User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Memo Akten
Still from The Wombats “Techno Fan” music video, which Akten did software development on.
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, the answers, not so much. This week: Memo Akten.
Who are you and what do you do?
The Creators Project: My name is Memo Akten, I’m a visual artist based in London. My work ranges from live music/dance/theatre performances, large-scale immersive interactive installations, music videos, to online works and mobile applications. I try to balance my time between personal artworks, research and open-source experiments and commercial work. I’m the founder of The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company and co-founder of Marshmallow Laser Feast.
What hardware do you use?
The main piece of kit I use is a Macbook Air 13”. I travel a lot and when I do this is what I take with me. Even when I’m in London, this is what I use on a daily basis for most tasks. I also have a Macbook Pro 17” for when I need more power—especially more GPU power (for graphics intensive applications). I also have an 8-core Mac Pro for the really heavy jobs (rendering, etc), and some other PCs, netbooks, shuttles etc. left over from jobs, shows etc. I have quite a bit of computer vision-related equipment including lots of IR LED Emitters—ranging from small cheap no-name emitters to pretty big Raytec beasts. Also, loads of cameras, mainly PointGrey, Firefly MV, Dragonfly, Bumblebee, also a couple of Kinects, Unibrains, Watec, Sony. I have a couple of iPhones (3G, 4) which I’ve designed and built apps for, and have recently jumped ship to Android Ice Cream Sandwich with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. But the pride of my studio is a full Marshall stack with 1960 Celestion Vintage 30 speakers, a Gibson Les Paul, Gretsch 6120 and a Roland SH-101. :)
Akten co-directed three immersive real-time projection mapping videos for Sony PlayStation.
What software do you use?
In the past, I used to use a lot of traditional 2D/3D graphics/animation software such as 3ds Max, CINEMA 4D, Adobe suite (Photoshop, Premiere, AfterEffects) etc. I still use them every now and again, but they aren’t my main tools. I mostly develop my own software in C/C++ (primarily using openFrameworks, OpenGL, OpenCV). Being Mac-based, I use Xcode as my development environment. When I need to develop for Windows (which happens sometimes), I use Visual Studio Express. I’ve also used Processing in the past, but I’m more comfortable with C++, so I usually stick with openFrameworks.
I’ve recently used Unity3D for a very demanding project, and I was very impressed—I will definitely be using it again for real-time 3D graphics intensive applications. However, what gets me most excited these days is Side Effects Houdini. It’s been on my radar for many, many years—I started dabbling with it a few years ago, but I finally have an opportunity now to get really deep in it for an upcoming project, working with a very talented Houdini guru. It’s extremely exciting. I predict 2012 will be the Year of Houdini for me.
If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
Seeing as I’m getting into Houdini, I could probably benefit from a render farm, a very, very large render farm! Racks and racks and racks of multi-core processors waiting to render my scenes would be just amazing. I’d also be very interested in a large GPU cluster, it’s quite crazy what can be done (in real-time) on one or more GPUs these days. On a different note, there’s so much amazing research being done in labs—involving computer vision, image processing, machine learning, haptic feedback, display systems—it would be great to partner with such labs to create some really interesting projects using these prototype technologies not yet available to the masses.
Immersive projection mapping video for Sony PlayStation
What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
If we’re talking fantasy technology, without a doubt it would be a teleporter. That way I could relocate my studio to a South American jungle or a beach hut in Hawaii and still easily go to meetings in the metropolitan cities. Of course, if teleportation existed I’m not sure the concept of metropolitan cities would exist the same way it currently does. Nevertheless, if I had a teleportation device, I would be more than happy and wouldn’t want anything else.
Other exciting inventions which are probably more plausible in the near future (in no particular order): surface cameras (the entire surface of an object acts as a camera)—especially if the surfaces can be large and flexible—and depth sensing too, large flexible high resolution digital display surfaces, i.e. a high resolution digital display wall paper, and wireless power and highspeed communication between all devices. I’m fed up of cables and cabling, I’d like everything to be able to connect to everything wirelessly and automagically, without giving us all cancer. Most of this technology is almost here.
Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
Earliest memories of technology that was very influential on me (and most kids?) are crayons and coloured pens. I loved drawing and painting, on anything that I could get my hands on. As a tiny kid I clearly remember trying to paint/draw my dreams and getting a huge buzz out of seeing the outcome. I was also completely obsessed with Lego. The idea that I could make my own toys was incredibly exciting and I loved it. The challenge of trying to figure out how to make what it was I wanted to make, and solving those problems, was extremely satisfying.
Then when I was about ten years old, my parents brought home a BBC microcomputer—and that took my creative and technical urges into a new, digital, virtual, limitless world. That’s when I discovered computer generated graphics and sound… and programming. That had a very major impact on my life—I’ve been ‘talking’ to computers and telling them what to do ever since.
On the other hand, we also had a piano in the house and I’ve always found that unbelievably fascinating—perhaps the most incredible and influential piece of technology. Such a simple looking device from the outside, yet such complicated machinery on the inside. Designed to be so simple to interact with—one short sentence could summarize the instructions on how to operate it, yet so much complexity once you start training and try to finesse the art of playing it, years or decades of intense practice to truly understand it. In the hands of a master, this crazy concoction of wood and metal can send shivers down your spine and make you cry. I’m very inspired by this device and its power—its design, the engineering behind it, the act of composing for it, and performing on it.
Immersive projection mapping video for Sony PlayStation