Nov 282014

A random collection of thoughts:

  • Star Wars is a weird thing for me because it’s kinda split into two entities. There’s “my Star Wars“, which consists mainly of the OT1, a handful of the novels and games, a great deal of fan research, and some of my own twists on things. Then there’s “the Star Wars franchise,” which is everything with the name Star Wars attached. I get super-jazzed for stuff in the former category, while the latter category’s flame has long since burned out. I have no idea where these new movies/the Disney Star Wars era fits into those categories.
  • I don’t have any negative things to say about J.J. Abrams as a director. Any of the issues I take with the stuff of his I’ve seen have been writing-related. Sure, he has influence over that as a director/producer, but I don’t think those issues ultimately fall at his feet. I mean, I guess they do in a “the buck stops here” sort of way, but…meh? That he’s not working with Orci/Kurtzman/Lindelof this time, but rather starting from a script by Michael Arndt and retooled by Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi co-writer Lawrence Kasdan is at least encouraging.
  • This teaser has a strong fan film vibe to it for me, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Vibrancy, maybe? Color timing not quite what I expected? Not sure. The very first shot, when Boyega pops his head up, is the one that feels the most fanfilmish to me. I bet that’s actually a location shot, but it looks like a greenscreen shot. Something about it just feels wrong. This comp2 also feels weird to me, color-wise, and to make matters even more confusing, I think it’s actually the human element that feels off. The helmet, the white vest, and the cockpit all look fine, but his actual skin just seems to…not fit.
  • As a rebuttal to the previous point, though, it’s worth noting that none of those shots likely represent “finished” shots. This far out from release, ain’t none of those gonna be final comps.
  • Good grief, John Williams. The shot where they hard-in on the Falcon with the fanfare swelling? Damn.
  • My initial reaction to the claymore lightsaber was a mixture of “gee-whiz!” and eye-rolling amusement. On thinking about it, though, it makes some amount of sense. What’s the one thing a lightsaber can’t immediately cut through? Another lightsaber. So, if you’re going to have a crossbar on your lightsaber, what do you make it with? Mini-lightsabers.
  • Favorite shot of the trailer was that lights-flickering interior dropship shot with all the stormtroopers. That was badass.
  • A reminder for everyone that this was the Episode I teaser. TFA’s teaser already has about 1000x as much attitude and tone.
  • Lucas approached Mark Hamill about reprising the role of Luke in an Obi-Wan-style mentor capacity during the filming of Return of the Jedi and speculated that it would film sometime in 2011. As pointed out by this redditor, “Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design.”
  • Did you notice the antenna on the Falcon? Not the old dish! (’cause, y’know, Lando knocked that one off)

In conclusion:


X-wings over water
Haters gonna hate
  1. Original Trilogy. Episodes IV through VI []
  2. “Comp” refers to “composition” or “composite” when referring to VFX. []
Nov 072013

This post is part of a meta-series. Click here for a list of all posts in this series.

I’ve been quiet on this front of late, but not idle. When we last left off, I had nearly finished gluing the cross-sections into place. Once finished, my concern about the main profile board proved well-founded, with the board making a gentle but noticeable arc from front to back. This meant the centerline of the entire helmet would be incorrect once finished.  However, I noticed that I could manhandle it into correct alignment. I hatched a scheme to create a platform for the helmet into which I would drill regular holes for dowels that would enforce the spacing between each profile. After doing just the center two and two toward the rear (around cross-section 8), I realized that the dowels just weren’t rigid enough for the idea to work. They bent too easily, meaning the heavy mass of cardboard was better at shifting their alignment than they were at keeping it aligned. I ultimately went with a simpler approach and tried to fix each of the cross-sections in place by anchoring them to other cross-sections with masking tape. It mostly worked.

Next came the insulation foam.

Continue reading »

Oct 202013

A while back, I wrote a post about aesthetics vs. practicality in designing science fiction spaceships, which also extends to any sort of speculative design.

Recently, a discussion exploded on the same board over an initially small misunderstanding that went rampant really fast. You can read about it here, if you care to (it spans three pages). The short version is that I pointed out some conceptual flaws in this particular artist’s explanation for how the FTL1 drive works. After some back and forth, wherein the artist got increasingly hostile to having their idea poked at, they fired off a massive post/rant. I almost gave into the temptation to respond to it, but that little voice in the back of my head said, “Dude, get real. They’re not listening. They’re not going to listen. They’ve got too much baggage going into this for your points to get through. Just leave it.” So I did. I apologized for upsetting them, restated that my only goal was to share information/correct misconceptions, complimented them on their model, and wished them well on their worldbuilding. Then I bowed out.

This all played out from 10/17 to 10/18. Yet I’m still thinking about it. I don’t feel any better now than I did when it all played out; if anything, I might be feeling even worse. Enumerating all of the reasons why would take too long, but there’s one point that I wanted to home in on because I see it everywhere and it needs to die.

in case nobody told you…the FI in sci fi means Fiction!!! The concept of this system is based on an assumed understanding of physics that guess what? We don’t and may never have

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The fiction in science fiction serves the exact same role as it does in fantasy fictioncrime fiction, literary fiction, romance fiction, and every other stripe of fiction out there: it serves to indicate that the story, characters, and setting are made-up. Period. Done.

The science in science fiction clarifies the broader genre: these are made-up stories, characters, and settings where science is the driver behind what is different. New technologies, alien species, and so on; just as magic–the truly fantastic–drives fantasy fiction. There can absolutely be overlap: technological magic, magical technology, whatever you like. But these are the distinguishing features of the genres that give them a unique place.

Continue reading »

  1. That’s “faster than light”…but if you’re not familiar with that term, then most of this post is going to seem even more ridiculous to you. []
Sep 192013

This post is part of a meta-series. Click here for a list of all posts in this series.

As of September 10, I finally had all of the cross-sections cut!


I’d been working in the basement, since the stairs were finally done, but all of the pieces felt a bit damp (not severely so, just…not as firm as one might expect).  I brought everything upstairs to dry out for the night before I started gluing the cross-sections to the profile. I’ve been doing that two-at-a-time, more than a little frustrated by how “slow” Elmer’s is to bond. Really, though, that’s just impatience talking.

As I’ve been going, I noticed that the thin cardboard of the main profile is actually bending a fair amount, which I’m going to have to figure out how to correct before I start filling in the foam. Would be a shame to go to all this trouble to achieve a fair amount of symmetry only to have my entire axis be wobbly!

I also had a minor crisis last night, when I realized that I had mislabeled cross-sections 25 and 27 (part of the “face”). I realized this when I went to put on cross-section 26 (i.e. after 25 had set) and it was larger than its predecessor. I checked my Blender file and all was well, but the profile I had in Blender did not at all match the profile I expected to see for 25, based on the printout template and the cross-section itself. Sure enough, I had mislabeled it (and 27) in Photoshop! Cue emergency surgery to slice that cross-section off of the main profile and replace it with 27.

I just attached the “true” 27 a few moments ago. Here’s how it’s shaping up:

(Bonus: In the background on the right, you can see the two toaster ovens that I’m going to use to form the plastic-warming oven for my vacuform table!)

Aug 312013

This post is part of a meta-series. Click here for a list of all posts in this series.

Right now, it’s all grunt work. I’m steadily making my way through each of the cross-section cut-outs. They’re tedious and time-consuming, but I had the good fortune to secure a large supply of cardboard boxes completely free thanks to a well-timed arrival at Lowe’s one morning. An employee was in the process of unboxing a number of items and placing them on shelves. I asked if he was going to throw away the boxes, which he was, and then asked if he’d mind me taking them off his hands, which he did not. Jackpot!

Today, I finally bit the bullet and printed out all of the cross-sections. I had been printing them out two and three at a time, waiting until I had finished the cardboard version of each before printing out the next batch. Instead, I now have the flexibility to tackle as few or as many in a sitting as I want. I’m about halfway done cutting out the cardboard versions.

I added an ongoing project cost list to the meta page, as well as a list of tools I had on-hand when I started, for anyone interested in trying to replicate this method.

Some pictures:
Finished cardboard cross-sections Remaining paper templates

Aug 262013

This post is part of a meta-series. Click here for a list of all posts in this series.

For 14 years1, ever since first seeing examples of others that have done so on the Internet, I’ve schemed, planned, yearned, learned, studied, and plotted to make myself a “real” set of Stormtrooper armor, from scratch. It’s been a long road full of reading, studying, and learning about vacuum forming, mold-making, resin, fiberglass, silicone, carbon fiber, plastic, urethane, Bondo, pepakaura, and more. Finally, I’m at a point in life, skill level, patience, and focus that I feel ready to tackle this project.

The most complex part of the whole endeavor, which I’ve decided to tackle first2 is the Stormtrooper’s distinctive helmet. I’ve seen a number of fantastic approaches to this part of the suit, ranging from wildly complex3 to astonishingly simple. I decided to take an approach I hadn’t yet seen and start digitally, since my background is in digital art.

The idea behind doing it this way is to get familiar with the shapes and flow before I ever start assembling a physical object.

First pass 3D, with inaccuracies noted post-render:
stormtrooper_2013-08-22-000 stormtrooper_2013-08-22-001 stormtrooper_2013-08-22-002 stormtrooper_2013-08-24-001 stormtrooper_2013-08-24-002 stormtrooper_2013-08-24-001_notes

Second pass 3D, with inaccuracies corrected:

Final pass 3D with some additional shape refinement:
stormtrooper_2013-08-28-000 stormtrooper_2013-08-28-001

Once I brought the 3D version to as high a level of fidelity and accuracy (with certain intentional caveats) as I wanted, I created vertical slices from front-to-back and a single horizontal slice. These slices are printed out and then carved into cardboard and assembled into a real-world 3D “skeleton.”

Initial test print of profile silhouette:
Stormtrooper Profile silhouette test print

Real profile silhouette alongside the actual cardboard cutout:
Stormtrooper profile cutout

Starting to assemble the portrait cross-sections onto the profile frame:
Stormtrooper cross-section assembly

There are 34 individual cross-sectional slices, separated by about 1cm each. As of this writing, I’ve done 11 of them.

Once I’ve printed and cut all of the cross-sections and glued them into their proper place, I plan to fill the gaps in the skeleton with expanding insulation foam, sand that down to get the rough volume, and then coat the whole thing in Bondo for further shape revision. Eventually, this will create a positive mold that I can coat with silicone, create a negative mold, and finally create an actual urethane “pull” that I’ll end up wearing.

Someone asked which version of the helmet I’m making and the answer is: a little bit of a mash-up, actually.

The helmet is predominantly ANH Hero, since that’s historically the most “real” one. The ANH Stunts were made first, but the ANH Hero is the only one of the lot to be both fresh off the master and vacuum-pulled from white ABS rather than off-white polyethylene and spray-painted. However, because of the way the ESB and ROTJ helmets were made (either refurbishing the ANH Stunts or using the ANH Stunts as a “master” to create new pulls), certain details from the ANH Stunts became more common: namely, the 8 “teeth” compared to the 6 in the ANH Hero. I’ll be going with 8 for this.

The other piece, which I haven’t yet decided about, is the eye lens. The ANH Hero had a nice, bulbous green lens that I’d much prefer to use based on look. However, these are also notoriously difficult to see through, leading many to prefer the ANH Stunt’s flat, smoked lenses instead. I’m going to try the rounded lenses first and, if those prove really difficult to see through, will fall back on flats.

The rest of the helmet details will be ANH Hero, though.

As for symmetry, while I’m usually a stickler for “on screen = authentic; author’s intent = irrelevant” I’m deviating from that standard here and going for as much symmetry as I can manage. I think asymmetry crept in unintentionally and isn’t representative of what the Empire would actually manufacture for its troops. The in-universe Stormtrooper helmet was almost certainly designed using 3D software of some kind, with the resulting specs then sent straight to an automatic manufacturing facility that stamped out millions upon millions of perfect, symmetrical, identical copies.

For the rest of the suit, my current plan is to, again, mostly go with ANH (Hero and Stunt armors were identical), but pull any more-interesting design features from the later suits as I go. Ultimately, I’ll end up with an ANH Hero variant suit, but I’m okay with that!

Stay tuned!

  1. I first saw fan-made versions when I was ~15, which was a pretty significant year for me in a lot of ways. Many things in my life have resulted from events that happened and things I learned at 15 []
  2. Primarily because it’s the one piece that I don’t need my nascent vacu-form table for. []
  3. Andrew Ainsworth, the guy in this video, is the guy who made the original helmets for A New Hope back in the 70s! []
Oct 082010

I had this whole plan for what to write about today that congealed as I drove to work. It vanished when I actually sat down to write it.

Yesterday marked Cody’s and my second month as a married couple. So far, so good! It seems a little silly to celebrate these milestones, given the four-closing-on-five years we’ve been together. The relationship is solid, we love each other just as much (if not more) now than we did when everything was exciting and new, we live together well, etc. It still feels like an achievement anyway. Marriage! It’s this big, important word that, for us, represented no functional change in our relationship toward one another that nevertheless bestowed a reaffirming, reinforcing strength that I didn’t even know could exist. I heartily approve.

I decided to bite the bullet and forgo worrying about writing a tailor-made web app for play-by-post Firefly-inspired Star Wars game I’ve been planning for a few months now. Instead, I went with MyBB and will adapt it as the need arises. I’ve used phpBB in the past, but it’s always felt a little clunkier than it ought to. MyBB is very smooth by comparison. This doesn’t obviate the need for a character creation web app, but it’s one less technical hurdle to starting the game than I had before. It’s been a long-standing desire of mine to play/run a Star Wars game that used an adapted version of the 7th Sea rule-set, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Play-by-post is an odd fit for such a dynamic and fluid system, but one never knows until one actually tries.

November is bearing down on us, which poses two annoying problems. The first is that Cody and I are still at a loss about a concept for Halloween costumes this year. There isn’t enough time to do anything complex1 in the time we have—next year, for sure—but even within that constraint, it’s rough. The second problem is one of time management: NaNoWriMo is going to eat my time in November, which presents something of a blockage on both the aforementioned Star Wars game as well as the heavy WoW-playing fronts. Oh, to have just six more hours each day.

Hell, I’d settle for two.

  1. Like the various costumes I’d make with a vacuform table []
Sep 202010

TIE Fighter case artIf that post title got you excited, I apologize.

For a while now, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing some kind of Star Wars fan film, being both a Star Wars nerd and an amateur filmmaker. One idea that popped into my head recently, while recollecting fond and cherished memories of playing the TIE Fighter computer game, was to adapt the game’s story into a TV (well, web) series. The game was story-driven enough that I think it could work, and had enough characters that it could be interesting. I’m not suggesting I’m going to do this. I barely have the time and energy to do all of the current projects I’ve saddled onto myself, let alone adding something as megalithic as this. But it’s still fun to think about.

According to lore, the TIE Fighter player assumes the mantle of Maarek Steele. Seems like a good choice for the series’ protagonist. As the game progresses, a number of major secondary characters and antagonists are introduced. Among them are then-Vice Admiral Thrawn, the rogue admirals Harkov and Zaarin, and Darth Vader puts in a cameo, too. Including the Imperial officer that briefs Steele before each mission, as well as the member of the Emperor’s Secret Order that provides secondary objectives, might work as well.

In terms of adapting the game, I think I’d first just go through the game mission-by-mission and isolate the major story components from each. These would get woven into the major arc of the series, which itself might even be split into seasons to mirror the distinct campaigns in the game. Once that had been done, the next step would be to pick out key bits of dialog from the game and weave those into the episode script. Nostalgia, man! It wouldn’t have to be line-for-line, but it’d be a fun callback to hit some of the key lines.

I might visit the idea some time in the distance future. TIE Fighter stands as my favorite game of all time (yes, even over WoW), and it nicely dovetails with the desire to do a Star Wars fanfilm. Of course, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to commit the amount of time doing an entire series would require. But hey, it’s fun to dream.

Sep 182010

Part of my prolonged absence from the blog here (other than the obvious excuse of being lazy), is that one of the most momentous days in my life transpired recently. Cody and I got married!

Though things were frantic as hell from Thursday 8/5 through Saturday 8/7 (the day of the wedding), the ceremony went off without a hitch and was absolutely perfect. Cody’s bridesmaids and my groomsmen processed to the opening title of Star Trek: First Contact, while Cody and her father processed to Hyperspace (which features the Binary Sunset/Force theme) from The Empire Strikes Back.

Our parents each read one of our four readings, with my mom starting with the Declaration of Principles (of the Interstellar Alliance) from Babylon 5, my dad following with a slightly edited-down version of Scalzi’s 15 Years post, Cody’s dad with Taylor Mali’s Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog, and Cody’s mom finishing with Us Two by A.A. Milne.

I wrote my vows fairly early on, which highlighted two major things: that I could never adequately express in any volume of words the depth of my love for Cody, and that the duties of a husband were not unlike those of a starship. Cody’s vows were finalized the day of, and I had no idea what they would be like until she spoke them during the ceremony. They were heartbreakingly beautiful, while still containing a wonderful amount of humor (promising to heal me when I wasn’t feeling confident in my tanking, to smile and laugh even when I repeat my latest catch phrase for the 100th time, and similar). I definitely got choked up.

We recessed to “Wander My Friends” from Battlestar Galactica and kicked off the biggest party of our lives. The food was amazing, the place was amazing, our photographer was amazing, our wedding party (and our extended wedding party — I’m looking at you, Sarah, Lisa, and Sally!), our family and friends — all amazing. Evidently, Cody and I managed to make it through our first dance without me making us look like total fools. Becky gave an adorable speech, despite laryngitis, and Nick and Jeff followed with possibly the greatest best man speech in the history of best man speeches. No, I’m not kidding. It was epic.

The party lasted until we had to shut down around 11pm or so, and then we simply relocated to the hotel to continue the festivities. Eventually, that party wound down too. The next day, many of us reconvened at Cody’s family’s cabin on Lake Monomanoc. On the way home, Cody, Kt, Ron, and I developed the epic mythos of GRO-TON while passing through Groton, and its neighboring towns of Littleton and Acton (pronounced “Action”). We also had Fras and Jess over to play Rock Band the next day. All in all, a splendid time.

And then Cody and I went on our first cruise. How to describe a cruise to someone who’s never been on one before? It’s more than just being “on a boat” and going somewhere tropical (Bermuda, in our case). To me, as a sci-fi fan, it was a fantasy-indulging taste of what it might be like to be aboard a futuristic spaceship (one featuring artificial gravity, for instance…). It was also a taste of peace. When we weren’t sleeping or eating, Cody and I spent most of our time just sitting on our balcony, overlooking infinite blue, reading. We had no other concerns. Just be with each other, read a book, and look out on the water. Incredible.

We’ve already been stirring the waters (har har) amongst our friends and family to do an epic group cruise at some point. We’ve also talked about making cruising an annual thing. It was that good.

So, all in all, the wedding was a phenomenal success and without a doubt counts as the happiest day of my life1.

  1. Subject to revision on the birth of children, whenever we get around to it! []