Autodesk at Pier 9: Creating Joy in Technology with a Little Mad Science

The perfect jump shot

The new Autodesk workshop at Pier 9 feels like a mad scientist’s lab, despite the bright sunlight coming in the windows, reflected off the San Francisco Bay. Before entering, everyone must put on protective eyewear and sign an extensive release form. “Spooky” comes to mind when you see the large, dark gray machinery, weighing multiple tons, lurking in all corners.

Yet this is an amazing center for creation and inspiration, and at the moment a second home to Andrew Maxwell-Parish, manager of CCA’s Hybrid Lab, and CCA alumna Pamela Pascual (Architecture 2013). As part of the artist-in-residence program, Maxwell-Parish and Pascual, along with other artists from around the globe, have access to this elaborate and brilliantly equipped workshop of 27,000 square feet.

The program started in 2006 as a brainchild of Instructables.com, a site that helps makers explore, document, and share their creations, which Autodesk acquired in 2011.

Noah Weinstein, senior creative programs manager and founder of the artist-in-residence program, says, “We started the program to incubate creativity and collaboration across our design communities. The program aims to give prolific authors and artists the access, tools, and resources to produce top-level inspirational content while also connecting innovative and creative individuals in our unique workshop at Pier 9.”

The residencies last from one to three months. Projects can be produced using basic construction, CNC prototyping, 3D printing, or any of the multitude of tools and machines.

Maxwell-Parish and Pascual each spend a few days a week there while they are serving as residents. They are among the first; to date, only about 20 artists have completed residencies, although Autodesk hopes to soon have at least 10 artists at the workshop at any given time.

Andrew Maxwell-Parish: Mad Scientist at Work

CCA’s Hybrid Lab is a state-of-the art, interdisciplinary, shared space for technology-enabled making, built around the principles of being open, fast, and inspiring.

“It enables a hacker mentality,” says Maxwell-Parish. “It’s a place where sparks become concepts and concepts become prototypes as quickly as possible. Students have easy access to supplies, and materials can be checked out or purchased from the lab. We strive to eliminate fear or unease people might have when they confront unfamiliar tools.”

As an artist in residence at the Autodesk workshop, his deeply held values regarding play, technology, and adding value to the community come through in all of his projects.

His first Instructable enables people to take perfect jump-shot photos. It outlines the steps by which anyone can use Processing, OpenCV, and the Simple-OpenCV library for Processing -- all free, open-source software programs -- to capture jumping bodies at the best possible moment, when the face is uplifted and pointing at the camera. Users can then stitch the pictures together into funny, stop-motion, flying-in-air videos.

The how-to has had 66,000 views to date. Read more »

Maxwell-Parish’s second project is inspired by the challenge faced by many older adults living alone with unstable health conditions. If they didn’t have an alert bracelet or necklace to call for help if a crisis should occur, they would lose their precious independence, but these systems cost sizable fees, and users are generally on fixed incomes.

“My project is mostly conceptual, using the alert system as an example. I’m collaborating with a CCA Industrial Design student, Cara Kritikos. As open-source technology and robotic manufacturing systems continue to democratize manufacturing, I would like to see a future in which small production runs of products can happen on a local scale.

"It would allow makers in a community to design and create products specifically for the community using off-the-shelf, modular electronic components and CNC equipment. This way important products can be designed and made affordably when it wouldn’t be profitable to do a large manufacturing run.”

Pamela Pascual: Mad Scientist Architect

Pascual is working on something else entirely: namely, modeling her own face to create custom eyewear. Inspired by nature, she is using biomimicry to emulate the patterns of butterfly wings in creating the frame design.

“As an artist in residence,” she says, “it’s been great to have a wealth of resources, tools, and people around. On my first day I met the project manager for 123D Catch, Christian Pramuk. He personally took photographs and helped me through the process of using 123D Catch to generate a mesh model of my face for my project.

“I am also interested in biology, and in the front of the building I met the Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter Team headed by Carlos Olguin and learned about how they’re integrating biological principles into their platform. The residency, for me, is a great opportunity to learn about technology as it is being developed and adding input as a designer on how it can be used.

“Then are the makers, artists, and developers within Instructables, who are just the most inspiring people to be around. It’s an open, creative culture that really allows exploration of big ideas, while providing the tools to help you get there. Though we own our work, the program is all about sharing with the community.”

Pascual’s project addresses mass-customization of 3D printing while also looking at material efficiency. “With 3D printing, there’s a lot of opportunity to create wonderful objects. This fosters community through playful inventing and sharing. On the other hand, 3D printing can produce a lot of junk as well.

“Until we can really design a cradle-to-cradle system where waste becomes input, the frames are designed with the hope of being materially efficient. Nature optimizes form. We live in a world of finite resources, and I think it’s important to be materially mindful, while also being elegantly structural and inspiring.”

In further iterations of the eyeglasses, she will design the temples with magnetic connections that will enable the user to switch out the frames.