Bran Ferren, Chief Creative Officer of Applied Minds


Cool Tools Show 140: Bran Ferren

Our guest this week is Bran Ferren. Bran is the former President of Research and Development of Walt Disney Imagineering and is now the Chief Creative Officer of Applied Minds, which he co-founded in 2000 with Danny Hillis.

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Show notes:

“I got interested in expedition vehicles because I started in the film business where you’re doing location production in places that are designed to look like another planet and these are generally not nearby or easy to get to and it’s not just you enjoying a backpacking afternoon but it’s bringing tons upon tons of equipment, crew, and support equipment. I also worked a bit on oil exploration and geo-technical work and it’s the same thing, you’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s not just you, it’s equipment and mobility. .. It’s not even 4×4 but it may be a 6×6 or and 8×8, meaning six or eight wheels, all driven. You are going to be traveling, potentially, several thousands miles away from any human contact. You need to have water. You need to have fuel. It’s nice to know where you are and so you need navigation systems. … So it’s a combination of many things that all have to do with survivability of the vehicle and the person. If you get stuck, no one is going to rescue you. And it’s the technical equipment you need to support film production or whatever else you’re there to do. [The Kiravan] has beds, it has kitchens, it has bathrooms. It has places to store food, galleys. The masts, the tall ones, will go up to 60 feet. They’re designed to extend the range of your communications and also get cameras up to a high level, laser scanners, other elements like that. This is a tractor trailer configuration. It’s a little unusual in that the trailer is powered at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. All rear axles are driven as well the main truck axles for off road capability. And it’s designed to be flexible so that you can, for instance, separate the tractor and the trailer, do independent things with either of them at the same time.”

ZEISS DSM-960A Scanning Electron Microscope
“It’s a digital scanning electron microscope and I use it, on one level in a utilitarian way, if I wanted to do elemental analysis of a metal or look at something that fractured. Look closely at things, the depth of field and the ability to look at objects smaller than wavelengths of light are where scanning electron microscopes are handy. Bt I actually use it for inspiration because looking at the miniature world you can go get a fly and plate it with gold and put it in your scanning electron microscope and literally spend hours just exploring the surface features on a fly and pondering how evolution produced that design, the elegance of how joints are done. Why do the eyes have hairs sticking out of them? What’s the sensory system, etc cetera. So for me, on one level it’s as much about exploration and creative exploration and the ability to do it in the microscopic stage of things that are literally unseeable when you’re looking at structures that are smaller than wavelengths of light, you can’t see them with your eyes even if you had the magnification available.”

VIZ-PRO Dry Erase Board ($59), Dry Erase Paint
“People would think it primitive but room sized white boards are simply the best way to creatively think. I mean if you have a room with a 12-foot high by 30-foot long white board, it gives you the ability to draw and visualize an entire project in front of you at one time which you can’t do with CAD where you’re zooming and moving around. I’ve never found an electronic technique that works as well. And so, the ability to literally go into a room, emerge 15 hours later with a drawing that is literally the size of that wall and it’s never quite big enough. To me is just a very different way of thinking just as when you’re trying to then turn it into reality, how do you manage the project? How do you put it together? Another wall, an opposite wall, filled with three by five file cards where you can sit back and you and your team can look at them all at the same time, discuss it, move them around, that ability to collaborate at large scale fundamentally changes, for me, both the creative and the engineering process.”

Sony RX100 VI ($1,198)
“I tend to wear bush jackets and I guess everyone needs a uniform, but being a slave to fashion that I am, lots of pockets turned out actually to be a pretty useful thing to have and so for me a pocket camera is what fits in my pocket. And you need something durable so that you can bash it around a little as you’re doing things. You need it with a good lens which has a good range in it because from a purely practical point of view you don’t have the luxury of getting too close or too far away from the thing that you want to work with. If you do what I do you need good low light level sensitivity. I used to use the little pocket Canons, but I find the Sony, the RX100, the series six, is really lovely little camera. It’s razor sharp. The image quality is terrific, excellent size optics on it. The finder flips up and down so you can go into awkward positions with it and it will still be able to compose a frame and has great little pop-up finder. So it’s really nice.”

Also mentioned:

Bran’s Ted talk about combining art and engineering

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