Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Bruce Shapiro

Bruce Shapiro

Motion control artist, father of Eggbot

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Bruce Shapiro and I use motion control to make art. "Motion control" is the unsexy term used by industry to encompass the many ways of using computers to orchestrate the movement of real objects -- "automation", "robotics", "animatronics", and so on. I became enthralled with connecting motors to a PC over twenty-five years ago, which turned into building my first art-robot to help my kids color Easter eggs -- the birth of "Eggbot." In 1991, this growing obsession, combined with having a very understanding wife, led to leaving my internal medicine practice to work on motion control art full time.

What hardware do you use?

On the computer-side, I'm extremely tethered to CAD/CAM software, some of it vintage, so I've stuck with PCs. My algorithmic design process involves real-time manipulation of huge numbers of vertices, so I throw as much processor speed and RAM in my desktop machine as I can afford. For travel, I just got a 13" ZenBook, which I find impressive for the price. For art-machine control, in the old days I used laptops running DOS. Now I use Raspberry Pis.

On the fabrication side, my key workhorses are the CNC-routers and laser-cutters in my shop in Sebastopol, CA, and makerspace in Minneapolis. Though I have access to loads of 3D printers, I'm a far bigger fan of subtractive machining than additive. Maybe because I revere materials like wood and aluminum more than plastic. My love of CNC has grown through the years, and it's only fitting that I now use it to produce my kinetic sculptures -- which are themselves "performance" CNC machines.

And what software?

Programming: My first language was BASIC, but it was too slow (back then) to control stepper-motors well, and so I moved to C. Over the years I've learned some LISP (to write algorithmic routines for early AutoCAD), Python (routines for Blender), Liberty BASIC (for quick Windows GUI dev), and more recently JavaScript, to make it easier to connect my machine-control code to web and mobile apps.

CAD/CAM: I've been using AutoCAD for so many years that it's become integral to my design process. Everything I build, I model first. I also used it for my algorithmic designs until "the kids" (30-somethings) at our makerspace turned me on to Grasshopper (plug-in for Rhino 3D). I'm now a devoted fan, and use it for all my algorithmic design dev.

What would be your dream setup?

Pretty much what I have now -- shop spaces in multiple places, with enthusiastic and skilled makers at my side, using amazing motion control technology to create art that can find its way into both museums and people's homes.