Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Alex Evans

Alex Evans

Co-founder of MediaMolecule (LittleBigPlanet)

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Alex Evans, and I'm a co-founder at PlayStation game makers MediaMolecule (LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway). I'm mostly responsible for the look of games (the 'graphics engine', as we call it), as I seem to care more about how they look than how they play. I used to make visuals for Warp Records and others as 'bluespoon', and learnt to program largely thanks to the demoscene (as 'statix'). I've always been interested in using code directly to create moving images, and all of the above falls under that broad category.

What hardware do you use?

At home, I have a 13" MacBook Air; all of LittleBigPlanet's servers were written on its predecessor, an 11" Air. I love the smaller form factor even more than the 13". At work, I have a couple of home-brew PCs with multiple Dell 27" monitors, and a stack of Playstation 4 devkits, at least one of which is connected to a large LG telly. It's one of the few televisions where you can switch off all the processing, re-scaling, sharpening and tinting of the image - so that my lovingly crafted 1080p pixels are displayed 1-to-1, as unmolested as possible. It's incredibly frustrating how hard this is to do, and often impossible on consumer televisions.

I have a monome 128 which I adore from afar - it is as yet unused, as it arrived at roughly the same time as my first child. I can't wait to use it! I also long for an Ableton Push. I would probably use both devices as tactile interfaces to whatever random code doodles I feel like creating in my 'down' time, whether audio or visual. One of the things I learnt working with live electronic musicians is that nothing beats a real, tactile interface. Call me a luddite, but touchscreens and even touchless interfaces like Leap Motion leave me a bit cold; a physical push button, slider or knob is a wonderful thing to touch, especially when it 'magically' controls an explosion of digital colour and sound.

And what software?

On my Mac, I use Sublime Text to edit C++ code compiled with simple make files, to create OpenGL 'toys'. I'm not a Mac expert, and I loathe Xcode every time I try to use it. I love clang however. Between GLFW, PortAudio, Sean Barrett's stb libraries, OpenGL and the C standard library, I have everything I need to tinker with musical and visual experiments, with a minimum of fuss and API learning. I avoid larger or higher level libraries; I find peace in understanding more or less how my code is working, down to the CPU/GPU level.

I've really enjoyed relaxing creatively by using ShaderToy as a sketchpad - the process is really iterative and live, due to its (wonderfully tastefully chosen) extreme limitations. It's so refreshing. Just today I've discovered wavepot which is similar in spirit, for audio/DSP experiments.

At work, I almost exclusively use Microsoft Visual Studio to write PS4 code, along with MediaMolecule's in-house tools. We build games about making games - so I find myself using traditional content creation software (Photoshop, After Effects, Maya, 3D Studio) less and less. It ends up being quite a minimalist setup! Lastly, I find Twitter surprisingly useful for staying up to date with the latest developments in the real-time graphics world.

What would be your dream setup?

Something that doesn't get in my way! Ever since I learnt to program, I've enjoyed having a creative (virtual) environment to play in, with minimum fuss. Initially that was writing 'trackers' and later this evolved into VJing. Trackers are very immediate, very rewarding. I have written 4 large scale versions of a live visuals/VJ setup - collectively called 'bluespoon', with various idoms for creation. The first was raw C code, and never made it out of small pub gigs; the second took inspiration from AfterFX-type interfaces, and did me proud for a few early Warp gigs like their 10th birthday party; the third was 'boxes and lines' akin to Pure Data or vvvv; the fourth was something like a personal version of openFrameworks or Cinder. All of the preceding links I recommend checking out if you don't know them!

But I digress - all of this, with the benefit of hindsight, was an attempt to build a personal 'programmer's sketchbook'. I keep promising myself - dreaming about - a version 5, that would in some way encourage me to open up the laptop in an evening, and just scribble around with code, hopefully quickly getting into that gratifying, improvisatory loop of editing and seeing or hearing interesting results. Tiny barriers to creativity - any kind of friction, especially of the mundane, techy kind ('please upgrade this thing', 'the Internet is down!', 'I don't understand this bug') kill the flow dead. Timothy Lottes's highly opinionated occasional blog posts about extreme-minimalism in coding are fascinating, and although I don't take it as far as him, a lot of my dream setups have many of the same properties as the ideas he describes. I aspire to being a 'minimalist creative coder', if you like.