FlashInterview

Seb Lee-Delisle on creative coding

It's been a packed year for creative coder, speaker and teacher Seb Lee-Delisle. In our 2011 in review series he chats to Oliver Lindberg about creative JavaScript, WebGL, HTML5, Flash and synchronising 250 phones

.net: Looking at your workshops that you've taken around the world, the Creative Coding Podcast, which you launched and co-host, and CreativeJS.com, I think it's fair to say that 2011 was the year of creative JavaScript. Why has it taken off so much?
Seb Lee-Delisle: It really has, right? It's gone crazy. Of course it's partly due to the new browser capabilities like canvas and WebGL, and the execution speed of JS.

But I think the main reason is because the community is so excited about it, JavaScripters are discovering creative coding techniques, experimenting, and then sharing their discoveries. That's the great thing about web technology – you can just post your work online and visitors can view source. It's the sharing that creates the momentum and the excitement.

.net: What are the biggest challenges it still has to overcome?
SL: Canvas is becoming pretty well supported across browsers but WebGL is still getting shunned by Microsoft, and there are also quite a few older GPUs that are blacklisted. Reliable audio playback is still an issue, particular across mobile (the Android browser didn't even
bother implementing HTML5 audio!). The lack of DRM video is a problem for the publishers.

I'm hopeful that these things will improve over time. There seems to be a lot of motivation from the browser vendors to solve these problems.

.net: What kind of projects have you worked on this year? You've ditched clients completely, haven't you?
SL: I'm in a massively fortunate position now where I can survive on the income from speaking at conferences and training, so I rarely have clients these days, apart from some consultancy work and bespoke training.

I haven't had any client production work for over a year, although that may change in 2012 – there are a couple of large scale installations I'm interested in helping with.

The biggest project I worked on this year was PixelPhones – a system where you can turn every phone in the audience into a single pixel on a massive display. It took about three months to get to the prototype stage.

It's going to be open source once it's stable – there are so many potential uses for it, realtime lighting at gigs, audience voting, interactive games, or just making gorgeous patterns. And I would rather let other people experiment and find more ways to use it than I could ever imagine. That to me is way more exciting than turning it into a business.

(Video uploaded by Momo the Monster aka Surya Buchwald)

.net: Where does all this standards-based creative coding leave Flash?
SL: It's not been a good year for FlashPlayer, that's for sure! There were some truly disastrous mixed messages from Adobe. Flash has lost its way over the last few years, with an ultimately futile focus on mobile and the enterprise oriented Flex framework.

Adobe are finally focussing on Flash as a games platform, but it could be too little, too late. We were asking for GPU accelerated graphics years ago when 3D Flash (and Papervision3D) was all the rage. But they've only just got around to implementing Stage3D in the latest player, and it has all the same GPU compatibility problems that WebGL has. We'll see how the battle between Stage3D and WebGL plays out.

It should be said that there is still a thriving indie game development community who survive from advertising revenue from the millions of views that these casual Flash games still attract. It'll be interesting to see how that evolves.

And of course, the Flash Professional app (not the player) is a good animation tool, and we still need that. The Google doodles are often animated in Flash, exported to bitmaps and played back in JavaScript. Adobe are working on ways to export HTML5 content from Flash Pro, but I think there can be more intelligent ways to get Flash animated sprites into other platforms. But I'll save that for a future blog post as this answer has already got too unwieldy.

.net: Is the Creative Coding podcast alive and well? The gaps between episodes seem to have gotten quite big...
SL: Haha, yeah, in fact I'm just editing episode 17 right now (hopefully released by the time this article goes out). The main problem lately has been the travelling and finding a time that is mutually convenient for both of us. It's been one a month for a couple of months but we're hoping to get back to our regular fortnightly interval now things have settled down a bit.

.net: What was your personal highlight of 2011?
SL: It's really been such a spectacular year for me that it's hard to pick a single highlight! I think if I had to choose, it was probably at the Fronteers conference in Amsterdam where we managed to get 250 phones in perfect synchronisation in a beautiful historic theatre.
EyeoFestival in Minneapolis was also amazing – I got to meet all my creative coding heroes and people would actually come to talk to me because they recognised my voice from the podcast!

.net: And what are you looking forward to in 2012?
SL: Hopefully more of the same. I'm setting up more CreativeJS training courses, including a new workshop all about making HTML5 games.

I'm also starting a campaign to get designers into programming. I often see a fear of code among designers and artists, often exacerbated by some coders who want their work to seem more complicated than it is. Which is a massive shame – creative people often make the best coders.

I've decided that in 2012 I'm going to start a series of CreativeJS workshops just for non-coders; artists and designers that have never programmed before. It'll feature visual code examples, animation, particles, and drawing with code. In other words, programming that appeals to the visually orientated.

And no form validation.

Apart from that, lots more conferences and travelling, and an attempt to break a world record.

Picture of Seb Lee-Delisle taken by Stefan Nitzsche.

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