Tag Archives: arduino

Bamboodu Theater

Behold the Bamboodu Theater, my new puppet stage for civic events and art shows.

This interactive theater experience features the Bamboodu spirit, a mythical creature rising from the earth to expose the troubles facing America and the world. Above his head are some of the characters that haunt his dreams, playing out the eternal fight between fear and hope.

Our first scene stars Lady Liberty and Mr. Trump. As surreal music plays, Mr. Trump’s recent tweets and alternative facts scroll by on a news ticker below the stage. Each time Trump says something wrong, Liberty hits him on his thick, bobbing head — until his oversize jacket falls off, revealing that the emperor truly has no clothes.

At the end of this short play, we invite our guests to sing along the inspiring words of Emma Lazarus’s poem about the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor …”). Through this interactive experience, we hope to engage people of all ages to think about the values we share — and help change the world through civic action.

Bamboodu Theater is a work-in-progress, combining mixed-media art with radical puppetry, along with electronic text, lights and sounds powered by Arduino. We customize the experience for each public appearance, whether it is shown as a stand-alone exhibit, a parade float or a street theater performance.

We premiered this interactive theater experience at Signs of Hope, an inspiring exhibit of political art that ran from April 14th to 29th at Art Works Downtown in San Rafael. See photos of our theater in that exhibit. Learn more on our project page.

We are now building a special float to feature the Bamboodu Theater at the Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 29, 2017. To create this float, I am working with a wonderful team at the Mill Valley Community Action Network (MVCAN), a local political group which I recently joined to resist the conservative takeover of our country.

Our new Bamboodu Float is coming along very nicely, as shown in this photo album. Learn more on our project page. In coming months, we plan to show it at other civic events and political rallies.

Bamboodu Theater was created by Fabrice Florin, in collaboration with Phyllis Florin, Edward Janne, Mark Petrakis, Geo Monley, Jean Bolte, Howard Rheingold and our friends at Pataphysical Studios and Tam Makers. Special thanks to Gareth Loy for permission to use his Mother of Exiles song, and to all the MVCAN members who are helping build our parade float: Danny Altman, Laura Boles, David Glad, Peter Graumann, Suz Lipman and Jean Marie Murphy, to name but a few. I’m deeply grateful to you all.

It’s been a true pleasure to work with so many friends and neighbors to keep democracy alive through art and theater.
Vive la liberté!

Maker Faire 2015: bringing together art, tech and education

Maker Faire 2015 gathered many hobbyists, artists and innovators from the growing “maker movement”.

The Maker Media tent showed visitors how to create their own projects. Photos by Fabrice Florin, CC-BY-SA-3.0.]

Maker Faire 2015 gathered many hobbyists, artists and innovators on May 16-17 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in California. Empowered by new technologies such as 3D printing, Arduino and Raspberry Pi micro-computers, these creative enthusiasts have triggered a cultural revolution that is transforming the way we work, play, learn — and express ourselves. This growing “maker movement” just celebrated its 10th anniversary and keeps getting more interesting every year.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I visited the Faire with Jean Bolte, a.k.a. Dr. Figurine, one of our art collaborators at Pataphysical Studios. Along with a dozen of other doctors, we are building the Pataphysical Slot Machine — a community-created poetic oracle, that’s powered by Arduino. We were there to check out the scene, on behalf of our other art friends who couldn’t come this year.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted with fire art from Burning Man, which always gets me inspired. Makers and burners have a lot in common, and it’s nice to see these two cultures overlap in this annual gathering. In our own work, we also try to blend art and technology, to grow an ‘art maker movement’ that draws on these diverse cultures.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

The most appealing art experiences for us were in the dark Fiesta Hall, where a wide range of light sculptures and interactive exhibits caught our eye, wherever we turned (see photos). We loved the illuminated tree of changes …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the flying dragon and the synchronized pods …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the giant giraffe …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the glowing cubes …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… and the touch-sensitive mandalas.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I loved seeing so many children getting their hands dirty and making things together in workshops throughout the show. I think this maker movement has a huge educational potential, because it encourages young people to learn with their hands, through trial and error, to solve problems in ways that can’t be taught with books and lectures. The maker mindset invites this kind of “experimental play”, and as Maker Media founder Dale Dougherty points out: “out of that process emerge new ideas, which may lead to real-world applications or new business ventures. Making is a source of innovation.”

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Robots were everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. They seemed both easier to build and more sophisticated than previous years. It’s worth noting that many of the hundreds of robots I saw were made from 3D printed parts.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Which brings us to 3D printers. That technology has matured well — and is becoming mainstream. This year, there were more 3D printers at the Faire than ever before — and some of them were a lot more affordable for regular folks like us. Dremel now sells a reliable ‘idea printer’ for under $1,000, which is getting within our reach (see photos). With a 3D printer, I think I could make the parts we need for our Pataphysical Slot Machine a lot faster, with a better fit and higher quality.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

We had a great chat with Maker Media Lab director Marty Marfin and his crew (see group photo): we are discussing a possible installation of the Slot Machine in their new location at the Palace of Fine Arts. They greeted us warmly and gave us great tips for what software and hardware to use for 3D printing. Rhinoceros is their recommended software for creating the 3D models, and we got a nice demo of how it works.

Marty is a former sculptor and model builder and is interested in working together to create robots that look and behave more like sophisticated puppets — taking this tech-centric medium up a notch on the artistic scale. This is very much in line with what we are proposing to do with Théâtre Méchanique, so stay tuned …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

We also joined a talk with Arduino founder Massimo Banzi, who gave us a good update on how this open micro-processor platform keeps growing, enabling millions around the world to create new and interesting things. I bought my first Arduino at the 2010 Maker Faire, then had a chance to chat with Massimo in 2013 — and I can honestly say that Arduino has changed my life, giving me the ability to express myself through interactive art in ways I never thought possible.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

It’s a real pleasure to see so many hobbyists, artists and innovators join this ‘maker culture’, which is changing the way we learn and express ourselves . Over time, I’d like to help grow an ‘art maker movement’ to merge the sensibilities of artists and technologists, making our collective creations more meaningful to more people — and maybe even touching their souls.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

For more photos of this and previous events, check out my Maker Faire album.

And if you have any stories or links to share about Maker Faire or your own experience as a maker, feel free to share them here. That’s how we learn from each other. 🙂

Onward …

Théatre Mécanique

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system for recreating a wide range of stories with animated puppets.

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system featuring animated puppets and computer-controlled multimedia.

I propose to create a Théatre Mécanique — a project which I would like to work on in coming years, in collaboration with others. (For a visual overview, check out these slides.)

The idea is to build an interactive storytelling system that would let you experience and remix some of the great myths and legends shared by all cultures around the world. It would enable small groups of people to collaboratively reenact some of these universal stories, connect them with their daily lives — and better understand each other as a result.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience some of the universal myths we all share.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience universal myths, and select plot elements.

This mini theater would be mobile, like a hot dog stand, so it could be located anywhere, from birthday parties to street fairs or even on the Playa. It would feature animated puppets, which could either be controlled manually by live performers, or automatically by small computers like Arduino: the puppets could slide in and out of the stage, face one another and/or move their heads and limbs, as shown in the prototype we’re now developing for a balinese cuckoo clock.

Animated puppets would act out short stories selected by participants, set against colorful images on a rear-projected screen.

Animated puppets would act out short stories against colorful images, rear-projected on a background screen.

This mixed media system would include a good sound system for amplifying background music, sound effects and character voices, either live or pre-recorded. A rear-projection screen would set the mood by displaying a wide range of images for each scene, from landscapes from around the world to historical or futuristic scenes. An interactive controller at the front of the stage would let visitors and performers select different types of stories, characters, images and sounds.

Participants would be invited to approach the theater and pick a topic, place or time on the controller. The puppets would then act out a short 1-3 minute scene based on your selection. At the end of each scene, they would ask you for more plot ideas, to guide what happens next. The performance would be recorded on video, which could be emailed to you afterwards, as shown in this first example.

This is an ambitious project, but it appeals to me deeply, because it has the potential to support a wide range of applications: from simple party entertainment to more creative uses, like a time machine simulation — or even scenario planning for group discussions.

In coming months, I would like to explore this idea with friends and collaborators, starting with simple low-tech theatrical experiments and eventually building small prototypes for key parts of the system. I am quite aware this is a large, multi-year project, so I am proposing to start small, and spread research and development over time, with actual fabrication starting a year later. This process is inspired by our collaborative work on the Pataphysical Slot Machine, which we aim to exhibit in public this year.

For this Theatre Mécanique, I hope we can find the right balance between existing storytelling traditions and new interactive technologies — so that the human qualities that make great performances possible are supported by these tools, rather than supplanted by them. Interestingly, this also ties in with the larger challenge we all face as a species, as we look for the right interplay between human and machine intelligence. To that end, I hope that we can tap diverse communities of artists and engineers to participate in this creative experiment.

Fortunately for us, there is a large community of puppeteers already practicing around the world, from Guignol to ‘toy theaters’ to Wayang — and these creative artists have already paved the way for this art form to evolve in a computer-assisted setting! I look forward to discussing these ideas with interested collaborators later this year. For now, I have included below a variety of links that might inspire us in planning this project.

Onward!