Monday, August 17, 2009

A Conversation with Brian Dressel

interview w/ brian dressel

I met Brian Dressel at MGFest in January of 2009 at Pixel Brothers Studio. It was sort of an immersive art gallery showing with several artists, a DJ and all sorts of overstimulation. Brian Dressel, whom I met at the exhibit, was showing projected video that a person can interact with. And, it turns out, Brian is from my hometown and is a good friend of a friend (small world, I know!). He's also the man when it comes to interactive video. He and his team at M1 Interactive have taken video to the next level. You may have even seen his innovative work in advertisements on the Vegas strip or played one of his games in a public space or trade show.

Michele: Brian, can you tell us a bit about what you do? You seem to have a lot going on! Are you a programmer as well as a designer?

Brian: I began my career sweeping floors and painting walls of a studio in Grand Rapids, MI. From there, I met enough people to get myself down to Chicago. I honed my skills as a shooter, programmer and motion graphics designer for years, while working as a Motion Control Programmer at Post Effects and Orchard Productions as a Creative Director here in Chicago. Since then, I've been working on my company, M1 Interactive, developing new products and software and expanding my resources, working with people who make me and the company look good. I couldn't do it alone, my team is phenomenal. We developed a product called Respondr, Light Scribble, The Ring Screen and a few smaller software utilities and recently got into game development.

I have 2 companies, Respondr Interactive and M1 Interactive. Respondr Interactive owns Respondr. When I do other weird installations, they are usually under M1.

Can you talk a bit about Respondr? How does this all work? It's so cool. Do customers create their own shows by themselves or do you generally have to help?

Respondr is a reactive video system. We recently built an all-in-one enclosed system that basically can hang from a ceiling and project on a wall or floor. As a customer walks through or even near the projection-it reacts to their movements. Special content will do a variety of actions, depending on what's needed for the installation. This could be anything from immersive video games to informational display content. Respondr does all the motion tracking and shape analysis and runs a playlist that can change content over time, giving a wide variety of uses.

That is so cool. In Las Vegas at NAB 08 they had this type of thing in the monorail stations. Those tables are awesome looking.

We have custom built reactive video tables, from FTIR (Frustrated Total Internal Reflection) to overhead motion tracking systems. These are not your typical touchscreen systems. We're currently building a very long reactive video bar surface for restaurants, bars and trade shows. Customers can order food/drinks, play games or send messages to each other from one end of the bar to the other.

I think I would very much enjoy playing with that. It would be a great ice breaker. When I met you at MGFest in Chicago, you had an interesting set up at Pixel Brothers. What sort of software do you use? Can you talk a bit about how you put together the elements for a live event and perform?

What you saw at the MGFest was all Respondr, with a variety of ever changing content designed to show off some of the system's capabilities. The basics of Respondr are the Respondr Media Server, tracking camera system and display device. We used a video projector, but it will also work with LCD monitors and LED video walls. Respondr works in most environments and is easily adaptable and simple to set up. I think that install took us about a half hour, including the time to rig the projector in the ceiling.

MGFest 2009, Chicago. L to R: Brian Dressel, Rani Stack, Gregory Dillard, Harry Frank and Michele Yamazaki. (Photo Credit: Gregory Dillard).

Respondr was programmed and built by Peter Nyboer and me. Along with Jay Smith, our partner with Livid Instruments, we have been developing it over the past 5 years, constantly growing it, making it more powerful and easier for the installer to set up. Respondr runs on its own, completely automated.

What type of work do you like best and why?

Anything that I can flex the creative muscles. Creating new products and hacking existing ones for new uses is one of my favorite hobbies. Why not get paid for what you love to do?

Oh, totally. I do! Besides this cool technology, do you also create motion graphics for the usual outlets (tv, film, corporate, etc.)?

I create my own work now, for myself and my own installations. My work is sub-par compared to the awesomeness I see from my designer friends anyway. I find it best now to job that stuff out when it is needed. Plus, I'm learning to let people do their jobs and grow in their positions. I used to try to do everything myself and have total control, but that adds unneeded stress and brings slows down the growth of the whole company. We all work together and share equal workloads.

You mentioned Light Scribble. I've seen this Light Scribble effect before and had no idea it was yours. It's really neat.

Thanks! We have a lot of fun with it. Sometimes we'll go out at night and tag some buildings or bridges downtown. People have no idea where the projection is actually coming from usually, as we hide it in a van. It only takes a laser, and we can literally draw/paint on whatever surface we want. It's awesome!

Where do you see this type of interactive video headed?

I believe that it will become ubiquitous. The physical technology will become smaller and won't be noticeable. Entire rooms will become immersive interactive experiences that can be controlled by speaking and gestures. Some of this technology is already there, look at Project Natal from Microsoft, it is AMAZING. We have developed some of what that can do, but our R&D budget is significantly less than theirs. Sometimes that's a great thing. Actually most of the time it is. With less money and resources, it opens our imaginations to new possibilities and new ways of creating and problem solving that no one else may have ever thought of doing. This can lead to great new discoveries.

Are you working on anything new and exciting you can share?

We are always working new stuff. Some of it's on the drawing board, some of it's in prototype stages. We just got booked to work on the 2010 Winter Olympics. We'll be creating many custom video installations using custom hardware devices and video tracking that has, as far as I know, never been accomplished before. Most of our development is born from the needs of clients looking for new technology for a specific installation or our own needs to push our current technology to the next level-wherever that may be at the time...

Very cool. I wish you the best with the 2010 Olympics and your other projects. Thank so much for taking the time to talk to us at Toolfarm!

I also wanted to mention that we're always looking for Flash designers. Anyone interested can contact me at

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