Latest StoriesFeatured
    How I Edit Tested's One Day Builds

    This will be a weekly three-part behind the scenes series: Lighting, Shooting, and Editing.

    The production behind Adam's One Day Builds, are a good representation of the common challenges I'm faced with being a one-man production team at Tested. They're often long shooting days with tons of coverage, shot in a documentary format, meaning that we often shoot for spontaneity which in turn means that the at end of the day I'm coming back with hours of footage and steep shooting ratios: somewhere in between 20:1-30:1.

    A typical One Day Build Shoot, where I come back with hours of footage.

    One important key advantage I have in this series, despite shooting such high ratios, is that I'm shooting for myself. Meaning, this footage is coming back with me to the editing bay, where I'll then chop it up. As the camera operator, knowing how to shoot for the editor, me, allows me to edit the piece in my head, as I'm shooting. Which is huge.

    Most camera/editors will tell you how much easier it is to edit their own footage. You know your own quirks, you know what you were shooting at the time and where you were planning on placing that in the video. You know your own movements, and what kind of shots you were trying to get, and in my case, I know Adam. I know how he moves around the shop, about how long it takes him to bandsaw through some ply, screw in six wood screws, or sand a piece of material. I can shoot multiple angles of him working on one piece of his puzzle, only to edit and string them together to fake a multi-cam shoot--essentially to increase production value.

    Technical skills aside, one of the key requirements that come with the title job is to learn about the people you work with, and their mannerisms and style, so you can prepare properly, and compliment their style, with your own. Ultimately serving the final product.

    After watching the speed at which Adam works, and the precision of him working in his own workshop, I came to the conclusion that the One Day Builds should have a certain style to them: a chance to give the user the perspective of a fly in his workshop. Close intimate angles, camera movement to match Adam's movement, all cut to a slightly exaggerated pace; making sure that information is presented simultaneously, without jarring the audience or pulling them out of the perception of a live filming. It's about marrying the communication with the action, and doing so in an effective way.

    This brings me to my main two editing techniques for this kind of feature:

    Bits to Atoms: Testing the Form 1+ SLA Desktop 3D Printer

    3D printing keeps getting bigger, better and more accessible every day--you can now buy a MakerBot or Dremel 3D printer at Home Depot. Plastic filament printers are, by far, the most common type you will find at makerspaces and home garages, but high-resolution resin printers are slowly creeping into the mainstream. One of the most promising, is the Formlabs Form 1+ SLA printer developed by a team from the MIT Media Lab. I had the chance to put a Form 1+ through it’s paces for two months and here’s how it went.

    You will need a dedicated, clean workspace for the Form 1+.

    First, a little backstory on the company. Formlabs was founded in 2011 by a group of MIT grads who were frustrated by the fact that there was no economical way for most people to experience the highly-detailed prints that SLA and DLP resin printing offered. Unlike filament printers, which were popping up everywhere at relatively consumer-friendly prices, SLA printers cost tens of thousands of dollars and were simply out of reach of most users. Formlabs set out to make a desktop SLA printer that would rival the big machines and cost only slightly more than many filament printers. At the end of 2012 they successfully completed a $100,000 Kickstarter campaign, eventually bringing in over 2.9 million dollars. Nothing like being too successful--now the pressure was on with a lot of machines to build. Production delays happened and then they got hit by a patent infringement lawsuit from 3D Systems, the inventors of SLA printing. I am happy to hear that the parties have settled, and the case was just dismissed with prejudice on December 1. Formlabs is free to forge ahead.

    Photo CREDIT: Formlabs

    Having met the Formlabs team a few times at Maker Faire and other events, I have always been impressed. Everyone at the booth knew their stuff, answering in-depth anything I threw at them. One particular staffer was really killing it with thorough and informative answers--turns out she was their material scientist. The machine was sharp looking and all the prints looked great--I really wanted to buy one, almost backed the Kickstarter for an early unit, but chickened out. Recently I contacted Formlabs to request a sample unit to test. So for the past few months, I've had a Form 1+ in my possession and was able to put it through it’s paces!

    How I Light Tested's In-Studio StandUp Videos

    This will be a weekly three-part behind the scenes series: Lighting, Shooting, and Editing.

    "Standups" are what I call the solo presented video segments we do at Tested--a term taken from the news industry, in which a reporter addresses the camera, usually to another anchor, or the audience. It's become a common internet video format: one person, in frame, talking to camera (audience) with coverage layered over. We do them with our Makerbot videos, Show and Tells, Product reviews, etc. Everyone approaches the lighting, shooting, and editing of these segments differently; whether it be natural lighting, close-up center frame (ie, webcam), lighting quick hard cuts, etc. Today, I'd like to share my process on how I approach the lighting for these segments, specifically the 12 Days of Tested Christmas video series for 2014.

    Let me start off with this amazing illustration of my light direction and placement.

    For this shoot I used 5 lights: 2 Background Lights, 1 Rear-Key Back Light, 2 Fills

    • #1 Background Light, 650watt Arri, CTB half, medium flood/spot
    • #2 Background Light, Kino Flo Diva-Light, half-cranked
    • #3 Rear-Key Back Light, 650 Arri, CTB half, full flood
    • #4 Lowel Rifa-Light Softbox, 75%
    • #5 Kino Flo 4' Double

    I wanted to stick with traditional omni-lit studio lighting for this shoot, while adding harder lights to help sculpt the subject. We recently redesigned and painted the set with much more color and props, naturally I wanted to show it off with background lights, but still contrast that with the subject.

    Above is a short video I put together of each light's specific contribution to the scene. Let's walk through what each of those lights does for the shot.

    My 12 Favorite Coffee Table Books of 2014

    One of my very favorite things to buy, read, and collect are coffee table books. I'm just a sucker for them. These large format tomes--some surpass 500 pages--are like gorgeous picture books for adults. Their size and scale make them ideal to showcase illustration, photography, and layouts. And as someone with a print magazine background and a strong affinity print design, a well laid out spread in a large coffee table book is deeply satisfying.

    I also have a few rules for coffee table books. First, I'm not a big fan of the behind-the-scenes art books that coincide with new film releases. They may indeed have hundreds of production photos and storyboards I'd love to see, but the text accompanying those images is lacking in depth. Those kinds of art books are too often cash grabs timed to capitalize on public mindshare, and put together hastily without enough insight or distance from the production. It's a fine line between the celebration of a subject and promoting it as marketing. Instead of grabbing The Art of Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year, I'll wait for the collected retrospective of Marvel Phase II films that's bound to be written a decade from now.

    My second rule with coffee table books is that I have to actually read them. They live on my coffee table until I've gone through them before being shelved. The bookcase is a hibernation chamber for books, and I like keeping an active roster of books to shuffle through on any given evening.

    So without further ado, here are a dozen of my favorite coffee table books I bought this year. Not all of them were released in 2014, but these are the ones I stumbled on in bookstores, reviews, museum exhibits, and from recommendations. They're a reflection of my journeys and wandering interests, which may intersect with your own. I'd also love to hear what coffee table books you love and have discovered.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Favorite Coffee Table Books

    Welcome to the first of our annual showcase of our favorite things from the past year. These are gadgets, gifts, and gear that we have either tested ourselves or have bought as gifts for friends. On this first day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares a few of his favorite coffee table books he read this year. Read the full list here!

    Why NASA's Orion Mission is So Important

    Ever since the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, landed more than three years ago, NASA has lacked a vehicle to send its own astronauts back into space. Current timelines put astronauts back in American-made rockets no sooner than 2021. The Orion mission that launched this morning [more specifically, Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1)], is a huge milestone in NASA’s path back to the business of launching humans into space. It can’t be overstated: This mission is a BIG deal.


    What is Orion?

    Orion is NASA’s next generation of man-carrying spacecraft. It is chartered to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), lunar destinations, or even Mars. Orion is really only the top part of what was sitting on the launchpad earlier today. The uppermost section of Orion is the Launch Abort System, which completely enshrouds the 4-to-6 person Crew Module. Just below the conical Crew Module is the Service Module that provides thrust, power and provisions in space. The Orion-to-Stage Adapter mates Orion to the rocket it sits atop. In the case if EFT-1, that rocket was a Delta IV Heavy (currently the largest operational rocket in the world).


    The genesis of Orion dates back to 2005 and the now-defunct Constellation program. When Constellation was cancelled in 2009, the Orion aspect of the program was retained for use in whatever program would come next. That program emerged in 2011 as Space Launch System (SLS). SLS is what will launch those astronauts in 2021.

    The Make-Up and Production Design of Planet of the Apes

    It’s not easy to make a world full of apes. In recent years, it hasn’t been cheap either. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes series reboot cost close to a hundred million, and this year's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes cost a reported $170 million. So it’s remarkable to realize that the original Planet of the Apes, released in 1968, cost only $5.8 million, which even in those days wasn’t that expensive. With the franchise successfully reinventing itself in modern day, the original still holds up well after all this time, a genre classic that meant so much to fans growing up, and a film that helped create a generation of make-up talent. “Planet of the Apes is one of the most important make-up movies ever,” says Rick Baker, the make-up FX master of An American Werewolf in London and Men in Black fame. “It inspired a whole generation of kids to become make-up artists.”

    A great movie has to have a great team behind it, especially if you want audiences to take a film with talking monkeys seriously. Richard Zanuck, who was then the head of 20th Century Fox, was captivated with the screenplay for Apes, but he knew it was crucial that audiences found it believable, or the movie would be a laughing stock, so he brought in director Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton, Papillon), and cinematographer Leon Shamroy (The King and I).

    Charlton Heston had a good working relationship with Schaffner, and was eager to come aboard the Ape train, but before the project landed at Fox, it was turned down everywhere. Linda Harrison, who played Nova in the film, recalled, “Nobody wanted it, but Dick Zanuck really believed in it.” In the AMC documentary on the Apes series, Heston recalled the reaction was, “Spaceships? Talking monkeys? You’re out of your mind, that’s Saturday morning serials, get out of here.”

    Enter make-up artist John Chambers, who was recently celebrated in Argo. As recalled in the book Planet of the Apes Revisited, Chambers built his make-up talent during his time in the Army, creating prosthetics for wounded soldiers that replaced noses, arms, legs, chins and more. He went into television in the early fifties, then branched into movies in the sixties. Whether Fox would give the green light to Apes depended on a screen test with Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Linda Harrison, and James Brolin. The make-ups Chambers created for the test were still crude, but it gave the studio a fair idea of how the movie, and the make-up, would turn out, and they finally gave it the go ahead.

    Until the unprecedented success of Star Wars, the major studios didn’t take science fiction seriously, but that wasn’t the main reason the budget for Planet of the Apes was low. As Harrison recalls, “They had to go under the radar. The board of directors at Fox wouldn’t greenlight the movie if it was over six million, so they had to come in under six million so they wouldn’t have to deal with the board.” Production designer William Creber was up for the challenge. “I had done a lot of Irwin Allen’s TV shows,” he says. “It was fun, it was challenging, and we had to do it for a price.”

    Taking Jamie Hyneman's Tintype Portrait!

    You may have seen those striking black and white photos of Adam, Will, and Norm in our studio set--those were taken by photographer Michael Shindler with a process called tintype. Michael is one of the few practicing tintype artists, and we visit his studio to finally have Jamie's tintype photo taken as well!

    Making the Airplane From "Airplane!" and Other RC Airliners

    Most of us can look skyward at any given time and spot at least one airliner streaking overhead. In fact, there are around 7000 passenger-hauling aircraft registered in the US…a large percentage of which are airborne at this very moment. If we assume that the average airliner logs about 10 hours of flight a day, 300 days a year, it’s no wonder we see them so frequently.

    I find it a little odd that these aircraft which are so prevalent in our daily lives are very infrequent RC modeling subjects. Perhaps it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Or maybe it’s that most modelers find more excitement in emulating gun-slinging warbirds or wing-bending acrobats. For those modelers who do find passenger planes alluring, there are a few options to help you scratch that itch.

    Plus, I wanted to take on the challenge of building a flying model of this iconic movie plane:


    The Kit Approach

    Doug Wilson of Seattle has built several very convincing airliner models. All of his projects are based on kits of the Boeing 737 from Windrider. These molded foam models have an extremely accurate scale outline. Spanning nearly 75”, they are rather large as well (about 1:19 scale).

    Whereas the full-scale 737 is powered by turbofan engines, Doug’s models are each propelled by a pair of Electric Ducted Fans (EDF). An EDF is basically an impeller (driven by an electric motor) within a shroud. It’s something like a turbofan minus the combustion. Although EDFs are typically less efficient than an equivalent propeller-equipped setup, they are capable of impressive thrust and speed when properly configured. The jet-like footprint of EDFs makes them a popular choice for scale models of jet aircraft, as well as sleek, go-fast, sport models.


    The EDFs in Doug’s models are 70mm diameter units with HET 2W-20 brushless motors. Each motor is controlled by a 75-amp Electronic Speed Control (ESC). A single 4S-5000mAh lipo battery powers the pair of EDFs in each model.

    While the stock Windrider models are impressive enough, Doug took his models to a whole new level with extra scale details. Each model has a full set of operating external lights that match those on the full-scale 737. If you’ve ever been seated above the wing of an airliner, you may have noticed how the flaps on the back of the wing slide both backwards and downward before landing. Those are called Fowler Flaps. Doug’s 737s have those too.

    Adam's Tour Diaries #9: Adam Savage Fantasy Camp

    Nov. 29, 2014: Toronto was pretty much an Adam Savage fantasy camp kind of visit.

    First, breakfast with my friend Chris Hadfield. We both talk a blue streak when we get together; there just feels like so much to go over. We did a selfie in the car, and dammit, he looks better in my cowboy hat than I do.

    No, this isn’t PhotoShopped. That’s Col. Hadfield in my hat.

    After a lovely meal, he dropped me off at the Royal Ontario Museum. They have one of the three dodo skeletons in North America, and the day before they’d tweeted to me inviting me to come see it. I had already planned on that, so I was there when they opened at 10 a.m. Their curator David Evans was waiting for me and brought me back to the paleontology department, where they had taken out their dodo for me to see and take reference pictures of! They treated me entirely like a visiting researcher. A compliment of the highest order. I was floored.

    I am intimately familiar with the ROM’s dodo because they were the first museum in the world to let their dodo out to be molded and cast. I was able to buy the first casting out of the molds, and I’ve yet to assemble mine. I WAS able to confirm that its mount is not as anatomically accurate as desired, but it’s an old piece so it is what it is. But I’m going to fix those 19th century mis-guesses for the one that I do assemble.

    I got to work and photographed the SPIT out of their skeleton. To see the parts and pieces that were made from plaster and to hear again the history of how the ROM got this specimen -- SO COOL.

    Testing: Boosted Boards Electric Longboard

    As we're less than a month away from 2015, several tech companies are jumping on the opportunity to sell you the future--as benchmarked by Back to the Future Part II. VR video glasses and power-lacing shoes are right around the corner--promise! Even the hoverboard is being pushed as a real thing. I wouldn't hold my breath for it. But Boosted's electric skateboard, which I've been testing for the past few weeks, has done a better job than most gadgets in giving me a sense that the future is here. It's really fun to ride, and practical, too. I've been able to use it in lieu of driving for running errands in my neighborhood. And that's coming from someone who previously had never skateboarded.

    As with all great modern technological innovations, Boosted's boards work because of a seamless pairing of hardware and software. You can't just strap an electric motor on a standard longboard and call it a day. Likewise, you can't strap a piece of wood on an RC car and expect to ride it. You have to meld them in a way that makes sense and with the fewest compromises (eg. adding weight). On the hardware side, it looks like Boosted wanted to made a product that would be familiar to longboard riders first. The deck is a pretty large longboard with good flex, mounted low on custom 180mm trucks and using 75mm Orangatang wheels. I'm not experienced enough to evaluate those properties, but my housemate--who's a very proficient longboarder--confirmed that these longboard components were solid and good enough for him to skate comfortably, even unpowered.

    Boosted's proprietary drivetrain that powers the skateboard (they sent the new Boosted Dual+ model) runs on two brushless outrunner motors on either side of the rear wheels. The motors are 1000W each, which provides a lot of torque, enough to push the high-end model up to 22 miles per hour and up steep hills (>25% grade). I'll talk about how that affects performance in a bit. The system is powered by a large flat lithium battery mounted to the bottom of the board, which Boosted has rated for six miles of travel, depending on your weight and average speed. It's a tightly designed drivetrain that doesn't add to the profile of the board, and puts the whole thing at 15 pounds. Heavier than a normal longboard, but not so much that you can't carry it around in one hand or strapped to a bag.

    Another challenge of designing a motorized longboard is making it feel intuitive for both the people who already know how to ride one and new users. A lot of that secret sauce is in the software and how Boosted has programmed their boards, so you don't always get the motor's full strength and so it has practical limits. To test the Boosted Dual+, I tried using it to learn longboarding, as well as handed it off to my housemate to see if it could replace his longboard.

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 7

    It's about time! Sorry for the lack of updates on the arcade cabinet project, but after a big delay with technical hurdles and busy schedules, Norm and Wes are back with some progress to report. Wiring and testing of the numerous control buttons continues, plus we turn our attention to the CRT monitor and setting it up to run properly on Windows.

    False Starts: Astronauts Recall Stories of Shuttle Launch Aborts
    Every manned US spacecraft had its share of white-knuckle moments, but the space shuttle holds a monopoly on launch aborts. (NASA photo)

    Many astronaut autobiographies attempt to convey the exceptionally rare and coveted experience of riding a fire-belching rocket into space. It must surely be a situation where all adjectives and analogies fall short. While the trip to orbit seems to affect each person in different ways, the stories all share happy endings. You have to look much harder to find memoirs of launches that didn’t go so well.

    The primary reason for the dearth of launch abort stories is that so few missions in the history of the US manned space program provided astronauts with unsavory launch experiences. Historically-speaking, once the engines were fired up, an astronaut had a very high probability of making it safely to their planned orbit.

    Every manned US spacecraft had its share of white-knuckle moments, but the space shuttle holds a monopoly on launch aborts. It’s worth noting that the Challenger disaster is considered a launch failure rather than an abort because events unfolded too quickly for any corrective measures to be taken. There were a handful of other missions where, after the smoke cleared and the echoes faded, the shuttle was still firmly shackled to the launch pad. I spoke with five astronauts who endured these launch aborts to get a glimpse of what it was like.

    Quadcopter Racing with First Person Video!

    We've tested different types of quadcopters before, but have never flown them like this! Norm tags along a meetup of local FPV quadcopter racers--people who build and race mini quads by flying them with first-person video cameras. We learn about how FPV quadcopters work, why they're so much fun to spectate, and witness some unbelievable stunts! (Thanks to Charpu, Pablo Lema, and Eric Cheng for their quad footage!)

    Adam's Tour Diaries #1: On the Road Again

    After a lovely and relaxing three-hour Amtrak trip (the train is my FAVORITE method of travel) and a 90-minute car ride, I arrived in Williamsport, PA., for the start of our fall MythBusters: Behind the Myths tour.

    BEST way to travel. I promise I’m having more fun than my face suggests.

    We’d performed the show throughout Australia and New Zealand this summer, and the show still felt fresh in my mind. I arrived backstage to find us hamstrung in one of our set pieces by a technical snafu. No worries. We reorganized the first act about 30 minutes before showtime, and the new running order went very smoothly.

    The stage was a bit cramped, so we had some tile-puzzling to do to make all of our stuff fit, but fit it did. We have a great and resourceful road crew.

    I also got to see the bus I’d be traveling in. It’s going to be home for more than a month, and I settled in, putting my stuff away and knolling (you know how I am).

    Tested Mailbag: Gears of War 3 Hammerburst Replica!

    Cap off your week with another edition of the Tested mailbag! This week's package is probably the biggest to ever arrive at our office, to the dismay of our FedEx delivery guy. It's an incredible 1:1 scale replica made by Triforce, a company we met at this year's NYCC. Thanks to Triforce for sending this massive package!