Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections

If you were one of the lucky Del Toro fans who got to see the At Home With Monsters show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this year I hope you found the photo-mural of his house on the way out and took a selfie there — it looks like YOU are right there inside Bleak House, Del Toro’s home of monsters! (see my pic above). Seeing that show was about as close as any of us will ever be to getting inside to see his collection. If you missed the show, then this book is the next best thing.

Any fan of horror, sci-fi, and Del Toro films like Hellboy, will love this handsome book designed to go along with the museum show. The legendary film director’s collection of original art, movie props and extraordinarily realistic life-size figures is truly amazing. His appetite is omnivorous and wide-ranging from low- to high-brow and everything in between: William Blake etchings, pulp novels and comic books, Japanese woodblock prints, Simpsons vinyl collectibles, Phillip Guston paintings to Todd Browning Freaks stills, and much, much, MUCH, more. Also included, are pages directly from Del Toro’s own notebook with sketches and notes for his films, including Pan’s Labyrinth and Blade.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections by Guillermo del Toro (Author), Guy Davis (Illustrator), & 3 more Insight Editions 2016, 152 pages, 8.0 x 0.8 x 10.0 inches, Hardcover $20 Buy one on Amazon Read the rest

Pictorial history of vending machines, from Ancient Greece to today

I didn’t appreciate Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines until I was on a hike through the countryside outside of Tsumago on a sweltering July afternoon. The bamboo forests and rolling verdant hills were beautiful but what really satisfied me was a cold drink from a vending machine in the middle of nowhere. A swig of “Calpis” never tasted better! How did that machine get there, and why is Japan crazy for vending machines? Read about it in this fun photo essay book.

Sure, there is plenty about Japan’s fascination with vending machines — are there really coin-operated machines that dispense used girl’s panties? Find out here! But there are also other great and unusual machines from around the world. See and read about machines in Italy that make pizza from scratch, or dispensers of perfume in the city of Köln, Germany (the origin of “Eau de Cologne” — get it?), or Clark Whittington’s witty re-use of old mechanical cigarette machines as vendors of fine art. (I found one of these fun machines in Chicago!). I loved all the stuff about candy, claw games, and capsule toy machines, called gachapon for the sound of turning the crank (gacha!) and the sound of the capsule dropping (pon!).

As your reward for making it to the end of the book you’ll find a free toy in the endpapers: a miniature Japanese drink vending machine (motomachi) you can cut out and assemble — no coins required!

Vending Machines: Coined Consumerism by Christopher D. Read the rest

One of a kind book that illustrates in word and art the highlights of the Pontiac

Way back in the early 1970s, during the prior “pre-Photoshop” millennium, my fellow industrial design students and I labored to create photo-realistic renderings of products and cars with old-school, analog materials. Air-brushed gouache paints created super-smooth graduations of color, magic markers made deep shadows, and razor-sharp details like sparkling highlights and chrome reflections were added precisely with colored pencil.

Our shining inspiration was a series of print ads by Pontiac, which appeared in popular magazines like National Geographic. Exaggerated perspectives made for dynamic views of the “Wide Track” Pontiac cars, and the far-flung settings included romantic, young couples doing exotic things like surfing or rally racing in Europe. These dramatically lit and staged renderings of cars and people were totally believable and more glamorous and compelling than any photograph ever could be. And who were the artists? Each of fantastic renderings was signed only with the mysterious initials: “VK AF.”

VK was Van Kauman, a former Disney animator who painted the wonderful figures and background settings. AF was Art Fitzpatrick, a long-time automotive illustrator. Together they created 285 of these magical masterpieces for Pontiac.

This book brings you the art of Art Fitzpatrick, featuring new paintings of many of the muscle cars and other “Wide Track” Pontiacs. The large format is fitting — the square book opens up to a wide, two-page layout and the car renderings are reproduced in the eye-popping panoramas. The exaggerated perspective of AF’s early work is best appreciated at this big scale and even at that, some of the cars literally burst out of the layout frames. Read the rest

The Twilight Children mixes spunky kids, complicated adults, and government goons with magical realism

Any fan of Love and Rockets creator Gilbert Hernandez and of Batman, Catwoman, and New Frontier writer and artist Darwyn Cooke will be excited to read The Twilight Children, a four-issue series by Vertigo collected in this soft cover book.

The Twilight Children is set in a seaside town and the cast of characters includes his familiar mix of spunky kids and “complicated” adults. There are also government goons, a metaphysical siren, and mysterious, powerful orbs. People disappear, children are blinded (yet see again), and what is the deal with the glowing balls?!?

It’s great to see the wonderful art of Darwyn Cooke again, but sadly he died suddenly at age 53 in May, 2016 and this may be one of his last books (reason enough to get the book). Cooke’s commercial art style with lively character design and simple, bold brushwork gives a more “slick” look than what you'd usually expect from a Gilbert Hernandez book. Dave Stewart (my favorite colorist and the best part of many Dark Horse comics!) does a spectacular job. His painterly, subtle palette and restrained use of color hold line art fits Cooke’s drawing perfectly. No gradient mesh or lens flare effects, just solid sponge- and dry-brush painting. The bright and colorful seaside setting is a good contrast to the darker story elements. Also included in this compilation are some nice extras, like full-page paintings between chapters and a sketchbook of characters with storyboards by Hernandez.

Warning: Some readers may feel unsatisfied with the ending. Read the rest

Memento Mori – Spectacular book of essays and 500 photos of the dead among us

One of my most unforgettable travel experiences was visiting the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, near Prague. This small 19-century monastery chapel would be unremarkable, except that it is decorated with thousands of human bones and skulls. There are skull- and femur-decorated columns, hanging garlands of bones, a chandelier made of every bone in the human body, and a replica of the Schwarzenberg family coat of “arms” – that also includes leg, finger, scapula, and coccyx bones! The memory of that space makes any Halloween display seem tame and unimaginative.

If Kutná Hora isn’t in your travel plans, check out Memento Mori, a spectacular book of essays and photographs by UCLA PhD and art historian Paul Koudounaris. His 500 color photographs here are arresting, both in subject matter and photographic technique. The handsome hardbound book includes a stunning centerfold of a bejeweled and gold-encrusted mummy. The detail and visual opulence of the photo justifies the giant four-page spread. I enjoyed reading the informative essays about the use of human bones as a form of remembrance in cultures around the world, from Europe to Thailand, Japan to Peru, and from ancient times to the present day. Here’s just one fun fact: there are two venerated human skulls (ñatitas) enshrined in the homicide division of the national law enforcement agency in El Alto, Bolivia. These two cranium crime-stoppers have provided “clues to difficult cases and have been credited with helping to solve hundreds of crimes.”

Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us by Paul Koudounaris Thames and Hudson 2015, 208 pages, 9 x 13.3 x 1 inches (hardcover) $39 Buy a copy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

Fun book about toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s

There are lots of books about baby boomer toys, but this fun collection is presented from the viewpoint of the kids who played with the toys and includes lots of personal memories and photographs. Sure, there are many interesting facts and histories about well-known toys and their creators. Classic toys and games that are still made today like Tonka trucks, Easy-Bake Oven, G.I. Joe, Matchbox and Hot Wheels, Twister and Mousetrap are featured in loving color photographs and vintage ads. Their stories are well-known, too. For example, writer and artist Johnny Gruelle patented his rag doll design in 1915, the same year his daughter Marcella died after a controversial smallpox vaccination. The Rageddy Ann and Andy dolls and books helped Gruelle keep his memories of his daughter alive.

Famous fads include the '50s Davy Crocket Coonskin Hats, the '60s Troll dolls, and the '70s Pet Rock. Toys always reflect the times they’re from and this book provides plenty of cultural and historical background. Only after the heady 1960s and '70s with women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, and Black Power movement would there be an anatomically correct African American baby boy doll, Mattel’s Baby Tender Love, molded in life-like vinyl skin called Dublon.

Other less well-known toys are long gone from the toy store shelves but live on in the very personal memories (and actual childhood photographs!) featured throughout the book. Home health training specialist Lisa Crawford (b 1963) appropriately recalls the insanely dangerous metal-tipped lawn Jarts. I was delighted to find Make editor and fellow WINK contributor Gareth Branwyn’s (b 1958) recollection of using his own Johnny Horizon Environmental Test Kit to get an A+ on a school project (and to keep tabs on any hometown polluters!). Read the rest

Industrial Strength Design profiles the most famous designer you've never hears of: Brooks Stevens

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Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World by Glenn Adamson The MIT Press 2003, 300 pages, 9.5 x 11 x 0.8 inches From $10 Buy a copy on Amazon

This excellent book profiles the most famous industrial designer you’ve never heard of: Brooks Stevens. Sure, you know of designer Jonathan Ive and his Apple products, and maybe Raymond Loewy, who slimmed the Coke bottle and decked out Kennedy’s Air Force One, but flipping through this book you’ll instantly recognize Brooks Stevens’ equally famous mid-century creations: that 3M “Mondrian” packaging, The Excalibur custom car, the Miller beer “soft cross” logo, the “boomerang” patterned Formica, and yes, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile!

Stevens grew up in Milwaukee, and his unpretentious Midwestern work ethic and pro-business attitude was clear in all his work and writing. Unlike other designers who indulged in fantastic and lofty, theoretical designs, Stevens applied his styling skills and practical design sensibilities to suit local manufacturers of lawn mowers, outboard motors, cookware, and vehicles, resulting in increased sales and efficient manufacturing (if not design awards).

One of his most famous creations is the phrase “planned obsolescence,” which was widely attacked at the time by Vance Packard in his book The Waste Makers as an example of the manipulation of consumers and crass commercialism. Stevens proudly defended his approach of constant improvements and questioned so-called “good design” as actually elitist, unpractical and most damning of all in his mind, ultimately unprofitable. The debate goes on and you’ll have to come to your own conclusion: are manufacturers’ frequent new product variations kaizen-like progress, or just needless churning of the consumer. Read the rest

Formica Forever celebrates the sleek century-old material and its indestructible beauty

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Formica Forever by Formica Corporation Metropolis Books/Formica Corporation 2013, 408 pages, 6.5 x 9.4 x 1.2 inches (softcover) $37 Buy a copy on Amazon

This handsome book on Formica is really a love letter written to itself. Formica Forever celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Formica Group with interesting histories, rich visuals, a little chemistry lesson, and cleverly excerpted quotes from literature all in a witty format designed by Pentagram. You’ll learn of Formica's origins as an industrial material developed as a synthetic electrical insulator (substituting “for mica”), its evolution to a durable and decorative finish material in ships, trains, and, most famously, its use in post-war American homes. That’s when and where the “wipe-clean world” reached its pinnacle, with Formica saving mankind from eons of grime, crud, germs and smells – and looking great, too, due to its indestructible beauty. The spectrum of colors, foils, wood grains, patterns and finishes are well represented in these gorgeous graphics. As a bit of an inside joke, the images of ads, ladies magazine photo spreads, pattern sample chips and endless uses of Formica are printed on pages that have been perforated, just like a tear-out catalog or sample book.

I’ll leave it to you to pick your favorite of all the images of Formica in action. I loved Lee Payne’s giant Neapolitan ice cream and Frank Gehry’s illuminated fish sculpture. Sprinkled throughout are short quotes (printed on the back of Formica “sample chip” cartouches) from famous authors who have used Formica in their writing: John Updike, Sue Grafton, Ian Flemming, Harlin Ellison, and Margaret Atwood. Read the rest

Primitive but clever inventions that predate today’s smart phones

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Where Discovery Sparks Imagination: A Pictorial History of Radio and Electricity by John D. Jenkins American Museum of Radio and Electricity 2009, 224 pages, 8.2 x 10 x 1 inches $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

If you’re ever up near the Canadian border in the little college town of Bellingham, WA make time to check out a gem of a museum there: The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. It’s fully charged up and literally crackling with excitement (and a 4-million volt Tesla coil!). SPARK showcases all manner of fascinating artifacts all about the history of electricity from early static electricity generators to advanced vacuum tubes that went to the moon. Can’t make the trip? Then get this wonderful book!

And even if you do go to SPARK in person, you’ll also want to read Where Discovery Sparks Imagination. It features lavish color photographs of hundreds of the items on display together with the interesting stories of the people and places that go along with the things. I learned even more about Alessandro Volta and volts, Andre-Marie Ampere and amps, and Georg Ohm and ohms. See the recreation of the Titanic’s radio room. Learn how an undertaker in Kansas City invented the first dial phone to short circuit his competitor’s switchboard shenanigans. Anyone who has used a phone, listened to a recording, or turned on a lamp will enjoy seeing the primitive but clever inventions that predate today’s smart phones, PCs and LED lights. Read the rest

Before anime, Japanese paper theater entertained 1-million kids a day

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Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater by Eric P. Nash Abrams ComicArts 2009, 304 pages, 8.6 x 9.2 x 1.1 inches $29 Buy a copy on Amazon

Manga Kamishibai tells and shows the fascinating history of Japanese paper theater, a lost storytelling form and the link between Edo-era Japanese ukiyo-e prints and modern day manga and television. I say “and shows” because this art form combined the spoken word with compelling visuals in uniquely Japanese storytelling performances and this book is rich with many wonderful reproductions of the hand-painted artwork.

Picture this: In devastated post-WWII Tokyo, a man stops his bicycle on a street corner. On the back of his bike is mounted a large, sixty-pound wooden box. The man flips a few panels around to reveal a stage-like picture frame. He noisily clacks together two wooden sticks, hiyogoshi, to call the neighborhood children. As they gather to see and hear the free show, the man sells them home-made penny candies, including a not-too-sweet taffy that’s pulled and stretched using a chopstick (like today’s movie business, the real money is in the profitable concessions!). The paying customers get a front row seat to the performance. The man slides a sequence of large, colorful panels in the frame “screen” as he tells adventure stories, quizzes the audience, and weaves tales of suspense, all with character voices and sound effects. As the story ends on a dramatic, to-be-continued cliff-hanger, the man packs up his two-wheel theater and pedals away ... Read the rest

The Collector follows an 1880's rogue and dandy as he travels in search of treasures

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The Collector by Sergio Toppi Archaia 2014, 252 pages, 8.5 x 11 x 1 inches $23 Buy a copy on Amazon

I was delighted to discover this terrific collection of comics by Italian artist Sergio Toppi. Although I’d never seen his work before, it instantly got my attention and seemed familiar. It combines a flat graphic art style, a swashbuckling sensibility and witty writing that I found irresistible.

Sergio Toppi (1932-2012) was an artist and illustrator from Italy, whose books have been published for decades in Europe but only recently translated and available in the U.S. through Archaia, a division of Boom Entertainment. The Collector won the Soleil D’Or prize for Best Series at the Soliès-Ville Festival. It’s easy to see why.

The book follows the exciting exploits of an 1880’s rogue and dandy, known as “The Collector,” as he travels the globe in search of treasures. Not a seeker of gold or jewels, he collects only artifacts with historical significance. This sets the stage for adventures featuring Hopi Indians in the American Southwest, camel-riding Ethiopians, Mongol tribesmen, warring Irish clans, Maori chieftains and more. Although the artwork is in black and white, it’s most highly folkloric and historically colorful. The separate wide-ranging episodes and characters are knitted back together into a satisfying finale.

Each page is laid out in dramatic fashion with bold layouts. Some pages have conventional multiple comic panels, while others feature free-wheeling compositions, along with other full-page designs, more fine line illustration than comic book. Read the rest

A book about Theo Jansen's amazing wind-powered creatures

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You may have seen my earlier Wink Fun review of Elenco’s terrific Mini-beest Kit, a working miniature model kit of one of Theo Jansen’s amazing animated creatures. I wanted to know more about him and his work so I found a copy of his 2009 book, The Great Pretender. The 240-page volume contains notes, timelines, photos, sketches and family trees for Jansen’s “Animarus,” as he calls his species of moving, breathing, and thinking constructions. He creates magnificent beasts out of the cheapest and lowliest of raw materials: thin wall PVC pipes, packing tape, empty soda bottles, and zip ties. When assembled, the giant, articulated creatures walk along the beach in the Netherlands, powered only by the wind.

In the book’s format, each of the verso pages (on the left) have color photographs of the many details about his designs and their construction: hinges and movable joints, leg linkages, molds and fixtures, pneumatic tubing muscles, etc. Each artifact is artfully depicted with low-key lighting and muted backgrounds, like specimens in an archeological volume. There are also beautiful photos of the fully-assembled creatures in their native habitat, strolling along the shore.

The recto pages (on the right) carry the text, with chapter-length explanations of his thoughts and processes on how and why he came to create the various versions of his animated “life forms.” There’s Animarus Sabulosa Adolescense (young sand-coated beach animal) and Animarus Vermiculus (worm animal) and about 30 more, each as amazing as the last. Read the rest

Build a 5-story school building, then knock it down with SmartLab's demolition Wrecking Ball

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With toys, sometimes simple is best: no batteries, no electronics, all kid-powered. Such is Wrecking Ball, the latest addition to SmartLab’s line of award-winning Demolition Lab build-‘em-and-wreck-‘em DE-construction toy sets. Build the five-story school building, then knock it down with the wrecking ball. Simple concept – and that’s where the fun just begins.

First you assemble. Punch out the realistically illustrated wall and roof panels and add the plastic stand-up feet. Each panel depicts part of an abandoned schoolhouse, complete with hazard tape warnings, broken windows and bell tower. Also snap together the wrecking ball crane with extension feet and pre-assembled lever mechanism. Colorful stickers add a finishing touch to the wrecking crane.

Then build the five-story schoolhouse by stacking the walls and roof panels. The stand-up feet make this easy so even the youngest kid can do it without needing delicate “house of cards” dexterity. Add the bell tower on top to finish.

Now for the big moment. Adjust the telescoping arm to aim the wrecking ball so you can strike the building just where you want. Pull back on the handle as the wrecking ball s-l-o-w-l-y swings back and rises up with a dramatic “click-click-click…” Make any last minute fine adjustments, then press the red button to release the wrecking ball. The ball swings down and – kaBLAM!– the panels tumble as the school walls and roof collapse. Classic tension/release play pattern.

Simple enough for any kid. But there’s more: suggestions in the instruction propose other challenges. Read the rest

King of the Kustomizers is an enjoyable feast of George Barris' hot rods, customized cars and other kooky creations

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I was initially reluctant to order this book unseen, given the high list price, but once I had it in my hands I was completely won over. This profile of George Barris is a highly enjoyable feast for any fan of cars, movies, TV shows, pop music and culture. Clearly a labor of love, this hefty, nearly-500 page book was written by George Barris’ son Brett.

The embossed and shiny spot-varnished cover perfectly embodies the King of Kustomizers and his creations: bold, glitzy and over-the-top. The hundreds of color and black and white photos inside lovingly show Barris’ astounding automotive output, which includes early hot rods, dragsters, customized cars for the stars, TV and movie vehicles, corporate promotional cars, wild buggies for musical groups, and more. The list of his clients is a who’s who of mid-century Hollywood: The Beach Boys, Elvira, Sonny and Cher, The Boogaloos, The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, Farah Fawcett, Bob Hope, Elton John – far too many to list them all. The Batmobile on the cover may be his most famous car, but the scope of the book will amaze you. And not just Hollywood: if you were a company like Lipton, Vox amplifiers, ToysRUs, Coppertone, or Big Boy and needed a custom car to promote your brand, George Barris’ shop Kustom City was the place to go for that head-turning vehicle that literally embodied your product. You get page after page of kooky kustom cars!

It’s no surprise that Barris was as brilliant a businessman as he was a car customizer. Read the rest

This beautiful Tintin tome is full of all wonderful things Herge

If you're a fan of Tintin comics and of Hergé (Georges Remi), this is one book you’ll want to own. Nothing “comic book” or throw away about this beautifully produced volume. The form factor and details are wonderful: a square format with an elegant embossed black and white drawing close-up of Tintin with his trademark quiff on the cover. It has also red- and white-checkerboard page edges, just like the iconic rocket ship from “Destination Moon.” This one will display nicely with the rest of your Tintin collectibles.

It won't stay on the display shelf for long. The 480 pages inside are just as delightful. It’s full of colorful images of all things Hergé, from enticing photos of the Hergé Museum in Brussels (you’ll want to go!), to artifacts and models used in the production of the Tintin books, snapshots and promotional pictures of Hergé, and lots of images of actual camera art.

You’ll see up close and in detail how Hergé created his books, from preliminary rough sketches and figure drawings, pencil layouts and revisions, reference materials and photography, original camera art line (with all the corrections) and the final colored print version. A real look “inside” that the comic fan will appreciate.

Tintin: The Art of Hergé by Michel Daubert Harry N. Abrams 2013, 480 pages, 8.5 x 8.5 x 1.8 inches (paperback) $31 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

Photo book shows Eames' beautiful details

Eames: Beautiful Details by Eames Demetrios AMMO Books 2014, 408 pages, 12.5 x 9.2 x 2.2 inches $41 Buy one on Amazon

One of my favorite speakers at San Mateo Maker Faire this year was Llisa Demetrios, granddaughter of Charles Eames. Her talk included very personal remembrances of times with her grandfather and with his wife Ray Eames. Llisa shared family photos taken at their iconic home, Case Study House #8, as well as playful letters from her grandfather in rebus form and rare snips of their short films. All very charming and enjoyable to get an inside look at Charles and Ray Eames. If you missed it, you now have a second chance to explore the personal side of the Eames in Eames: Beautiful Details.

The title is apt as the unusual format with 400 twice-as-wide-as-tall pages makes for panoramic layout spreads, not unlike the multi screen format of their films. You may think you have seen some of these images before, but not like this with extra detail and context. And as Charles Eames famously said, “The details are not the details; the details make the product,” or in this case, the book.

This elegant book is organized by chapters for each of the various aspects of the Eames’ work, e.g., graphics+textiles, furniture+experiments, toys+games, etc., with personal essays and quotes by three generations of the Eames family: Charles and Ray, daughter Lucia Eames, and grandkids. It’s like sitting down with the family and their photo album. The many candid (and cleverly posed) photos depict their proto-Maker life, with work, family and home all blended together in and around their lively house/studio: Charles at a Moviola at work on a film, Ray designing textiles and painting, then, later, the same space reconfigured as a giant play area for visiting grandkids with a mountain of boxes for stacking (and crashing!). Read the rest

Build a top quality kinetic Rhinoceros Mini-Beest from a kit

Dutch engineer and artist Theo Jansen has created the most amazing kinematic sculptures, which he refers to as life forms. The incredibly ingenious mechanical linkages are powered by compressed air, harvested from the wind. They are made of PVC pipe, recycled bottles, and scrounged wood from shipping pallets. From a pile of junk, Jansen creates articulated multi-legged beasts which run free on the beaches of Holland. (Okay, amazing is a word that is thrown around a lot, but here is your proof.)

The astounding and huge creature that you see at 5:00 into the video is the inspiration for this excellent book/kit sold by EDU-TOYS. This combination assembly kit and booklet includes the plastic parts engineered by the Japanese educational product producer Gakken and a new 24-page English language booklet. You’ll get fascinating photos of Jansen and his various creations in their natural environment as well as well-written and illustrated instructions. And you’ll need them! The kit has over 130 parts, which at first seems a little intimidating. However, simply follow the clear line drawings for each step of assembly and the sequence and logic to the parts become clear.

The engineering and molding is top quality with polished molds and flash-free parts. No glue or tools are needed. All the press fittings are snug, the snap junctions crisp, and the gears mesh perfectly with seemingly no friction. You’ll appreciate all the attention to detail when you finish the build: place the Mini Rhino on a flat surface and gently blow on the squirrel cage fan. Read the rest

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