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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: I mean I see another theme in your career, that you've been attracted to the arts as well. You were saying you had this interest in animation early on, and a lot of your projects have been so tied to a visual component. So can you talk a little bit about the genesis of that? Branden Hall: Certainly. I have to there give full credit to my parents. They are both artists, and my mom has her degree in native arts. We tease her. She has a degree in basketweaving, and that's really what it is. So my house, growing up, was always filled with pottery and stained glass and all these amazing things that they have made.
My dad was a leathersmith for years even. I mean they are at the level that they even taught themselves how to smelt gold to make their own wedding rings. I mean that's a level of sort of makerhood of the arts I can only aspire to. So I've always loved that that aspect of things. It's not a cold, hard, pure-logic thing for me. I am always wanting to make beautiful, wondrous things. And for me, this is such a wonderful industry because of that, because I can take both the logic problem-solving part of my brain and the aesthetic part and really combine them myself.
If I was born in an earlier age, I might have been an architect or something along those lines and I would have missed out on the making, and I love the making. Lynda Weinman: Now you were talking about it incorporating generative art, and I'd say that's another theme that I see in your career. So what is it that attracts you to generative art, and describe what that is? Branden Hall: Certainly. Generative art is using the computer to make decisions that would normally be up to the artist, and it's something that, working with people like Joshua Davis and Erik Natzke, they got me interested in it, seeing the things that they were doing.
But than also, I am just simply fascinated with math and always have been and love things like fractals and chaos and the math of nature, and that's, so much of that is how nature works. I love their approach of building something and then living with it. Since I love to teach just about as much as I love to create, I've had a really good time teaching both of them, and a lot of other people I meet, skills so that they can go further with what they are doing.
A couple of years back, Erik and I were at a conference in Winnipeg, Canada, in the winter. It was a warm snap, so it was only about 10 below when we were there. But we so loved what we were doing and we so wanted to just collaborate on things, we stayed an extra day, and he and I just basically hung out at the bar there. And he was teaching me how he does the beautiful aesthetic things that he does, and I was teaching him some of the nitty-gritty things about programming that he didn't know.
I just, I love doing that, and I love helping them to create beautiful artwork, just by giving them the skills to see what they do. It is the same thing as the La Plaza project, BLOOM is what that was called, because we made this tool for them and then they sent us back what they made, and I just got this amazing grin on my face. And I was pulling the whole team over, like, "You guys, you have to see this. I just gave them, they just put dots on the screen and they--oh my god! This is so amazing!" And that's one of the things I love with the generative art is you're building it yourself, yet you are still--you can still be surprised by the stuff you make yourself, just by seeing the different decisions that are made.
It's kind of a--for me, it's a creativity multiplier. It's a way of taking my ideas and giving up a little bit of control and saying, "I know the things I want, but for the things I don't know I want, let's let a little bit of the math that controls the universe have fun, and see what happens." A lot of times it goes nowhere. A lot of times it's not something that I find interesting or is beautiful or--it doesn't work. But as Josh says, by living with it, you can find amazing things.
It's like combining painting and a treasure hunt all in one.
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