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15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Wreck-It Ralph

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All images (c) 2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc

As a Disney geek and former Nintendo addict, I was fired up for Wreck-It Ralph when I heard about it at the D23 Convention last year. Here are 15 facts about the movie that will get you just as pumped as I am, whether you were the world’s best “Tapper” bartender or consider yourself more of a “Dance Dance Revolution” phenom.

1. There are more than 188 characters in the movie.

Most Disney movies have only 40-60. You probably won’t spot all of the videogame cameos on your first viewing, but here are a few to watch for: Dig Dug, Root Beer Tapper, Pooka, Fygar, Frogger, Peter Pepper, Dr. Eggman, Bowser, Neff, Zangief, Sonic, Q*bert, Clyde and Yuni.

2. If some of your old favorites sound spot on, that’s because Disney was able to get some of the original voice talent.

M. Bison, Ryu and Ken from “Street Fighter” and Sonic The Hedgehog are all voiced by their original actors.

3. The production team was encouraged to log lots of controller and joystick time to get the feel of various in-game environments.

They also visited videogame production houses to study how games are created.

4. The team also visited a bakery, candy factories and the World Confectionery Convention in Cologne, Germany.

The sweet tooth field trips helped ensure that the Sugar Rush candy-themed racing game was designed with realistic treats.

5. Another production-related outing: a trip to Detroit to see how trucks are made.

Filmmakers wanted to make sure they had the right process down for when Sugar Rush character Vanellope (voice of Sarah Silverman) built a car.

6. Professional football players served as models for the muscular guys in Hero's Duty.

Filmmakers needed to watch big dudes in action to serve as reference points for how the soldiers in the Hero’s Duty game should move, so they went to a game. Then, to get ideas on how to build the game battleground, the team visited Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.

7. To make sure each of the three game worlds were distinctly styled, filmmakers assigned each one a shape.

Fix-It Felix Jr. is full of squares and rectangles, Hero’s Duty features triangles and sharp angles in general, and Sugar Rush is packed with circles.

8. Disney geeks, rejoice: there are plenty of sly Disney references sprinkled throughout the movie.

Here are a few to try to spot:

  • The teams in the “Hoop Jamz” game are Rutland and Medfield, the basketball teams from The Absent-Minded Professor.
  • There are at least two Hidden Mickeys. One appears as dials in a helmet in the Hero’s Duty game and another one can be spotted masquerading as a mint cactus in Sugar Rush.
  • Maximus, the horse from Tangled, makes an appearance in Game Central Station.
  • Tiny the Dinosaur from Meet the Robinsons shows up in both Game Central Station and the arcade game “Fatal Assault.”
  • 9. Video game geeks, rejoice: there are video game and arcade game references for you, too.

  • The code to unlock the vault in Sugar Rush is the famous Konami Code. Say it with me: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A.
  • During the Litwak montage, a gamer can be seen getting through the infamous Pac-Man kill screen. (This has never actually been done.)
  • 10. Ralph's principal actors regularly recorded together in the studio so they could improvise and ad-lib off of one another.

    In most animated movies, actors record their parts separately.

    11. A Disney first: filmmakers consulted architects for accuracy as they were building the Sugar Rush environment and the tower in Hero’s Duty.

    12. The look of Sugar Rush was partly inspired by the work of Antonio Gaudi and other modernist architects.

    Designers felt his whimsical details and unusual shapes went perfectly with candy architecture.

    13. One of the racers in Sugar Rush is named Minty Zaki in tribute to Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

    Even anime non-enthusiasts will recognize Miyazaki's works Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

    14. Filmmakers visited Grand Central in New York to soak up the atmosphere and watch traffic patterns.

    The bustling station served as the model for Ralph’s Game Central Station.

    15. You can actually play Fix-It Felix Jr., Sugar Rush and Hero’s Duty.

    I may or may not have lost a good chunk of an evening to trying to best Snowanna in the Sweet Ride Grand Prix. Have fun!

    Look for a big Wreck-It Ralph giveaway later today! Details soon.

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    iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
    Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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    iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

    Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

    Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

    There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

    In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

    Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

    The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

    After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

    Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

    In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

    Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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    © Nintendo
    Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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    © Nintendo

    Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

    The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

    “While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

    The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

    In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

    Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.