Photograph by Steve Rogers
Special effects specialist Edwin Wise has contributed several projects to the pages of MAKE over the years, including the classic animatronic Flying Crank Ghost, the sound wave visualizing Chladni Plate, and the PVC air cannon Boom Stick, to name a few. He’s also author of three robotics books, plus one on AI and one on animatronics.
One project you’re particularly proud of:
1. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one project, especially since I work across a wide range of fields. My favorite sculptural project? Fire art? Electronics? Software? It’s hard to choose! But one project that had the biggest impact on my life was Boris the Robot — a giant monster of a project I did around the turn of the millennium, a six-legged pneumatic robot that was big enough to ride in. I used it to teach myself a bunch of different skills (welding, microcontroller design, interfacing to the world, pneumatics, and on and on); from that, it got me my book contracts, and those books helped me get the job I have now.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
Just like the array of projects, it’s tough to choose from my vast array of mistakes! The more you do, the more stumbles you will have, and you should try to learn from each of them.
1. There is nothing like tearing all of the arm or leg hair off of your model to give you a sense of humility. And it’s all fun and games until someone’s head is trapped in a lifecast mother mold (fortunately, it was my head, and I’m sure my assistants felt properly humble). I learned that you can never use enough mold release, and be careful of undercuts. In the big picture, the lesson for me is to take it slow, double check everything, and if someone’s health and well being is on the line, triple check, and perhaps get someone else to go over it too.
2. There have been a bunch of times when I haven’t communicated well because it was scary or seemed hard, and this has cost me both jobs and marriages. No matter if it’s trivial or terrifying, I’ve learned it’s important to communicate what is going on in my head and/or workshop.
Three new ideas that have excited you most lately:
1. Not a recent idea, but this idea was transformative to me a long time ago: the idea that I can make a tool. I don’t have to accept the array of tools that I have before me, but I can actually use them to make new tools. When I had that idea, it changed me forever!
2. The embedded reality work being done these days: smartphones creating overlays on the world, the Google glasses coming down the line soon, all this stuff could be used to do some exciting things. Baby steps to Dream Park, heck yeah!
3. It is always exciting for me to learn a new skill, and to head down a new skills path without knowing where it will lead. Just like Boris the Robot made huge ripples in my life, I never know what will come out of it. I just recently learned bookbinding, but these days I’m feeding my special effects skills, focusing on makeup and sculpture first.
Four tools you can’t live without:
Tools. I have so many. But strangely enough, few if any of them are indispensable. The tools I can’t live without are, fortunately, tools that I have with me everywhere and can be applied to everything:
1. My hands. A well trained pair of hands can do almost anything! From the delicate motions necessary to sculpt something amazing, to bending steel into place so it can be welded down.
2. My imagination. Every new thing I do, I do inside my head first a few (dozen) times, and for every obstacle (or lack of tool) I come across, this is what I use to overcome it.
3. Patience. Most obstacles can be overcome, most projects can be completed, as long as you don’t throw your hands up in the air and give up, or just trash the thing because it’s driving you crazy. This works for relationships as well as the other kind of projects!
4. Friends. On the fear of this turning into a My Little Pony episode, I must note also that your pool of friends, your social network, is one of the most valuable tools you have. Those people know stuff! Have skills! And may also be motivated to help you succeed, especially if they get to be a part of the success.
Five people/things that have inspired your work:
In no particular order:
1. Industrial Light & Magic inspired the heck out of me when I was a kid.
2. Leonardo da Vinci did everything that could be done in his day, and I want to do that too.
3. I’m going to cheat and squeeze two in here, under the wrapper “friends.” Wayne Singer, my oldest friend, has provided various forms of inspiration over the decades; and Cortney DeAngelo, my best friend, who has stood by me in thick and thin and has also been my model and my assistant.
4. My son, Nikolas Wise, has inspired me to be the best that I can be, to provide a good example for him if nothing else.
5. The world around me. It’s amazing.
Photograph by Steve Rogers