Friday, May 27, 2016

A (not so) short blog post about a short film called A Short Vision


1. This has nothing to do with fighting robots. If you are here only to see posts about my fighting robots, then you won't like this post.
2. The subject of this blog post deals with serious and disturbing subject matter. I would suggest you avoid this post if you do not feel comfortable reading about this sort of content.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the airing of my favorite animated short film, A Short Vision, on the Ed Sullivan show. I wanted to talk about why I like it for a while, and I think that today is the perfect day to do so.

The first thing you need to know about me is that I find nuclear war fascinating. Dr. Strangelove is my favorite film of all time, with Threads and The Day After in my top ten. I've seen the Enola Gay in person, and I plan on visiting the Nevada Test site and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki at some point in my life. I have no idea what started this fascination, it just sort of happened.

Last year I found a article entitled 5 Sinister Old Films Way Too Disturbing For Modern Audiences. They were sort of "eh" but number 2 on the list interested me. The spot on the list went to a 1956 animated short film called A Short Vision, made by Peter and Joan Foldes. I skimmed the article and clicked on the video. 

Peter and Joan Foldes
The short films opens up with an ominous soundtrack as a calming British narrator (James McKechnie) talks about the night in which he sees a mysterious figure, only know as "it" flying through the night sky. 

"It" flies over the mountains, and the leopard looks up from the deer it has pounced on. The deer runs away, and both animals hide in fear. The owl and rat do the same when they see it fly over the field.

The sleeping people in the city do not see the mysterious figure as it flies over them. The only people awake to see it are the leaders and wise men.

The narrator utters the line "But it was too late".

The soundtrack's drum beats faster and faster (credit goes to Matyas Seiber for the haunting score).

Shit just got real.

"It" creates a mushroom cloud, completely engulfing the city. We see the face of a man who watches the blast, and its promptly destroyed. His eyes boil in his sockets and and is reduced to a skeleton, and then to nothing.

The blast goes through the field and mountains, doing the same to the animals (only the deaths of the owl and deer are seen). Finally, a sleeping woman's face deteriorates into a skeleton before being engulfed in flames as well. Afterwards, everything becomes covered in the flames of the explosion.

The narrator, still calm, states, "When it was all over, there was nothing else left, but a small flame". All that is left is the flame, surrounded by darkness. The last remaining living thing, a moth, flies around the flame. It circles the flame, and then flies into it. Both it and the flame die, and the short ends.

I was blown away by it. I watched it over and over just because it was so well put together.

The title seems vague for the subject matter, but I really think it fits. This short film is a short vision of what the creators (and everyone else at the time) thought would happen to the world if we go down the path of destruction. Peter and Joan Folds are not afraid to use shocking imagery to give the message that everyone can understand.

The narrator's calm dialog throughout the entire short makes it more haunting. From the moment he looks to the sky, to the destruction of everything on Earth, he never shows emotion towards what is happening, as if he was indifferent to what is going on.

As for the ending, the total destruction of everything on Earth is the only possible way for the short to end. The point of the short is simple, no good can come from nuclear war.

 When the short was aired on The Ed Sullivan show, the host issued a light warning for what was to come, stating:

"Just last week you read about the H-bomb being dropped. Now two great English writers, two very imaginative writers — I’m gonna tell you if you have youngsters in the living room tell them not to be alarmed at this ‘cause it’s a fantasy, the whole thing is animated — but two English writers, Joan and Peter Foldes, wrote a thing which they called ‘A Short Vision’ in which they wondered what might happen to the animal population of the world if an H-bomb were dropped. It’s produced by George K. Arthur and I’d like you to see it. It is grim, but I think we can all stand it to realize that in war there is no winner."

 Despite this warning, many children stayed up to watch the short and ended up traumatized. The blog CONELRAD Adjacent has put together a sampling of stories from baby boomers who the the short when it first aired.

After the short ended, the screen faded back to Sullivan, staring at the audience, with an expression saying "I told you so". Instantly afterwards, he introduced the next act of his show (singer David Whitfield).

The airing of A Short Vision caused the studio to receive a massive amount of fan mail in regards to the short. Newspapers ran headlines with titles such as "Ed Sullivan A-Film Shocks Viewers” and “Shock Wave From A-Bomb Film Rocks Nation’s TV Audience." By popular demand, Sullivan aired the short a second time two weeks later. This time he included a different warning, letting parents know that the material was not suitable for their children.

The airing of A Short Vision isn't considered one of The Ed Sullivan Show's most notable episodes (to be fair, it does have some tough competition), but it still holds a place in my heart. It was shown at a time in which the events of the short seemed all too real, and it deserves to be shown for future generations for the same message it showed yesterday's audiences sixty years ago today.

I'd like to thank the blog CONELRAD Adjacent for putting together a history of the short film (not to mention getting a chance to interview co-creator Joan Foldes), and the British Film Institute (BFI) for putting a copy of the short on YouTube for easy viewing

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Denise - My first Fairyweight (and future Denise-related plans)

First off, shout out to Xo Wang for linking my blog on his. I will do the same for his blog. 

Second, the first part of this was originally a SERVO magazine article I submitted a few days ago.

The 150 gram Fairyweight class (also known as the UK Antweight class) has unfortunately been on a decline in the Northeastern United States. After talking with several UK Antweight builders, I decided to build one in order to increase the amount of bots at Motorama 2016.

The method I was going to use is one utilized by UK Antweight builder Rory Mangles (his build diaries can be found here). His robots are made from a folded piece of Lexan, usually 0.08 inches (2mm thick). They have proven to be quite durable in battle throughout his fighting robot career. At my local hardware store I picked up some 0.098 inch (2.5mm) Lexan sheet. I also had some leftover 0.0625 inch (1.5mm) Lexan sheet that I used for a previous bot, perfect for the top cover.

I began by using cardboard to mock up the robot’s body, and traced the design onto the Lexan. The body was cut out with tin snips and holes for mounting the motors and wedge were drilled. (the latter holes weren’t added immediately, which let to some “interesting” drilling methods to say the least) When it came time to folding the body into a “shell”, a pair of locking pliers designed to bend sheet metal allowed me to easily fold the Lexan.  The locking pliers were also used to make the bot’s wedge. 

A fresh Lexan sheet for my new bot

Almost there...

The receiver/ESC/motor combo came from the UK, in the form of the NanoTwo kit. It contains a DSM2 LemonRX receiver, an ESC, and two gearmotors pre-soldered (it also contained motor mounts and 3D printed wheels, but I chose to use different ones because of how I designed the robot). All I needed to do was bind it to my transmitter.

All that was left to be done was to fully assemble the robot. I used two FIngertech Bearing Blocks to mount the motors, and attach the top and base of the bot together.. Since the Bearing Blocks are designed for the Spark motors, they needed to be modified to fit the smaller gearmotors. I sent them off to another builder to mill a slot .04 inches (1mm) deep. 

My bot was finished a day before the event, with a little under 20 grams to spare. I had previously given it the name, “Denise” because of an inside joke that occurred in a Facebook chat with some of my UK builder friends. One of them referred to Demise, the scary Fairyweight spinner that had won the past three Motorama events undefeated, as “Denise”. I thought it was funny and the name stuck (I could have been an awful person and told the event organizer to pronounce it the same way, but I decided not to!). 
At Motorama, there were only two other Fairyweights, so the event would be in round robin format. I ended up fighting Demise first, and lost. The fight went the full two minutes, the only damage to the bot were some cracks on the front wedge and the loss of a wheel.  I managed to win my second fight against Mike Jeffries' 3D Shockbots lifter, called 'Bia' (he won it at Motorama last year). Bia would later get shredded by Demise in its next fight This meant Denise came home with second place.

Denise and Demise
Denise and Bia
Bia after facing Demise

Building Denise made me appreciate the Fairyweight class even more. As soon as my fighting was done I already thought of more ideas for new bots and how to improve Denise. Hopefully the Fairyweight class will boost in numbers in the Northeast, and Denise will reign supreme (I can hope, can’t I?).

Following the event, all I've been thinking about recently are (UK) antweight designs. Aside from Denise 2, (which I will go into detail about in this post), I've thought of two other ideas for future 150g bots.

1. A horizontal undercutter originally similar to Dark Blade, but thanks to advice from Rory and Shakey, I'm leaning more towards something like Anticyclone
2. A vertical spinner similar to Why Wait (no image/video at the moment)

For Denise 2, I have several design goals (besides the obvious goals of working properly and being invertible):

1. 4 wheel drive (4wd Nanotwo ESC/receiver combo with 4 3d printed wheels from Shakey and standard micro gearmotor mounts)
2. Wheelguards (most likely 1.6mm Lexan)
3. A flush enough wedge (the wedge on the original Denise was messed up due to my imperfect bending, which meant that it had a hard time getting underneath other bots)
4. Durability (especially since I'm going to be fighting in an arena without push-outs)

The wedge will most likely stay at 2.4mm Lexan unless I am able to make weight for something thicker. At the moment, my material ideas are as follows:

1. 2mm base with 1.5mm top, sides and back, and 2.4mm wedge
2. All 2mm body and 2.4mm wedge
3. 1.5mm body and >2.4mm wedge

Of course, Bot Blast is the next on my agenda, so preparation for that comes first.