taken from plastic model kits. These parts were often referred to as nernies or greeblies. This was the first time this approach to adding detail for film models had been used to such a great extent and it was one of the defining characteristics of the realistic "used hardware" look of the film. There are photographs of the ILM model shop back in the day showing entire walls stacked high with hundreds of model kit boxes. Models kits of all types and scales were used for "donor parts" but it seems there was a fondness for models of military subjects, especially tanks and other vehicles.

    A great deal of time and effort has been spent by members of the Replica Prop Forum (The RPF), Studio Scale Modelers (SSM) and other online sites analyzing photos of the original models and tracking down precisely which parts from which kits were used for the added details. Some of these model kits are still in production and many more are available on EBay, although sometimes at extremely high cost! Other than purchasing the Mig 21 kit to use for the barrels, I decided I didn't want to spend what could amount to many hundreds of dollars purchasing all of the necessary donor kits, some of which are quite rare. Instead I decided to replicate many of the parts with 3D printing, laser cutting and scratch building. In the end, several 'authentic' parts were donated for use on this project by some of the very kind members of the RPF.

    Before applying detail parts some additional layers of plating were needed. Styrene sheet, cut by hand, was used for this plating on the original models but I wanted the benefits of precision and speed that could be achieved using a laser cutter, and styrene doesn't laser cut cleanly, the edges tend to melt a little. Instead I laser cut the plating panels out of a material called Polybak, a cardboard sheeting which has been impregnated with resin to make it water resistant. Polyback is often used to back cabinet panels in moist locations and as a backer for thin wood veneering. It laser cuts beautifully and takes paint well.

    I laser cut a series of panels to go on the top of the tower as well as a bunch of randomly sized rectangular panels that I could stick on the casework wherever desired. Before cutting, I applied double-faced adhesive tape to the back of the Polyback sheet so that to attach the parts all I would have to do was peel off the backing paper and stick the parts down. In additional to the plating, several custom parts were laser cut, some with partial surface etching to represent bolt heads and other details.

    Maker Faire 2016: 3D Printed Open-Source Telepresence Robot

    We kick off our Maker Faire 2016 coverage with this awesome telepresense robot made by researchers at the Galileo University in Guatemala. The robot's body is based off of the open-source InMoov project, with remote control via an Oculus DK2 headset and Perception Neuron motion capture system. Telepresense with some sense of proprioception!

    In Brief: Movie Costume Design Blogs

    With Comic-Con coming up in less than two months, I'm wondering what new film costume will be the popular cosplay this year (my money's on the new Deadpool or Black Panther). The appearance of awesome new costumes from this year's superhero films has also brought two blogs back into my feed: Clothes on Film and Tyranny of Style. Both regularly go in-depth with interviews and analysis about the making of costumes for film, and serve as informative complements to detail-oriented fan forums. Where are you favorite places to read about costume design for film?

    Tested Builds: Foam Propmaking, Part 1

    Welcome to a Tested week of builds! We're joined in the studio by prop and armor maker Bill Doran (Punished Props), who shares with us his techniques for making awesome foam weapons. Throughout the week, we'll be designing, fabricating, and painting foam props that can be used for cosplay! (This first video is available for everyone--watch the rest of the build by signing up with the Tested Premium member community!)

    Shop Tips: Save Your Silicone Pads

    We're back with another shop tip from Frank Ippolito's new shop space! This week, Frank explains why he saves silicone pads from the bottom of his mixing containers, and how those pads can be used for future projects. Post your own shop tips in the comments below!

    The Thatcher Method - Episode 39 - 5/20/16
    On this episode (our longest show ever), we chat with director/producer/writer/puppeteer Kirk Thatcher. Kirk shares some wine with us and talks about his wacky route from making molds and creatures to directing next to legends like Leonard Nimoy, hanging out in the editing room with George Lucas and working closely with Jim Henson. It's an episode full of great stories. If you like this show and want to hear more, please support us at
    00:00:00 / 01:26:06
    Everything is a Remix: Star Wars

    The amazingly talented filmmaker Kirby Ferguson (Everything is a Remix) just released his take on the criticism that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just a rip off of Episode IV: A New Hope. This isn't a video comparing the similarities between the films--it's an analysis of why those parallels work in filmmaking, and how it's utilized for viewer satisfaction. Remember Ferguson's three basic elements of creativity: Copy, Transform, Combine!

    Adam Savage's Large Vacuum Forming Machine

    Adam wipes the dust off of his old large vacuum forming machine and uses it for an ongoing Apollo spacesuit project! Here's a primer on vacuum forming and how it's been used in special effects and prop-making. Adam's machine has a few quirks, so let's see how it performs!

    Tested: Carvey Desktop CNC Machine Review

    We test the Carvey, a desktop CNC machine from Inventables. Unlike the X-Carve, this three-axis mill is enclosed for office use and designed for simplicity and safety. Using the web-based Easel software, we're able to create a design and cut it on a sheet of plastic in just a few minutes. The simplicity limits its versatility, so it may be better suited for classrooms than large working shops.

    Building a Studio Scale Death Star Laser Tower Model, Part 2

    This month, prop maker David Goldberg shares with us his build of a studio-scale replica of the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. In Part 1, David explained sourcing reference images and creating a 3D model. Today, he dives into the fabrication of the tower and laser cannons.

    While the some of the materials and construction methods used to build the original Death Star Laser Tower filming model are not known, it was most likely made of a core structure of either wood or Plexiglas covered with panels cut from styrene sheet. The original model also had a mechanical armature and motors inside it that would rotate the turret and move the barrels to simulate firing at the Rebel X-Wing fighters. I'm building a static, non-moving display model so an interior mechanism won't be needed. (At least for now. I've designed the casework in such a way that I can put a mechanism into it a later time if desired.)

    Laser Tower as seen in Star Wars.

    I'm going to fabricate the model using a more high tech approach than was available to the modelmakers at ILM in the 70's. Rather than hand cut styrene panels to clad the core structure, I'm going to use a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) router to both cut out the structural components as well as cut panels lines into the surface using the .dxf drawing files exported from the 3D computer model.

    The material from which I'll cut the casework is a special premium MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) ¼ inch thick made by Plum Creek. This material is similar to the fiberboard found at most home center and lumber stores except that it has a smoother surface and a denser, more consistent core. It's used mostly for making paint grade cabinets and signage and paints beautifully, even the cut edges.

    The .dxf files were loaded into the computer that controls the CNC router. I use a software program called V Carve from Vectric. The .dxf files are imported into the program where the various cutting depths, speeds and bit sizes are determined. V Carve calculates and exports the "G-Code" which is a standard machine language used to control CNC machine. The G Code is then imported into a program called Mach 3 that actually sends the control signals to the stepper motors that drive the router.

    The parts were cut out of the MDF sheet material with a ¼ inch diameter router bit and the panels lines routed into the surface with a 1/16 inch diameter bit.

    How LEGO Master Builders Design and Assemble LEGOLAND Sculptures

    Wired visited LEGOLAND's model shop and met two of its Master Builders, who design and assemble the sculptures and minifig environments that populate the theme park. What's interesting to me is that there are two techniques to building: the more traditional LEGO creation built to scale for the minifigs (and using creative build techniques to hide studs) and the large-scale sculpture building, which is CAD-assisted. The assembly of the sculpture really happens layer by layer, just like a 3D printer.

    Maker Spaces: Inside Frank Ippolito's New Workshop!

    Our very own Frank Ippolito just moved into a new workshop, and gives us a tour of his new tools and working areas. We discuss how he grew out of sharing a shop with a friend to his first personal shop, and then doubling the space again. Frank shares how he customized the infrastructure of his shop for new tools and storage. We'll be doing some fun new projects here in the future!