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Pittsburgh Dominates SyFy's Face Off

on Thu, 08/08/2013 - 09:46

Pittsburgh native Tom Savini is a legend within the horror film genre. His special effects and make-up creations have been the cornerstones of everything from Friday the 13th to Day of the Dead, and he has worked with such luminary directors as George Romero, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. In 2002, Savini launched a sixteen month curriculum in special make-up effects as part of the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, and in recent years, graduates of the specialized business degree program have carved out their own niche within the most unlikely of mediums—reality television.

“I think it’s interesting that we have people from Pittsburgh,” Glenn Hetrick, a judge on the SyFy network’s Face Off, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in January 2011. “I’m from Pennsylvania, my father was a steelworker at Bethlehem Steel and I grew up between Philadelphia and New York, and it’s sort of been the epicenter for make-up effects with Romero and Savini and all this iconic work coming out of the area. I’ve made the pilgrimage several times myself to Pittsburgh to check out some of the shooting locations.” Over the course of four television seasons, meanwhile, Steel City natives and graduates of the Tom Savini Special Make-Up Effects Program have made the journey to Los Angeles in order to compete in Face Off, which takes the basic premise of Project Runway and gives it a science fiction twist by having contestants create special effects as opposed to fashion designs.

Run For Your Lives Through a Horde of Zombies

on Wed, 07/31/2013 - 09:54

During the second season finale of the AMC drama The Walking Dead, the farm of Hershel Greene is overrun by zombies. Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors attempt to fight off the onslaught but quickly realize the hopelessness of the situation as there are just too many of the “undead” to maneuver around and outrun. Reed Street Productions in Baltimore, meanwhile, apparently realized the need for the special training necessary to escape from this type of zombie horde when they launched Run for Your Lives in 2011. “Several races have offered runners the opportunity to navigate treacherous landscapes and difficult obstacles, but never before have they been chased by zombies while heading to the finish line,” co-organizer Ryan Hogan explained at the time. “Run for Your Lives gives runners the opportunity to tackle a once-in-a-lifetime challenge—navigate a post-apocalyptic course with only their wits and their speed to help them.”

The event proved to be such a success that Run for Your Lives expanded into several cities beyond Baltimore in 2012, including Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Runners in the 5K race wear three flags, similar to those in flag-football, while it is the mission of the zombies—fellow humans dressed in makeup—to remove the flags during the excursion. If a runner makes it to the finish line with at least one flag still intact, they are considered “survivors.” Those who lose all three flags, however, join the ranks of the “walking dead.” Regardless of the outcome, both the living and deceased get to share in the Apocalypse Party afterwards that includes live entertainment, food and beverages.

CMU Finishes Second at RoboCup 2013

on Fri, 07/05/2013 - 12:26

Baseball may be “America’s Pastime” and football may rule in Western Pennsylvania, but in actuality the most popular sport around the world is soccer, with 250 million players in over 200 countries. Apparently it is also the most popular sport among robots, as each year thousands of programmed machines gather together to compete against each other in the annual RoboCup. This year’s event was held in Eindhoven, a municipality located in the Netherlands, over the weekend of June 28, 2013, and included teams from over forty countries. The United States was represented by seven institutes of higher learning, including the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. It turned out to be a good tournament for the Keystone State as the UPennalizers emerged victorious in the “Kids League” while the CMDragons finished second in the “Small Size League.”

“Our CMDragons team was remarkably new, with new low-level skills and tactics, dynamic planning, a great goalie and defense, new robots and the best attacker robot ever,” Manuela Veloso, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, explained. “We came in second place, in the closest possible way to first. The team from China even asked us to go up on the stage together with them for the award ceremony.” During the final match, the CMDragons were tied with Zhejiang University at the end of regulation with two goals apiece, and both teams were held scoreless during overtime. The following shoot-out, however, saw Zhejiang finding the net in each of their penalty shots with Carnegie Mellon University missing on one, giving the Chinese team the first place trophy.

John Harrison to Film Web Series in England

on Fri, 06/28/2013 - 22:33

Pittsburgh native John Harrison has found success in a multitude of entertainment mediums through the years. Upon graduation from Emerson College in Boston, for instance, Harrison formed a band called Homebrew and later toured with Roy Buchanan, as well as performing on three of the legendary blues guitarist’s albums from the 1970s. Harrison earned his Master’s Degree in Film and Television from Carnegie Mellon University, meanwhile, and went on to serve as First Assistant Director to George Romero on Creepshow and Day of the Dead, in addition to crafting the musical score for both films. Television was next on the agenda, with Harrison both writing and directing the Emmy Award-winning miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune in 2000.

John Harrison is now looking at yet another outlet for his latest project, Residue, a supernatural webseries to be filmed in England over the summer of 2013. “What I like about this is the limited series concept,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the online video medium. “Cable has had such an influence on all of us across the world. People are much more interested in almost novelistic television. You can create a series of twelve episodes like Breaking Bad or Mad Men and they have a season-long arc. They have limited number of episodes to tell a whole story. I came out of the miniseries world, so I love this approach narratively.”

The Pittsburgh Comics & Collectibles Show

on Tue, 06/25/2013 - 12:21

Superman comic books. Star Wars lightsabers. Star Trek action figures. Memories of our childhood that we will always cherish throughout our adult lives. On Saturday, June 29, 2013, however, those memories can be relived during the Pittsburgh Comics & Collectibles Show. From 10am until 5pm that day, New Dimension Comics will turn Pittsburgh Mills into a showcase filled with the treasured items of our youth and make them available for perusing and purchase. Who hasn’t wished, after all, that they had held onto that Spider-Man comic that they read with wide-eyed wonder as a kid, or the Millennium Falcon toy spaceship with miniature Han Solo and Chewbacca?

“We have three stores in malls—Pittsburgh Mills, Century III Mall and Clearview Mall in Butler—and they had several large empty storefronts,” New Dimension Comics owner Todd McDevitt explains as to the origins of the Pittsburgh Comics & Collectibles Show. “Years ago, it occurred to me to rent one of these large spaces and use it just like a ballroom or convention center. We did our first one at Century III and it was a huge success. Plus, aside from the annual Pittsburgh Comicon, there is a great hunger by fans for a comic book focused event. It worked so well that we started to duplicate the formula at the others mall locations. We already have our next one planned for Century III Mall on October 26th. No details yet, but a Halloween theme to be sure!”