Movie Magic Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, January 20th at noon Pacific for the Movie Magic Hack Chat with Alan McFarland!

If they were magically transported ahead in time, the moviegoers of the past would likely not know what to make of our modern CGI-driven epics, with physically impossible feats performed in landscapes that never existed. But for as computationally complex as movies have become, it’s the rare film that doesn’t still need at least some old-school movie magic, like hand props, physical models, and other practical effects.

To make their vision come to life, especially in science fiction films, filmmakers turn to artists who specialize in practical effects. We’ve all seen their work, which in many cases involves turning ordinary household objects into yet-to-be-invented technology, or creating scale models of spaceships and alien landscapes. But to really sell these effects, adding a dash of electronics can really make the difference.

Enter Alan McFarland, an electronics designer and engineer for the film industry. With a background in cinematography, electronics, and embedded systems, he has been able to produce effects in movies we’ve all seen. He designed electroluminescent wearables for Tron: Legacy, built the lighting system for the miniature Fhloston Paradise in The Fifth Element, and worked on the Borg costumes for Star Trek: First Contact. He has tons of experience making the imaginary look real, and he’ll join us on the Hack Chat to discuss the tricks he keeps in his practical effects toolkit to make movie magic.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 20 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Cardboard Models Trace Design Process Of Vintage Tektronix Miniscopes

There aren’t many brands that inspire the kind of passion and fervency among its customers as Tektronix does. The venerable Oregon-based manufacturer of top-end test equipment has produced more collectible gear over the last 75 years than just about anyone else.

Over that time they have had plenty of innovations, and in the 1970s they started looking into miniaturizing their flagship oscilloscopes. The vintageTEK museum, run by current and former employees, has a review of the design process of the 200 series of portable oscilloscopes that’s really interesting. At a time when scopes were portable in the way a packed suitcase is portable, making a useful instrument in a pocketable form factor was quite a challenge — even for big pockets.

The article goes into great detail on the back-and-forth between the industrial designers, with their endless stream of models, and the engineers who would actually have to stuff a working scope into whatever case they came up with. The models from the museum’s collection are wonderful bits of history and show where the industrial designers really pushed for some innovative designs.

Some of the models are clearly derived from the design of the big bench scopes, but some have innovative flip-down covers and other interesting elements that never made it to production. Most of the models are cardboard, but some were made of aluminum in the machine shop and sport the familiar “Tek blue” livery. But the pièce de résistance of the collection is a working engineering model of what would become the 200-series of miniscopes, a handmade prototype with a tiny round CRT and crudely labeled controls.

The vintageTEK museum sounds like another bucket-list stop for computer and technology history buffs. Tek has been doing things their own way for a long time, and stopping by the museum is sure to be a treat.

Thanks to [Tanner Bass] for the tip.

Falcon 9 Lamp Is Touching Down In The Living Room

Many of us have been inspired by the videos of the Falcon 9 booster, tall as an office building, riding a pillar of flame down to a pinpoint landing at Kennedy Space Center or on one of SpaceX’s floating landing pads in the ocean. It’s not often that we get to see science fiction fantasy become reality on such a short timescale, and while they might not be sold on the practicality of reusable rockets, even the most skeptical of observers have to admit it’s an incredible feat of engineering.

Though it can’t quite compare to the real thing, this 1:60 scale Falcon 9 lamp by [Sir Michael II] promises to bring a little of that excitement home every time you flick on the light. Combining a scratch built model of the reusable booster with some RGB LEDs, the hovering tableau recreates the tense final seconds before the towering rocket comes to a rest on its deployable landing legs. We imagine those last moments must seem like an eternity for the SpaceX engineers watching from home as well.

The LED “exhaust” without the fluff.

[Michael] walks readers through assembling the Falcon 9 model, which cleverly uses a 2 inch white PVC pipe as the fuselage. After all, why waste the time and material printing a long white cylinder when you can just buy one at the hardware store for a few bucks?

Dressed up with 3D printed details from Thingiverse user [twuelfing] and splashed with a bit of paint, it makes for a very convincing model. While the diameter of the pipe isn’t quite right for the claimed 1:60 scale, unless Elon Musk is coming over your place to hang out, we don’t think anyone will notice.

The rocket is attached to the pad with a piece of threaded steel rod, around which [Michael] has wrapped one meter of RGB LEDs controlled by an Arduino Uno. With some polyester fiber filler as a diffuser and a bit of code to get the LEDs flickering, he’s able to produce a realistic “flame” that looks to be coming from the Falcon 9’s center engine. While we admit it may not make a very good lamp in the traditional sense, it certainly gets extra points for style.

We’ve actually seen a similar trick used before to light up the engines of a LEGO Saturn V and Apollo Lunar Module. It’s amazing how realistic the effect can be, and we’d love to see it used more often. We’d also like to see more model rockets that actually levitate over their pads, but one step at a time.

Learn About Historic Firearm Design With A 3D Printer

Over the last century, very little of the basic design of firearm cartridges has changed, but the mechanics of firearms themselves have undergone many upgrades. The evolution of triggers, safeties, magazines, and operating mechanisms is a fascinating field of study. Hands-on experience with these devices is rare for most people, but thanks to people like [zvc], you can 3D print accurate replicas of historical firearms and see how all the parts fit together for yourself.

[zvc] is slowly building up a library of 3D models, with nine available so far, from the Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” pistol to the modern M4 rifle. Except for springs and some fasteners, almost every single part of [zvc]’s models are 3D printed, down to the takedown pins and extractors. With the obvious exception of being able to fire a live round, it looks like all the components fit and work together like on the real firearms. None were ever designed with 3D printing in mind, so a well-tuned printer, lots of support structure, and post-processing are required to make everything work. The surface finish will be a bit rough, and some smaller and thin-walled components might be susceptible to breaking after the repeated operation or excessive force. The models are not free, but all prices are below €10.

These models do demonstrate one of the real superpowers of 3D printing: functional mock-ups and prototypes. The ability to do rapid iterative design updates and to have the latest design in hand within a few hours is invaluable in product development. [Giaco] used this extensively during the development of his kinetic driver. When you buy 3D printable models online, always make sure what possible pitfalls exist.

Wooden Tank’s Movement Hinges On Hinges

When we first looked at this tank, we thought it was pretty cool. The sides are unpainted 1/2″ (12mm) plywood, so it is not flashy. The dimensions came from Google-fu-ing the heck out of the WWII Hetzer and scaling them to 1:6. What knocks our socks off is how much [Bret Tallent] made use of parts you would find in a hardware store or bicycle shop. He uses twin motors from electric bikes, and the wheels look like replacement shopping cart wheels. The best part is the treads, which are dozens of hinges fastened with pairs of bolts and nylon-insert nuts. Something is reassuring about knowing that a repair to your baby is no further than a bike ride.

We don’t know what started [Bret] on his path to sidewalk superiority, but we suspect he is cooped up like the rest of us and looking to express himself. Mini-Hetzer is not licensed by Power Wheels and never will be, so it probably won’t turn into a business anytime soon. There is a complete gallery starting with an empty plywood base, and the pictures tell the story of how this yard Jäger got to this point. There are plans to add a paintball gun and streaming video, so we’d advise that you don’t mess with the jack-o-lanterns on his block this year. Give his gallery a view and see if you don’t become inspired to cobble something clever from the hardware store too. Then, tell us about it.

Another creative hacker used wood for their tank body and the treads as well. If you like your treaded vehicles functional, we have one meant to taxi small planes over the tarmac.

LEGO Delivers Corvette Experience On A Budget

Many dream of tooling around in a high performance sports car, but the cost of owning, maintaining, and insuring one of them make it a difficult proposition. While this LEGO version of the Corvette ZR1 might not be exactly like the real thing, it’s 4-speed manual and electronic gauge cluster can give you a taste of the supercar lifestyle without having to taken out a second mortgage.

Working through the gears.

Built by [HyperBlue], this desktop speedster has more going on under the hood (or more accurately, the roof) than you might expect. While it looks pretty unassuming from the outside, once the top is lifted, you can see all the additional components that have been packed in to motorize it. The functional gearbox takes up almost the entire interior of the car, but it’s not like you were going to be able to fit in there anyway.

But the motorized car is really only half of the project. [HyperBlue] has built a chassis dynamometer for his plastic ride that not only allows you to “start” the engine with realistic sights and sounds (recorded from an actual GM LT1 V8 engine), but put the mini ‘Vette through its paces. With a virtual dashboard powered by the Raspberry Pi, you can see various stats about the vehicle such as throttle position, RPM, and calculated scale speed; providing a real-world demonstration of how the transmission operates.

While a LEGO sports car might not be quite as exciting as getting yourself a real project car, there’s something to be said for being able to rebuild your transmission without getting your hands dirty.

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A Shrine For All The 555 Lovers

For many of our readers, the classic 555 timer holds a special place in their heart, and cursed be the fool who dares to use an Arduino in its place. For the seriously devoted ones, or those who simply like a novelty decorative item, [acerlaguinto7] built just the right thing: a giant, actually functional, cardboard 555 timer IC.

Taking all the measurements of the original IC, [acerlaguinto7] scaled it up by factor 22 and started cutting out pieces of cardboard — also considering the orientation notch — and added the markings to emulate TI’s NE555P. Next he took a bunch of aluminum cans apart and shaped them into the pins, again staying as close as possible to the original. To top it all off, he put an actual NE555 inside the giant counterpart, and hooked it up to the soda can pins, turning it into a fully operational, oversized timer IC.

Obviously, giant conductive pins like that scream for some dead bug blinky light that even the shakiest of hands could manage to solder, and [acerlaguinto7] certainly delivers, as you can see in the video after the break. One nifty way we could see this taken further would be integrating this breadboard implementation as replacement for the 555 inside — or then just connect it to the giant Raspberry Pi.

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