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    Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 4

    Your patience has paid off--it’s time for the final print of the Millenbaugh Motivator! All the measurements have been made, a rough version has been completed, the final version has been modeled and prototypes printed. After three months of work, it was time to get this delivered to Adam. And that meant making a flight back out to San Francisco.

    For my previous prints, such as the Octopod and Jetcar builds, I’ve used the trusty Objet Connex500. It's a high-end polyjet printer that can print in various materials--even rubber. But as much as I like this machine, I also had access to a 3D Systems ProJet 7000 HD which could print at even higher resolutions and in stronger material, all of which would be especially useful for the Motivator. The ProJet is a SLA (stereolithography) machine that prints by ‘drawing’ the part in a vat of liquid resin using a laser that solidifies the UV sensitive material. Once a layer is finished, the print platform sinks further down in the resin, a fresh layer of resin is distributed over the top and the laser draws the next layer. The resolution can be set incredibly high, and I was told the parts would be dimensionally accurate, meaning a hole modeled at 3mm in diameter would print at exactly 3mm.

    ProJet 7000 SLA 3D Printer & UV 'Oven'

    I was a bit skeptical of this claim, since typically you need to factor in some tolerances when modeling to accommodate the accuracy of the printer and behavior of the material. This has caused me frustration when 3D printing since a model built with tolerances for one printer won’t always print well on a different printer. I have done various versions of the same model with slight tweaks for different printers--an annoying and time-consuming task.

    The "Movie Physics" of Back to the Future Part II

    One of the things we love about science fiction movies is the storyteller's take of futurism. Films set in the near future take on the challenge of imagining a world filled with technological and cultural changes, and yet are still recognizable and relatable to the viewer. Movies like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A.I (hey, all based on Philip K. Dick works!) fast forward us in time to create a setting that can be used to reflect on the problems of the present, and adorn that setting with props and effects that signify "the future." Those gadgets in turn have inspired a generational of roboticists, computer interface designers, and even toy makers.

    With 2015 right around the corner, we wanted to take a look back at one of armchair futurtists' most beloved movies, Back to the Future Part II. With technologies like Google Glass, video-recording drones, and ubiquitous video conferencing software, it does seem like BTTF II was particularly prescient in its wacky vision of the future. So what’s it like for a screenwriter to see elements from one of his movies coming true twenty-five years after its release? We talked to BTTF scribe Bob Gale about how he and director Robert Zemeckis went about predicting the future, how you can make an audience believe in time travel and hoverboards, and just exactly why Doc Brown infamously pronounced the word gigawatts 'jigawatts.'

    We first asked Gale if he was surprised that some of what was predicted in Back to the Future Part II has come to pass. “Well yeah, I kind of am,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff we did a lot of research on, like using your thumb to make a money transaction, what the money would look like, that kind of stuff was all being theorized about back in the day. The video conferencing, there was a rudimentary form of video conferencing that that already existed back in 1989. So a lot of this stuff was me and Bob Zemeckis saying, ‘Let’s try to take these ideas to its logical conclusion.’

    “One thing that’s kind of interesting, is it’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg,” Gale continues. “We know that people who saw the movie have thought, ‘Is there a way to invent a hoverboard?’ Then people are out there trying to figure that out. We did the tie-in with Nike to make the shoes, then they started thinking, ‘Maybe we can [actually] make these things.’ Some of what we predicted may be coming true because people who saw it in the movie were inspired and thought, ‘Maybe there’s a way to make it come true.’ The guys at Mattel that worked on the hoverboard replica were excited about it, they wanted a hoverboard just like everyone else.”

    Adam Savage's Alien Spacesuit Replica

    Before we went to Comic-Con, we visited Adam in his shop to get an up close look at his replica 'Kane' spacesuit from Alien. At this point, Adam was just about to complete the 10-year project of building the suit in anticipation for his Incognito walk at SDCC. Here, he describes each of the unique components he obsessed over fabricating in this dream project.

    Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 3

    Progress on the Millenbaugh Motivator marches on! All the measurements have been made and a rough version has been modeled and approved by Adam. This week we take a look at modeling the final version and speccing hardware.

    I decided to tackle the ‘valve arms’ first since I wasn’t sure how to build them. They look relatively simple but on closer inspection there’s multiple compound curves, plus the forked portion at the back and I couldn’t easily build them using my regular techniques. I ended up drawing them as 2D splines (curve described by interpreting points) on top of the reference photo--if you are comfortable using the pen tool in Illustrator or Photoshop, this is the same idea. I was able to give the spline thickness by extruding it and then used planes and simple shapes to cut out the rear fork and the front slope.

    The many steps to build an arm. (click to animate)

    Early on, it was tough picturing the size of some of the parts. When you’re constantly looking at blown up pictures for reference and working in 3D where things are floating in space, you start to picture things much bigger than they really are. Adam mentions this in our video when he was convinced the motivator was too small until he actually placed it on the glove. I did a test print on my MakerBot and it looked way too small, so I printed a 1:1 reference picture to easily compare parts and they were right on. I was even able to print the pivot and if a part was printable on the MakerBot (even if it was a little rough) it should print on the high-end printer without any problems.

    Soviet Moon Colonization Dreams, Circa 1965

    Produced in 1965, this Soviet documentary was produced to educate citizens about Soviet rocket technology and what astronomers knew back then about the Moon. Its second half is a fantastic imagination of how humans might colonize the Moon in the distant future. Just great retrofuturist fodder, even if you can't understand the Russian. "The film consists of two parts: popular scientific and science-fiction. In the first part in the popular form the modern (1965) scientific convergence on the Moon are stated. In the second part the director and the artist create a picture of the future of the Moon." More context about the production of this video on The NewStatesman. (h/t io9)

    Filming The Light and Dark Side of The Godfather

    Gordon Willis, who passed away on May 18, 2014, will always be best known as the cinematographer of The Godfather films. At least one recent poll ranked The Godfather as Hollywood's top movie of all time, and it’s not surprising Coppola's epic crime drama is still revered after all this time. The incredible scope and power of the story still holds up, and it gave a generation of new actors like Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan their career breakthroughs. Not to mention it was one of Marlon Brando’s best roles, and the movie that revived his career.

    The Godfather also made cinema history by introducing a new style of cinematography.

    Before Willis shot The Godfather, movies were vastly overlit so they could be seen in the drive-ins and not disappear into the dark of the night. But Willis’ cinematography was a bold step forward, changing the look of movies forever. Because of The Godfather, studios actually had to make two sets of prints, a lighter one for drive-ins, and a darker one for theaters.

    It’s easy to take this for granted today because dark cinematography is an accepted norm, and with the latest digital cinema cameras you can shoot with almost no available light. But for the time, Willis’ approach was very groundbreaking, and many cinematographers followed his lead into the dark.

    Willis had shot several films before The Godfather, including Loving, which was directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), and The Landlord, which was directed by Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude). The Godfather was going to be filmed in New York, which meant that Coppola had to hire a cinematographer from the New York unions. Willis was recommended to Coppola by Matthew Robbins, a friend from the Bay Area who went on to write The Sugarland Express for Spielberg, as well as direct the fantasy Dragonslayer. (Robbins knew Kershner from USC, where the latter taught film.) Willis was also picked for the job because Coppola wanted a cinematographer that could capture a period look.

    In interviews, Willis made it clear there was no master plan to change cinema with his approach to the film.

    Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 2

    Sean Charlesworth recaps his project working with Adam building the Millenbaugh Motivator for the Hellboy Mech-Glove project. This week, he discusses how he built the plans for his design, based on reference photos provided by Adam.

    I have been tasked with building a 5” x 4” mechanical block with a crankshaft assembly and a variety of small ‘valves’ that clop open and close. It’s the Millenbaugh Motivator for Adam’s Hellboy Mecha-Hand replica, so named for Scott Millenbaugh, the original fabricator at Spectral Motion. Scott machined the original out of metal (aluminum, I think) and there are many tiny precision pieces all driven by a small crankshaft. A lot of work went into this--all the parts are tiny and I can’t imagine having to machine all of them from metal.

    Original Motivator Photo credit: Adam Savage

    Having made replicas like this for many years, Adam knew exactly what was needed: lots and lots of good reference. As Harrison Krix discussed in his Halo Needler build articles, blueprints are the Holy Grail for building a replica, but these usually aren’t available or may have never even existed. For us mere mortals, reference typically comes from ‘Art of the Movie’ books, DVD extras, movie screengrabs and, if you’re really lucky, at Comic-Con or similar events where the original may be on display. Often, this original will be in a case or roped off so it becomes a game of fighting the crowd to snap as many pictures as possible through the display case which reflects everything and is smeared with nerd-grease.

    Behind the Scenes at Tippett Studio

    Part demo reel, part promotional tool for The Foundry's suite of CG software, this behind-the-scenes video explores how the artists at Tippett Studio created the "Ship of the Imagination" scenes for the new COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey mini-series. We may be most familiar with Tippett Studio's work on classic films like Robocop and Starship Troopers, but the company has worked on over 50 films in its 30 year history, collaborating with other effects houses. For example, I didn't know that they worked on the awesome creature scenes for both Hellboy and Cloverfield.

    SDCC 2014: QmX's Starship Scale Models

    In most modern science fiction films, the spaceships are computer generated. But back in the days of Star Wars, Star Trek, and even Starship Troopers, effects houses made filming miniatures of starships, shuttles, and fighters for the big and small screen. Quantum Mechanix's Artisan Replicas carries on that tradition with its scale models iconic spaceships, with a new USS Reliant and Serenity unveiled at this year's Comic-Con.

    A Tribute to Make-Up Master Dick Smith

    Like many, I was shocked and saddened when Dick Smith passed away last week, at the age of 92. Smith was the groundbreaking make-up artist who transformed Marlon Brando into an aging don in The Godfather, and who turned sweet little Linda Blair into a monster in The Exorcist. His credits also include Dark Shadows, Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, Taxi Driver, Altered States, Amadeus, and many more. You may not have known his name, but you have definitely seen his work.

    The news was broken by Rick Baker, via Twitter: “The master is no longer with us, but his work will live on. There will never be another like Dick. He and his work changed the industry.” William Friedkin also tweeted that “Without Dick Smith neither The Exorcist nor modern makeup would be the same.”

    Although he was in his nineties, it was still hard to imagine the man being gone because he had a tremendous life force. Even late in life, he was a generous and happy spirit, and when he won an honorary Academy Award in 2011, he was genuinely grateful and visibly moved.

    Rick Baker, who Smith mentored when he was young, was there to present the award, and J.J. Abrams also recalled writing a fan letter to Smith when he was young. He didn’t think he’d hear back, but then one day he saw a package in the mail with Dick Smith’s return address on it, and his heart pounded. Inside was a prosthetic tongue from The Exorcist as a gift, and Abrams’s mother was concerned: “Who is this man named Dick sending you tongues?”

    Smith laughed at the memory, and when it came time for Baker to give Smith the Oscar, he was moved to tears that he was the one handing the award to the man who helped launch his career. Baker said he was “proud and honored” to present the award to “my idol, my mentor, my friend for over forty-three years, the greatest make-up artist alive.” Baker added that Smith “took make-up to a whole new level. His work inspired a whole generation of up and coming make-up artists, myself included.”

    Smith was clearly humbled by Baker’s words, and in a brief speech he said, “This has been an incredible joy, one of the greatest I’ve ever had in my whole life. I have loved being a make-up artist so much, but this kind of puts the crown, the cap, on all of that. To have so much kindness given to me all at once, is just too much. I am so grateful, thank you so much.” When Rick Baker got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012, Smith was proudly by his side, and both events were indeed fitting caps to an incredible career of make-up innovation.

    Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 1

    I remember watching the first Hellboy Mecha-Hand video that Will shot with Adam, and was pumped for what was to come. I'm a Hellboy fan and this particular prop had all the elements I love: mystical, mechanical, intricate WWII-era tech with a killer look. If you told me that two years later I would play a part in finishing said project, I wouldn’t have believed it.

    It almost never happened since I wasn’t going to enter Adam’s Inventern competition. At the time, I was spending every extra moment 3D printing and assembling iris boxes and TARDIS kits for my booth at Maker Faire New York. And more importantly, I didn’t think I had much of a chance of winning. Thankfully, my wife suggested that I should really make an entry video. Strongly suggested. Repeatedly. I finally listened and the day before the deadline I stayed after work to make a video for my 3D printed Octopod.

    A few days later, I received a call from the guys at Tested, informing me, that I was one of the top ten entries selected to continue on--I absolutely could not believe it. Later that week we received the next challenge: make a 1:1 scale replica of a household item using only the materials sent to us. I eagerly awaited my box of stuff but it showed up later than expected, leaving me only a few days to complete the challenge. For those who didn’t catch it the first time around, the box consisted of: sheets of cardboard, Elmer’s glue, an X-ACTO knife, a black Sharpie, masking tape, a cutting matte, some classic Tested stickers and the top-of-the-line Droid phone. While waiting for my box, I decided to literally use everything in the box, meaning I needed a use for the phone. I figured my best bet was to duplicate my video camera, using the phone as the flip-out screen, the problem was that I had never built anything out of cardboard. Ever.

    SDCC 2014: Ghostbusters Terror Dog

    At Comic-Con, we stop by the Chronicle Collectibles booth to see a new prototype of the Ghostbusters Terror Dog stop-motion puppet replica. Paul Francis of Chronicle explains to us how this piece is derived from the original sculptor's molds, and how the original minions of Gozer were brought to life 30 years ago.

    SDCC 2014: Prop Store's Screen-Used Movie Props

    We stop by Prop Store's booth at this year's Comic-Con to check out some amazing original props our favorite films. There's one of the hero suits from the 1989 Batman, scale miniature vehicles, beautiful suits from Pacific Rim, and one of the coolest animatronic creatures we've ever seen.

    The Influence and Legacy of Artist H.R. Giger

    It will make a great question on a game show one day: What never-released movie had ambitions to be over ten hours long, star Mick Jagger and Orson Welles, feature a screenplay by the writer of Alien, and production design by H.R. Giger? Jodorowsky’s Dune of course, and the recent documentary on this unmade epic is a remarkable effort--probably the best movie about an unmade movie I've seen yet.

    All filmmakers have dream projects that for one reason or another, never get made, and Dune was a real heartbreaker for writer Dan O’Bannon. He eventually rebounded with Alien, and brought the late Giger along with him to be the production designer. The rest, as you know, is sci-fi history, as Giger's designs for the creature and sets revolutionized the monster-movie genre. As Ridley Scott said in a statement after Giger's recent passing, the swiss surrealist was “a real artist and great eccentric, a true original, but above all he was a really nice man.”

    Most people know Giger’s work from Alien, yet he created a large body of work in his lifetime. Whether you know the name or not, his artwork is unmistakable and unforgettable. It's art that you can both fall in love with and get terrified by at the same time. Giger was a fearless artist who looked deep into the abyss, and found it a great landscape to capture in his work.

    We asked Frank Pavich, the director of Jodorowsky’s Dune, how important he felt Giger’s work was to the history of sci-fi. “I think he’s incredibly important,” Pavich tells us. “Let’s say we take the timeline of films, and let’s say we remove Alien from the timeline. There were so many films that directly or indirectly took influence from that film. If you compare Star Wars and films before that to the aesthetic of Alien, they’re completely different. Alien is, as he put it, a biological mess. It’s dirty, it’s messy, it’s gross, it’s disgusting, and I don’t think science fiction had that kind of horror. I think he really created that fear in us.”

    The Comic-Con 2014 Cosplay Gallery (750+ Photos)

    Every year, we attend Comic-Con to celebrate our favorite parts of popular culture. We meet amazing artists, storytellers, toymakers, and of course, cosplayers. Adam walks the floor incognito in one of his new costumes, and I get to spend my free time roaming the convention hall meeting and taking photos of people who embody their favorite characters through cosplay. (It is a great photography exercise, too!) The cosplayers of Comic-Con never cease to impress me with their creativity and enthusiasm, and I am pleased to share with you my favorite photos from this years convention. Know who these cosplayers are? Email me at norman@tested.com with "Comic-Con 2014 cosplay" in the subject line to help me credit these awesome cosplayers. Thanks!

    Adam Incognito at Comic-Con 2014: Alien Spacesuit

    Ever year, Adam Savage walks the floor of Comic-Con incognito, hidden in plain view wearing one of his elaborate cosplay costumes. This year, Adam debuts a costume he has been working on for almost a decade: a perfect replica of the environmental space suit from Ridley Scott's Alien!

    Tested Goes to Comic-Con 2014!

    We've arrived at San Diego for Comic-Con! Will and Norm rush to pick up their badges and then hit the convention floor for Wednesday's preview night. We give you a preview of what to expect on Tested this week--let the geeking out commence!

    Adam Savage's Hellboy Mecha-Glove Replica

    One of Adam Savage's favorite movie props is Rasputin's mecha-hand from Hellboy. It's an elaborately machined prop that's only in the movie for a few minutes, and Adam has spent over four years painstakingly replicating it. Now that it's finally done, Adam walks us through all the individual components and how he fabricated each.

    Adam Savage's Prop Replica Drawings

    In the process of building one of his replica props, Adam accumulates an extremely detailed inventory of all the components of that prop, with specifications that match the original as best as possible. Now, Adam has taken up drawing as another outlet for his obsessions, sharing that wealth of knowledge in beautiful sketches and original graphic designs. Find out how you can get one of these art prints here.