Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 9 at noon Pacific for the Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat with Seth Molson!

We all know the feeling of watching a movie set in a galaxy far, far away and seeing something that makes us say, “That’s not realistic at all!” The irony of watching human actors dressed up as alien creatures prancing across a fantasy landscape and expecting realism is lost on us as we willingly suspend disbelief in order to get into the story; seeing something in that artificial world that looks cheesy or goofy can shock you out of that state and ruin the compact between filmmaker and audience.

Perhaps nowhere do things get riskier for filmmakers than the design of the user interfaces of sci-fi and fantasy sets. Be they the control panels of spacecraft, consoles for futuristic computers, or even simply the screens of phones that are yet to be, sci-fi UI design can make or break a movie. The job of designing a sci-fi set used to be as simple as wiring up strings of blinkenlights; now, the job falls to a dedicated artist called a Playback Designer who can create something that looks fresh and new but still plausible to audiences used to interacting with technology that earlier generations couldn’t have dreamed of.

Seth Molson​ is one such artist, and you’ve probably seen some of his work on shows such as TimelessStargate Universe, and recently Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space. When tasked to deliver control panels for spacecraft and systems that exist only in a writer’s mind, Seth sits down with graphics and animation software to make it happen.

Join us as we take a look behind the scenes with Seth and find out exactly what it’s like to be a Playback Designer. Find out what Seth’s toolchain looks like, how he interacts with the rest of the production design crew to come up with a consistent and believable look and feel for interfaces, and what it’s like to design futures that only exist — for now — in someone’s imagination.

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, October 9 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, 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.

 

3D-Printed Film Scanner Brings Family Memories Back To Life

There is a treasure trove of history locked away in closets and attics, where old shoeboxes hold reels of movie film shot by amateur cinematographers. They captured children’s first steps, family vacations, and parties where [Uncle Bill] was getting up to his usual antics. Little of what was captured on thousands of miles of 8-mm and Super 8 film is consequential, but giving a family the means to see long lost loved ones again can be a powerful thing indeed.

That was the goal of [Anton Gutscher]’s automated 8-mm film scanner. Yes, commercial services exist that will digitize movies, slides, and snapshots, but where’s the challenge in that? And a challenge is what it ended up being. Aside from designing and printing something like 27 custom parts, [Anton] also had a custom PCB fabricated for the control electronics. Film handling is done with a stepper motor that moves one frame into the scanner at a time for scanning and cropping. An LCD display allows the archivist to move the cropping window around manually, and individual images are strung together with ffmpeg running on the embedded Raspberry Pi. There’s a brief clip of film from a 1976 trip to Singapore in the video below; we find the quality of the digitized film remarkably good.

Hats off to [Anton] for stepping up as the family historian with this build. We’ve seen ad hoc 8-mm digitizers before, but few this polished looking. We’ve also featured other archival attempts before, like this high-speed slide scanner.

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Look Like A Movie Hacker

On the old original Star Trek series, they bought some futuristic salt and pepper shakers to use on an episode. The problem is they didn’t look like salt and pepper shakers, so they used normal ones instead and turned the strange-looking ones into Dr. McCoy’s medical instruments. This demonstrates the value of looking like what you claim to be. So sure, you are a super skillful hacker, but if you are sitting in front of a normal looking computer desktop, how can anyone tell? After all, in the movies, hackers use exotic flashy user interfaces, right? Now thanks to eDEX-UI, you can look like a movie hacker if you use Windows, Linux, or the Mac.

As you might expect, the program isn’t very efficient or practical, but it does actually do something. In addition to a load of system information about the CPU and network, there’s a shell, a file manager, and an onscreen keyboard, too. The app uses Electron and — on Linux — AppImage, but for a toy program like this, that may not be a problem.

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Lightsaber Uses Pogo Pins To Make Assembly A Breeze

There was an endless supply of fantastic projects at Supercon this year, but one whose fit and finish really stood out was [Scott]’s lightsaber. If you were walking around and saw someone with a very bright RGB device with a chromed-out handle hanging off their belt it was probably this, though it may have been hard to look at directly. On the outside, the saber looks like a well-polished cosplay prop, and it is! But when Scott quickly broke down the device into component pieces it was apparent that extra care had been put into the assembly of the electronics.

Like any good lightsaber replica the blade is lit, and wow is it bright. The construction is fairly simple, it’s a triplet of WS2812B LED strips back to back on a triangular core, mounted inside a translucent polycarbonate tube with a diffuser. Not especially unusual. But the blade can be popped off the hilt at a moments notice for easy transport and storage, so the strips can’t be soldered in. Connectors would have worked, but who wants flying wires when they’re disconnecting their lightsaber blade. The answer? Pogo pins! Scott runs the power, ground, and data lines out of the strips and into a small board with slip ring-style plated rings. On the hilt, there is a matching array of pogo pins to pass along power and data. The data lines from all the strips are tied together minimizing the number of connections to make, and the outer two power rings have more than one pin for better current-carrying capacity. A handy side effect is that there is nowhere on the blade where there aren’t LEDs; the strips go down to the very end of the blade where it meets the main board inside the hilt.

The hilt is filled with an assembly of 18650’s and a Teensy mounted with a custom shield, all fit inside a printed midframe. The whole build is all about robust design that’s easy to assemble. The main board is book-ended by perpendicular PCBs mounted to the ends, one at the top to connect to the blade and one at the bottom to connect to a speaker. Towards the bottom there is space for an optional Bluetooth radio to allow remote RGB control.

Scott is selling this as a product but also provides detailed instructions and parts lists for each component. Assembly instructions for the blade are here. The hilt is here. And pogo adapters are on OSH Park here. An overview of the firmware with links to GitHub is here. Check out a walkthrough of the handle assembly and blade attachment after the break!

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We Are Now At DEFCON 2

If you had a working DEFCON meter that reported on real data, would it be cool or distressing?

Before we get ahead of ourselves: no, not that DEF CON. Instructables user [ArthurGuy] is a fan of the 1983 movie  War Games, and following a recent viewing –hacker senses a-tingling — he set to work building his own real-time display.

Making use of some spare wood, [ArthurGuy] glued and nailed together a 10x10x50cm box for the sign. Having been painted white already at some point, the paint brilliantly acted as a reflector for the lights inside each section. The five DEF CON level panels were cut from 3mm pieces of coloured acrylic with the numbers slapped on after a bit of work from a vinyl cutter.

Deviating from a proper, screen-accurate replica, [ArthurGuy] cheated a little and used WS2812 NeoPixel LED strips — 12 per level — and used a Particle Photon to control them. A quick bit of code polls the MI5 terrorism RSS feed and displays its current level — sadly, it’s currently at DEFCON 2.

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Drones, Clever Hacks, And CG Come Together For Star Wars Fan Film

We weren’t certain if this Star Wars fan film was out kind of thing until we saw the making of video afterwards. They wanted to film a traditional scene in a new way. The idea was to take some really good quadcopter pilots, give them some custom quadcopters, have them re-enact a battle in a scenic location, and then use some movie magic to bring it all together.

The quadcopters themselves are some of those high performance racing quadcopters with 4K video cameras attached. The kind of thing that has the power to weight ratio of a rocket ship. Despite what the video implies, they are unfortunately not TIE Fighter shaped. After a day of flying and a few long hikes to retrieve the expensive devices after inevitable crashes (which, fortunately, provided some nice footage), the next step was compositing.

However, how to trick the viewer into believing they were in a X-Wing quadcopter? A cheap way to do it would be to spend endless hours motion tracking and rendering a cockpit in place. It won’t look quite real. The solution they came up with is kind of dumb and kind-of brilliant. Mount a 3D printed cockpit on a 2×4 with a GoPro. Play the flight footage on a smartphone while holding the contraption. Try to move the cockpit in the same direction as the flight. We’re not certain if it was a requirement to also make whooshing and pew pew laser noises while doing so, but it couldn’t hurt.

In the end it all came together to make a goofy, yet convincingly good fan film. Nice work! Videos after the break.

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A Pedal Powered Cinema

When the apocalypse hits and your power goes out, how are you going to keep yourself entertained? If you are lucky enough to be friends with [stopsendingmejunk], you can just hop on his pedal powered cinema and watch whatever movies you have stored on digital media.

This unit is built around an ordinary bicycle. A friction drive is used to generate the electricity via pedal power. In order to accomplish this, a custom steel stand was fabricated together in order to lift the rear wheel off the ground. A 24V 200W motor is used as the generator. [stopsendingmejunk] manufactured a custom spindle for the motor shaft. The spindle is made from a skateboard wheel. The motor is mounted in such a way that it can be lowered to rub the skateboard wheel against the bicycle wheel. This way when the rear bicycle wheel spins, it also rotates the motor. The motor can be lifted out of the way when cruising around if desired.

The power generated from the motor first runs through a regulator. This takes the variable voltage from the generator and smooths it out to a nice even power signal. This regulated power then charges two Goal Zero Sherpa 100 lithium batteries. The batteries allow for a buffer to allow the movie to continue playing while changing riders. The batteries then power the Optomo 750 projector as well as a set of speakers.