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    Tested Mailbag: Not the Police

    We get an large package in the mail from a reader, and open it for the latest edition of the Tested Mailbag! This mailbag is filled with goodies, including snacks, something for our office set, and the story of a maker project! Thanks to Chris for sending the care package!

    In Brief: Why Archaeologists Hate Indiana Jones

    National Geographic writer Erik Vance recently blogged about his conversations with scientists and archaeologists about the problem of looting in their field. Academics pointed to Indiana Jones' character as more looter than archaeologist, who would rather attempt to steal a gold statue than study the amazing mechanisms built into the temple at the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Vance studied the problem of looting of Mayan artifacts for this recent NatGeo feature, and a black market trade that is far from the glamour that Hollywood portrays. "The real life Indiana Joneses of the world are not wise-cracking professors with bullwhips. They are poor farmers and hooligans pushed by desperation and warfare to the fringes of society where they eke out an existence, destroying our only opportunities to understand ancient cultures." (via Boingboing)

    Norman 6
    Kong vs. Kong in Hollywood

    We've seen happen in Hollywood again and again: the simultaneous production of two movies about the same subject. Whether it's asteroid movies, werewolf movies, or even two different takes on the Snow White story. Once an idea is in the zeitgeist, studios start a mad dash to see who gets a movie made about it first. And back in the mid-seventies, this happened with the first remake of King Kong.

    In 1976, producer Dino De Laurentiis got his version to the big screen, starring Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Grodin, and Rick Baker playing the big ape in a gorilla suit he created.But some fanboys who weren’t happy with the remake have often lamented about what could have been with the other planned remake of Kong, which Universal had been planning for ’76 as well.

    Titled The Legend of King Kong, Universal's flick was going to be more faithful to the original, staying in the ‘30’s, while the De Laurentiis version was updated to modern times. While the ’76 remake had plenty of drawbacks, there were certainly no guarantees the Universal movie would have been any better or worse. Yet looking back on it today, we get the impression it certainly had a good shot.

    With incredible stop-motion animation from Willis O’Brien, the original King Kong was the state of the art effects movie of its time. In fact, it was the film that inspired Ray Harryhausen to launch his own career in stop motion effects, and it also inspired Peter Jackson to become a filmmaker as well. (Jackson’s 2005 remake of Kong was not only his way of paying tribute to the film that enchanted him as a kid, but it was his way of trying to make up for the ’76 version as well.)

    While many modern remakes have basically done what’s called “movie karaokie,” redoing a movie practically verbatim from the original, in the ‘70’s remakes tried to bring old stories up to date. The ’76 Kong took place in modern day, with the added twist of Kong’s exploitation mirroring the then energy crisis. Here Kong is captured and exploited by an evil oil company, similar to Exxon, who first go to Skull Island looking for crude, then discovering the giant gorilla instead.

    Making the Automaton from Hugo

    I rewatched Martin Scorsese's Hugo last night, and was reminded of how much I loved the film--itself being a love letter to filmmaking. One of the standouts of the movie is the elaborate automaton that's at the center of the story--a small mechanical boy that winds up and draws a picture. I was pleased to find this behind this scenes video from production house Dick George Creatives that showed the making of this complex and beautiful machine. The propmakers used modern fabrication technologies to build 13 static models, and two that actually drew without the aid of CG (albeit slowly). As I've mentioned before, the Hugo automata was inspired by many automata machines of the 1700s, including watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz's 'The Writer' and the Maillardet automata now at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. And as expected, RPF members have attempted to recreate it, or at least the notebook featured in the movie with the automata drawings.

    Show and Tell: Star Wars Imperial Probe Droid Project

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm invites you back into his home office to check out two of his new favorite things--both Star Wars themed! The first is a great Death Star rug from Thinkgeek, and the second is a 1/6th scale Imperial Probe Droid model that Norm has upgraded with some minor hacking.

    Photo Gallery: Comparing the Cain Replica to the Original

    Our video today showcased the Chronicle Collectibles Cain robot miniature, a painstaking recreation of the stop-motion puppet used in Robocop 2. We were told how each piece of the puppet was molded and cast for the replica, but it's difficult to appreciate the amount of precision that went into the model without looking at it up close. So here's a small gallery of photos I took comparing Chronicle's replica to the original to give you a sense of how accurate it is. I was also pleased to learn that the Chronicles Collectibles Cain miniature had its paint master done by modelmaker Jason Eaton, who we've previously featured on Tested. Jason is incredibly talented, as we saw in his amazing Blade Runner blimp miniature. You can actually find a ton of great photos of the completed Cain paint master on his website at www.mystery10.com

    Replicating the Original Robocop 2 Cain Stop-Motion Puppet

    During our visit to Phil Tippett Studio, we had a chance to inspect one of the original stop-motion puppets used to for Robocop 2's Cain robot. This intricately designed and machined miniature was actually recently disassembled so its hundreds of parts could be molded to create a series of replicas. We chat with Paul Francis of Chronicle Collectibles to geek out over the little details of this amazing puppet and learn about the replication process.

    Paying Tribute to the Twilight Zone

    The Twilight Zone first debuted on CBS in October 2, 1959, and ended on June 19, 1964, with 156 episodes in all. Not every episode was a winner, and there were varying degrees of greatness for many Twilight Zone installments, but the show’s lasting impact after half a century is still remarkable.

    The show is remembered for its many great elements: the strong moral lessons of the show, the skillful storytelling, the zappers at the end, the wonderful, moody cinematography, Rod Serling’s speeches that bookended every episode, and so much more. Today, let's go in depth into why we still love The Twilight Zone and which of those elements resonated strongest with us as truly effective storytelling.

    Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling first got into the entertainment business writing for radio, breaking into television in the early fifties. Serling came into prominence for writing the drama “Patterns,” which aired on the Kraft Television Theater, and “Requiem For a Heavyweight,” which aired on Playhouse 90 and swept the Emmys. Serling came up in the golden age of television, when the medium featured incredible writers and directors like Paddy Chayefsky (Network), and John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate).

    But soon television started appealing more and more to the lowest common denominator, earning the nickname “the idiot box.” Serling kept writing stories with a social conscience, but they were routinely shredded by the censors. He finally realized that sci-fi and fantasy could be the Trojan horse to get his messages through.

    “Rod was forever getting into trouble because he wanted to call a spade a spade,” says George Clayton Johnson, who wrote the Twilight Zone episodes Nothing in the Dark and Kick the Can. “They were forever stopping him for the pettiest of reasons, which made him even more of a little David against a bunch of Goliaths.”

    As Anne Serling, Rod’s daughter, tells us, “My father did an interview with Mike Wallace right before The Twilight Zone came out, and he was apprehensive about revealing too much about the show. He knew he was using it as a vehicle to get these messages out, and slip it under the radar. They never knew what hit them! Another one of my father’s quotes was the writer’s job was to menace the public’s conscience.”

    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.