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    Rick Baker's Make-Up and Special Effects Legacy

    Make-up and special effects legend Rick Baker just announced his retirement from film production, coinciding with the auction of his vast collection of original props, puppets, and animatronics. In this final piece from our visit to that collection, we have an extended conversation with Rick about his work and celebrated career--a lifetime of having fun and improving his craft. Thanks so much to Rick and Prop Store for this incredible opportunity!

    Crafting the Practical Creatures of Gremlins

    Gremlins was a big breakthrough for director Joe Dante, who previously gave us the genre greats Piranha and The Howling. Gremlins would also be a big step forward to animatronic effects, thanks to Chris Walas, who did similar slimy magic for David Cronenberg's The Fly.

    Before the success of Gremlins, Dante worked for Roger Corman's New World Pictures, making his debut comedy, Hollywood Boulevard, in 1976. Next he followed up with Piranha in 1978, then The Howling, which was a big horror hit in 1981, and also broke a lot of ground in make-up effects with Rob Bottin's werewolf creations. While The Howling was a success, Dante didn't make a lot of money from it, and his career was stuck in limbo afterwards, which is why he was surprised when the screenplay for Gremlins arrived at his dump of an office on Hollywood Boulevard. Dante didn't know Spielberg then, but Steven was a fan, Piranha was his favorite Jaws rip-off, and he was apparently inspired by The Howling to cast its star, Dee Wallace Stone, as Elliot's mother in E.T.

    Gremlins was written by Christopher Columbus as a writing sample, and as Dante recalls, "He hadn't written it with the idea that it was something that was going to be produced, so there was a lot of stuff in the script that was pretty hard to do." Initially Spielberg wanted to make Gremlins as a low budget, non-union horror film in Oregon. Yet Dante tells us, "As we developed it, it became apparent that were weren't going to be able to make it very cheap, and it was going to have to have the studio behind it in order for us to pull off what was in the story."

    Previously, make-up artist Chris Walas was working on a remake of Creature From the Black Lagoon with Dante, but Universal decided to scrap the project and made Jaws 3D instead. "I was devastated," Walas says. "I'm a huge Creature fan, and was thrilled to be working on that one."

    Then Dante sent over the script for Gremlins, and Walas says, "I was overwhelmed at the amount of work in it, and that was when the script was (just) a simple horror movie without any characters, just little monsters. I normally make notes on a script as I read it, but I was too astonished at the Gremlins script to make many." Once Walas finished reading the script, he wrote one note on the cover page: "HA!"

    Walas started making some simple sketches with Dante, his producing partner Mike Finnell, and Chris Columbus all providing feedback. "Joe used Chuck Jones cartoons as a reference for the Mogwai," Walas says. "He wanted them to have the same emotional range of some of the Warner Bros cartoon characters."

    Maker Faire 2015: Justin Gray's Armored Robots

    In experimenting with converting farm equipment to electric vehicles, fabricator Justin Gray has created a fleet of remote controlled robots that are as beautiful as they are tough. Heavily armored and uniquely sculpted, these robots looked like they rolled off the of the Mad Max set. We chat with Justin about his robots and how they each have a personality of their own.

    Searching for Home Theater 3D Audio That Doesn’t Suck

    Dolby 7.1 surround sound was pretty easy for me to resist; $700 plus for a new AV Receiver and another $700 in speakers to add two more channels behind my head? Nope. I'm good sticking with 5.1 surround sound. So to even think about 9.1? Hah!

    But Atmos, Dolby's latest sound technology seems a lot more impressive, and may be a lot harder to resist. Think of it, literally, as 3D audio. The system is designed to deliver sound from above you, not just around you. When utilized properly, it fills a room with sound, and gives filmmakers the tools to place individual sounds exactly where they want them in the theater space and move them around.

    And, unlike 3D movies, I don't think it's a sucktastic gimmick. (All due apologies to Mr. Cameron and Avatar, but, most movies didn't do 3D nearly so well.)

    That said, this was going to be a really simple column. Dolby Atmos sounds really cool, but my fear was that you would have to spend a grand or more on a receiver that supports Atmos. And then you'd have to mount FOUR speakers in your ceiling. And there's not much content mixed for it yet. Like 7.1, it could be an easy pass.

    Turns out I was wrong on two of those counts. You can have Atmos even if you a) don't have all the money, and b) aren't allowed to cut holes or pull cable through the ceiling (with caveats). But before we talk bargain receivers and Atmos enabled speakers, let's talk about the Atmos technology itself.

    The Anatomy of an R2-D2 Astromech Droid

    What makes up an R2-D2 Astromech? We chat with members of the R2 Builders club to learn about the process of building your own droid--the materials, power systems, and electronics needed to get started. Chris James of the Bay Area club chapter opens up his own R2 and shares the custom controls and components he's designed to make his droid come alive!

    LEGO with Friends: Phil Broughton, Part 1

    Time for another week of LEGO with Friends! This week's guest is one of the most interesting people we know: a radiation expert who also makes a brew of coffee known as the Black Blood of the Earth. Phil Broughton joins us for a week of conversation, storytelling, and of course, building LEGO! Follow along with us by signing up for a Tested Premium Membership here! (The first episode is free for everyone, but the rest of the series will be for Premium Members.)

    Google's Project Wing Delivery Drone Prototype

    The type of consumer qudacopters designed for aerial photography and FPV racing aren't ideal for automated delivery--you can't just tie a string to a Phantom. At Maker Faire, we learn about Google's Project Wing prototype, which has a lightweight VTOL design that allows it to take off vertically and still fly long distances. It's even been tested in the field!

    Google Research's Projects at Maker Faire 2015

    Google had a big presence at this year's Maker Faire, bring several of their research projects to share with makers--including a giant knife-wielding robot! We chat with Chris DiBona, Google's director of Making Science, about experiments in imagery, 3D printing, robotics, and aerial Wi-Fi.

    Maker Faire 2015: MegaBots' Giant Fighting Robot

    We ran into a giant mech at Maker Faire! MegaBots' creators constructed this massive concept robot in hopes of building a league of combat bots for spectators. Their fighting robots would be piloted by teams of drivers, and use massive hand-made paintballs to knock armor and other pieces off of their opponents. We enter the cockpit of this robot and check out its controls!

    SCAA 2015: The Chemistry of Coffee Brewing with Blossom One

    Making coffee is chemistry, and you want to have control of as many variables as you can. At this year's SCAA, we check out the Blossom One, a coffee machine that brews with precise temperature controls--keeping the brew at a single temp for any length of time. Having seen a prototype severals years back, we're happy to see the final Blossom machine up and running, and chat with its creator to learn about the chemistry of coffee.

    Maker Faire 2015: Looking Glass 8x8x8 LED Cube

    Building an 8x8x8 LED cube may sound daunting, but this kit we found at Maker Faire simplifies the process with a clever design. We chat with Looking Glass' CTO about the idea of volumetric imagery, and how they've experimented in creating floating images with both 3D prints and RGB LED light matrices. What kind of images and animations can you create with just 512 points? Apparently, a lot--think of it as Hologram 1.0.

    Rick Baker's Men in Black Puppets and Animatronics

    Some of effects legend Rick Baker's most memorable work was in the Men in Black series, where his studio designed and created the fantastic alien creatures featured in the films. We chat with Rick about the practical fabrication of the memorable worm aliens, and a giant bug animatronic that never made it to screen--all going on auction. So many wonderful stories! (For a chance to win a prop from this collection, just post in the comments what from the auction you'd love to have!)

    Maker Faire 2015: The Denny Next-Gen Bicycle Concept

    What's the bicycle of the future look like? According to the designers at Teague, it'll have subtle differences from today's bikes that will add convenience to the riding experience. Their Denny bicycle won a recent design contest, and we inspect its many innovations. Automatic shifting with no bike chains--neat stuff. Handlebars that double as a bike lock--brilliant!

    The State of App and Game Backup on Android: Not Pretty

    Comparing the Android we have today to what was available several years back is stark not just in terms of UI. Google has addressed many pain points in the realm of usability and features over time. Many of the things we used to need root access to get done are now possible on completely stock devices, even on the stripped down Nexus variant of Android. One notable exception is the state of application backup on Android. It's an absolute mess, and Google has tried to fix it with little success. Let's go over your options and find out where things stand.

    What is app data?

    When people talk about app data, they are usually referring to the content stored under each application or game's folder in the system directory of Android. You can see how much data an app has accumulated by going into the application settings. Android gives you the option to delete this data, but that's all. If you do so, it reminds you that you're going to lose all your settings, accounts, and so on. That's what we're talking about -- your stuff.

    For an app, this directory might contain your account information for an app that needs you to log in. It also contains any data you've input into the app since you started using it. For example, a fitness tracker app will have all your workout records and history. If you delete the app or clear the data, that's all gone. The developer needs to specifically make allowances to back that data up in such instances (more on the alter). For games, the app data folder contains save games and settings. Again, if you delete the data or uninstall the game, your progress is gone with it.

    So why can't you simply copy the data from these directories and save it somewhere? App data is all in the system partition, meaning you need to have root access to do anything with it. That might seem like a kick in the pants, but it's a common security measure. You don't want one app being able to just snoop around in the data of another app. The only way to back up and restore app data is through rooting or a system component. Google has thus far really dropped the ball on the latter.

    SteamVR's "Lighthouse" for Virtual Reality and Beyond

    One of the most important aspects of virtual reality will be accurate positional tracking of the headset and user motion. Valve Software's SteamVR--the best virtual reality implementation we've tried so far--uses a beacon-based tracking system called Lighthouse. We chat with Lighthouse engineer Alan Yates about how Lighthouse and its components work, the technology's strengths and limitations, and how it could be used in other applications outside of VR.

    Tested Builds: ErgoDox Mechanical Keyboards, Part 1

    Time for another Tested Build series! All this week, Will and Norm are going to work on building their own mechanical keyboards, using parts sourced from the ErgoDox design. These split ergonomic keyboards can be customized to use your favorite mechanical key switches, with potential for modding. In this first episode, we go over all the components and start assembly! (Follow along the rest of this week of build by joining the Tested Premium member community here!)

    Rick Baker's Gremlins 2 Puppets and Animatronics

    We're extremely privileged to visit the collection of special effects legend Rick Baker, whose make up and creature designs have appeared in films like an American Werewolf in London, Planet of the Apes, and the Men in Black series. While previewing an upcoming auction of his works, we chat with Baker about his work on Gremlins 2 and get up close to the spectacular puppets and animatronics his studio made for the production. More videos from our visit coming soon!