Ultimately it was a strange year. After the trials and turmoil of 2020, we thought we were getting back to normal. But of course the Alpha variant, and then Delta, soon put pay to that, and the year became one of postponements and uncertainty.
On the whole though I can’t complain at all, I had another successful year, even if there were occasional ups and downs.
Laser Light City
This huge interactive laser project continues to be the surprise success story to come out of the pandemic, and it had 3 outings this year, including our biggest installation so far in Newcastle.
It was originally scheduled for a year ago, and then postponed to the Rugby World Cup in October, and then postponed again when the rugby was cancelled. It ended up working great for us, the Tyne Bridge suited being covered in lasers and photos ended up in the Guardian New Year’s celebration photos page, and in publications all around the world.
Most of the crew from the original Leeds installation came out again, along with some new people. Such an incredible team, I really don’t know how I could do it without them.
Thousands of people came out to see the spectacle across three nights, and we hope to return again next year. Watch this space!
Another big and fun installation this year was at Light Night in Leeds. Lightning Catchers has been under development on and off for years so it was really rewarding to install it as I originally imagined it.
Building on previous projects and experiments, this project gives you the chance to catch laser projected lightning with a custom designed light stick. If you move the stick into the path of the lightning bolt it lights up. Sound effects, smoke and computer controlled lighting also add to the effect.
It was hectic but I did get the chance to walk around and see the project in action. Watching the participants frantically moving their sticks around and having fun was really rewarding. But it’s a complex project, I made a video with Matt Parker explaining how it all works, it should be out on my YouTube channel later in the year.
After the event, I started work on a new design for the light sticks; they’re the ones I’ll be using in Electric Laser Flares from now on, and I hope to progress that work in 2022.
Royal Albert Hall
A huge highlight of the year was getting the chance to work at The Royal Albert Hall for Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s Christmas Compendium in December – a science, comedy and music variety show for charity.
We installed 14 lasers producing laser beam effects for acts including Sophie Ellis Bexter, Marc Almond, Boy George, and (my personal favourite) Nitin Sawhney.
Liberation laser show software
Throughout the year I’ve been building on the laser show system I first developed for the Fat Boy Slim event a few years ago. It’s called Liberation and I spent a lot of down time this year working on it. It’s grown to be very powerful – the Albert Hall gig was an amazing chance to give it a proper work out.
I have big plans for it, but I’m getting ahead of myself and I’m not ready to talk about that yet. But keep an eye out for announcements, hopefully in 2022!
Liberation is built on ofxLaser – my open source laser control system for openFrameworks. And I undertook a huge ofxLaser redevelopment as part of that work. The main thing is a much more sophisticated user interface built on Dear ImGui. You now set up lasers, zones and much more within the compiled app rather than in code.
It now automatically detects laser controllers which was a major refactor but saves so much time when you’re out on an install.
My YouTube channel progressed in fits and starts this year with a flurry of activity over summer. But despite the sporadic output I finally broke 12,000 subscribers.
It’s hard for me to work the video production around my other work, but with the lack of public presentations I feel like it’s an important way to reach out to people.
Videos this year included the laser bums with my friend Bec Hill (who seems to be going stratospheric this year – she released her own kids’ books and got her own CITV show!), and a few other laser related videos. But there were also some hardware projects too, including adding Airplay to a bluetooth speaker.
Obviously since all this *waves hands* it’s been impossible to get in front of an audience. But in April I was invited by my friend Stacey Mulcahey to do a remote talk for her Microsoft colleagues. And then in December I did a live show for the first time in two years! And what better event to break my dry spell than the wonderful Nine Lessons where I did a little demo of Laser Light City.
In November I won 2 ILDA awards in the Art and Innovation category, for Laser Light City and for the collaboration with Tom Scott last year.
It was another slightly strange but ultimately good year for me, if a little tail heavy; all my big projects were in October and December.
To add some balance, I had my fair share of disappointments; two or three disastrous council procurement processes early in the year that were just a huge waste of time and energy (and ultimately fruitless), the continuing postponement of the Newcastle event (ultimately worked out great), and personal bereavements – my mother’s long term partner died in January, and my father died in October.
But I feel very optimistic about the future. I feel like some of the work we did this year took the scale and ambition of my projects to the next level, and I’m really looking forward to building on that this year.