Adobe MAX ’09: An insider’s story

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After the success of my Augmented Reality business card application I was fortunate enough to be invited to Adobe MAX 2009 in LA by the O’Reilly guys, to talk about my experiences with AR. Here are my impressions of the conference.

The keynote kicked the conference off with a real bang. These initial talks are renowned for being fairly dull affairs but Adobe pulled out all the stops to make this one something to behold. It started with an incredible dance performance by one of Adobe’s charitable endeavours, the Peapod academy. A discussion on the developments of the Flash platform followed. This included discussions of the new features built into AIR, a sneak look into the the latest developments in the openscreen project and a discussion of ColdFusion and LiveCycle with a look at some extraordinary enterprise projects. The climax was the announcement (after a hilarious Apple slanging Myth-Busters take off) that Apple was now accepting Flash applications into the App store. Now this isn’t exactly Flash in the iPhone browser but it’s certainly a positive step forward.

iPhone_in_flash

But by far the most awe-inspiring spectacle was the extended screener of James Cameron’s Avatar. A pair of 3D glasses, a 6th row seat and a massive 50ft screen heightened the experience to the point where I literally shivered in my seat. The producer John Landau passionately introduced each scene and discussed the extent to which Adobe software was used in the making of the movie.

Although there was a vast amount of sessions, as an interactive artist and non-Flex using Actionscript developer, I initially struggled to fill my schedule. There was a whole host of top flight Flash developers such as Ralph Hauwert and Andre Michell (regulars on the Flash conference circuit) missing from the list. However, the day before the conference started, I learned that Influxis had flown a bunch of them over to talk at the FITC Unconference sessions. For me, this development filled several gaps and led to my schedule being significantly reshuffled.

My main highlights included:

Joshua Davis was as inspirational and entertaining as ever in his Space talk. His latest experiments and influences were explained with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, impressive for a 9am slot. I enjoyed watching the developments of each project from initial idea through to the finished product. His investigation into bezier curves was fantastic, as was his installation and iPhone work. This will be Joshua’s last speaking engagement for 2 years as he plans to have a well deserved rest.

Joshua Davis

Being an Augmented Reality monkey, I was inevitably going to end up attending Tomohiko Koyama AKA Saqoosha and Yoshihiro Shindo’s talk on FLARToolkit and the Japanese open source Flash community the Spark Project. It was great to hear about the history of the project and the inner workings of the AR library from the guy who wrote it. Almost as impressive was the huge tea-cosy like bear hat that he wore throughout the talk and for the rest of the day. I had a chat with Saqoosha afterwards and gushed like a schoolgirl whist droning on about how much I loved using his code library. He didn’t seem to mind. Nice guy.

Seb-Lee Delisle

A few great FITC Unconference sessions followed. Seb-Lee Delisle wowed us all with his playful work. Highlights of the talk included a look at his 5kb 3D Lunar Lander game, a walk through his fantastic 3D Big and Small website and participating in a 3D version of Pong with the rest of the audience. Ralph Hauwert was up next. Ralph is one of, if not the top 3D Flash developer on the planet. By the end we were all stunned by his experiments with fluidic, dynamically lit, interactive geometric shapes. And all this in Flash, and at a very high frame rate. Koen de Weggheleirefollowed with a talk on some of the latest features in Flash Player 10. He deserves a special mention for dancing around like a crazed baboon to cheesy house music whilst demonstrating the TriangleMesh feature. Sheer entertainment.

The Adobe MAX awards ceremony followed with special guest Mark Hamill. An inspired choice considering the crowd, Hamill was highly entertaining throughout. We left before the sneak peaks to get ready for the evening but I was later reliably informed that one of the Adobe guys did some live coding dressed in a Chewbacca costume. Wild.

The MAX Bash followed and was an impressive affair. Adobe had taken over almost every establishment in the L.A. Live park. In addition to a Star Wars themed area, complete with Chubacca and Darth Vadar exhibits, Mark Hamill joined the party and was predictably mobbed the moment he arrived. Later that night we met up with some great guys from Sapient and had a ball at the Latin club.

The following morning was my talk, Augmented Reality in the Flash Player with Jesse Freeman. Both halves went very well and there were plenty of questions and positive feedback afterwards. Jesse introduced the FLARToolkit library and discussed some of his own work with limitations and the future of FLAR. My half was a discussion of my experiences with FLAR and a discussion of promotion in the field My advice for anyone planning a presentation – make sure you have lots of comical images in your slide show. There’s nothing like a few cheap gags to get the audience on your side. A bit of research is also useful.

I’m pleased to say that we had an above average rating for the talk and had a great write up on digitalarts.co.uk.

Breathing a huge sigh of relief after, I ventured out to see a few of the other MAX talks. The best of the day was A Deep Dive into 10 Innovative Projects for Flash by Thibault Imbert and Michaël Chaize. Some of the better projects were Tomek Augustyn’s face tracking library, HiSlope, due for release soon, and the WiiFlash server which allows Flash developers to use WiiMotes, Nunchuks and Wii Boards as input devices. Another great talk included Kevin Hoyt’s Integrating Flash and Hardware. In a nutshell this session explained how to use a variety of different sensors in Flash using electronics equipment. A must for any aspiring installation artist.

Although initially it was a struggle to find relevant sessions, I was consistently impressed with the scale and quality of the event, the welcoming and informative staff and (in the end) the range of talks on Flash. My fiance Juliet Lall accompanied me, and found the talks on After Effects and Illustrator to be very helpful. I would definitely recommend Adobe MAX to the typical user of Adobe’s range of software. And if Influxis continue to invite the top Flash guys I would recommend it to the atypical rest.

****EDIT****

You can see the AR presentation I did with Jesse here.

The presentation slideshow is available here. It uses Jesse’s Bum engine. It may take a while to load as it was made to run locally. Press F to fullscreen it.

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