Oakland, Calif.-based artist, fabricator, project manager, and creative director Sean Orlando is not only a gifted visionary in the realm of large-scale installations, but he is a skilled organizer, leading 50+ member crews of talented folks on such notable creations as the 40-foot-tall Raygun Gothic Rocketship, the otherworldly Nautilus Submarine (both of which have awed crowds at Maker Faire), and the surreal Steampunk Tree House. Orlando is co-founder of the Five Ton Crane art collective, public programs production coordinator at the Exploratorium, is currently an artist fellow at the de Young Museum, and has been running his own business, Engineered Artworks, since 2006.
One project you’re particularly proud of: 1. I am proud of all the projects that Five Ton Crane and I have worked on over the years, but I am particularly proud of the Nautilus Submarine art car. We had just finished building the Raygun Gothic Rocketship and were looking for the next big thing that we could work on as a group. I remember getting a text from my friend Christopher Bently asking if I could build him a submarine. Of course, I couldn’t refuse such an intriguing proposition. We had just built a rocket ship — how hard could it be to build a submarine? That turned out to be the most challenging and most enjoyable summer that I think I have ever had. Christopher and I worked for months on the concept and design with my illustrator Shane Washburn. During some of our brainstorming sessions, it sometimes seemed as if we all shared the same brain. Once we had the initial concept designs flushed out, that’s when the fun began. I had the honor to work with a really talented and resilient group of artists, fabricators, and friends on a really complex project.
The base vehicle of the Nautilus is an Eagle TT-8 diesel airport tug capable of pulling 90,000-pound airplanes. That was fun to play with — we took it out for coffee one morning. It’s an all-wheel-drive solid body powerhouse with a 4-cylinder Isuzu engine converted to biodiesel that goes 13mph. We had to move the drive controls 10 feet up to the conning tower so that we could see where we’re going when driving, which was no easy task. We converted the steering from hydraulically assisted mechanical to full hydraulic. I had never played with hydraulics before so that was especially fun. Many of the core structural elements were cut out using computer numerical control (CNC) technology with CNC laser, plasma, and water-jet machinery.
The skeleton was designed in SolidWorks by our design engineer Greg Jones. The main doors and working brass apertures were designed by Dr. Alan Rorie. Tom Sepe designed the railings and main ladder. Colin Babcock was my rudder man and David Shulman was my wing man. David developed a custom AC/DC power-generation system with an inverter charge controller, two high-voltage alternators, and four massive deep-cycle gel batteries. The system that he designed powers the pro-audio sound system and programmable RGB LED lighting, both of which are controlled via an on-board iPad incorporated into the dashboard. Bree Hylkema was the interior designer and worked with me and a small crew of artists to build out the cozy interior complete with a wood floor, cushioned seating, pillows, dials and gauges, light sconces, a map room, and a library.
These are just a few of the talented artists that worked with me on the Nautilus — there are really too many to mention here. You can find out more about all the artists of the Five Ton Crane Arts Group here.
We punched and pneumatically riveted thousands of holes, spent months grinding metal and playing with sheet metal, blew countless fuses building out a complex electrical system, started two accidental fires inside the main cabin (no one was severely harmed), and if asked I’d do it all again!
Orlando was lead artist on the Nautilus Submarine art car.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from: 1. Always wear your safety glasses when working in or around a fabrication shop. I’ve spent many nights in the emergency room from metal grinder dust getting in my eyes. Not fun.
2. Don’t try to put out a fire with your bare hand — especially one that involves synthetic fabrics.
Orlando was one of the lead artists on Five Ton Crane’s Raygun Gothic Rocketship.
Three new ideas that have excited you most lately: 1. I’m working on an idea for a public art installation that I was awarded for the city of Tacoma, Wash. It will be a “gateway” sculpture that will welcome visitors to the downtown Tacoma area.
2. I’ve been commissioned by the city of Seattle to develop a concept design for a sculptural work of art to be incorporated in the architectural design of a new fire station in West Seattle.
3. I’m an artist fellow at the de Young Museum with my collaborating partner Rebar. We’re working on an 18-month project called Urbanauts. Through a series of urban expeditions, artifact collections, design reconstructions, artworks, and interwoven conversations, Urbanauts maps an outline of the unseen mechanical and cultural systems that structure life in the built environment.
Orlando was the lead artist on Five Ton Crane’s Steampunk Tree House.
Four tools you can’t live without: 1. My Leatherman tool. I rarely go out without it. 2. My computer. Building and managing a project on this scale requires a lot of organization and coordination. I use my computer to do extensive internet research, develop 3D models, manage calendars, timelines and budgets, and place orders online. 3. McMaster Carr. They have just about everything and will ship it to you next day. 4. My welder.
Orlando’s Energy Generating Swingset at Coachella Music Festival.