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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.
Branden Hall: The BLOOM installation has been a wonderful project. I got to work with this great team over at Apologue, headed up by Tali Krakowsky. She and I met on the speaking circuit. I speak at a number of conferences a year on interactive media, and she and I had met at a few of them and started to talk, and she approached us on this project. They were doing these interactive screens for this new cultural center in LA, called La Plaza.
It's a Mexican-American cultural center. And they were making what all the screens would look like for inside and out, that would be displaying the stories of this place, promotional information, et cetera, telling stories in a public space in a very interesting way. But most of that content is relatively static text, and they wanted to have really beautiful transitions between them, but they wanted it so that it had that magic. They wanted it to be generative. So even though it was all the spoke animation, they wanted it to still be different every time. And from seeing the work that I'd done, approached Automata Studios, my company, and we got to work.
And it was really interesting, because so much of the work that's out there is generative is entirely drawn by the computer. It's, all the geometry, everything that's made up in it is fairly simple. It's just a lot them, a lot of particles flying around, and things like that. This was different; this was hand-done animation that had to then been made alive, so that it was-- and felt different all the time. So what we ended up having to do was to work directly with the animator to build the animation and the pieces of the animation in such a way that it could be chopped up in lots of different pieces, so we could programmatically reconstruct them.
And I think my favorite part of the whole project was we ended up building a tool for them, because again, we didn't necessarily have the aesthetic idea in our head of what exactly that should look like. We knew we didn't. We have artist on the staff, but they had this really clear idea of what they should look like and how it should feel. So what we ended up doing was building a tool for them to actually design out how they should work.
So we took the animation, we chopped them up, we designed all these different systems, so animation system, a fern system, a vine system, a bush system, and those could bring in all sorts of different assets into all of them, and then gave them a tool that let them visually lay out the rules for each one of the different templates they wanted to build. So that way it was still different every time, but constrained to the rules that they set, and it ended up working amazingly.
We sent the tool over to them and I think they had a cow. They really just didn't get it at first, and I had to really explain like this is how this will work, because at first the tool worked, but it couldn't export anything; they just kind of had to imagine it. And so that that's always hard, but at the end of it, as soon as we started getting the preview parts into it, they absolutely adored it. And I think my favorite part of the whole project was when they sent me back over the first templates they had made and I opened them up in the editor and they were incredibly complex. And I hit the Preview button and was just awestruck with what they had done with this relatively simple tool that I had given them.
I love, I absolutely adore doing that, giving tools to creative people and seeing what they do with it. That's I think one of the most favorite parts of my job, because while we are all creatives at Automata, we love collaborating with others, and every time we can make a tool that is--it's a whole new kind of lever for our clients to play with. It's a whole new way for them to lift the world, to make it match their vision.
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