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 The tools themselves may be outdated, but understanding the history and the processes allows for a deeper insight into how we accomplish these kinds of effects today.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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Producing A Prop Gun That Actually Ejects Cases

With the movie Man of War shooting in Cyprus, there was a problem. They needed prop guns that looked realistic and ejected cases when fired, but that were also allowed under the country’s firearm laws. The task fell on [Paradym’s] shoulders, and he set to work producing a prop capable of doing the job.

With the laws in Cyprus, using anything off-the-shelf like an Airsoft pistol was simply not allowed. Instead, he had to start from scratch, creating a design outwardly similar to the Colt 1911 to suit the era of the film. Using green gas canisters for power, the first focus was on getting a realistic semi-automatic firing cycle happening. With that done, the next goal was to get the cases to eject from the weapon on each shot. To achieve this, a lever was used, actuated by the slide moving back after a shot, pushing the “spent” cartridge out of the port.

[Paradym] goes into great deal, covering the design of the 3D printed parts, the machining of springs, as well as the final assembly of the prop. We’ve seen other prop gun builds before, too. Video after the break.

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Foam Board, Old Electronics, And Imagination Make Movie Magic

When it comes to building sets and props for movies and TV, it’s so easy to get science fiction wrong – particularly with low-budget productions. It must be tempting for the set department to fall back on the “get a bunch of stuff and paint it silver” model, which can make for a tedious experience for the technically savvy in the audience.

But low-budget does not necessarily mean low production values if the right people are involved. Take [Joel Hartlaub]’s recent work building sets for a crowdfunded sci-fi film called Infinitus. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that needed an underground bunker with a Fallout vibe to it, and [Joel] jumped at the chance to hack the sets together. Using mainly vintage electronic gear and foam insulation boards CNC-routed into convincing panels, he built nicely detailed control consoles for the bunker. A voice communicator was built from an old tube-type table radio case with some seven-segment displays, and the chassis of an old LCD projector made a convincing portable computer terminal. The nicest hack was for the control panel of the airlock door. That used an old TDD, or telecommunications device for the deaf. With a keyboard and a VFD display, it fit right into the feel of the set. But [Joel] went the extra mile to make it a practical piece, by recording the modulated tones from the acoustic coupler and playing them back, to make it look as if a message was coming in. The airlock door looks great too.

Like many hacks, it’s pretty impressive what you can accomplish with a deep junk pile and a little imagination. But if you’ve got a bigger budget and you need some computer displays created, we know just the person for the job.

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East Coast RepRap Festival Comes Alive In Second Year

By pretty much any metric you care to use, the inaugural East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) in 2018 was an incredible success. There was plenty to see, the venue was accommodating, and the ticket prices were exceptionally reasonable. But being a first-time event, there was an understandable amount of trepidation from both exhibitors and the attendees. Convincing people to travel hundreds of miles to an event with no track record can be a difficult thing, and if there was a phrase that would best describe the feel of that first ERRF, it would probably have been “cautious optimism”.

But this year, now that they had some idea of what to expect, the 3D printing community descended on Bel Air, Maryland with a vengeance. In 2019, everything at ERRF was bigger and better. There were more people, more printers, and of course, more incredible prints. Activities like the 3D Printed Derby returned, and were joined by new attractions including full-body 3D scanning and a shooting gallery where attendees could try out the latest in printable NERF weaponry.

The official tally shows that attendance nearly doubled over last year, and with growth like that, we wouldn’t be surprised if the ERRF organizers consider relocating to a larger venue for 2020 or 2021. As far as problems go, growth so explosive that it requires you to rethink where you hold the event isn’t a bad one to have. The Midwest RepRap Festival, which served as the inspiration for ERRF, found they too needed to move into more spacious digs after a few years. Something to keep in mind the next time somebody tells you the bubble has burst on desktop 3D printing.

Trying to distill an event as large and vibrant as ERRF 2019 into a few articles is always difficult. Even after spending hours walking around the show floor, you would still stumble upon something you hadn’t seen previously. As such, this article is merely a taste of what was on hand. The East Coast RepRap Festival 2020 should absolutely be marked on your calendar for next year, but until then let’s take a look at just some of what made this year’s event such a smash.

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Maker Spirit Alive And Well At The Philly Maker Faire

For many of us, it’s difficult to imagine a world without Maker Faire. The flagship events in California and New York have served as a celebration of the creative spirit for a decade, giving hackers and makers a rare chance to show off their creations to a live audience numbering into the hundreds of thousands. It’s hard to overstate the energy and excitement of these events; for anyone who had the opportunity to attend one in person, it’s an experience not soon forgotten.

Unfortunately, a future without Maker Faire seemed a very real possibility just a few months ago. In May we first heard the events were struggling financially, and by June, we were saddened to learn that organizer Maker Media would officially be halting operations. It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to the flagship Maker Faires, and when Maker Media reluctantly admitted that production of the New York Faire was officially “paused”, it seemed we finally had our answer.

But as the recent Philadelphia Maker Faire proved, the maker movement won’t give up without a fight. While technically an independent “Mini” Faire, it exemplifies everything that made the flagship events so special and attracted an impressive number of visitors. With the New York event left in limbo, the Philadelphia Faire is now arguably the largest event of its type on the East Coast, and has the potential for explosive growth over the next few years. There’s now a viable option for makers of the Northeast who might have thought their days of exhibiting at a proper Maker Faire were over.

We’ll be bringing you detailed coverage of some of the incredible projects that were on display at the Philadelphia Maker Faire over the coming days, but in the meantime, let’s take a quick look at some of the highlights from this very promising event.

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An Arduino Sickbay Display Worthy Of The Enterprise

The various displays and interfaces in Star Trek, especially The Original Series, were intentionally designed to be obtuse and overly complex so they would appear futuristic to the audience. If you can figure out how Sulu was able to fly the Enterprise with an array of unlabeled buttons and rocker switches, we’d love to hear it. But one area of the ship where this abstract design aesthetic was backed off a bit was sickbay, as presumably they wanted the audience to be able to understand at a glance whether or not Kirk or Spock were going to pull through their latest brush with death (spoilers: they’re fine).

For his latest project, [XTronical] has recreated the classic displays from Dr McCoy’s sickbay with an Arduino Nano and a 2.8 inch LCD display. It even has a speaker and MP3 player module to recreate the “heartbeat” sound from the original show. The whole thing looks and sounds phenomenal, and would be a perfect desk toy for the classic Trek aficionado. But this isn’t just a toy, it’s a fully functional medical scanner.

Of course, this little gadget can’t tell you if you’ve come down with a nasty case of Rigellian fever, but it can read your vitals using a MAX30100 pulse oximeter module and DS18B20 thermometer. In fact, it actually has two DS18B20 sensors: one to measure ambient temperature, the other to measure skin temperature. With those two figures, [XTronical] says it can calculate your core body temperature. The only thing that’s made up is the blinking “Respiration” indicator, that one’s just an estimate.

So where do we go from here? This project is presented as merely the first step in building a complete prop, perhaps in the form of a medical tricorder. We’ve seen some phenomenal TOS tricorder builds over the years, and some have even used the Raspberry Pi to shoehorn a bit of functionality into them. [XTronical] says he’s working on getting the source code and a step-by-step build guide put together, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.

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A Trove Of Cosplay Prop Making Tutorials And Blueprints

[CutTransformGlue] recently posted a build video for “Making Rey’s Star Wars Blaster“, embedded after the break. The construction uses layered MDF sheets to build up the blaster, and it’s a treat to see it taking shape, ending with an amazing paint job. It’s a good way to learn about the techniques used to bring such props to life and help you hone your skills. But digging deeper led us down an awesome rabbit hole.

[CutTransformGlue] got plans for Rey’s Blaster from the Punished Props Academy – a prop and costume making team from Seattle committed to “transforming passionate fans into confident, skillful makers”. These folks have built a wide variety of projects ranging from guns, weapons, costumes, props and more, and are obviously extremely skilled at what they do. But they aren’t keeping those skills to themselves and in a series of posts and videos they are sharing with us such varied skills as Foamsmithing (gotta love that coinage), Molding, Casting, Painting, 3D printing, Vacuum Forming and electronics. If you’d like more information about supplies, check out the Tools and Materials section. And if all of this has given you the itch to build a Skyrim Wuuthrad or a Halo4 Sniper Rifle, head over to the amazing Free Blueprints section for a treasure chest full of downloads.

Like we said earlier, if building such stuff is your thing, it’s a rabbit hole from which you’ll find it extremely difficult to extract yourself. Have fun.

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