Thursday, November 18, 2010

Space Suit Construction Update #5 & #6

Cross post from Chad Burn's, our hard working production designer's blog. Chad has been working feverishly long hours on this space suit, and his wife Emily has been very helpful and supportive in the suit construction effort, despite massive amounts of saw dust and shellshock powder filling the air in their basement workshop:

Well Hello L5 fans!

Quick notes here from Chad Burns, your friendly neighborhood Production Designer.
There are lots of things in the works, but the one everyone loves to talk about is the Mark IV EMU…commonly called the Spacesuit.

Hand in hand with Toms post on tone, I want to discuss the goal of the Spacesuits we are making. Our goal is to make a suit that is not a direct copy of current suit designs, but is still grounded in reality. Stanley has designed an incredible suit…and it falls to me to help make it take shape.

We are building a Hard Upper Torso (HUT), similar to the current Mark III designs being tested by NASA and ILM Dover, with a bearing ring system between the HUT and the soft portions of the suit at the arms and waist.

As alluded to in the Video Diary, the current HUT is the forth version we have constructed. Some of you have asked for a little more info on the previous versions, so I’ll walk you through the evolution of the Mark IV.

Mark IV, Version I and II.

The first version was a shaped foam board sculpted scaffold that we planned to use as a casting form for fiberglass. It didn’t quite shake out as we liked, so Stanley redid the sculpting. That was Version didn’t even make it out of prototype. After redoing the foam board carving we had Version II ready for fiber-glassing.

That was where I got to start getting my hands dirty with the build process. The fiberglass didn’t work as we would have liked on several fronts. One, the resin heats up as it cures. It heats up to the point of melting the foam board, even sealed in coats of primer. As you can guess…not good for the process. Secondly, the fiberglass didn’t take to some of the complex curves as well as we wanted it to. We even tried shoring up the regular fiberglass with medical fiberglass, which still didn’t form the way we wanted. After several attempts at getting the fiberglass to work…we knew when to step back and try a different method.

Mark IV, Version III and IV.
The next attempt was Version III. Rather than attempting to cast the suits, we planned to build them individually. We built a frame out of MDF, and overlaid a skin of cardstock this time.

We also did some material research and decided to try a product called Shell Shock from Smooth-On.( Smooth-On was very helpful in figuring out the best stuff to use, and I highly recommend them for anyone doing any prop construction projects. [Smooth-On's link: ])

After completing Version III, and doing some fit testing we decided that it could use some tweaks.

The arm holes where a tad small, and their placement didn’t feel right. Also the HUT looked a little short through the waist, and we wanted the helmet opening more centered over the torso. We also learned that the mounting platform for the Life Support Pack (LSP) was at too steep of an angle.

Thus was born the Mark IV, Version IV.

We rebuilt the frame, salvaging the helmet opening and the LSP mounting board. This time we increased the size of the arm holes by about 30% and moved them closer to center. We also increased the curve and height of the breastplate, allowing the head hole to be more centered on the torso line. This also decreased the angle of the PLS mounting board…making for a much better silhouette as you can see here.

Skinning Version IV.
This brings us to our current point in the process, laying the skin on Version IV. We stretched canvas over the ribbed frame, added some felt for bulk, and started laying on Shell Shock.

This product has worked awesome so far!!! Our results to date have been very good. Currently I am working to polish out the skinning of the Suit A and have begun construction on Suit B. The helmets are our next big step, followed by soft suit construction once we get the bearing systems installed. Overall, not only am I pleased with the current process; I have had a blast making these.

Update on the MARK IV, Ver. 4

As promised, here is a quick update on the status of the construction of the EMU/EVA for L5.

We have all the structural Shell Shock down, and this thing is tough!

How tough you ask? survived a 2+ foot fall onto concrete with nary a scratch.

I thought Stanley had a hold of it...Stanley thought I had it...but gravity had it...boom crash and my heart stopped.

No damage...I am again impressed with Shell Shock.

The only draw back is, it is difficult to get a butter smooth surface because of the shape of the suit.

This is not a failing of the material, but of the shape of the suit. As the Shell Shock dries, it is still a lil fluid, and runs down the curves of the suit a bit. This causes some 'texture' to appear. I think we could overcome this by building the suit up and sanding it...but that would take more material than I think we can afford to buy. Therefore we will be adding a skin of fabric to the shell using the same stuff we will be making the softsuit from.

Ok... enough are pictures!!

Here the HUT has the PLS (Primary Life Support) and the SLSC (Secondary Life Support Controls) mocked out.

Here is a front view...the hyper observant will note that the SLCS on the front looks a bit crooked. Yes it does. That is an arifact of the it not being a perfectly square box...and the fact it might be mounted a lil off.

Shut up....It's a mock up!!

As you can see here...when worn it looks better...also now it is me that is crooked so there.

Side view as worn....

Here is a shot of me kneeling in the suit...movement is good although it is getting heavy...around 15 lbs so far.

Also done...we got the mounting points for the arm bearing done, as well as the helmet mount ring. We also figured out how we are going to make the helmet snap in place...which is gonna require a bit of hardware manufacture. Also need the spheres to actually get SHIPPED!!

A quick Video from the workshop fitting.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

L5 - Tonal Influences

As we excitedly approach production, I'd like to take a second to talk about that ever mysterious element of any film:


It is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult aspects of a series to pin down successfully. So often miscast with a plot or character, tone can either be a story’s greatest asset or hindrance.

That is why it was essential that when Stanley and I set out to make L5 a reality one of the most important discussions we had regarding overall series was its tone. These discussions also gave us a chance to revisit some of our favorite films and stories both in and out of the sci-fi genre in search of what felt right for our story.

Here are a few we explored:

2001: A Space Odyssey

The quintessential science fiction film, a masterpiece on every level, it mostly garners praise for its stunning eminence, timeless themes, and breathtaking visuals. Yet, at its core, what Kubrick captured (among many things) was the utter isolation and paranoia of the unknown, the celestial, and of experiences beyond our mortal comprehension: Moments never fully spoken or shown, but felt. It is those elements of mystique and wonder that has audiences rediscover the film every generation and those elements which we hope to emulate.

Lawrence of Arabia

Replace space with the desert and a spacesuit with a thawb and you have one of my favorite films and major influences for the story. What another iconic director, David Lean, captured in the desert was a sense of space and being lost and then consumed by it. Of all the major battles Lawrence fights in the desert the most brutal is with himself and his own legend, and it’s a battle of which were never sure of the outcome. The film runs the gamut when it comes to Lawrence’s struggles: Overcoming impossible odds while maintaining any sort of sanity, being surrounded by admirers yet feeling totally alone, Feeling trapped by the vastness of the desert. The film is more than just an exemplary epic, it is one of the grandest character studies in movie history.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

When we think of A.I.(or Artificial Intelligence) – that is if we think of it at all – we usually recall blinking lights and slow, emotionless droning voices wither eerily calm or near demonic.

No doubt there has been a trend of typecasting in this regard. The A.I. of the movies have become the equivalent of the fat best friend or jock villain, Jarvis in Iron Man or the Terminator in its namesake.

Yet, in Steven Spielberg’s (at times uneven) masterpiece, A.I., we get a glimpse of the world through a robot’s eyes. The story follows perpetually young and innocent David as he tries to understand the human world and attempt to become a real boy himself, the film was the first time I saw (other than moments in Blade Runner) robots and machines treated as beings with thoughts and feelings. It is a compelling experience and something that forces us to turn a mirror on ourselves and view out own humanity.

This theme of the AI – human relationship was an important aspect for Stanley in regards to Clarke, our ship’s AI, and friend to the crew. We wanted more than just a drone voice parroting back orders, we wanted a fellow crew member and an individual aboard who has a unique form of love and compassion for his human crewmates.

These are but a sample of many, many great films that we’ve looked to and I hope that L5 will do them proud.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Preproduction Update #1

Hello everyone! It's been a little while since the last update, but I wanted to fill you in a bit on what's been happening (yes, we are still busily working away at making L5 a reality).

We've held casting sessions and callbacks, and have a large portion of the Argo's crew selected, but we'll need to hold additional casting sessions for a few more people.

Our shooting date is now the second week of December, and we've been very busy doing location scouting and production design, pretty much around the clock. We'll be posting some video blogs of our adventures very soon!

Challenger Learning Center in Woodstock IL looks like a promising location for the Argo interior shots, in this triptic you can see the original location on the left, what set dressing will do to it in the middle, and lighting on the left:

(click to enlarge)

I will also be posting some progress on the spacesuits, which have proven to be a very unique challenge for us, but we've finally found a construction method that is both cost effective, structurally sound, and will produce a lovely result. I'll be posting Space Suit Construction Update #5 soon!

In between Skype production meetings, we've also been storyboarding, a lot!

More updates to come!