An Interview with David Beaudry
Hi David! Thanks for chatting with us. Can you start off by telling us a little about your company, Beaudry Interactive?
Thank you so much for having me here! I’m really excited to have a chance to talk with you and others in the Cycling74 community. I’ve been a Max user since the late 1990’s, so this is quite an honor for me!
I think of all things I’ve had to do in the company, explaining what we do has always been the hardest. Especially if you look at the work we’ve done over the years, it can be challenging to find a through line. Since I have a bit more time than an elevator ride, let me give a little bit of backstory. My background is in performance. Although I do a lot of work in interaction design for live performance, I am a very traditional, classically trained clarinetist. The favorite works that I like to perform are chamber pieces: small intimate ensembles with just a few players, like the Brahms Clarinet Quintet or Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, to name some of my favorites. The experience is both individual and communal at the same time. I thrive on that unspoken dialog with my fellow musicians and the (often absent) composer as we explore a piece, find meaning, and try to find ways to make it our own.
Now that Beaudry Interactive (b/i) has been around as a company for 10 years, I can now look back and see that it is often that passion and motivation that is behind a lot of the work we do: how do we create experiences that are both communal and personal, experiences that provide handles that allow you reach in and make it your own, all while maintaining the overall intention of the original experience. This applies to our work in theater, dance, music, themed entertainment, experiential marketing, museums, large spectacles and intimate gatherings. That’s a bit of the backstory.
Now the elevator pitch is we are a small design company based in Los Angeles that specializes in interaction design and performance technology. We are the people in the middle making connections between what people do and their impact on design and story. Not only do we help dream up these experiences, we have the technical chops to actually make it all happen. We code (a lot!), we build custom electronics, we curate (and misappropriate) a lot of different sensing technologies, and we talk to a lot of different show control devices. Some of our clients include Disney (Imagineering, Creative Entertainment, R&D, and the theme parks), Disney Channel, Twentieth Century Fox, Crayola, Diavolo Dance Theater, Sony Pictures, and The Discovery Cube.
What are some of the things that you've done that you are most proud of?
First, I think I have to be honest and say I am most proud (and genuinely surprised) that we’ve been able to build a company, and make a living, doing this type of work. And don’t think for a moment that I’ve been able to do this all on my own.
I am especially proud of the small team I’ve been able to put together that form the core of our company. Valeria Beaudry, who has a brilliant business mind honed from her past life as a consultant, not only serves project manager for most of our projects and handles most of the business dealings of the company, but also serves as art director on many of our projects. She also owns the company with me. Ryan Dorn, who has been with the company in one form or another since 2009, is a wonderful writer, storyteller, experience designer, “technology curator”, and has always been the one to articulate what’s in our collective heads. And Sean Phillips, who is not only a great programmer (and a fellow Max programmer), he’s a fantastic sound designer, experience designer, and a seemingly endless fountain of ideas. He is also one of the most creative problem solvers I’ve worked with. Together we make a great team whose unique approach to interaction and experience design has clients actively seeking us out, which is a fun position to be in.
But something tells me you were really asking about our work? That’s like asking me to pick which child is my favorite! OK, here are some of my favorites (just don’t tell the others):
- Trunk Show
- Transit Space
- We invent a sensor
- Inspector Training Course
Trunk Show was a blue sky “atmospheric” show for a Major Themed Entertainment Company™. Not only was it the first show we designed and produced ourselves, it was a culmination of all the work we had done in interaction design and real-time show control. Over the 15-minute show there was only 1 cue triggered from back stage, and that was to start the show. All other show elements, light, sound fog, animations, story structure, even a spitting flower (don’t ask), were under the control of the performers, and to some extent, prop-wielding guests.
Transit Space was a collaborative dance piece with the Diavolo Dance Theater (the artistic director for Diavolo, Jacques Heim, was the choreographer for Cirque’s Ka at the MGM in Vegas). This was our first time working with a dance company. What was interesting for us was that in the end we were truly the middlemen helping the dancers and fellow designers make connections between movement, spoken word, sound, music, the giant set pieces and the props. As the show took form, we disappeared and became this invisible (but heavily sensored) hand working behind the scenes. The experience helped us realize our role as interaction designers, and also see hat our tools were just as important for the performers as they were for the audience.
We build a sensor: As a result of our work on Transit Space, we invented an entirely fabric-based, waterproof, bend and pressure sensor that could be embedded in the performers costumes. To date we’ve made over 6000 of these sensors (we have a client that likes them a lot!). Its continuous design and evolution (and often build) has been a company-wide effort.
And last but certainly not least: Inspector Training Course. This was our first venture into the museum world, and certainly not our last. The Inspector Training Course (ITC as the cool kids call it) is a high tech scavenger hunt that teaches kids about sustainability, energy conversation, home safety, and earthquake preparedness. It’s at the Discovery Cube here in Los Angeles, a very hands-on children’s science center/exploratorium. Feedback from it has been tremendous. We’ve even won a couple awards for it! I think the statistic that we are proudest of (and we can verify since we collect a ridiculous amount of statistics on the gameplay!) is that the average time kids are playing the game is 15 minutes! That’s an eternity in the museum world. The experience was so successful we did another version of it for the Discovery Cube in Orange County a year later where the theme was vectors (yup! mosquitos, rats, and other fun disease carriers in your backyard…we clearly get all the cool subject material for kids). And we are now looking into making ITC into a traveling exhibit.
What has been most frustrating for you?
Not being able to share a lot of the work we do. We’ve designed and developed some truly amazing experiences and technology that we’ll never be able to talk about, nor point to (some that I would even put on that list above). This was particularly frustrating in the early years when 100% of our work was under NDA. Our website was pretty sad then, too. Our consolation is that we’ve had good lawyers, so even though we can’t talk about certain projects, we own all the underlying IP and can use it however else we’d like.
How much of your work is hardware-based, and how much is software?
It’s pretty equally divided between both. Inputs and outputs always need hardware. That stuff in the middle connecting the two is all software. Or put another way: you can’t do interaction design without sensing what people are doing. That requires hardware. You can’t really communicate back to them without some design element (sound, lights, projection, animatronics, pyro!). That’s hardware, too. Tying those together requires some processing and decision making. That’s software.
What is it about the visual programming paradigm of Max that works particularly well for you and your team?
I think it’s just how our brains work. Before I start any coding I’m always sketching out the show, system, and their relationships spatially (I think David Z. and I share a similar affinity for Omnigraffle, which I use quite a bit for this). It just seems natural to me that my programming environment reflects that. Plus being able to clearly see spatially “output here goes to input there then loops back to this part here” is perfect for how my brain works. It directly mirrors what I’m trying to accomplish in the physical world.
Where is Beaudry Interactive going in the future? What are some of the areas that you are most interested in exploring?
My dream? I really want us to design and build a large scale experience from the ground up. Build a show for ourselves in an old warehouse using all the tools and tricks and ideas we’ve learned and dreamt up over the years and create an experience where all people can say when they leave is “You had to be there!”. Just need to get a big fat check from a generous benefactor. Anybody?
In the meantime, it’s been several years in the making, but I think we are definitely on to something with our interactive show control and design work for more atmospheric entertainment (generally entertainment that isn’t on a stage). A good portion of my summer has been compiling all our work in real-time show control, gesture recognition and control, embedded sensors in props and costumes, microcontrollers, wireless radios, tracking and location systems, etc. into one “ecosystem”. The goal here being able to build shows that are entirely, or largely, performer and audience controlled; a truly “in the moment” experience. There’s really nothing like this out there, and this comprehensive, in the commercial world.
Also we’ve only just begun our work in the museum world. The more we experience it, the more we see that it needs us! Role playing, gamification, storytelling, immersive environments, and cutting edge technology isn’t just the realm of themed entertainment and performance. In order to engage their audiences in new and creative ways, museums are looking outside their dusty bubbles and finding that the same tools and methods used in themed entertainment work really well in the museum world, and we are helping them see that. And in the end there’s only a slight difference in the guest experience. Both go “Yeah! That was fun!” For museums it has the added realization of “Crap! I think I just learned something!”
And honestly, I’m interested in seeing what our current and future clients ask of us! Every project we’ve worked on has been different, from design to programming to sensing to the underlying infrastructure. And there’s always been some element that’s pushed us technically and/or creatively in really interesting directions. I hope that continues for a long, long time.
Many thanks to David Beaudry for his discussion of b/i’s way of approaching the world of interaction design. If you are interested in more information from/about David, you can check out my Art + Music + Technology podcast with him.
by Darwin Grosse on
Jul 12, 2016 6:40 PM