Latest StoriesMakers
    Crafting Felt Creatures with Woolbuddy

    At WonderCon, we meet up with Jackie Huang, an artist who sculpts with felt to create fantastic creatures. Jackie's "Woolbuddies" take the form of everything from adorable owls to giant dragons and even an R2-D2 droid. We learn about the felting process and get a quick demo!

    Milling Time: Testing the Roland MDX-540 4-Axis CNC

    Previously, I've talked about testing the Othermill--an out-of-the-box work horse--and the Shapeoko 2--a CNC kit ripe for re-invention. Today, I'm going to talk about a big boy, examining a CNC mill that's bigger, pricier, and commands a steeper learning curve. That's because we're adding another axis!

    This is the MDX-540 with a rotary axis made by the Roland DGA Corporation. A 4-axis mill can do everything an X, Y, Z machine can do, but it can also rotate the cutting material around an 'A' axis. Essentially, this mill combines the functionality of a typical CNC and a lathe. With that additional axis, you're able to create complex double-sided objects and components with undercuts.

    Three cork "bottles" milled using different settings.

    I'm fortunate enough to work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program , where we have a bunch of incredible tools and machines. The MDX-540 is our latest addition to the shop and we're just beginning to experiment with it.

    For all of my testing I mounted material in the rotary axis exclusively.

    Realistic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Costumes

    We weren't fond of the designs for the most recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, but this TMNT imagining we found at this year's Monsterpalooza were awesome. Originally designed and fabricated as costumes, these mechanized sculpts are the work of an artists collective whose members work in special effects and animatronics. These are the Ninja Turtles we'd like to see on screen!

    Vote for Tested in This Year's Webby Awards!

    We're thrilled to be nominated this year for two Webby Awards in the Online Film & Video Category! Webbys are awarded based on the decision of a panel of judges, but a People's Voice award is also given based on online voting. That's where we could really use your help!

    First up, Adam is one of the five finalists for Best Web Personality/Host, for our Inside Adam's Cave series. It's a competitive category with other great nominees, so help Adam win this one by voting on this page.

    One of our favorite videos from last year is also a finalist, in the How-To & DIY video category. It's the collaboration with animator Marty Cooper, who visited the Cave to geek out with Adam about cel animation and make one of his awesome Aug[de]mented Reality shorts at the shop. You can vote for that video on this page.

    Additionally, one of our sister sites, Cinefix, has a video nominated in the Animation category. We'd appreciate your help giving that video--an exploration of how Samurai Films influenced Star Wars--some love too.

    Voting for the People's Voice awards has already commenced, and will be finished at midnight on April 23rd, The awards ceremony will be in New York on May 18th--wouldn't it be cool if we got to go? Watch the videos that were used for these nominations below!

    Tested Mailbag: Tabletop Game!

    We open another package at the office that was sent in by a reader. This time, the contents are tabletop game related, but not something you can get in stores. It's a nifty custom game made by a design firm. Thanks, Steve!

    Putting the Original Tron's Special Effects Together

    Seeing Tron when it first came out in the theaters was an insane experience. You knew by word of mouth it was going to be a major step forward in special effects technology -something state of the art, like when Star Wars first exploded - and many young filmgoers, like myself, were completely blown away. I had no idea the movie was a flop until many years after the fact, and I was completely flabbergasted to learn this.

    Even with the film initially tanking at the box office, it's remarkable how Tron still has a stronghold of fans after all this time, and how ahead of its time it really was. It took Hollywood many years to catch up with the marvels of computer technology, and Tron first opened the door for it, eventually paving the way for Jurassic Park and the Pixar films.

    From a production standpoint, Tron was a hell of an undertaking, and the origins of the film go all the way back to the late seventies. The film's director, Steven Lisberger, had his own animation studio, Lisberger Films. A graduate of the city's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he was creating animation regularly for networks such as ABC and PBS, but he had his eyes on a much bigger prize.

    "When you have an animation studio you try to create your Mickey Mouse," Lisberger says. "It's no secret that animation studios survive by creating characters who are their actors they own, and we were a team of people in Boston who wanted to create a character."

    On Lisberger's team were Roger Allers, who went on to direct The Lion King, and John Norton. Norton came up with an idea of a warrior who was made of neon. They called him Tron, but they didn't have a setting for him. Then one night Lisberger went to visit his in-laws, and everyone was crouched around the TV, playing Pong.

    Screen-Used Star Wars Stormtrooper Armor Replica

    We've seen plenty of Stormtrooper armor made by Star Wars fans, but replica props and armor are only as good as their source reference. For Star Wars, there's a lot of interpretation of what's authentic, because props from the film are lost or scattered in private collections. We chat with eFX Collectibles' Bryan Ono about their new replica Stormtrooper armor, which is made from a newly discovered hero suit--only one of six from Episode IV--that even Lucasfilm doesn't have!

    Making a Real Life-Size EVE Robot (from Wall-E!)

    We catch up with Mike Senna, one of the few R2-D2 builders who has also made a life-size Wall-E robot. Over the past year, he's been working on a companion for Wall-E: the high-tech EVE. Mike shares his build process for EVE, where the build currently stands, and what he plans to add to complete this adorable robot duo.

    Watch a Track Renewal Train at Work

    Austrian-based Plasser & Theurer manufacturers rail track maintenance and track laying machines, including this massive R U 800 S. Its movements are mesmerizing! If you can't get enough of automated ballast cleaning, you can find many more of these track renewal machine videos at Plasser & Theurer's Vimeo page. (h/t Digg)

    Buckminster Fuller on The Geodesic Life

    PBS Studios' Blank on Blank video series takes archival interview audio of inventors, artists, and scientists and pairs them with audio to illustrate their concepts. This latest episode is one of a three-part series showcasing the work of "Experimenters," and features inventor Buckminster Fuller talking about his design philosophy.

    Animatronic 'Westworld' Gunslinger Robot Sculpture

    Behold, Westworld's Gunslinger--the original Terminator as portrayed by the great Yul Brynner. At Monsterpalooza, we chat with sculptor Nick Marra about his amazing portrait of the character. This silicone sculpture not only captures Brynner's likeness, but is mechanized to reveal his true robot face in spectacular fashion. Draw!

    The WonderCon 2015 Cosplay Gallery (630+ Photos)

    Here are photos of my favorite cosplayers, characters, and creatures at this year's WonderCon pop culture convention! This year, I tried to take more candid photos and had fun playing around with scale. Tell me which ones are your favorites in the comments! Thanks to everyone who stopped for a photo--and if you find yourself in this gallery, email me at norman@tested.com with "WonderCon 2015" in the subject line and I'll get you a full-res copy of your pic and get you a proper credit!

    The Special Effects Creatures at Monsterpalooza 2015

    Last weekend, we attended an awesome creature and special effects convention: Monsterpalooza. We met sculptors, painters, animatronics designers, makeup artists, and creature geeks showing off their latest projects. Here's some of the coolest stuff we saw on the show floor!

    Hardware Wars: The First Star Wars Fan Film

    Other the years, there have been many fan films and parodies of Star Wars, and this year's release of Episode VII will undoubtedly spark more. Thanks to the marvels of digital video tools and sites like YouTube, you can put together a Star Wars parody quickly, cheaply, and unleash it into the world for all to enjoy.

    This was not the case when Hardware Wars came together in 1978. It was the first parody of Lucas' space opera--and reportedly one he enjoyed. It became an urban legend short film that played in theaters and on cable, and it's still great fun to watch after all these years. As Shock Cinema magazine notes, Hardware Wars "laid the groundwork for every DIY movie send up that now pops up on YouTube…Premiering when George Lucas's cash cow was still filling the theaters, it quickly became a pre-VCR, word-of-mouth phenomenon." And indeed, Hardware Wars was still playing in theaters as a short subject years after it was made. (A friend of mine saw it play before the animated movie Heavy Metal when it opened in 1981.)

    Hardware Wars was written and directed by Ernie Fosselius, a multi-hyphenate who could not only write and direct, but also worked as a sound editor in Hollywood for years (his credits would include Spaceballs and Ed Wood). John V. Fante, who was the cinematographer of Hardware Wars, and who also went on to shoot the visual FX for The Right Stuff and Star Trek IV, says, "Ernie's a very gifted filmmaker, a multi-talented renaissance man, and he's very, very funny. I don't know if he's ever been a stand-up comedian, but he certainly could have been one. He's very gifted, and Hardware Wars only scratched the surface of what he was capable of."

    The thirteen-minute film opens with a fake studio logo, 20th Century Foss. The parody names for the characters include Fluke Starbucker, Ham Salad, Darph Nader, Princess Anne-Droid, Augie Ben Doggie, and Cuchilla the Wookie Monster. And remember, this was a decade before Spaceballs.

    Part of its charm is that special effects in Hardware Wars are hilariously cut rate. The land speeder is a dune buggy, and you can clearly see the wires on the spaceships, as well as on Android's home planet, which is a basketball floating in space. The spaceships are steam irons, the Death Star is a waffle iron, and R2-D2, redubbed 4Q2, is a vacuum cleaner. Fosselius also created lasers by scratching them directly onto the film negative.

    How a Couch is Made

    With people working alongside robots, smiling, filmed in shallow depth-of-field, occasionally moving in time-lapse, set to calming music, and with a sprinkling of quadcopter footage. But in all seriousness, I love these production montages. (h/t Gizmodo)

    In Brief: The Work of Gregg Barbanell, Hollywood Foley Artist

    The always-insightful Priceonomics blog profiles Gregg Barbanell, a master foley artist who has been creating sounds for film, TV, and video game productions for 35 years. The story chronicles Barbanell's career and notable work, with anecdotes about creating foley for projects like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and Little Miss Sunshine. I like how Barbanell distills his job into three components: creating custom sounds for "cloth, feel, and props." To create the sound of footsteps, Barbanell has amassed a collection of over 100 pairs of shoes.

    Jamie Hyneman's 'Arborist' Quadcopter Test

    While Adam's interest in quadcopters is from a photography and cinematography perspective, Jamie can't help but think of other potential applications for RC multi-rotors. For example, using a quad for landscaping work on otherwise unreachable foliage. We head out to a remote location to safely test Jamie's modification, with some surprising results and lessons learned. Definitely don't try this at home.