"I work with Tipper but I am just as much of a fan as anyone else in the audience. It's a real thrill to be able to engage with the music on that level and then have that engagement shared with other people."
Android Jones. Most people know his name, and the ones who don't become instantly mesmerized by his work. A master of tools, using them to the utmost. Android works mainly in the digital realm with paintings, 3D imaging, projection mapping, and a combination of all three. He sat down with us and gave some amazing insight into his creative process and recent projects, including Burning Man, The Grateful Dead, and his international projects.
You just had your solo gallery show in Boulder, CO. Was this your first solo gallery show?
It was my first solo show, yes. It was great to see the community and how many friends I have out here. It's a really nice gallery; it's always exciting to see the work from a monitor to up on the gallery walls.
I captured a few photos at that show with your pieces on the wall and the Flatirons within view in the window, it was very special.
Yea, it's a great venue.
So you teamed up with the Fiske Planetarium for the Tipper Red Rocks after show, how did that experience shape your perception on the future of what your projections can be?
The show you're talking about is called Samskara, it’s going to be a show that tours throughout different planetariums in the US and internationally. It's a collaborative project I am working on with a team called Full Dome Lab. Their main studio is out of Thailand and I got together with them last March and started talking about ways we could work together to get fully immersed 360 content based off of some of the artwork and images I've made over the last few years. It's been a back and forth process; they do a lot of the art direction and the animation, I supply the core content and whatever ideas I have. The first time I saw it was at the Fiske, the show you were talking about. That was our first ever premier of it: being in a 60 foot dome and seeing the art that I made, fully realized into 3dimensional worlds. Going from seeing the work flat on the monitor in layers to a 60 foot, 360 immersive experience and seeing these places turned into a vivid 3dimensional worlds definitely gave me a whole new perspective on what kind of possibilities there are. As an artist you are always striving to use the old and what’s available and trying to make something new out of it. It was the closest thing to getting someone to journey inside of the painting. It's an area we are focusing a lot of our resources and energy.
Was that the first time you have worked with a big team or do you tend to work with a team regularly in your creative process?
I do different colabs, normally I do work on my own. I have a team in Colorado I use to run my business, put together different shows like these galleries, and ship and deliver work all over the world. As far as a creative team, I've never met a team like this. The animation studio is actually a Hare Krishna Ashram on the edge of rural Thailand. All of the animators and coders and programmer are devotees of Krishna. It’s incredible. They live and eat and chant and code and animate together. They have an amazing amount of creative and spiritual integrity that they bring to the work and I think it really shows in the final product they create.
The Samskara event was really something special to be apart of, as an audience member.
We’re at stage 3 now; what you saw was only stage 1. So there has been a lot of progression since the last time you saw it too.
What is stage 2 and stage 3?
The narrative is something that is evolving as we work on it. We have these milestones where when we feel things are cohesive enough for things to be seen, we then render out like a 4k version of it and play it at different planetariums. We just had our last event, it was for Burning Man Festival. What you saw was about 5 minutes of content and some of it looped a little bit, now it’s a full 15 minute narrative that takes you on a journey through different realms of consciousness and out into the universe and through time. All the main aspects of the story are based off of the Upanishads and Vedic mythology so a lot of the core narrative has a strong, several thousand year old, tradition of the kinds of stories we are telling. The core principles are there, we're just using technology and art to give these ancient stories a new life for another generation.
Thats amazing. So when is your next event scheduled for this 360 immersive experience?
I'm going to go out to Thailand again and work with the crew out there for about a month. And I think after that we should have a pretty good idea of where we are at, which would be our stage 4 release. Depending on how much work we get done and how much progress we've made, we are actively booking showings at different planetariums across the US as early as late February and into April. There are 3 planetariums in Colorado at which we are looking to perform. The Fiske, a planetarium in Denver, and the new planetarium in Fort Collins will be planning events. So I imagine 2016, maybe February or March, you can look out to see a series of shows. I want to do a few shows here locally first before heading to the other major cities.
It sounds like right now, this project is your main focus, are you still doing projection mapping for live audio performances?
Yea, I am still doing those. I am in between different stages of production to do a couple more shows with Tipper. Until the end of this year, I am pretty booked out. We have a large fest in Guadalajara, Mexico I will be headlining at the end of November.
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When you're prepping for these live performances, what's your creative process going into it?
I try to connect with the core reason why I'm there, the value and service I am providing. For musical shows, let's say for Tipper or the Grateful Dead, my goals are to use the technology and whatever things I've developed over the years and try to always distill all the experiences I've had, things I've learned, into creating a type of experience that adds another level of unity to the music. I’m very much in service to the music and the experience that people are having with the music. When I'm working with these artists, I try to be a multiplier. I’m working directly from the music that I am hearing at the event and the energy and the vibration that these artist are creating, whether it's 80,000 people for the Grateful Dead, or 9,000 at red rocks, or 35 people at a private event. What I try to do is translate that into shapes and motion, adding another layer of cohesion to the experience.
So you're saying that a lot of what you do at these events are spur of the moment, and not necessarily planned out?
Yes, with the Tipper work all of the dynamic visuals I create are done in the moment. There's never any rehearsals between Tipper and I. All of the choices I make are in the moment and dynamic so there's never any sort of rehearsal. I have a couple pieces of software, that I have kind of strung together, that pull off the effect I'm doing. The easiest way of looking at it is that I have software that runs a dynamic particle generator. I create the content for the particle ahead of time and then, I'm manipulating them with a large Wacom Pad and pen stylus. So that allows the range of motion with my arm and fingers and my wrist on a 18” x 22” tablet. I’m able to trace and draw and energetically kind of dance with the music and then project that in a number of different ways onto the screen.
That's incredible, I can’t believe you and Tipper don't rehearse your live performance. It just seems like the visuals and the music fit so perfectly together.
None of it is rehearsed at all. My rehearsals consist of being really familiar with the discography and the music I am working with. I never know what his set will be but, if it's a song I am familiar with, I do have an idea of when the base is going to drop. There is a small degree of predictability. The key point to a performance that I am happiest with is when I am fully present and in the moment. It helps because I only work with musicians whose work I fully appreciate and want to support. I work with Tipper but I am just as much of a fan as anyone else in the audience. It's a real thrill to be able to engage with the music on that level and then have that engagement shared with other people. I would do it even if nobody was watching me.
What's your visual setup, as far as hardware? Are you running multiple projectors?
As complicated as things can get, I sometimes do just like the simplicity of a huge screen and really powerful high rez projector. I feel like I can do a lot with just those two things. I've done many different types of setups in the past but if I can get a big bright image on a large canvas there's a lot I can do with just those two things together. My setup for live shows is pretty standard, im using a 15” Macbook Pro and a 18”x24” Wacom Tablet and set it up on a tripod. And that's it, pretty basic. With the amount of travel I do, it would be hard to rely on much more than the power of a laptop. I definitely hit the edges of it all the time but for what we have right now, it's the best thing that's available to me.
When you're projecting, you actually developed your own particle simulator? Or are you just using one?
I use one, but I also run it through separate software. There's several different pieces of software that I use to get the visuals to do what they do. It's the way they all string together. I’m working to build a 3d particle engine right now, I working with the Unreal editor to build a particle generator that involves a Z Axis. There are other programs that I run the content through like Camtwist that takes what I am creating and then mirrors or kaleidoscopes it and then I can apply different layers onto the content before running it through the projector.
So what's your favorite canvas you have projected onto?
I was really fond of the Sydney Oprah House. That was great because that was live. I was creating content and seeing it directly on the Oprah house, which was a pretty stunning experience. We recently did the Empire State Building which was another ace in the name dropping basket. It was the one creative move that probably got the most international attention ever. We projected an image of MahaKali onto the Empire State Building, kind of at the last minute.
Oh yea, just an off chance little something something.
Yea why don't we just throw the Indian deity, the destroyer of evil forces and demons in the world, onto the Empire State Building. I'm just going to slip it in and leave that here. We did that and it was pretty crazy.
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I think it's really amazing that you continue to push yourself in these different creative avenues, yet you haven't lost the essence of what many of us know your work to be. Everything from your live performances, to your studio work to your video game work with Metroid Prime.
Throughout the past 15 years, if you look at my work, I am definitely a creative chameleon. That's the nature of creativity in general. If you look beyond whatever the particular medium that the artist gravitates to, whether that is music or dance or calligraphy; whatever the tools that the artist uses to manipulate in order to achieve the desired effect, if you zoom out from there, the real name of the game is creativity in general. I've always found that's one of the real gifts of being an artist: constantly being in that kind of space that is creative problem solving, which is what art is. And life is a very creative problem in general. I've been fortunate to have found some mild pieces of success, and being really creative on how I'm using my art to interact with my community and people around me. And how to use the creative mind and the ideas that I have in order to add value in lots of different situations. I started in video games for a while and worked on that until it sucked just enough of my soul that I felt burn out, and then films. I got into live painting and I'd been working in this sort of burning man festival circuit for about a year. And within that, there were times I was airbrushing on models and performers and then focusing on doing flyers and posters and album covers. Also a dance performance act I have called, Phadroid which I do the visuals for. There are all these different things but they are all still a part of this same fourth dimensional creative statement that each of us kind of make with our lives and the different projects that I have done are all just bits of residu and detritus that get globed into a 3 dimensional time space.
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