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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: In terms of trends or technological, new, upcoming technologies, is there anything in general that you're excited about right now, that is up and coming? Branden Hall: I am--I don't know if I am getting jaded or not, but the technology doesn't excite me anymore. It doesn't inspire me anymore. It still excites me. I think it's actually a better way of putting it. I always love seeing new stuff coming down the line, but I think all the woodworking I have been doing has put actually a different spin on it for me.
It's just a new tool. The wood is still the wood. You still have creative output you're trying to do. New tools are great, but if you haven't mastered the ones that are there before, you can't do anything great with it. I made a very common woodworker mistake of buying sort of the wrong tools first. I didn't buy a lot of hand tools first. I bought a couple of big power tools, and a couple of them are just gathering dust still, because I didn't really know how to use things like a hand plane or Japanese pullsaw. And now that I am going back and learning these things, I am kind of understanding that once you know those basics, everything new that comes along, it's just another riff on the same ideas.
So for me, the thing that's most exciting are actually just the idea of more playmates. There's more people that are coming to these technologies now, because of the fact that it's now open standards or whatever is pulling them in. It doesn't really matter to me. It matters that there's more people doing the stuff, making more beautiful things, because that's more people to play with, more people to collaborate with and whose ideas I can help inspire and who can inspire my own ideas.
So it's not about the technology. The technology is just the tool, and it's great to have another screwdriver, but that doesn't change the fact that the medium is still the same. Lynda Weinman: I love it. And I think my final question will be, what advice would you have for others who want to follow in your type of footstep? Branden Hall: This is what I have been thinking about a lot. I have two small children, and I am always trying to teach them the ideals, the moire that or that I think of, to use the high term, the maker.
I want them to make things. For me, that defines my life. I love making and I love teaching, and I think that that's exactly what you have to do. You make something. You teach somebody else how you made it. And in fact, when I look back for sort of the larger patterns in my career, that's exactly what I did. I would learn how to do something in Flash. I would like write a tutorial on a message board on how to do it. And it just that, that head of steam just keeps building and building on that, where it's been. You have to do the work creating, and I was extremely lucky in that sense, because when I was starting, the bar was very low. The bar was very low, because the stuff wasn't possible before.
So I could sit down and build something in an afternoon, put it online-- something that followed the mouse around--and everyone online would just be like, ah, that's amazing, it's incredible, and these days that doesn't get any attention at all. So it's really easy to keep doing stuff when every little thing you make every afternoon gets a ton of attention. It's easy. It's not that easy anymore. It's--that time may come again in a different medium, but it's not that way now for doing online and interactive media. So you have to push through that.
You have to make. The more stuff you make, the better you get. There was actually a really great thing I saw recently from Ira Glass, the guy that does This American life, and his whole thing was that creative people as a whole, what they fundamentally have is their taste. They know what's good, and that's why so many creative people dislike their own work for so long, because they know what they see in their head. They know what they think is good and what their own output and when their own output doesn't match that, they're disappointed with it, quite naturally.
So I think the best thing you can do is just to make a lot of stuff, just build up the skills. Make and build and teach and just keep doing that. Let that be your driver and your inspiration. And as best I can tell, that's the path I took to get here. Honestly, I don't know if I could go back and trace it, but that's been the consistent theme. I learn something new, I make some things, and I give it away. Lynda Weinman: Well, I think it's been proven that if you not only learn something but then do what you learn, that you've learn it even--that that is the ultimate Lynda Weinman: form of learning. Branden Hall: Absolutely.
Lynda Weinman: It's to actually then teach it and do it and practice it. Branden Hall: Right, exactly there's so much, where people--and I hate that whole like the people that do do, and the people that can't, teach. I think that's crap, because the best teachers I've had are the ones that actually really do it. And then, know that that part of the importance of what they do is to continue to teach it. We have lost over the last fifty years, a century, the idea of apprentices.
We don't have that all in the digital realm, and I think it's just a shame, because that's, that's how you should work. That's how you need to work, and we're trying to--in my company, we were trying to build that back up again. We have some interns starting for the summer and what we're trying to do is to do an old-world style apprenticeship with them, where they will be building real-world stuff. Some of that won't necessarily be seen to the world. There will be stuff behind the scenes. I mean one of my favorite things is if you go find like old set of dresser drawers, you know if it's real, that it wasn't fake, if you go and look on the dovetail joints that are on the back of the drawers. If they're sloppier than the ones that are on the front, it was made in a shop that had apprentices.
The apprentices did the dovetail joints on the back of the drawers that people wouldn't see, but they still got real-world practice. They still got to work with the master, something who really knew what they were doing, and learned from that. So often these days, kids are confined to doing the work in class, and from the internship program, seeing people's portfolio and stuff like that, the kids are working hard, but they are just starting. And I see their portfolios, and it's not something that I could ever promote professionally. It's not something where I could take those skills and immediately put it into production work, but I can use parts of it.
I can use stuff that's behind the scenes. I can have them work with somebody who really knows what they're doing and move forward. This doesn't have to be a go-at- your-own, teach-yourself kind of thing. Teaching yourself is incredibly--I mean it's an incredibly powerful way of doing things. The videos that you do and the things along those lines, fundamentally though, isn't teaching yourself. You are having somebody who is an expert in the field tell you how to do these things. Combine that with a mentorship- type program, and this industry is just going to continue to be more and more and more vibrant.
Find somebody who knows more than you do and hang out with them. If you are ever the smartest person in the room, leave. Go find another room. Lynda Weinman: Yeah. Well, it's great to hang out in your room. Thank you so much Branden and it's been fantastic. Branden Hall: Thank you so much!
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