User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Designer Dominic Harris
UFO Project (for Peter Coffin)
Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same (well, not quite this week as our interviewee added one of their own), the answers, not so much. This week: Dominic Harris.
The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Dominic Harris: My name is Dominic Harris and I am the founder and director of Cinimod Studio. I’m trained and qualified as an architect, but from my studio I combine the architecture with the pursuit of my other main interests in lighting, interaction design, and art. Cinimod Studio is now five years old, but still feels like a crazy startup that seems incapable of saying “no” to a challenge. The studio is an exhilarating and busy environment and my talented team of a dozen designers and engineers from various backgrounds busily collaborate on our next projects.
What hardware do you use?
I don’t shy away from anything and have ended up using a bit of everything. A lot of attention goes into selecting the right hardware for our projects and very often we will end up with a bespoke solution. Recently we have been using a lot of thermopiles in our artworks to track users at short range. On larger projects we need mass user tracking systems. For example, on the Peru National Football Stadium we hacked decibel level meters to create a live dynamic sound map of the stadium in order to determine the “collective mood” of the crowd.
Peru National Football Stadium
What software do you use?
We use lots of standard software, but it always gets more interesting when we write our own code. We tend to do a lot of rapid development and testing in VVVV, which is an incredibly flexible and powerful patch-based programming environment. It lets us take inputs from pretty much any bit of sensing hardware, including a lot of the weird in-house kits that we develop. Once a project has been proven in concept, we tend to migrate over to C++ and openFrameworks or Cinder to create the final version.
If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
I would have a giant studio in the heart of London with high ceilings from which to hang our experimental chandeliers. And the biscuit tin would always be full instead of empty.
What is the strangest project you have done?
We’ve done a couple of strange projects, but probably the most wild and crazy was designing and building a UFO for artist Peter Coffin and flying it over Rio De Janeiro. Completely insane project (imagine the risk assessment forms) and yet utterly mesmerizing and worthwhile. 3,500 LEDs on a 7m diameter UFO powered by a 6.5 kw petrol engine suspended under a helicopter. It’s the stuff of dreams and nightmares.
What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
Cordless power. Not just the stuff of toothbrushes and phone chargers, but proper useful high power.
Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
Disco lights. On my 8th birthday my parents gave me a set of disco lights which for the following year I insisted on taking everywhere with me. I used to experiment with the sound-to-light features and swapping the coloured bulbs around and other primitive hacks. It’s funny that so many years on I’m still working in a similar way, albeit on larger scales.
What’s your favourite relic piece of technology from your childhood?
Mix tapes of Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ games.
Below is a selection of some of Cinimod Studio’s projects