Well I'm back from Flash on the Beach 2009 in Brighton and yet again I wasn't disappointed. There were a couple of sessions that weren't as good as expected and a couple more that unexpectedly blew me away, all-in-all I had a blinding time. Needless to say I'd thrown out my previously organised schedule by Monday lunchtime though :) This year was so enjoyable I'm still buzzing a week later, hence this post. I'm not going to go massively into detail about it all, but there are a few highlights and lowlights that I think are worth talking about...
First off, Sunday. I attended Seb Lee-Delisle'sPapervision 3D workshop for the entire day. It began a little bit over my head because it appeared that everybody else in the room (bar one) were pure developers, so it was a little unsympathetic to us lowly designers. However as the day progressed I seemed to get into the flow of it and by the end of the day I felt as though I could go away and work with it myself. If Seb ever does a follow up course I'll be on it in a flash (pardon the pun) - he's a great speaker and I really felt as though I learned a lot from him. As for Papervision...I'm playing already, so when anything significant occurs I'll post it on this blog.
During the course I met one or two guys that seemed to be on the same wavelength as me and at the end of the day we set off to the Waggon and Horses near the FOTB venue to have a swift half. A half soon turned into a pint, a pint into six (ish) and before we knew it we were heading down to the beach to mindlessly throw pebbles into the sea. The perfect end to what was a completely exhausting day.
Monday morning, 9am, the conference began for real. Before the keynote, 3 Mariachi took the stage (see photo above) and performed a hilarious ode to designers. I loved it, but as it was never publicly revealed who the Mariachi were, I did get the feeling that I was witnessing some bizarre little in-joke between the speakers and the organisers. It was good fun though and the accompanying graphics were spot on.
The keynote was by Richard & Mark from Adobe. It was interesting and showed a few new features in the latest Flash player update, but they were obviously saving the best stuff for the upcoming Adobe Max conference. Roll on October so we can find out what they were actually holding back.
Monday's highlights for me were Keith Peters' developer inspiring session about game coding and Carlos Ulloa (above) taking us through how he developed four of his Papervision projects. Both were excellent as usual and I thought were the perfect start to the conference. Unfortunately I wasn't as impressed by Hillman Curtis' end of the day session - I was expecting something interactive and inspiring from the ex-Art Director for Macromedia, but instead we watched a few of his "video portraits". Artistic it was, but without being too harsh, a little dull.
The day concluded with Joel Gethin Lewis' evening inspiration session. It was a good and fitting end to a pretty good day, but the best was obviously yet to come. The party that night was at Audio. Last year I left early because it was so crammed, but this year I was with a great group of people and we found a pretty spacious corner to spread out in. Another great night.
Tuesday began at 9am with the new "Elevator Pitch" session - 20 new speakers each with the chance to make their mark in 3 minutes. Some were good, some not so good...all enthusiastic and inspiring the audience to get up next year and show off their own stuff. I think my favourite out of them had to be Jon Howard who demonstrated how to make 3 games in 3 minutes - funny and impressive. I think we may see more of him in the future. Also, a congrats to Erin from Plus Two (a company I've worked with in the past) for managing to explain their extremely impressive product in under 3 minutes. It was a pleasant surprise to see her up on stage.
Tuesday afternoon and evening brought some of my favourite sessions from the conference starting with a fascinating insight into the mind of Jennifer Shiman, creator of 30 Second Bunny Theatre. The afternoon continued with two surprisingly inspiring sessions - "Numbers in Art" by Joel Baumann and "Unconventional Web Applications" by the Contrast team. The first was much more art based than I had expected, being literally about how numbers feature in great works of art - I entered the session expecting to be mind-numbed about typographical positioning and layout standards. A truly pleasant surprise. The later was a truly thought provoking session encouraging the audience to reconsider "web standards" and push the boundaries of interactive design a little further. I had no idea what to expect from the session and I came away ready to completely reassess my approach to design.
Similarly that evening's inspired session from Craig Swann hammered home that as designers we need to remember our roots and keep a firm hold on what truly inspires us. A great talk from a very charismatic man. After the final session we all moved onto a local club and Tuesday came to an end at about 4am on Wednesday morning...enough said I think.
Wednesday was sponsored by Resolve Extra. By the time I had checked out of my hotel and my life and come back into focus, it was 11.30 and time to listen to the genius that is Colin Moock. Having taught myself AS from a combination of his books over the years, I was hanging on the guy's every word. Great session.
Next up was the moment I'd been waiting for all week - "The Jam Throwdown". This came about for the first time at FOTB08 when a speaker was unavoidably detained and unable to turn up. John Davey (the organiser of FOTB) gathered together 6 of the best speakers from the conference and asked them if they would show off some of their latest work for 10 minutes each to fill the gap in the schedule. The result was astounding and by far the best session of the 2008 conference...and it rocketed Joa Ebert to notoriety with his demonstration of speed coding (I'll get to that a minute). So needless to say, hangover or no hangover, this was a session I did not want to miss.
The standard of course was ridiculously high, a belittling experience in many ways. All of the work shown was outstanding, my personal favourite being Grant playing with his balls (see video above). And that's a sentence you won't hear me say very often. But even the speakers took a step back when Joa walked onto the stage for speed coding round 2. For those that don't know what speed coding is, it is literally as it sounds...he codes as much as he can in the 10 minutes that he's allotted. Sounds boring right? It really isn't. The man types code faster than I can think about what I had for breakfast, he's truly one of the world's best (if not the best) programmers. The buzz in the air when he gets going is astounding, everyone trying to guess what the hell he's doing...Joa just keeps his head down and keeps on typing. This year he'd obviously prepared himself beforehand (in 2008, he had no preparation and was making it up as he went along), but it still doesn't take anything away from what he was able to produce in the 9 minutes and 40 seconds he spent at the keyboard. He produced an almost exact recreation of "Da Funk" by Daft Punk (including drum samples from scratch) with a 3D audio-visualiser that bounces along with it. A poor quality video of the end result can be found here, but to be honest it doesn't do it justice. Truly astounding...
...and if we weren't all feeling small already after Joa's performance, John revealed the keyboard that Joa had been using whilst speed coding. Completely black, no keys. Talk about kicking us while we were down ;)
After a very relaxed and enjoyable session with artist James Jarvis, it was time for the last session of the conference - Joshua Davis. I've been a huge fan of Davis for years and I was really looking forward to seeing him in person. The man is a rock star. A funny, inspiring and slightly cuddly rock star. The video above doesn't really do justice to how he makes you feel, but it should give you an idea of the pure energy he puts into his presentations. More than any other time over the last couple of FOTB conferences, I truly felt as though I was in the presence of greatness - and that really is saying something considering the artists and genii that speak at these things. He oozes charisma and like no other speaker I've ever seen reaches out to the audience and says "look guys, this is easy, you can do this". It was a fitting end to an almost perfect conference.
Finally before I sign off this ridiculously long blog post, I'd just like to the thank everyone I met at FOTB09 for making it one of the best yet for me. I met up with a great bunch of people this year, all of which I hope will make it back next year. Most notably Kevin and Mike from Twisted, Sean and Marie from The Inspiration Engine and Pedro from Zig Zig Za. I hope you guys had as good a time as I did. Roll on FOTB2010!