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This course introduces Branden Hall, a software architect and programmer, who has spent well over a decade pushing the limits of the web, and teaching others how to do the same. The cofounder and CEO of Automata Studios, Branden is an acknowledged expert in the field of interactive media, producing award-winning work and authoring books that serve as touchstones for the design community.
Branden opens up his personal studio and explains his fascination with “making,” whether through programming or woodwork, and the magic behind bringing his ideas to life. Branden and crew also visit the BLOOM installation, a project designed to display artwork for La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a museum dedicated to Mexican American history and culture in Los Angeles. Lynda then interviews Branden one-on-one, and they talk about Branden’s beginnings, most notable projects, and where he sees himself and technology headed in the future.
Lynda Weinman: Well, I'm looking at this table over here and I see that there are these gear shapes, and I understand that you've also made these. So, tell me about how this got started? Branden Hall: This is, I hope, the beginning of something. Again, growing up, my dad was in construction and was always building stuff. He had a big workshop in the basement, and I always loved building things. I do a fair amount of woodworking. I'm always learning more and more about that. But there is a frustration there, because what I see in my head is not necessarily what I can always create.
I am always looking to get better, but when I make as many mistakes as I do, working in the digital realm is excellent, because you can just file the Branden Hall: files off in some way. Lynda Weinman: Undo. Branden Hall: Right, undo or throw away the files. When as I did recently, you make a bookshelf and you're not happy with it, getting rid of that body is a bit more difficult. So it's a much slower process, I mean learning how to do woodworking and making with my hands. I don't get to dedicate all of my time to doing that.
So I've been sort of lusting after these new machines that let you more work in a digital fashion. In high school I was lucky enough to play with the CNC machine for the first time, and I've been obsessed with having one ever since. Where it's a machine where you have a three axes of control and essentially a router built on the end, so it can cuts stuff out of plastic, wood, or metal. And last year, yeah, last year, there was a feature in MAKE Magazine about home factories, and they were talking about 3D printers and mills, and they covered this one particular mill, the Lumenlab micro, and I loved the story.
It's two guys who were best friends in North Carolina, and they decided we're going to make something. One of them was an electrical engineer, one was a mechanical engineer, and they just started building machines. And what I have is the fourth-generation machine. Each generation would make the next generation machine, and it went from something that was horrifically dangerous and that nearly maimed them a few times to what I have, which is a desktop CNC machine. And I am learning to program it, but also I am having a lot of fun doing things the wrong way.
So CNC really started in the 1950s at MIT and they invented a programming language then called G-code, which is very ugly. It sort of looks a bit like Fortran and Logo. It's not a very pretty language, but it's very powerful. The thing is is most people who have or use CNC machines don't really look at that at all. What they do is they go into a CAD program and they design something and then they feed that to a CAM program, Computer Aided Machining, and what that does is it turns the 3D program into all the tool paths actually needed to cut it out, and that's the G-code it spits out.
So I said, "Well, G-code is a programming language. I'm going to just start coding in that natively and really understand how this machine works at a very base level." So these gears are about the fourth or fifth experiment I've done just making things for, first for the machine. I made my own clamps for the machine, because those--again they're all mine. They're like $30 for these clamps. I can build that and write code and give it away and try to take sort of the open source, build-it-yourself ethic that I have with software to these machines.
And so far there has been a bit of interest, and people really dig it, but like, these gears were essentially an accident. I started to trying to make a headphone wraps, because my headphones were always just a rat's nest in my pocket, and I hated undoing them all time. I'm an Eagle Scout, and I still hated doing all those knots. So, I started designing, and they just weren't pretty. I just didn't--I'm very interested in aesthetics, but I don't have an art degree. So I often have to really struggle to make something I like.
And I was downstairs making a lot of plastics swarf, it's called, the dust that comes of the machine, and I finally went up to my wife and I said, This just isn't working, and I started talking to her and I was thinking about the knitting she's done before. And I know I've seen funny gear-shaped things that were used for making like socks, and I was saying, "What if I made like a circle and cut notches in it so that you could sort of weave with your headphone cable? Wouldn't that be kind of neat?" And she goes, "You mean like a gear, like your company logo?" "Oh, why didn't I think of that?" There's a reason why our web site is Two Geeks and a Baby.
Branden Hall: So she's a geek as well and she-- Lynda Weinman: More collaboration. Branden Hall: Exactly, exactly. We're always making stuff. So yeah, these are headphone wraps, but they are also great toys and things to fidget with, and it's hopefully the first among many things I build. I have nothing immediately in mind. I don't know what I'm going to do with it, and I love that, because I think that's where the most truthful things come from, is when you're just playing. I mean for the longest time on my personal website, the little tagline was "Don't forget to play," because for me it's easy to do.
It's easy to just get involved in solving the problems and getting things done, but you need to just play, get dusty, get dirty, make a lot swarf, that's kind of sawdust, yeah.
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