Latest StoriesMakers
    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.

    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."

    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.

    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!

    Photo Gallery: Highlights from D23 Expo 2015

    Disney, Pixar, and Marvel Studios didn't have a massive presence at this year's Comic-Con, partly due to the fact that Disney has its own fan convention in the bi-annual D23 Expo. I drove down to Anaheim this weekend to spend a day at the show (my first D23), and found it an interesting mix of Disney fan culture, consumer product previews, and vintage collectible bazaar. While I didn't get to attend the massive panel presentations, here are some of my favorite sights from the show floor. A Disney Archives exhibit, animation maquettes, and John Lasseter's hawaiian shirt collection were standouts. Also, an up-close look at the upcoming LEGO Wall-E set!

    Pistol Shot Recorded at 73,000 Frames Per Second

    From the most recent Supernatural Shooters episode of Mythbusters, in which Jamie and Adam test two bullet-related myths: "Adam Savage is nearly rendered speechless by incredible slomo footage that captures a bullet being fired at 73,000 frames per second. Shot at these speeds, the video reveals a dance of pressure and fire that would otherwise be missed by the unaided eye."

    Tested Mailbag: Blaster from the Past!

    Yay! A package from one of you guys has arrived at the office. Inside, we find a vintage toy space gun that may look familiar to long-time Tested viewers. It's something that will make it's way to Adam to add to his collection! Thanks so much to Zack for sending it our way!

    Inside ILM's Virtual Reality Testing Lab

    The Verge recently visited the ILMxLab in San Francisco, where artists and developers experiment with cutting-edge VR and AR technologies for experimental film production and consumer entertainment research. From The Verge's report: "ILMxLab is the VR and augmented reality think-tank from Industrial Light & Magic. Their mission? Create the future of entertainment. And you'd better believe they're starting with Star Wars."

    Ryan Nagata's Space Suit Replicas

    Adam isn't the only replica prop builder obsessed with spacesuits. At the recent Replica Prop Forum showcase, we met Ryan Nagata, a propmaker and independent director who collaborated with Adam on his Mercury suit, and made his own Apollo-era spacesuit as well. Every part of Ryan's suits is an original fabrication, and the suits are wearable!

    Studio Scale Star Wars TIE Bomber Replica

    At the recent Replica Prop Forum project showcase, we met visual effects modelmaker Jonathan Faber, who brought his scratch-built studio scale TIE Bomber. This model is an exacting replica of the filming miniature used in The Empire Strikes Back, including the greeblies sourced from WWII and rocket kits like the ones used by ILM's modelmakers. Plus, Jonathan shows us his newest project, a cross-section miniature!

    2001: A Space Odyssey's Aries 1B Miniature

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 3/31/2015 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    Deadline Hollywood broke the news: Academy Museum Buys Rare '2001: A Space Odyssey' Model For $344,000. Fans were stunned. As any Stanley Kubrick aficionado will tell you, it has long been legend that all the spaceship miniatures from Kubrick's landmark science fiction film were destroyed after filming at the filmmaker's request, to prevent recycling in cheap imitations. Could this be the real McCoy?

    Before the facts were known, a small studio in El Segundo, California, became mecca for a pilgrimage of visual effects professionals who arrived to gaze in awe at the Aries 1B – the spherical trans-lunar spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey – that, miraculously, had been found after 47 years in obscurity.

    The miniature was up for auction and the curator, Premiere Props, welcomed guests to verify the find. Facebook images began appearing of spectators posing with the ship — Dennis Muren, Greg Jein, Matthew Gratzner, Ian Hunter, Shannon Gans, Dave Jones, Bruce Logan, Pat McClung, Harrison Ellenshaw, Peter Anderson, Bill Taylor, André Bustanoby, Gene Kozicki, Rob McFarlane, Ted Rae, Dan Winters, John Goodson and Kim Smith (and guest appearances, by phone, from Douglas Trumbull and Steve Gawley). The general consensus: the miniature was real.

    The AMPAS Museum of Motion Pictures eventually acquired the ship for a princely sum. Prior to finalizing the sale, event organizer Dan Levin allowed Visual Effects Society Archive Committee co-chair Gene Kozicki and VFX artist André Bustanoby to a make detailed photographic record of the ship; and Gene shared the experience with Cinefex:

    Aging Suit Simulates Experience of Old Age

    Speaking of conceptual transhuman experiences, here's video of an "aging suit" that simulates the experience of being 75 years old. The Atlantic's James Hamblin tests this exoskeleton, which limits movement, impairs hearing, and blurs vision (to approximate cataracts). It's the latest invention of technologist (and ex-Imagineer) Bran Ferren's Applied Minds, and is intended to get people talking about issues around aging and long-term care.