Could you use a hand?

Hello world! My name is Alex Jereb and I am the fabrication lead for the Admin Robot team. Our mission is to create a robot who is handsome, charming, and capable of making all of the movements in our storyboard pulled from the source comic, Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell.

While initially I was eager to try and make him an animatronic, my team and I quickly realized that was not going to be possible with our budget. Instead, we decided to use puppetry techniques to give him a range of motion. Our first prototype centered around his hands.

For those of you familiar with anatomy, you know that muscles in our bodies exist in pairs. These pairs of muscles, such as the biceps and triceps, take turns contracting, or pulling, in order to extend and contract your limbs, including your fingers. With this in mind, creating an artificial hand is a little bit simpler. You need the ability to contract the fingers and the ability to re-extend them.

My team and I made a very quick proof of concept with cardboard, rubber bands, straws, and string. When you pull the string connected to the tip of a finger through the straw guides, it bends the cardboard along pre-bent joints. The springiness of the cardboard and the rubber bands running along the back allow for a positive return action of the finger, meaning it springs back when you release tension on the string.

In doing my initial visual research for this project, I found a photo of a 3d printed prosthetic hand that looked like it would be perfect for our Admin. I was able to track down the photo to Thingiverse user Gyrobot’s Flexy Hand 2 and earlier Flexy Hand 1, which was the perfect base for our Admin. This model still uses string or filament to pull the fingers into their closed position, but utilizes flexible 3d printing filament to give the joints their positive return action. (3d printing tip: if you don’t have much time and it’s okay if your model prints messily and it doesn’t have to be very strong, print your model with the minimum amount of support material and no infill. This reduces the amount of plastic that the printer will have to spit out. If possible, you can also play with the extrusion speed and layer height, which change how quickly filament is spat out of the machine and how large each layer of plastic can be.)

While the rest of the Admin Bot team and I still have a long way to go in making our boy, we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this journey. We hope to show you lots of cool things along the way and our boy in action after we start filming on Nov. 12th!

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We are, DaArm!

Welcome to “DaArm!”  An exploration into what makes us react physically to the things we see.

That may sound sort or philosophical, but what our team is trying to accomplish is a grotesque, horrific effect to make an audience squirm.

I was the one who conceptualized the effect and brought it to the class: to try and create a physical reaction to something an audience would see on screen.  I used my own experience to put it into perspective and to explain the concept.

I am an avid guitarist, and play often, which means I am very conscious of my fingers and arms.  When I see, hear, or think about someone slamming their fingers in a door, cutting a finger while cooking, or (the one that hits home most for me) when someone catches a basketball wrong and jams a finger, I get a “ghost pain” in my fingers and hand.  I thought It would be a fun exercise to try to create something that makes people feel that same way.

Rolling with that, I knew the easiest ways to cause that reaction were pain and time.  Something painful over a long period of time is what is going to really elicit that reaction.  And what could do that?   Something that is growing inside your arm, that breaks bones moving along your arm, can’t be comfortable.  Especially if that “something” is a claw that forces its way out of your palm.

The second “philosophical” portion of the project was to see if I could actually create something disgusting and horrifying.  I am not a horror fan.  I respect the genre, but I am just too squirmy for it.  So, the idea was to get people together who shared that same squeamishness, and see if that made a more grotesque effect.  Does our fear push us further, or hold us back?

Step one was really discussing all of this with the team, and defining what we wanted to chase as our effect.  What exactly made us all squirm, and how could we make the audience feel the same?  We decided on our story: a demonic cult administering some kind of test, a entity taking over this poor human being, a bone like claw form and grow out of their arm, and then the arm breaking to make room for the full claw.


The claw slowly emerges from the center of the palm.


Quickly, the claw extends and pulls the arm apart in the process

We are knee deep in the next step, which is learning how to make the effect happen.  We need to move past the stage of “I don’t know, what I don’t know” before we can actually get anywhere, or we will end up running in circles.  The project is split into two halves: puppetry and animatronics, and silicone casting and makeup.  Everything from learning how to use and program servos, to casting an arm out of silicon was untouched territory to most of the group, but we are surrounded by teams doing the exact same thing; learning.  It makes us feel a little better about what we don’t know and pushes us to learn more, as opposed to being intimidated by those who are experts.

-Creative Lead and Project Manager,

James “Wyatt” Laster

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Something Scary, Something New, Something Cackles, Something blue!

The Spooky Space Kook by R. Case

Scooby Doo is one of the most widely recognizable, and long running cartoons of all time clocking in at almost 50 years of thrilling mystery solving and hijinks. I remember being at Thanksgiving gatherings and finding that one of the few things that could connect the generations of cousins exiled to the kids table was Scooby Doo, and as a result, it’s always held a special place in my heart.

However, heart and the place in said heart was just the beginning, and I still had a long way to go before being able to bring this beautiful space ghost to life, so to speak.  So, without further ado, I present…

The ???? Steps to Actualizing Your Dreams*

*ᶦᶠ ᵗʰᵒˢᵉ ᵈʳᵉᵃᵐˢ ᵃʳᵉ ᵗᵒ ᵐᵃᵏᵉ ᵃ ᵖʳᵃᶜᵗᶦᶜᵃˡ ˢᵖᵃᶜᵉ ᵏᵒᵒᵏ

Step 1: Find a team of capable and passionate Scooby Doo fans!

Austin, a smidgen of Tess, Erika, and Laura

My first instinct was that if I could convince enough people that I knew what I was talking about Scooby Doo-niverse wise, then I might garner a team, and as a result, the Space Kook informational packet was born!

Step 2: Realize you may be over your head…

There was definitely a moment where I looked at all the work ahead and thought, “Well, I hope someone knows what they’re doing”, but…

Step 3: Elongate your neck!

… then I remembered that we are all here to learn, get better, and find a way to overcome the unknown

Step 4: Design!

After our first meeting, we all took part in voicing our expectations, and worries via a very sophisticated mood board:

Prelim Suit Aesthetics

Prelim Suit Functions

Current Constraints










Then, a maquette came to be!

Maquette in Action

Maquette Glowing


From there, we really tried to define parameters for our preliminary designs, which can be found here along with our mission statement

Step 5: Prototype!

To begin, we found a pre-existing halloween skull, and using modeling clay, crafted his ever grimaced face. Then, using two springs, a skewer, and a piece of string, we allowed his jaw to become cackle capable.

Skull and Jaw Movement

Then, we constructed the first body










Then the first miniature puppet…

First Puppet

Step 6: Fail…

After finishing our prototypes we noticed a host of problems:

  • Our skull was too big
  • Our body was not quite in line with what we’d set out to create
  • Our puppet was not sturdy enough

And so…

Step 7: Design, and Prototype 2: Electric Boogaloo!

The body was redesigned to be slimmer and with the addition of panelling, more in line with the man made aesthetic we wanted. We also created a form for the helmet.

Body Prototype 2

Hot Glue Welds Close Up

Helmet Form

Helmet Form








We then finalized our design and pulled textures for the body

Erika and Laura Show Off Our Textures!

Our Textured Panelling and Design!








Finally, we realized that the puppet didn’t need to be homemade when we have a lovely drawing form for a base!

Drawing Form For Puppet

The future definitely hold more steps and failures ahead, but that’s the nature of the beast. Luckily for us, with everyone’s help, we will get away with it, in spite of the metaphorically meddling kids.

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Stepping Into Fear (And Our New Silicone Nightmares)

Take a moment to fall back into your childhood days where the dark shadows under your bed and in the deep corner by your closet held a sinister nightmare of malicious intent upon your sweet dreams. 

Now, imagine that old fear you believed was extinguished walking towards you on the street today. Its dark cloak billowing in the wind, horns cutting into the starry night sky, rotting, clawed hands reaching out towards you as its eyes begin to glow with an ember of rage that will never burn out. Feel the shiver crawl up your spine as your breath quickens and your eyes search the shadows in paranoia. 

This is the fear you thought you lost as you grew older. This is the fear that we plan to reignite within those who grew up fearing the Horned King would pay them a visit with his un-dead army in tow.

Adapting an Old Fear

Originally based on The Chronicles of Prydain, Disney’s The Black Cauldron brought a darker edge to their usually musical and fairy godmother filled worlds by introducing frightening elements and a most notable skeletal, Horned King to cinemas with the hopes that the experiment would expand their audience to a wider demographic. Although it was not one of Disney’s large successes, the Horned King remains a horrific figure haunting those who witnessed his villainous ways when they were younger.


In order to recreate fear for the illusions of film making, we will be using a mixture of artistry and engineering to build multiple pieces of prosthetic makeup and costuming that an actor will be able to wear comfortably and without large limitations to their ability to become the Horned King.

Our goal is to build from the old fear that Disney’s animated film pressed into its audiences with the Horned King and establish a new fear that will take the dark creature out of the 2D world and into reality using special FX makeup and prosthetics.

Creating a New Fear


Our Goals:
  •  16 individual  prosthetic makeup pieces that will be sculpted in clay, molded into reusable plaster trays, and cast in silicone to be applied to the performer’s face and hands.
  • A set of large, unique horns that will have an intimidating presence on screen.
  • One large, hooded cloak of deep red that “pools” around the performer.
  • A pair of brightly glowing eyes

Our New Nightmares:
  • Putting our sculpting and painting abilities to the test with a new medium, silicone prosthetic makeup!
  • Considering all elements in regards to the actor’s level of comfortable mobility and visibility
  • Creating “multiple wear” makeup pieces
  • Working with the actor’s overall performance to ensure that the Horned King effects are truly terrifying
  • Understanding what should be done practically and what should be left for post VFX work



With our actress lined up, measurements secured, concepts drawn, and the recent arrival of our main materials, we are ready to step into the fear that is the Horned King!

Will you join us?


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Come Hull or High Water

Since joining this class and diving head first into the amazing challenges and lessons it has to offer, I have had one thing on my mind: “Oh good lord, what have I done.”

My name is Kyle Cordova and I am the artistic lead for the WARBRINGERS project. As a brief introduction, I pitched to our class a project from a recent World of Warcraft cinematic called Warbringers: Jaina, in which Jaina Proudmoore uses her magic to raise the sunken remains of the ship of her father, who she had betrayed long ago. The video below starts at the point when the effect happens (though the whole cinematic definitely deserves a watch!)

So yeah. We are going to dredge a massive ship from the ocean. And it’s going to look awesome.

The Team and The Mission

Our team, which consists of myself, Kaan Toy, Julie Zuniga, and Darshan Desai, decided that we want to make this effect as a pitch for practical use in an amusement park which means a few things:

  1.  The effect must be reasonably practical for large scale use.
  2.  The effect must make the audience feel small.
  3.  The final reel we shoot in this class would be the ‘Trailer’ video we would use to sell the     idea to a large theme park.

To break it down further, part one necessitates us to put some thought into how the mechanisms used for our small scale product would work in the real world, such as the lift system and the size of the boat. Part two reminds us of the look and feel of the original cinematic, we need to inspire wonder and awe above all else. And lastly part three holds us accountable; in spite of parts one and two, our primary objective is to make it look great!

Boy howdy that’s a big ship!

What We’ve Been Up To So Far

We began our project with a maquette and design brief so that we could explain our idea in 3D space and have a plan for our concept going forward. After deciding on scale, we started prototyping away! Our first week we were still getting our bearings so it definitely was not the most efficient we could be, we all worked together on the same prototype for our mast, which we need to telescope down to a smaller size when the ship is underwater.

First maquette, “hydraulic” lift with telescoping masts

Learning from this, we decided to branch out and have our own individual prototypes due for the next Monday! Julie is taking care of the look and feel of our ship by researching into possible paint and texture treatments and making samples. Kaan is working on designing a model for our hull by combining skills like kit-bashing and 3D modeling. Darshan in tackling the lift system, how are we going to raise this thing? And I have been dipping my toes into 3D modeling and printing for the Masts version 2 which has been a LOT to learn.

Masts, Models, Extrusions, oh my!

Image from iOS

Telescoping masts attempt no. 1









We have a great challenge ahead of us, we need to build our boat and our mechanisms by our filming date on November 12th. So much to do, so little time. In spite of this, I know we will succeed. We are the Warbringers team, and we will bring in the navy.

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Bat-Camcorder: #Technologically Challenged…?

Before we get into the specifics of the Bat-Cam, I want to make sure that we get to know this little guy. The Bat-Camcorder lives in the Underworld and is used by the students of Refund High School (read the story here.)  The Bat-Cam, even though we are calling him a bat, has no set animal origins and operates within the comic as though it was always an underworld creature AND a camcorder, never just one or the other. To my team, that means that the Bat-Camcorder embodies a blend of organic and mechanical features that function together in harmony. Now into what that means for this project!


My team’s goal is to create all the functions for the Bat-Cam as depicted in the comic strip above, primarily focusing on the on button that makes the eye open, the wing open, and produces a sound effect. While those are the bare minimum functions, there is so much more to the Camcorder. He also blinks, has very distinct features, can be held in one hand, and has a distinct color. Because of the unique shapes and interlocking pieces, this project will be primarily 3-D printed until we get to the aesthetic details, but for the modeling to begin our team needed detailed drawings and concept plans, which can be seen here (Camera Details.) Nothing too crazy, just some drawings based off the comic and then measurements that felt right for the scale and all of the interior needs.

Lets break down all the different features and problems that will be addressed in this project:

  1. The Eye Shutter – this is the physical shutter that will cover up the eyeball when the Bat-Camcorder is turned off and then will jump open when the on button is pressed. For this portion we are using this tutorial for insight.
  2. The Digital Eye – this will be the eye that is seen when the shutter is open and will also include the blinking effect and maybe some pupil dilatation if we are feeling ambitious. For this portion we are using this tutorial for insight.
  3. The Wing Release – the wing will need a way to release and clasp back into place. Our current plan is have a spring hinge to hold the wing under tension while it is held in place by a clasp. Then a mini solenoid will activate to push the clasp out of place and release the wing.
  4. The “WHAANG!” Noise – there will be a small speaker and amp within the frame of the camcorder that will be cued with the button. This part still needs some thinking and planning, maybe another tutorial.
  5. The Looks – the Bat-Cam will have a thin skin to give it an organic feeling. To save on costs because of all the mechanics, we are using this tutorial to cast our skin.

Everyone on the team is real excited about this project and to bring this cute little guy in to the world of the living!

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Getting Things Started

This project originated from the thought: if we are going to have access to these facilities, to these materials and these professionals for guidance, why not go big? When I was originally formulating the pitch my thought process was to take a large grand idea that I might want to make into a big budget space opera and cut out a tiny sliver. Create just enough spectacle and story to hopefully interest whoever might watch it into wondering what happens next, how did we get here?

I sketched up a quick storyboard following a pair of space marines on a mission to destroy a ship from the inside. One of the goals my team agreed on immediately was our interest in cementing a sense of scale in our story. The last three panels makeup what we are focusing on bringing to life in this class. We have broken the scene down into three main elements; costumes to be made for real actors, a miniature set built to makeup our ship’s reactor, and a puppet built to scale with the set to act as the room’s guardian standing between our characters and their goal.


The team’s skill sets were strikingly well fitted for this breakdown of objectives, using my experience with costume construction I am heading the charge making our characters feel like they belong in our futuristic setting. Because I am leading on this front this post will mostly focus on my development of our costumes.


Starting with some concept sketches I had a couple of ideas in mind, One being that I wanted our characters to be wearing gear advanced enough to feel like science fiction, but also be recognizable to the point of still feeling like a human soldier which we are hoping to contrast with the much more advanced robot ship interior and puppet. The other concept was a combination of feeling like it could survive being in the vacuum of space, even if just for a few minutes for EVA operations, matched with my desire to give our characters a level of anonymity.



Using scissors, X-acto knives, Barge (which thanks to this helpful diagram you now know is roughly 7.33 rubber ducks tall), EVA foam floor mats, a head form and a lot of caffeine I began developing the first prototype helmet for the costumes. I learned through this process firstly that you can use all the math in the world to scale you parts correctly, if you don’t use good base measurements your piece is going to end up way too small.


More Barge, foam, caffeine and some design tweaks later the base of the new helmet design was born. The lower gap in the original simply wasn’t going to be enough to see out of for the actors and while the “visor” block shape was meant to be prominent I felt that it seemed to dwarf the rest of the design.



We are also incorporating some purchased pieces which I am modifying for our film.

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Video Selfie Instructions

placing kermit clip in the iMovie timeline

We have 25 people enrolled in Practical Special Effects and we only meet once a week. To save precious class time and to give you an opportunity to express yourselves right out of the gate, we’re going to introduce ourselves with video selfies. After all selfies are uploaded we’ll cut them into one video, upload to YouTube (unlisted so it won’t show in search results) so we can all learn more about each other. Yes, this will be on the test.


Practical Special Effects will be a radically collaborative course. Effective collaboration is built on trust. Trust is built on relationships. Therefore, the first step to collaboration is getting to know each other.

Your introduction should answer the questions below.

  1. Your name?
  2. What practical special effect (from film, theatre, or themed entertainment) excites or influences you?
  3. Your favorite junk food?

Other parameters

  • your face must be visible
  • your voice must be audible
  • include an image or video of your effect
  • 30 seconds or less (anything longer will be trimmed… awkward!)
  • mp4 or mov format
  • upload to UT Box by Sunday September 2, at 11:59pm and name your file using this format “Lastname_SFX18intro”

How To

I own The Muppet Movie so I streamed it on Amazon and used QuickTime to make a New Screen Recording. (You could also find the clip on YouTube, etc. You don’t have to be this fancy — just point a phone camera at your TV if you have to.) This took me about 10 minutes.

Next, I thought about where I wanted to shoot my video. I tried a few places outside but the shot was with very back lit or I looked too squinty so I went back into my studio and mess around with a few clip lamps until I was satisfied lighting and composition. Then I used QuickTime and my computer’s internal camera to make a New Movie Recording. It took me about six takes until I was happy and under 30 seconds. All this took about 15 minutes.

Finally, I imported both of the file above into iMovie. I pulled the clip of myself into the timeline first then placed the effect clip on top. I reduce the volume of the effect clip considerably. I also faded the audio in an out to make a better transition. I then saved the file to my computer and uploaded to UT Box. This took another 10 minutes.

Shooting and editing this 30 second introduction took about 35 minutes. By comparison, writing this short instructional took considerably longer — about an hour and a half.

Looking forward to meeting you!

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SFX Fall 2018 – Project Overview

A Good Effect Starts with a Good Story

Our projects will also need to end with a good story. Though most of our effort in our Practical Special Effects course will be given to designing and fabricating an amazing practical effect, the real goal of the course is to create a demo reel to demonstrate that effect on screen as well as tell the story of how your team got there.

Just like film, we are not making effects for just the fun of it (though it will be very fun), we are making effects for others to see (e.g. future employers).

Effect Constraint and Requirements — Must be support a coherent narrative sequence

  • Effect must be based on existing 2D narrative imagery and a minimum of 4 storyboards. Storyboards may be from an unproduced film, graphic novel, comic book or similar. Storyboards may also be screen captures from 2D animated sequence. 3D animation may not be used (such as Pixar films). Imagery from games may be used with instructor approval.
  • Effect must not be a copy or reproduction of any existing effect.
  • Effect must move or transform (this is not a prop)
  • Though all effects will be filmed, effects must be designed for specific use case including:
    • film and TV
    • museum display
    • themed attraction
    • theater
  • On camera effect size may not exceed 36” x 36” x 36. However, supportive set pieces, props, and backdrops may be used in final shot.
  • Demo reel may include CGI or VFX only in collaboration with Deepak Chetty’s’ RTF 344N Advanced Visual Effects and Motion Graphic course. However, VFX are not required.
  • Effect may not be explosive, flammable or hazardous in any way.

Demo Reel Description Timeline – not to exceed 5 minutes

2 to 5 seconds — Title, description and teaser image

5 to 15 seconds — Storyboard reel with sound

5 to 15 seconds — Storyboard reel with inserted effect (must be same length as storyboards without reel)

5 to 15 seconds — Storyboard reel with inserted effect and VFX (if VFX are used).

2 to 4 minutes — Description of process with titles and voiceover. If on camera interviews are used, subtitles must be used. If voice over is used, the demo reel must remain coherent and cogent in absence of sound.

2 to 10 seconds — End credits, special thanks, and copyright attribution (if necessary)

Examples of suitable storyboards

page from delicious dungeon manga

Treasure insects! From Delicious Dungeon by Ryoko Kui.

storyboard from comic showing android face

Great project for those who want to learn animatronics and life casting. From Terminal Protocol. Jordan Alsaqa, Writer. Rem Broo, Artist.

page from sherlock frakenstein

Eugene Tremblay (aka MECTOPLASM)! This would be a very ambitious project. How might a green screen be used to put live actors in this shot? From Sherlock Frankenstein. Script: Jeff Lemire. Art, colors, and lettering: David Rubin

medical illustration of horse and tb bacteria

How might this reference material be use to create a museum exhibit? From Strange Wit — Written by Katy Rex. Pencils & Inks by Tyler Jenkins.

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Lean, Mean, Machine


Original Design Notes on Weight

Through this entire process, we have had to keep one crucial thing in mind; how much weight can a person can carry for 15-20 minutes at a time. This was one of our original guiding thoughts and has particularly stuck with me through this whole process. These raptors needed to be able to do more than just function, they needed to be wearable. So, through discovering how materials worked and prototyping, we always thought “How can we make this lighter?”.

By the end of the class, I believe we achieved this goal. As of this post, the first raptor was weighing in at about 26 pounds; That is including the electrics and the head. This was better than some of us guessed with many guessing around 35 pounds, while I myself missed it by a mile with a guess of 50 pounds. I think of the loads that some of us students lug around campus on our backs, backpacks filled with books and computers, and I know that many of them are heavier than our entire raptor puppet. We to started with a rather heavy backpack and worked our way to the lighter finished product we now have.

Prototype 2

Some of the things we were able to do structure wise was replace heavier materials with lighter ones. In the picture above, you can see how an earlier prototype used thicker, heavier plywood to create the tail circles and electronics panel.  We had also used rattan to create the wrapped style lines. The plywood would be replaced by 1/4″ luan for the electrics and 1/2″ plywood for the tail supports while the rattan would be replaced by foam in the finished product.

Finished Structure

Other things became unnecessary with time. The cross supports we had used to push out the ribcage became obsolete when the designer found she liked the look of a slimmer shape. The hip support bar, which had been made of steel, was not needed once we added the PVC spine down the center as a “structural spine” to go under the “design spine”. Finally, the harness itself was too long for the performer’s bodies and had to be trimmed down 8″ to fit. All these things, combined with the artistry team’s use of foam and thin latex for the finished outer layers gave us, what is in my opinion, the lightest version of a raptor. So looking back on our challenges from so long ago at the beginning of this class, I would say challenge accepted, tackled, and completed! Congratulations team!

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