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Interview: Neil Mendoza explains his Hamster Powered Hamster Drawing Machine to Tomorrow DailyWe stop by an exhibit featuring artist and designer Neil Mendoza's work, including his magical hamster machine, and talk about what happens when digital technology meets mechanical objects.
[MUSIC] Welcome back to the show, everybody! We are here in the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, California. And We found the man behind hamster-powered hamster drawing machine. Hamster-powered hamster drawing machines right here in front of us. It's right here in front of. We're looking right at it in real life. And Neil Mendoza is the artist and designer behind that. Thank you, first of all, for letting us come here and check out the hamster and the machine. The hamster-powered hamster drawing machine, no problem at all. Yeah, so we have to ask you. Why this? Like, what made you think this was a great project to embark on? Cuz it seems like it was really a lot of work to make happen. It was a lot of work. It kind of evolved into being what it is today. It started off with kind of a fascination with drawing machines and The ability to encode complicated drawings into mechanical devices. So the drawing of the hamster is encoded into the shape of the wheels around the outside. So I started becoming really interested in that. And then I built a drawing machine which worked. But then I was like, what on earth is this thing gonna draw? [LAUGH] [LAUGH] And so hamster seems good. There's not really enough time about that, so maybe- We agree. We agree. No, it's good, it's good. So I made a hamster drawing machine that I'm like I don't want people to turn it around over this. But if it's a hamster drawing machine, then it should be powered by a hamster. So you've killed the idea of draw hamster before you thought of powering it with the hamster? I think so. [LAUGH] It's kind of the man we [INAUDIBLE] away We all round the same time. Sort of- Yeah. Same view. Your website it has a lot of projects, that sort of incorporate the intersection of digital and mechanical technologies And when did you first start kinda getting into that as a medium because it's a really interesting medium that I think not a lot of people think of when they think of art. I don't think that combination is really prevalent and so to see something like this is a, really delightful. I mean, we were overjoyed to see it in person. It's so exciting and new, and it feels really fresh. So, what What started you down that path? I think I've always liked tinkering ever since I was a kid, like taking things in pieces and putting them back together again, but then I went to a university and studies computer science and kind of resigned myself to a career in kind of a grey cubicle. So then, after going. A bit like a hamster I guess. Bit like a hamster [CROSSTALK]. The hamster wheel of life. But then, at some point I came across different people doing interesting stuff with technology and code and I started trying to get into it myself. And I already had some experience doing programming in electronics so then I took that experience, I guess, and started applying it to To art making. So what is the process of creating a drawing machine like this? It is such a simple thing to turn a circle into a completed drawing of a hamster. That's with sarcasm. [LAUGH] It's simple. You are like it's a simple thing. It goes from a simple circle to something more complicated. Very true. How does one How does one go about making a hamster drawing machine? How do you help a hamster draw itself? I used a piece of open source to open frameworks. It's like a coding framework to allows you to easily make creative stuff. Like computer graphics or sound or take input I made a physics simulation of the drawing arm part of the machine and then I used that physics simulation to trace out where the wheels would need to be if the pen was in the correct place. So then I ended up with these two circular drawings. Then I used a machine called a CNZ machine, which is basically like a big robot to Cut it out of wood for me, and that's how you would go about it. But originally, I cut out these two parts of the machine just out of wood and then tried to make them all rotate together, but they were far too flimsy, so then the whole thing is sitting on a big aluminium circle behind it with The kind of chain you get in your bicycle sandwiched between it. Give it some weight. Yeah. Give it some weight and stiffness. Wow. I love the idea of you iterating on this idea over and over until you created what you wanted. And then you had to employ the labor. Of the hamster, who is just taking a break. Yeah. Well, you know it's exhausting, you gotta run that wheel. I can barely run down a flight of stairs. [LAUGH] It's hard work, maybe he's going to post his selfie on Instagram. That's true, maybe he's really into social media. Does the hamster have its own social media account, is the great question. [LAUGH] As far as I know no, but it's not actually my hamster. So the real guardians of the hamster would have the true answer for that. This hamster feels like a celebrity. Does the hamster have a name? Joji. Joji. What kind of reaction have you been getting to this piece? I mean people are really like Happy, I think. [BLANK_AUDIO] They're really interested in how the drawing machine part of it works and then they're just really happy to see the whole thing come together. People's interest seems to shift between the two parts of it and then take it in as whole and be kind of like, wow, that's really cute [UNKNOWN]. That's interesting because from one perspective you could look at it as almost a a cage that he's forced to have this tyrannical rule to be forced to constantly make an image of himself. Or it could be this really joyous, happy experience. And I like that people take the latter. I kind of like it to be open to interpretation, so if you want to interpret it as a comment on Evil [UNKNOWN]. [LAUGH] Then you can or if you wanna interpret it as just nonsense you also do that. Whimsical happiness. That's how I interpret it, whimsical happiness. You also have another piece here that is really interesting in that I don't even know how to describe this. There's a microphone that picks up your word. And then it will project, throw, your words literally onto a screen and then there is a foot that can kick your words and there is another receptacle that if it catches your word, it will actually say the word out loud. Let's talk a little bit about that. You know, one of those machines Because I just love these fantastical sort of contraptions that you put together using technology, and this is really fascinating to me in how you kind of come up with the idea to sort of embark on these projects, because In my wildest dreams, I don't think of anything quite like that. And, so it's just. And both of them have sort of a Rube Goldberg-esque feel to them. Very much. Yeah. Where, you mean, how do I get those kind of ideas, and things.>> Yeah, that and also if you want to talk a little bit about that particular project. I'd love to hear about how. That even came together. Because it just seems like there's a lot of, for lack of better term, moving parts to it. Yeah. Even though it's just throwing words around. So, first of all, where do you find inspiration for things? How do you To kind of decide on a path to take for a project. Yeah. I mean I think today a lot of times we take technology for granted. Like say you use Siri on your iPhone, it's doing probably more complicated stuff than my installation is doing. But I think it's really good to Deconstruct that kind of stuff and make people think about technology and realize that a lot of the ways we view it as arbitrary and get them to re-engage with it from as if that thing is new. I guess that's one of the things I try to do with my work is to kind of make people realize that a lot of technology we use today is kind of arbitrary and dictated to us by Companies who have their own agendas. So making I guess random nonsense to reignite the people with interest in technology around us is one reason why I make it. I guess that particular piece started with voice recognition technology. And kind of yeah, trying to like Maybe yeah, show people the inside of how one of these systems might work. We'll get to engage with that a little bit more and then I guess just went down some kind of surreal nonsense path, I'm not really sure. A bit of a Monte Python Pre-abstract Monte Python the beginning of the animated bit, it feels a little bit like that. yeah I think. I was playing around with two things at the same time, and they ended up becoming one project. I was playing around with showing people the inside of a series of brain possible. Also this idea of combining projection with physical objects. So like the words fly out the thing and then this actual robotic foot can kick them. So I like the kind of this inter play in between the physical and digital because often we spend our time staring at screens kind of absorbed in it like a virtual world where I think it's nice to try and bring people back there you know back to three dimensional reality but mix the two up at the same time because there's really interesting things you can do with Special stuff and computer graphics as well so. Do you find yourself interested at all in augmented reality and virtual reality since that's like a new kind of upcoming thing? Is that something that maybe you're interested in taking your art end design to or? A little bit less. I mean, I actually did some projects. We've had like A few years back like it was meant to be a reality project before it was like cool. [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGH] Before Pokemon Go came out. Before Pokemon Go came out. And it was fun. It's a fun toy. It feels a little bit gimmicky but I mean Pokemon Go might be the first company that's actually kind of built- Did it right. A killer app for- Yeah, sure. Yeah, it seems that way. But the thing I don't really like about virtual reality is it kind of takes you away from the world. It kind of enables escapism. So it's fun for gaming and stuff, but I think with my work I want people to engage with the moment rather than escaping the moment and yeah, even though maybe People will be able to create a lot of awesome stuff in virtual worlds. It's still gonna be created by people. And you know, if we look at cities they're all just big rectangular boxes. Right. I think it's much easier also to connect with people on an emotional level if you're making actual three-dimensional stuff like we've evolved to kind of Interactive to see the world in three dimensions. But yeah, Maybe virtual reality is going to get rid of that barrier and trick our brains into thinking we are in some kind of three dimensional space. But anyway Someday maybe someday, but well you have certainly evoked a lot emotional happiness from us. I am so glad. And out viewers and our viewers too. I am so glad that we got to actually see this in person. Very exciting for us. And thank you for talking to us about your projects. No problem. And your art. And if you wanna check out Neil's work, you can go to neilmendoza.com. We'll have all information on the website too. And that's it for our interview. So we are gonna take a quick break, and then we're gonna magically appear back in the studio and continue the show. So stick around, it's Tomorrow Daily.