Looks like it’s lights out on Mars for the InSight lander. The solar-powered lander’s last selfie, sent back in April, showed a thick layer of dust covering everything, including the large circular solar panels needed to power the craft. At the time, NASA warned that InSight would probably give up the ghost sometime before the end of the year, and it looks like InSight is sticking to that schedule. InSight sent back what might be its last picture recently, showing the SEIS seismic package deployed on the regolith alongside the failed HP3 “mole” experiment, which failed to burrow into the soil as planned. But one bad experiment does not a failed mission make — it was wildly successful at most everything it was sent there to do, including documenting the largest marsquake ever recorded. As it usually does, NASA has anthropomorphized InSight with bittersweet sentiments like “Don’t cry, I had a good life,” and we’re not quite sure how we feel about that. On the one hand, it kind of trivializes the engineering and scientific accomplishments of the mission, but then again, it seems to engage the public, so in the final rinse, it’s probably mostly harmless.
Those Bullet Effects In Terminator 2 Weren’t CGI
Remember Terminator 2? Guns were nearly useless against the murderous T-1000, played by Robert Patrick. Bullets fired at the “liquid metal” robot resulted only in a chrome-looking bullet splash that momentarily staggered the killing machine. The effects were done by Stan Winston, who died in 2008, but a video and short blurb shared by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts revealed, to our surprise and delight, that the bullet impact effects were not CGI.
How was this accomplished? First of all, Winston and his team researched the correct “look” for the splash impacts by firing projectiles into mud and painstakingly working to duplicate the resulting shapes. These realistic-looking crater sculpts were then cast in some mixture of foam rubber, and given a chromed look by way of vacuum metallizing (also known as vacuum deposition) which is a way of depositing a thin layer of metal onto a surface. Vacuum deposition is similar to electroplating, but the process does not require the object being coated to have a conductive surface.
These foam rubber splash patterns — which look like metal but aren’t — were deployed using a simple mechanical system. A variety of splashes in different sizes get individually compressed into receptacles in a fiberglass chest plate. Covering each is a kind of trapdoor, each held closed by a single pin on a cable.
To trigger a bullet impact effect, a wireless remote control pulls a cable, which pulls its attached pin, and the compressed splash pattern blossoms forth in an instant, bursting through pre-scored fabric in the process. Sadly there are no photos of the device itself, but you can see it in action in the testing video shared by the Stan Winston School, embedded below.
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Obsessively Explaining The Visual Effects In Flight Of The Navigator
[Captain Disillusion] has earned a reputation on YouTube for debunking hoaxes and spreading a healthy sense of skepticism while having some of the highest production value on the platform and pretending to be some kind of inter-dimensional superhero. You’ve likely seen him give a careful explanation of how some viral video was faked alongside a generous dose of sarcastic humor and his own impressive visual effects. VFXcool is a series on his channel that takes deep dives into movies that are historically significant in the effects industry. For this installment, [Captain Disillusion]’s “intern”, [Alan], takes over to breakdown how filmmakers brought a futuristic spaceship to life in 1986’s Flight of the Navigator.
Making a movie requires hacks upon hacks, and that goes double in the era when the technology and techniques we now take for granted were being developed even as they were being put to film. The range of topics covered here is extreme: from full-scale props to models; from robotic motion control rigs to stop motion animation; from early computer graphics to the convoluted optical compositing that was necessary before digital workflows were possible. The tools themselves may be outdated, but understanding the history and the processes allows for a deeper insight into how we accomplish these kinds of effects today. And, really, it’s just so… cool.
[Captain Disillusion]’s previous VFXcool is all about the Back to the Future trilogy, and it’s a little shorter with more information on motion control rigs. We also love seeing how people make DIY effects in their own homes. LEGO actually seems like a pretty popular option for putting together whole scenes in amateur filmmaking.
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Hackaday Links: January 24, 2021
Code can be beautiful, and good code can be a work of art. As it so happens, artful code can also result in art, if you know what you’re doing. That’s the idea behind Programming Posters, a project that Michael Fields undertook to meld computer graphics with the code behind the images. It starts with a simple C program to generate an image. The program needs to be short enough to fit legibly into the sidebar of an A2 sheet, and as if that weren’t enough of a challenge, Michael constrained himself to the standard C libraries to generate his graphics. A second program formats the code and the image together and prints out a copy suitable for display. We found the combination of code and art beautiful, and the challenge intriguing.
It always warms our hearts when we get positive feedback from the hacker community when something we’ve written has helped advance a project or inspire a build. It’s not often, however, that we learn that Hackaday is required reading. Educators at the Magellan International School in Austin, Texas, recently reached out to Managing Editor Elliot Williams to let him know that all their middle school students are required to read Hackaday as part of their STEM training. Looks like the kids are paying attention to what they read, too, judging by KittyWumpus, their ongoing mechatronics/coding project that’s unbearably adorable. We’re honored to be included in their education, and everyone in the Hackaday community should humbled to realize that we’ve got an amazing platform for inspiring the next generation of hardware hackers.
Hackers seem to fall into two broad categories: those who have built a CNC router, and those who want to build one. For those in the latter camp, the roadblock to starting a CNC build is often “analysis paralysis” — with so many choices to make, it’s hard to know where to start. To ease that pain and get you closer to starting your build, Matt Ferraro has penned a great guide to planning a CNC router build. The encyclopedic guide covers everything from frame material choice to spindle selection and software options. If Matt has a bias toward any particular options it’s hard to find; he lists the pros and cons of everything so you can make up your own mind. Read it at your own risk, though; while it lowers one hurdle to starting a CNC build, it does nothing to address the next one: financing.
Like pretty much every conference last year and probably every one this year, the Open Hardware Summit is going to be virtual. But they’re still looking for speakers for the April conference, and just issued a Call for Proposals. We love it when we see people from the Hackaday community pop up as speakers at conferences like these, so if you’ve got something to say to the open hardware world, get a talk together. Proposals are due by February 11, so get moving.
And finally, everyone will no doubt recall the Boston Dynamics robots that made a splash a few weeks back with their dance floor moves. We loved the video, mainly for the incredible display of robotic agility and control but also for the choice of music. We suppose it was inevitable, though, that someone would object to the Boomer music and replace it with something else, like in the video below, which seems to sum up the feelings of those who dread our future dancing overlords. We regret the need to proffer a Tumblr link, but the Internet is a dark and wild place sometimes, and only the brave survive.
Hackaday Links: December 13, 2020
Our Sun is getting a bit frisky these days, and has rewarded us with perhaps the best screensaver image ever taken. The incredibly detailed photo of a sunspot was actually taken back in January by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, a 4-meter instrument with adaptive optics that can image the sun from the near-infrared to visible wavelengths and resolve surface details down to 20 km. The photo, with a distinct “Eye of Sauron” look, shows the massive convection cells surrounding the dark sunspot; an accompanying animation shows the movement of plasmas along the tortured lines of magnetic flux that cause the sunspot to form. It’s fascinating to watch, and even more interesting to mull over the technology that went into capturing it.
With the dustup surrounding the youtube-dl DCMA takedown by GitHub fresh on the open-source community’s minds, GitHub Universe 2020 had an interesting discussion about maintaining open-source software projects that’s worth watching. They focused on the challenges that youtube-dl maintainers face in keeping the tool working, and the impact their effort has on the people and groups that rely on them. To underscore that point, they featured a researcher with Human Rights Watch who depends on youtube-dl in her work, and made it quite clear that keeping up with all the API changes that constantly break open source tools like youtube-dl make the role of the maintainers that much more critical.
Speaking of GitHub, here’s a frightening and fascinating new tool: Depix, the password de-pixelizer. Developer Sipke Mellema noticed that his company often used pixelization to obscure passwords in documentation, and wondered if he could undo the process. He wrote up an article describing the pixelization process using a linear box filter and his method for attacking it, which involves generating a De Bruijn sequence in the same font, text size, and colors as the original document and feeding a screenshot of that and the pixellated password into the tool. We suspect it’ll only work for a subset of obfuscated passwords, but it’s still pretty clever.
‘Tis the season for Advent calendars, and the folks at QEMU have posted theirs. Open each of 24 doors on the calendar and you’re rewarded with a downloadable QEMU disk image that implements something fun. Minesweeper, a ray tracer that fits into a boot loader, and of course Conway’s Game of Life. The GW-BASIC image on Day 3 caught our eye — brings back some memories.
For anyone who has ever watched a Pixar film and wondered how all that animation actually works, here’s a great lesson in making art with math. The video is by Inigo Quilez and goes through the basics of rendering images using raymarching SDFs, or signed distance functions. In the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be a little bit like drawing an owl, but his descriptions of the math involved and how each element of the animation is just another formula is fascinating. What’s more, there’s a real-time rendering tool where you can inspect the code and edit it. Alas, my changes only made things worse, but it was still fun and instructive to play with. Check out the video after the break!
DIY Motion Control Camera Rig Produces Money Shots On A Budget
Motion control photography allows for stunning imagery, although commercial robotic MoCo rigs are hardly affordable. But what is money? Scratch-built from what used to be mechatronic junk and a hacked Canon EF-S lens, [Howard’s] DIY motion control camera rig produces cinematic footage that just blows us away.
[Howard] started this project about a year ago by carrying out some targeted experiments. These would not only assess the suitability of components he gathered together from all directions, but also his own capacity in picking up enough knowledge on mechatronics to make the whole thing work. After making himself accustomed to stepper motors, Teensies and Arduinos, he converted an old moving-head disco light into a pan and tilt mount for the camera. A linear axis was added, and with more degrees of freedom, more sophisticated means of control became necessary.
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Retrotechtacular: The Early Days Of CGI
We all know what Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is nowadays. It’s almost impossible to get away from it in any television show or movie. It’s gotten so good, that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the real world and the computer generated world when they are mixed together on-screen. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. This 1982 clip from BBC’s Tomorrow’s World shows what the wonders of CGI were capable of in a simpler time.
In the earliest days of CGI, digital computers weren’t even really a thing. [John Whitney] was an American animator and is widely considered to be the father of computer animation. In the 1940’s, he and his brother [James] started to experiment with what they called “abstract animation”. They pieced together old analog computers and servos to make their own devices that were capable of controlling the motion of lights and lit objects. While this process may be a far cry from the CGI of today, it is still animation performed by a computer. One of [Whitney’s] best known works is the opening title sequence to [Alfred Hitchcock’s] 1958 film, Vertigo.
Later, in 1973, Westworld become the very first feature film to feature CGI. The film was a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park robots that become evil. The studio wanted footage of the robot’s “computer vision” but they would need an expert to get the job done right. They ultimately hired [John Whitney’s] son, [John Whitney Jr] to lead the project. The process first required color separating each frame of the 70mm film because [John Jr] did not have a color scanner. He then used a computer to digitally modify each image to create what we would now recognize as a “pixelated” effect. The computer processing took approximately eight hours for every ten seconds of footage. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Early Days Of CGI”