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    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's a great photography exercise, too!) The cosplayers of Comic-Con never cease to impress me with their creativity and enthusiasm, and I'm pleased to share with you my favorite photos from this year's 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.

    How The Evil Dead's Tom Sullivan Mastered Low-Budget Effects

    When Sam Raimi went to college at Michigan State, he formed a tight group of filmmaking friends. Scott Spiegel, who wrote Evil Dead 2, bonded with Raimi over their mutual love of The Three Stooges. Bruce Campbell became Raimi’s square jawed leading man, and Rob Tapert would become Sam’s long time producer. Another important member of that filmmaking fraternity was Tom Sullivan, who did the make-up effects for The Evil Dead. If Raimi's seminal horror debut is renowned for its low-budget production, it was Sullivan who gets the credit for providing those memorable scares with such limited resources.

    Part of what made The Evil Dead so enjoyable was its very homemade feel. It was a completely independent movie, and like the best low budget movies that break out into the mainstream, enthusiasm and spirit triumphed over whatever technical flaws the movie had. Sullivan was a major facilitator in bringing Raimi’s insane vision to life, and as a long time horror fan, I welcomed the chance to talk to him about his memories of working on The Evil Dead.

    Tom Sullivan first met up with Sam Raimi because his girlfriend was attending Michigan State as the same time as the wunderkind director. Sullivan had heard about Sam’s Creative Filmmaking Society, where he would show his 8mm movies he made in junior high and high school, and charge a buck or so for admission. “Sam was surrounded by a group of friends who were all interested in filmmaking and acting,” Sullivan says. “He had his own little company.”

    When Sullivan met Raimi, they immediately hit it off because Tom was fascinated with stop-motion animation, special effects, claymation, and puppets, and these were all filmmaking techniques that were right up Raimi’s alley. All were solitary pursuits for Sullivan, and now he found a filmmaker with a like mind he could collaborate with.

    Animating Robocop 2's Cain Robot with Phil Tippett

    One of science fiction film's most memorable and menacing creatures is the Cain cyborg from Robocop 2. Cain was brought to life with a full-size robot prop and several intricately machined stop-motion puppets, all which have survived and live at Tippett Studio. We get up close with these iconic props and chat with legendary special effects animator Phil Tippett about the process of designing and animating Cain.

    Alternative Universe Movies: John Boorman's Lord of the Rings

    John Boorman is the director of such masterpieces as Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Deliverance, Excalibur, and more. He also almost directed Lord of the Rings, and to think what he could have done with the classic Tolkien tale absolutely boggles the mind. At that point, there was no way a major studio would have backed three movies that told the whole story. It was a miracle New Line Cinema went ahead with three movies when Peter Jackson tackled the trilogy decades later. Still, with a brave and experimental filmmaker like Boorman, you get the feeling it could have been a hell of a movie if he had the opportunity to make it.

    Boorman wrote a bit about his opportunity to direct Lord of the Rings in his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy. Boorman had just made Leo the Last for United Artists, and David Picker, who was then the head of the studio, approached the director about potentially adapting the Tolkien epic. The first problem was, you guessed it, trying to cram the entire story into one movie. “To compress the three volumes into a three-hour movie was a hugely ambitious undertaking,” Boorman wrote. “But I was grateful to have the chance to try. I was interested in the central metaphor, that the One Ring is of such power that it corrupts whoever possesses it.”

    To help him, Boorman hooked up with Rospo Pallenberg, an Italian architect living in New York who wanted to be a screenwriter. Pallenberg first became aware of Boorman’s work when one night he had an argument with his wife, and walked out into the rain in a huff. Seeking shelter, Pallenberg ducked into a movie theater, which was playing Point Blank, Boorman’s classic crime thriller starring Lee Marvin. Pallenberg loved the film so much, he sat through it twice that night.

    Eventually Pallenberg was introduced to Boorman, who was in New York staying at the Sherry Netherland, having a meeting in his suite about Leo the Last. After the meeting, Boorman took Pallenberg into the suite’s closet, turned on the light, and thrust the three Lord of the Rings books at him. “Do you know them?,” Boorman asked. “Maybe we can write a screenplay together.”

    How To Walk Like an Ape (for Performance Capture)

    For the new movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, motion-performance actors went through some schooling to teach them to walk like quadrupeds. We chatted with Apes' movement choreographer Terry Notary about how to act and move like an ape, and take a hands-on lesson!

    The Special Effects of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    "We actually call it performance capture." That's how Matt Reeves, director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, quickly corrected me when I asked him a question about the state of motion capture technology. This was two weeks ago, at the press junket for the new film. Reeves, along with the film's actors and visual effects supervisors, fielded questions for an hour from a packed hotel suite of entertainment reporters. It was the first junket for a big hollywood film that we've been invited to, and the experience was a little surreal. It felt a lot of like a Comic-Con panel, but for just 30 people instead of 3,000. And we had all seen the movie at an early screening the night before (it's really good). And with that opportunity to speak directly to the filmmakers, I wanted to learn about the process of filming a movie on location with the latest in motion performance capture technology. Unlike some films that use performance capture with primarily green screened sets (think Avatar), Reeves chose to build out many of the film's locations as actual physical sets, like the massive ape village, for the actors--both for human and ape characters--to interact in. And the computer generated characters were maybe the best I've ever seen in a live action movie. At this junket, I was able to ask a few of these technical questions to Reeves, actor Andy Serkis, and the film's Visual Effects Supervisors Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon. Here's what they had to say.

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Tested: Matt, you've talked about how directing this movie differs from directing one without performance capture, without a lot of CG, and how that required you to shoot scenes many times over. Can you go over that process?

    Director Matt Reeves: My biggest fear, having never done this [kind of movie] before, and being such an admirer of Andy’s--specifically being affected so deeply by his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes--was “How was that done?” I didn’t really understand [the process]. As much as I understood the technical side from the outside, I had this fear that somehow the technology would get in the way with my interaction with Andy. Because there would be this technology between us.

    So then, I looked at all the footage, and what I saw was Andy, working with the other actors, and he’s amazing. The trick to what gives Caesar such soul is that Andy has soul. So that part of it was immediately demystified. I was very happy to see that. The hard part comes after that [inital filming].

    So [first], I’m working with Andy, we’re talking through a scene, and then he does this beautiful scene with the actors. Then we’ve got that shot in reference. And then we’ve got to shoot that shot again. Sometimes, when there aren’t humans in [the scene], we have to shoot it with no one in the shot. The camera operator has to try to reproduce what he did when he was trying to follow Andy, including the sometimes surprising moves that he would make. And other times, I would have to get the humans, who had just played a very beautiful scene with Andy, to play the scene by themselves. Because those shots, were then used to put Andy, [rendered] as Caesar, into the scenes.

    So the shots where the actors have had that beautiful connection with Andy, often were not the shots that were going to be used [in the final film], so I had to let them know “Your performance is still not in the movie yet. We have to get it right now--you have to remember what Andy did. And Andy, then, would get on a microphone, and try to talk the other actors through, the beats they’d just experienced together. It was a very unusual process.

    How the Original Star Wars Comics Saved Marvel

    Back in January, Lucasfilm announced that the Star Wars comics were heading back to Marvel, after being published by Dark Horse, who had been putting out Star Wars comics series since 1991. This wasn’t a surprise because Marvel and Lucasfilm are now both under the Disney umbrella, and Star Wars comics actually debuted at Marvel way back in 1977. In a sense, it's returning home.

    Some have credited the Star Wars comics for keeping Marvel in business back in the ‘70’s, and it also became part of the film’s enormous merchandising bonanza when the saga became a blockbuster. Before all that, however, the movie--and the comic series--were a tough sell.

    Roy Thomas, the former editor in chief of Marvel, remembered first meeting George Lucas and the film’s publicist Charles Lippincott, in early 1975. “They were eager for any kind of publicity they could get,” Thomas recalls. “I don’t think there was exactly any media blitz in the works from 20th Century Fox. You’d think there would be, but it wasn’t advertised much. I don’t remember much about the conversation except they talked about it being a sequence of movies, and it was called The Star Wars, it still had the word ‘The’ attached to it.”

    Lucas and Lippincott had already approached Stan Lee about a Star Wars comic and were turned down, so they went to Thomas to see if they could get something set up. In early 1976, they came to Thomas again, armed with the Ralph McQuarrie production sketches for the movie. “They started showing me the sketches, Charlie Lippincott flipped each one over, and he told me the story. It wasn’t likely I was going to be swayed because science fiction hadn’t sold very well in comics, and Marvel hadn’t really done movie adaptations that much.”

    Still, as Lippincott told the story of Star Wars, and flipped through the illustrations, Thomas’s head started spinning. “It was the first time I was hearing names like R2-D2, C-3PO, Obi-Wan, Planet Tatooine…Then they flipped over to the drawing of the Cantina sequence, and I said ‘I’ll do it.’”

    As Thomas recalled, Stan Lee changed his mind when he learned Alec Guinness would be in the film. Marvel decided to do a six-issue adaption, and Lucas and Lippincott were hoping now-veteran artist Howard Chaykin would illustrate the comic.

    Michael McMaster Builds a Droid for Lucasfilm

    Friend of Tested (and real-life Wall-E robot builder) Michael McMaster has revealed that he's been working on a new Star Wars astromech. It's name is Chopper, and the droid is one of the key characters from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels animated series. Chopper is just the latest of McMaster's many robot projects--the veteran R2-D2 builder is currently also working on a brand new "ultimate" R2 unit, as well as an R4-P17! We have to visit his shop again to check them out!

    Engineering Alien's Original Xenomorph's Head

    H.R. Giger's recent passing has brought to light some new accounts of the film production for which he was best known, Ridley Scott's Alien. The Strange Shapes fan blog recounts the little known story about how the original headpiece for the eponymous creature was created for infamous reveal shot. Apparently, two effects teams were hired to design a mechanized head for the scene--one at Shepperton studios which had previously build the R2-D2 droids for Star Wars, and a second led by Italian effects master Carlo Rambaldi, who was then best known for designing E.T. for Spielberg. (This is the same Rambaldi who took the E.T. design job away from Rick Baker.)

    As the story goes, both teams failed to please Giger (who was famous for being difficult to collaborate with) and rushed to build their animating Xenomorph heads by the shoot date in Fall of 1978. Rambali's team won out with a complex skull made of fiberglass, metal tracks, and puppeteering cables, while the Shepperton team was given the task of mechanizing the creature's tail (which was eventually just puppeteered with external wires). There was a lot of politicking on-set between the teams, it's the kind of tension and drama that happens on every film production that behind-the-scenes fans love to hear.

    Scott wound up not using most of Rambaldi's mechanisms, opting for an extended close-up of the Xenomorph for its glamour shot. But the Alien franchise would continue to have a close relationship with practical effects artists--Stan Winston's studio created the animatronics for the sequel, and released its own effects test videos not too long ago (embedded below).

    Animating Adam Savage's Workshop

    Adam invited animator Marty Cooper to the Cave to geek out about traditional hand-drawn cel animation and Marty's creative augmented reality cartoons. Using overhead projector transparency sheets and a stop-motion app, Marty lets loose one of his creations in the shop!

    Animating AT-AT Walkers' Stop-Motion, in Time-Lapse

    From director Joe Johnston, who was the effects technician and concept artist on Star Wars: "Original Trilogy fans...here's the digitized super 8mm clip of Phil Tippett, Jon Berg and Doug Bestwick stop-motion animating a snow walker shot from The Empire Strikes Back. As I watch this for the first time in thirty-five years I am truly amazed at the amount of work that went into the creation of just one shot in this iconic sequence. I love stop motion with all it's archaic flaws and charm. This is a great example of what will hopefully not become a lost art form." Johnston's personal YouTube channel has plenty of lovely behind-the-scenes stories and time-lapses of his drawings.

    In Praise of the Mechanical Typewriter

    When was the last time you used a mechanical typewriter? With the current state of computing, there's no need at all to use one--even the computer keyboard is losing ground to touch and voice interfaces. Yet if you grew up with a typewriter, and learned to spell your name on one, you’ll be happy to learn that like vinyl, typewriters are indeed making a comeback. Even if not to be used regularly, then at least to be appreciated.

    All around the world, typewriter enthusiasts have been organizing events to celebrate the history and design of the machine. The American one has been dubbed the “Type-In,” and have been hosted in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. Louise Marler, an L.A. artist who organized the event, tells us, “It seems like the day the news was published that the last manufacturer of typewriters was closing it doors, it was a call to action among the niche typewriter community to come to the rescue."

    Berkeley Type-In event in 2013. Photo credit: Flickr user mpclemens via Creative commons

    Says Marler, “Typewriters have been out of the market and general use just long enough for the younger generation to be intrigued by the industrial age antiques. The kids took right to it. Once the younger ones were shown by their parent how it worked, it was natural for them. They could make sense of the action and reaction, press key and see it strike page and leave mark... They really liked it, stayed, played like with any other toy. And it was a blast to see the education and joy taking place.”

    The Type-In even had famous typewriters on display that were owned by John Lennon, Orson Welles, and Ted Kaczynsky, aka The Unabomber. “The LA Times published an article about Steve Soboroff's famous authors typewriter collection,” Marler explains. “I found him on twitter and sent him a short note. He responded instantly after reading my history at TypewriterStories.com and LAMarler.com. He invited me to the Malibu Library Reopening where he was offering typing on them as fundraising for them. Mr. Soboroff is just as nice and approachable as he is rich and powerful.”

    It’s also amusing to think that for some artists, hanging on to your typewriter is a luxury. Most screenwriters have to be part of the computer age to write and turn in a script, but Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen had a faithful typewriter repairman in New York, who only retired last year. Bino Gan, the owner and operator of Typewriters ‘N Things, repaired the typewriter Coppola wrote The Godfather on, an Olivetti, as well as Woody Allen’s faithful Olympia.

    As for why typewriters have had a recent resurgence, many will tell you it’s much easier to focus on a typewriter than it is on a computer. Reuben Flores, owner of US Business Machines tells us, “The generation of the last seven years wants to slow down so they can go forward. A typewriter only allows one thing, to be creative. A typewriter can help them be more creative and be more focused. I’m seeing more college students using typewriters because computer monitors irritate them give them headaches.”