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    Star Wars Celebration 2015: Props, Costumes, Collectibles

    I was at Star Wars Celebration over the weekend in Anaheim, where Lucasfilm debuted footage and information about the next two Star Wars films. It was unlike any fan convention I've attended, in its focused scope and fan fervor--this concentrated a dose of Star Wars is intense, even for Comic-Con veterans. We shot a bunch of videos at the show, which we'll start publishing later this week. In the meantime, here are some photos I took, previewing those videos. My highlights: the Force Awakens props and costumes on display, and Sideshow Collectibles' R2-ME2 art project.

    Sphero Tech Likely Used In Practical Star Wars BB-8 Droid

    After we learned that the BB-8 robot from the Force Awakens trailers wasn't a CG construct, but (at least sometimes) a practical effect, we've spent a lot of time speculating on the methods behind its design. Based on hints from Celebration yesterday, it's likely that Sphero developed the technology used in the practical version of the droid. Disney invested in Sphero, makers of remote controlled balls in 2013. I don't know about you, but I'd be shocked if a toy version of BB-8 isn't out in time for the release of the Episode VII this winter.

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    Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer!!

    I'm getting really excited about this, despite my better judgment. No real spoilers here, but we do see a bit more of the post-Empire world, get a hint at villains, and finally see an older, wiser Han Solo.

    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!

    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.

    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 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.

    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.

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    Replicating The Millennium Falcon Filming Model

    Adam clued us onto this impressive model kit from UK-based DeAgostini: a studio scale replica of the Millennium Falcon, broken down into 25 sets. DeAgostini kits are weekly and monthly subscriptions--you pay a set price every month to get more of the kit until its finished. In the Falcon model's case, it'll take two years. But at 32-inches, this model was designed with the help of replica propmaker Steve Dymszo, the founder of Master Replicas. Here, he explains the meticulous research that he and the MR team (including eFX founder Bryan Ono) put into their original replica, from multiple visits to the Lucasfilm Archives and help from fan builders.

    The Making of Interstellar's TARS and CASE Robots

    My favorite part of last summer's Interstellar was the novel design of the film's two robotic characters, TARS and CASE. This video shows how the robots were created, and the rig that was made so that puppeteer Bill Irwin could manipulate the full-size robots.

    In Brief: Photos from the Blade Runner Model Shop

    Not sure about the origins of this gallery, but 142 photos of the models and miniatures shop for Blade Runner popped up online a few days ago. There are plenty of close-up shots of vehicles like Police and civilian Spinners seen in the film, showing off Syd Mead's beautiful designs. Other highlights include the making of the Offworld Blimp (which modelmaker Jason Eaton has faithfully recreated) and the fiber optic light laden headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. Coinciding with the discovery of these photos, Popular Mechanics republished a retrospective of Blade Runner's special effects, written by none other than Adam!

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    The Whitney Family: Pioneers in Computer Animation

    The special effects you see in films today are the result of a collaboration between sometimes hundreds of different artist, animators, and engineers. It's a team-effort, and no one person gets all the credit. But in the very early days of computer animation, being a pioneer in the field could make you a star in your own right, at least in the eyes of directors. While John Whitney’s name may not be as recognizable as, say, John Lasseter, but among computer animation artists he is a legendary figure who paved the way for modern special effects.

    Before we all had home computers, Whitney was a pioneer in the art of CGI, a medium he naturally moved into as an experimental filmmaker. His son, John Whitney Jr., tells us that his father was “never married to any particular methodology or technology. His interest was always on the filmmaking. He followed a never-ending search for an instrument, a technology, or a methodology to getting his ideas on the screen.”

    Whitney Sr. created slit scan, a split-screen effect with cascading images on both sides of the screen, which made its way into 2001. The Whitneys also got two minutes of computer animation into Westworld, going all the way back to 1973. Years later, Whitney Jr. was responsible over twenty minutes of computer animation in The Last Starfighter.

    Whitney had been making animated experimental films since the ‘40’s. He started the company Motion Graphics in 1960, and created his own analog computer. Whitey Sr. invented motion control camera work, and he turned military equipment, like anti-aircraft gun directors, which utilized analog computers, into filmmaking gear. (Whitney first utilized motion control in the spiraling open credits sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.)

    Whitney’s experimental films include Catalog (1961), Matrix III (1972), and Arabesque (1975), which all showed his artistry with computer generated animation. His work would prove very inspiring to a generation of future animators, as well as his immediate family.

    Where a lot of children rebel against following in the footsteps of their parents, Whitney Jr. knew that experimental filmmaking was in his blood. “There was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do,” he says. “I had already made a career choice by the time I got out of high school, which was make abstract films.”

    Some engineers would see this would be the way of the future, and they hooked up with the Whitneys because they were the leaders in the field before anyone even knew a field existed. “John had a great vision,” says Larry Cuba, an animation artist who was first inspired to go digital by Whitney. “He could see all the way into today. It was pretty clear what was coming.”

    But at the time, getting access to a computer was very difficult. The Cray mainframe computers were the fastest for the time, but it would still take all night to get the work done. Even if a company would let you use their computer for a movie, you had to sneak in and do it on the nights and weekends so you wouldn’t disrupt the company’s business.

    The Leviathan Sci-Fi Concept Trailer

    This three-minute sci-fi short film has been getting a lot of play, and the attention is well-deserved. Produced as a concept pitch for a full-length feature, the short is stuffed with beautiful visual design and animated action. Plus a giant flying space whale. It was directed by Ruairi Robinson, who at one point was working with our pal Gary Whitta on the Akira live-action adaptation. So there's your Tested connection! (h/t Boingboing)