User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Cinder Wizard Andrew Bell

<p>Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do.</p>

Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Andrew Bell. Click here for more User Preferences Tech Q&As.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Andrew Bell, and I work at The Barbarian Group in New York, where my business card says Technology Research Fellow. I focus on developing Cinder, which is an open source framework for creative coding in C++. Cinder’s mission statement is to be the best tool of its kind for high-end and professional users. Before this job I was a Technical Director in visual effects, a Creative Technologist in the ad industry, and most recently, co-running the digital department for The Mill. I also interned at Adobe on the Photoshop development team in college.

What kind of hardware to you use?
I use a variety of hardware, but none of it is too exotic. We put a lot of energy into testing all of the platforms Cinder runs on, so I find myself buying various gadgets with an i prefix in the name, as well as PCs and Macs. Computers dominate the landscape of my apartment, which in my experience is extremely attractive to women.

What kind of software do you use?
For the most part I spend all of my time in Xcode and Visual C++. When I’m doing visual work I generally use Maya, supported by Shake or Nuke for compositing, and of course the Adobe suite.

What piece of equipment can you simply not live without?
A refrigerator full of insulin.

If money were no object, how would you change your current set up?
Well my “set up” is pretty incidental to the way I work, but I do spend more time waiting on C++ builds than I’d like. When I worked in VFX the render farm was key—I’m tempted to build a compile farm on occasion, and Apple makes it pretty easy with Xcode.

Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
Well my dad is a developer and he started me coding when I was quite young. Dads aren’t really technology by most definitions though, so I’ll say “Commodore 64.”

What is your favorite relic piece of technology from your childhood?
THINK Pascal is probably the piece of (software) technology that really marked a milestone for me at that time. Most of my programming prior was done in higher-level tools, but THINK Pascal took off the training wheels and was my first “legit” coding. I started dealing with my own memory management and Mac OS APIs directly, and started to appreciate what low-level access meant for me as far as creative possibilities.

What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
Well to keep things in the realm of plausible, a typical challenge with client-driven creative coding is finding hardware for large-scale multitouch. In a good way, the iPad has really ruined everyone’s understanding of what multitouch should be, and clients generally expect perfect responsiveness, but [on a] huge [scale]. For the most part, we’re just not there yet, although Perceptive Pixel has a 82" display that’s quite solid if you can afford it. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time…