It takes strength, stamina and a whole lot of science knowledge and testing to be a fire master, but Brett’s got it down. He’s been building large-scale interactive fire sculptures for over ten years, but founded LiveSpark in 2009 as a way to bring his art into the commercial world. He demonstrates his creation at festivals and events and is moving into using the technology for special effects on the stage and on film. He’s got so many ideas on how to translate LiveSpark into other arenas, he’s on fire!
SCOUT: Where does your fascination with working with fire come from?
BRETT: I wanted to create something that captured the imagination and created that moment of wow. The Hydrogen Economy is an installation I created in 2003, that's a chamber that lets people ignite hydrogen bubbles to make them explode. At first, people think gasoline is involved, but we teach them the science behind it. I love peaking someone’s curiosity and using that to show them the “behind the scenes” of how something actually works.
SCOUT: So how did LiveSpark get started?
BRETT: LiveSpark is different from the previous art I’d done. I founded False Profit Labs as a way to promote those Burning Man, industrial, garage type projects, but I wanted LiveSpark to be more commercial. It was my way of turning something that could have just been a spectacle into a commerical venture. I’m taking the art into the mainstream by bringing the technology to stages, festivals, events, for everybody to see.
SCOUT: Whoa! How do you bring fire onto a stage?
BRETT: The technology behind LiveSpark lets us control the flame in order to turn the fire into a special effect. The difference with our technology and most of the other stuff out there is that not only can we control the height of the flame, we can also control the strength. Anything that you can do with a light board, you can do with fire. Any LED sequence or pattern you can program can be used to program the flames. On a stage, we can control a loud roar of fire, or a tiny whisper. LiveSpark allows the flames to have a much wider vocabulary.
SCOUT: One of the coolest ways you show off the technology is with the LiveSpark Chandelier. Tell us more about that.
BRETT: The chandelier is a 12-point sculpture whose 12 points can be individually controlled using our iPad app. The star adjusts each flame depending on where you touch. The closer to the center you touch, the more fire comes out. You can blend the flame intensity by moving your finger around the star. You can also plug in a music source and the fire will dance to it.
SCOUT: What the?! Dancing fire?
BRETT: Yep, it’s just another way of digitally controlling the fire. Any signal a computer can generate can be translated through the fire: from stock quotes to music to touching an app. You could even spell out a text message in flame bursts, or the noise of a crowd. Yelling would be illustrated by a high, strong flame.
SCOUT: What are peoples' general reactions to a LiveSpark installation?
BRETT: “Oh my god! Holy crap! I can’t believe what I’m seeing!” I wish reactions could be directly translated into commercial success, because then I would be doing really well! We demonstrated a chandelier at the Symphony’s Black and White Ball and let people control the flames. It was awesome to see people all dressed up staring at the fire in awe. People are used to being able to control something with an on and off switch, but when they can take it further and control height and intensity, that’s when they get excited.
SCOUT: Who in San Francisco inspires you?
BRETT: The Flaming Lotus Girls are awesome. They’ve been doing fire art for awhile now. Charlie Gadeken is another fire artist based here in SF who creates beautiful fine metal work sculptures that he interworks with fire. I’m really inspired my friends who work in science fields too. I have a friend who is tagging DNA with phosphorescent beads so a micro image scanner can read it like a barcode. Erik Walker is a very talented artist who puts all his work up on Upside Door. The guys at MythBusters are really inspiring to me, too. I went to the opening of the new TechShop in SoMa and Adam Savage spoke. The quote that really stuck with me was when he said, “I dream of a day when there are as many science fairs as little league games.” It’s so true, and made me want to start up a science fair for adults.
SCOUT: What are your SF hot spots?
BRETT: The Royal Cuckoo has this awesome file cabinet where they’ve indexed their record collection. You can hunt through, find something you want to listen to and ask the bartender to put it on. For dinner, I like Slow Club, and the last time I was at Commonwealth they had these amazing compressed watermelon cubes.
SCOUT: We’re going to go ahead and open the floor for some shameless plugs now. Fire away... (har har har)
BRETT: Stay up to date on new installations and demos on the LiveSpark site. You can also check out some of our other work at False Profit Labs.