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    La Machine's 50-Foot-Tall Fire-Breathing Dragon-Horse

    As part of the celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of French-Chinese diplomatic relations, a French theatrical production company brought two giant mechanical puppets to Beijing's Bird Nest stadium for three days of performances. The company, La Machine, is known for the 50-foot tall mechanical spider--named La Princesse--that it built and brought to Liverpool in 2008 as part of that city's Capital of Culture festival. Weighing almost 40 tons, La Princesse is operated by a team of 12 puppeteers strapped to its body and can crawl through cities at 2 miles per hour. Along with its spider robot, La Machine brought a new mechanical beast to Beijing: Long Ma, a 46 ton fire-breathing dragon-horse. Long Ma made its debut at La Machine's home town of Nantes, France back in August, and you can watch footage from that first performance below:

    The Atlantic's In Focus photo blog has a large gallery of photos from the fantastical Beijing performance, and I've embedded video of La Princesse's 2008 romp through Liverpool below.

    La Machine is also just one of two theatrical production companies known for their large-scale mechanical creatures. Royal de Luxe, also based in Nantes, is the company responsible for the giant marionettes that have trekked through streets and parks around the world. The designer of La Machine's Long Ma and La Princesse, artist François Delarozière, worked for 21 years at Royal de Luxe, where he designed The Sultan's Elephant.

    How To Make a Gory Hand Prop!

    We visit Frank Ippolito's shop to learn about making ultra-realistic fake hands as Halloween props. Frank walks us through the step-by-step process of molding your own hand and making a silicone casting, and then cutting and painting up the fake hand to look realistically gory. It's actually a special effect you can do by yourself without any assistance! (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!)

    How to Get Into Hobby RC: Learning to Fly Quadcopters

    I’ve mentioned my recommended path for aspiring multi-rotor pilots several times in this column. Before buying a large, expensive ship with a camera attached, I think it is better to begin with a RC flight simulator and/or a small quad. I think that this approach will help you hone your piloting chops before accepting the risks of flying a bigger aircraft. I’m still holding firm to that opinion. I realize, however, that I have never adequately addressed how to use those tools to become a competent multi-rotor pilot. Today, I want to share my techniques for becoming comfortable at the controls of any multi-rotor.

    FLYING MULTI-ROTORS IS EASY. FLYING THEM WELL IS HARD. IMPROVING YOUR SKILLS REQUIRES DEDICATED EFFORT.

    The Hardware Option

    There are tons of small quad-rotors out there that are adequate for learning the basics. The main feature to look for in a mini-quad is a 2-stick transmitter like you’ll be using with larger quads. In my opinion, the closer the transmitter is to the standard size, the better.

    Another prime feature to look for is adjustable sensitivity for the flight controls. Many quads lack this very useful ability. Some have two or three preset sensitivity levels, while others have a full range of adjustments. Either adjustment method is good for what we’re trying to accomplish. The idea behind adjusting the sensitivity is to detune the quad’s response to your inputs and make it easier to fly.

    I learned to fly quads with the HeliMax 1SQ, which fits all of the requirements listed above and has proven to be very resilient. While I still fly the 1SQ frequently, I have a new favorite quad for my indoor training sessions, the tiny Estes Proto-X SLT. The SLT is an updated version of the Proto-X that Norm reviewed a few months ago. Whenever I turn on the Proto-X, It’s easy to imagine my living room is like a course for the Red Bull Air Races…plenty of obstacles ready to be conquered!

    The Heli-Max 1SQ

    While, the actual quad appears mostly unchanged, the radio system received updates that make it much more beginner-friendly. The tiny, cartoon-like transmitter included with the original Proto-X is gone. It has been replaced by a significantly larger (though still smaller than standard) transmitter with adjustable control sensitivity. More specifically, there are two flight modes (standard and expert) with each mode having adjustable sensitivity.

    Furthermore, the new Proto-X can be linked with any transmitter that uses the SLT protocol. This includes radios such as the Tactic TTX650 and the Hitec Flash 7. If you already have a favorite non-SLT radio, you can likely fly the Proto-X SLT with it using the AnyLink2 module. You have options.

    In Brief: Large Gallery of ILM Model Shop Miniatures

    Not exactly sure about the source of these photos, but here's a large gallery of photos of modelmakers and miniatures from the ILM model shop, circa The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The photos show the making of some iconic vehicles like the Republic fighters and cruisers, the Super Star Destroyer, and even Death Star 2. Most of these models reside in Lucasfilm's precious archives in Northern California, and some went on tour in the most recent exhibition of Star Wars models and props. You can find my photos from that exhibit here.

    Norman 3
    In Brief: The Hardest Part of Designing a Typeface

    Typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones (formerly of Hoefler & Frere Jones, who recently settled his lawsuit against former partner) writes an wonderfully insightful personal blog about typography and design. In his latest entry, he addresses what he considers the most challenging part of designing a new typeface: finding an appropriate name. Think about what a name evokes, and the lexicon of typographical nomenclature. Historically, typeface names would be derived from broad genres like Roman or Italic, but the Industrial Revolution forced type foundries to expand their conventions to suit descriptive needs. The naming of modern typefaces is complex--foundries balance the need to appropriately (and simply) describe the typeface with a word, while choosing something that will capture the attention of designers. Like the names of companies, products, and anything else sold, typefaces are brands.

    Norman
    NYCC: Triforce's Video Game Replica Props

    We've met and worked with independent replica prop makers who specialize in video game props, but here's a company working directly with game developers to bring digital characters, armor, and weapons to reality. At New York Comic Con, we stopped by Triforce's booth to check out their newest scale statues and full-size replicas, as well as learn about their production process.

    Bits to Atoms: 3D Printing Quicksilver's Stereobelt

    Remember a few months ago when I spent time obsessing over Quicksilver’s audio gear from X-men: Days of Future Past? I thought that exploration was enough to get it out of my system--until my friend Hadley told me that she would be cosplaying as Quicksilver for New York Comic Con. Without missing a beat, I proclaimed that I had to build her an accurate Stereobelt prop. And so my obsession began anew.

    Prototype - designing multiple parts - more work for better results

    To recap: the Stereobelt, a little-known predecessor to the Walkman, predating Sony's portable cassette player by seven years and cobbled together from existing tech. Only one picture and a patent document of it can be found in all of the interwebs, yet the savvy production designers on Days of Future Past based Quicksilver’s unit on the Stereobelt, therefore giving him probable audio gear for 1973.

    Setting out to create my own Stereobelt, I ran into an immediate problem: a lack of good reference material. Other than the magazine cover of Quicksilver, which showed only one side of the belt, I was unable to find any good reference of the other side or back. At this point, the Blu-ray hadn’t been released and unlike every other Marvel movie, there was no “Making-of” book. So, I started work on what I had reference for, figuring that I may have to improvise the opposite side and revise it when I could get ahold of the movie. I didn’t have a lot of time to build the Stereobelt, so my original intention was to keep it simple and print it as one solid piece. The front and back caps would cause some print issues since they were both tapered and would have to use supports to print as one piece. The caps would also print better if the slopes were oriented upwards, so I decided to compromise and print the body and caps separately and assemble using simple square pins and glue.

    Solid body with caps connected via pins.

    Unlike the Hellboy Millenbaugh Motivator, for which I took meticulous measurements using Photoshop, I totally eyeballed the size and proportions of the Stereobelt on paper. Once it looked right, I started building in 3D and quickly realized another issue - if I built this as one piece, painting and finishing would be difficult since it had a lot of trim pieces. I also liked the idea of being able to print this out in two colors, assemble with no painting and still have it look good, so I decided to break it up into more pieces.

    Shooting Scale Models using Forced Perspective

    Joey Shanks of PBS Digital Studios' Shanks FX show shoots a short video using 1/24th and 1/15th scale models of the Back to the Future Delorean to recreate effects scenes from the film. Shanks gives some tips for using forced perspective to make his models appear as if they're driving on a real road, and explains why using a smaller model might be better than a larger one.

    Photo Gallery: Behind the Scenes at Immortal Masks

    During our visit to Immortal Masks, we not only got a chance to learn about their entire sculpting and production process, but also check out their entire line of creature masks. Sculptor Andrew Freeman is always working on new mask designs, and their team of artists can create variations on a sculpt with unique paint applications. Lifelike Bebop and Rocksteady masks caught my eye, but my favorite has to be the Ogre mask. Which one do you think is the creepiest?

    How Lifelike FX Creature Masks are Made

    Halloween's coming up, and we're looking for the best ways to transform into a terrifying creature of the night. Monster masks have been a longstanding horror effects tradition, and today's masks are more lifelike than ever. We visit the workshop of Immortal Masks to learn how the artists there sculpt, mold, cast, and paint amazing silicone masks that look and move realistically.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Simple Scale Techniques for Models

    Military aircraft have always been popular subjects for RC modelers. Many builders prefer to craft their “warbirds” from the ground up, perhaps even using their own plans. The more popular option is to purchase a factory-built model that requires only a few hours (or less) to complete. Some of these Almost-Ready-to-Fly (ARF) models use traditional balsa construction, while others are made of molded foam.

    THIS TURBINE-POWERED RC F-15 EAGLE PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF HOW A WELL-DETAILED MODEL IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO DIFFERENTIATE FROM THE REAL THING.

    The main drawback to buying a warbird ARF model is that it is going to look, well, just like every other one that flew off the assembly line. It is not uncommon to see multiple examples of a popular model at the same flying field on a Saturday afternoon--all identical except for the inevitable dings and repairs. On the flip side, there is often ample room to personalize these airplanes with the addition of a few simple scale-enhancing details. Applying some of these techniques will help your model to look more accurate, while also separating it from the mass-produced herd.

    Modifying a Foam Warbird

    I chose a popular foam warbird ARF model to illustrate some of these detailing techniques, the Flyzone Focke-Wulf FW-190. You may recall that this is the same model that I used in my review of the Mr. RC Sound system. I picked this model for several reasons. Primarily, it is a good flying model. What’s the point of personalizing an airplane that is no fun to fly? Furthermore, the Flyzone model has an accurate scale profile and several details that are difficult to replicate (scale retractable landing gear, wing flaps, scale propeller, etc) are box-stock features. This allowed me to focus on easily-implemented details.

    RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX, THE FLYZONE FW-190 IS AN ACCURATE AND ATTRACTIVE SCALE MODEL. HOWEVER, THERE ARE SOME EASY TECHNIQUES TO TAKE IT UP ANOTHER LEVEL.

    Tackle the Low-Hanging Fruit

    With few exceptions, military airplanes are not shiny and they are flown by a pilot. The somewhat shiny and pilotless FW-190 is thus ripe for quick and easy upgrades. To get started, I carefully removed the glued-on cockpit canopy. After breaking one corner free, I pried the entire border loose with a gently-wielded Popsicle stick. I also removed the propeller and nose spinner, which left the brushless motor exposed. I covered the motor and foam-rubber tires with masking tape to protect them from overspray. “Overspray of what?” you ask. Let’s call it an abundance of drab.

    A flat-finish clear coat is an effective way to take the shine off of a factory paint job. Specifically, I used Rust-Oleum American Accents Matte Clear in a spray can. I’m sure that similar products will work equally well. I’ve used the Rust-Oleum on numerous foam airplanes as well the iron-on polyester coverings of balsa models. It will attack some foams, so always test it before possibly eroding your airplane into a Dali-esque melted blob.

    The New York Comic Con 2014 Cosplay Gallery (475+ Photos)

    This was my first time going to New York Comic Con, and what a year to attend. Attendance approached (and possibly even surpassed) that of San Diego, and I had a ton of fun exploring a new convention venue and figuring it out from a photography point-of-view. The massive muli-floor lobby of the Javits Center--lined from floor to ceiling with glass--made for great daytime photos with cool architecture and signage in the background. The show floor's bright red carpeting was a little less accommodating. But in the two days I was there, I managed to get a few good photos to share with you. Thanks to everyone who stopped for a photo--and if you find yourself in this gallery, email me at norman@tested.com with "NYCC Cosplay" in the subject line and I'll get you a full-res copy of your pic!

    Tested Mailbag: Hammer Time!

    A package from a reader arrives at our office, so it's our duty to show off its contents on camera! This week's mailbag contains some woodworking tools made by Philip White, which will hopefully help in our own future woodworking endeavors! They're nice and weighty! Huge thanks to Philip for making and sending this package--see how he made these tools in this gallery!

    Making Tested's Blockhead Puppets!

    Jamie, Adam, Will, and Norm get transformed into adorable plush puppets! Stage prop fabricator and fan of the site Sean Harrington made these awesome blockhead puppets for us, utilizing some cool modern technology to streamline the design and build process. Sean walks us through how the puppets were 3D modeled and then prototyped with a laser cutter, allowing him to iterate on the design to change the look and puppeteering comfort of these flapping blockheads. We're smitten!

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Custom Sound Systems

    For many hobbyists, the allure of RC flying comes from making their models look like “real” airplanes. Some are happy just approximating the profile of a certain airplane, while others spare no effort or expense to replicate every last detail. Regardless of the level of accuracy a builder pursues, one particular aspect has always been elusive: sound. Most models use screaming glow-fuel engines, growling gasoline engines, or whizzing electric motors. None of those power systems is likely to emulate the sound of the full-scale airplane’s engine. The one notable exception is turbine-powered models, which actually use miniaturized jet engines that sound (and smell) like their big brothers. The necessary flying skills and price point, however, keep turbines out of reach for most modelers.

    Recent developments have revamped the sound equation. Several companies now offer sound systems for electric-powered RC models that play audio recordings of full-scale aircraft engines. These system are linked to the throttle control, so the sound revs as you increase power to the model’s motor. I know what you’re thinking: “How can you possibly get convincing engine sounds out of a system that is small and light enough to fit inside a model airplane?” I thought the same thing and ignored the growing popularity of these systems for a while.

    My curiosity recently got the better of me and I watched a few YouTube videos of models with sound systems. The videos piqued my interest and I was soon investigating the various available products. One particular system stood apart from the others, the Mr. RC Sound V4.1 Sound System. What is most unique about this sound system is that it does not use speakers--at least not in the traditional sense. This is something I had to test.

    What You Get with RC Sound

    The heart of the Mr. RC Sound unit is a control board that measures about 1.75” x 2.5”. The board includes a “sound pack chip” with sound files recorded from six popular aircraft engines throughout history. The chip can be swapped for others with different engine options. In addition to the sound of the running engine, each selection on the chip also includes three auxiliary sounds such as chattering machine guns or the whistling of a falling bomb.

    The sound board must be connected to the model’s RC receiver via standard 3-wire servo connectors. It is worth noting that male/male wires are needed rather than the male/female wires that are commonly used to extend servo leads. One wire is included, but you must provide others if you wish to use any of the auxiliary sounds. The wire lead for controlling engine sounds is connected in parallel to the model’s Electronic Speed Control (ESC: aka “throttle”) via a splitter, or “y-connector” (not included). Leads for each of the auxiliary sounds require an open port on the receiver.

    THE BASIC COMPONENTS OF THE MR. RC SOUND SYSTEM ARE A CONTROL BOARD AND AN ELECTROACOUSTIC TRANSDUCER. THE AIRFRAME OF THE MODEL BECOMES THE SPEAKER.

    The sound board can accept input voltage from about 11 to 34 volts. This means that models using a 3S LiPo battery (3 cells in series, 11.1v nominal) to 8S (29.6v) can siphon power from their flight battery to feed the sound system. This allows the vast majority of electric airplanes to avoid the additional weight of a separate battery for sound.

    Rather than a speaker, the V4.1 system uses an electroacoustic transducer called the TT-25. It is basically a speaker without the frame or the cone. The TT-25 attaches directly to the airframe of the model, which then behaves similarly to a speaker cone. In essence, the entire airplane becomes a speaker.

    How Bubble Wrap Is Made (Edit: Removed)

    Edit: Boooo. Sealed Air, the company that produced this video, has removed it from their channel. So enjoy this video (and audio!) of a roll of Bubble Wrap going through an etching press. Original post: Bet you didn't know 1. that Bubble Wrap is a trademarked brand, 2. what the first hand-cranked Bubble Wrap machine in 1957 was designed for, and 3. Bubble Wrap is actually made of three different types of resin plastics, heated up and extruded like a 3D print for the sheet material. (h/t Boingboing)

    Screenprints of Adam's Drawings at Tested: The Show!

    If you're in the San Francisco area and haven't bought a ticket to our upcoming stage show, here's one more reason you'll want to be there. Tested: The Show will be the first place we'll be selling an exclusive screenprint set of Adam's Mecha-Hand drawings. In the process of researching and building his awesome Mecha-Hand prop replica, Adam detailed all the components--to scale--in a series of schematic drawings. We've turned two of them into a set of screenprints--12"x16", printed on heavy cotton rag stock off-white paper. They're really gorgeous and perfect for framing. We only made 180 sets, and each will be signed and numbered by Adam!

    We'll make the prints available online after our Oct 25th live show, but attendees will get a chance to buy them first, along with other merch we'll be testing out. Check out a few more photos of the two screenprints below, as well as our video from earlier this year in which Adam talks about his drawings.

    Fuel-Free Flight: The State of Electric Airplanes

    When the all-electric E-Fan made its first flight earlier this year, it signaled a breakthrough in the progress of electric aircraft. Although its performance compares well to other contemporary electric designs, the E-Fan does not represent any major technological leaps. More significant is the company behind the E-Fan: Airbus, the European firm better known for producing large airliners. Airbus is a large, multinational company that is deeply entrenched in the business of burning fossil fuels. That such an establishment is willing to invest in the development and production of pure electric and hybrid aircraft is a strong signal that technology may be on the verge of allowing practical electric aircraft for the masses. Much smaller aviation firms and innovative individuals have been shouting that message for years--it’s just that (almost) nobody was listening.

    – THE AIRBUS E-FAN REPRESENTS AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE IN ELECTRIC FLIGHT: A COMMITMENT IN RESEARCH AND PRODUCTION BY A MAJOR PLAYER IN AVIATION. (PHOTO CREDIT: JULIAN HERZOG VIA WIKIPEDIA COMMONS)

    Why Electric?

    In answering the question of why electric propulsion should even be considered for aircraft, you must look at environmental and engineering aspects. On the environmental front, the obvious benefit of electric power is the lack of CO2 emissions. In fact, very strict European emission standards were the catalyst for Airbus’ development of the E-Fan, a stepping stone to their planned hybrid-powered regional commuter aircraft.

    Even if you trace the energy path of an electric-powered aircraft back to a coal-fueled power station feeding the ground-based charger for the airplane’s batteries, the comparative emissions are a tremendous improvement over the exhaust of a kerosene-burning turbine engine. The same is true of hybrid electric systems that would use a small onboard turbine or internal combustion (IC) engine to recharge batteries in flight.

    Without the vibrations inherent in internal combustion engines, an electric aircraft can be built with a lighter and simpler airframe.

    Another environmental benefit of electric aircraft is their lack of noise. How often do you hear about neighborhoods being built on cheap land near a long-established airport, only to have the new residents complain about engine noise? It doesn’t make much sense, but these squeaky wheels are frequently successful in having the airport closed. According to Dr. Brien Seeley, a representative for the CAFE Foundation (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency Foundation– a volunteer organization renowned for its efforts in measuring and improving the efficiency of small aircraft) noise reduction is the primary motivator for many who are developing and improving electric powerplants for aircraft. He says, “The most significant distinguishing feature of electrically powered aircraft will be their prospects for unprecedentedly low noise and the new operational opportunities that will open when combined with extremely short takeoff and landing (ESTOL).” Perhaps quiet airplanes that are able to operate from short runways will be the key to reuniting general aviation (GA – i.e. your average privately-owned Cessna or Piper) and a noise-intolerant public.

    From an engineering perspective, electric propulsion seems to offer several benefits over IC engines. One of the primary advantages is the vibration-free operation of electric motors. A substantial amount of the structure in GA aircraft is dedicated to absorbing the forces caused by having one or more IC engines attached. Just look at the structure of a glider compared to that of an IC-powered airplane and you will see what I mean. Without the vibrations inherent in IC engines, an electric aircraft can be built with a lighter and simpler airframe. When it comes to airplanes, lighter is almost always better.