We recently chatted with Dutch fashiontech designer Anouk Wipprecht about her futuristic designs, including a dress with robotic spider legs mounted on the shoulder pieces, one that emits smoke when someone gets too close to the wearer, and a radical design where the dress becomes transparent as the wearer’s heartbeat increases. Read our full interview to learn more about those.
But last weekend, at the 9th annual Maker Faire Bay Area, the world’s largest DIY festival, Anouk upped the ante with her latest design: a Faraday cage dress that she created at her Autodesk artist residency in San Francisco. The dress was designed with the full intent of collaborating with the electrifying musical Tesla band ArcAttack. And electrify they did. We connected with Anouk again to find out more about how the dress was designed, tested, and shown.
1. Describe the specs of your latest project: the dress you brought to Maker Faire Bay Area 2014.
In collaboration with ArcAttack we created a faraday dress — allowing me to engage the Tesla coils through the electricity while wearing this Faraday-cage-style design. The outfit caged me in from top to toe against the aggressive arcs of the Tesla coils that have been modified by ArcAttack to play musical notes (like the dramatic version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by William Jerome aka “Coda”) through modulating their spark output.
2. What was the R+D process like and how long did the dress take to build?
The concept, I have been wanting to work out for longer than a year, but the base dress I designed was created within two weeks. Through my collaboration with the the 123D team, we used Autodesk’s Maya to draw panels on top of the scan of the model using Quad Draw. An image plane with the artwork/concept was used for reference in the front view.
From there we used 123D Make to layout the 3D panels from Maya into flat into a 2D sheet. We managed to make any design changes, such as slight offsets for the panels for spacing, in AutoCAD. Finally we had a 2D layout of all 94 panels, which we cut out of a sheet of metal using the waterjet. Martin, who is in charge of the Omax 60120 at the Autodesk workshop at Pier 9, was a great help here. Due to the use of this software, the base dress only took a few days to complete from design to constructed piece, since a lot could be solved in software.
Mounting all plates together by hand took more time than the whole digital process. Furthermore, the 16″ plasma balls are 3D modeled in Autodesk’s Maya and 3D printed (20 hours of high-speed printing for each piece) on an Objet500 Connex in collaboration with Niccolo Casas. The shoulder piece is designed to host two 16″ nitrogen-filled plasma balls that glow bright purple as soon as the arcs of the Tesla coils hit their surface.
3. What inspired the unique design?
The challenge was to create a iconic design that would hold up to the power of high-voltage, low-current, high-frequency, alternating-current electricity. I think we succeeded. However, the dress is pretty much a prototype — for the next one, I would like to see it be less bulky, lighter, and more wearable. Every good invention needs testing and upgrades, and with the research we have in our pockets now, I started dreaming of how the next version can look. We have some cool things in store.
4. How did the collaboration with ArcAttack come about?
We both are obsessed by pushing boundaries regarding technology, experimentation, and innovation. A mutual friend, Kees de Groot, founder of a a few famous robotic festivals in the Netherlands, saw this linkage and coupled us together. He basically forced us to talk, which we were at first a little bit stubborn about, but as soon as we noticed that our visions merged, we started brainstorming about the possibilities of combining what we both are good at: to impress and ignite.
5. What was the process you had to go though to test whether it would work with the giant Tesla coils?
It’s a bigger process than just gathering the right materials or colors and constructing it, so I flew into Austin, Texas, where ArcAttack’s builder shop is housed. It’s “form follows function” in this case — a continual back and forth between design and role or purpose, where function was alpha, above all: multimeter testings of constructed connections, metal and aluminum materials that were ordered and mostly turned out not to reach the required conductive capabilities, paint jobs and coating that isolated too much of the created grounding structure.
It’s always trial and error when you are trying to do something new — and by testing it time after time, you secure your best options. When it was finally time for fitting and testing we started with firing up the coils lightly and built it up step by step. If the arcs raise through your heart, you might not live to tell, so if anything, this process was done very carefully. ArcAttack have been doing this for over 10 years and are specialists in their field.
Here’s a video of our first time testing the design with the Tesla coil gun:
6. Describe the feeling you had during the first showing.
Although I fully trust the whole team, the first time that the arcs hit me fully on stage was very scary, but incredibly interesting being in contact with such a free and pure form of electricity. Each coil can peak at about half a million volts, so I was basically surrounded by close to a million volts.
We shot a clip from inside my helmet using a GoPro, so viewers could see my perspective:
7. What types of reactions did the performance solicit from the audience?
Each show attracted a big crowd as soon as the Tesla coils started — it’s the kind of sound that can’t be ignored, as it’s very loud. Afterwards we walked towards the audience with Steve Ward wearing a Tesla coil gun, exciting the design so the audience could also see the design up close while being activated slightly. I am sure that a lot of the young girls will put a Tesla coil dress on this year’s wish list. Most of them got super hyper about the idea.
8. What is the most important thing you learned through this project?
I gained a more intuitive understanding of how electricity could flow freely, as I experienced it firsthand on stage. It was a good investigation on how to route and engage electricity as it flows over certain surfaces.
Working with the unstable (instead of controlled) nature of electricity at higher voltages inspired me to think of ways to energize uncontrolled effects — interfacing in a direct way with electricity instead of enclosing and leading it. This collaboration gave me the possibility to have electrical energy being broadcast without wires, through the ground, while energizing the plasma balls without any onboard circuitry. A good first introduction of possible wireless empowering, although a very radical and loud one.
9. How has your artist residency at Autodesk been going? What is your favorite part?
My favorite parts is that it feels like a big candy store where you can develop whatever you always wanted to create but never had the time, tools, or programs for. Inventions and work methoda that I developed over a short amount of time will stay with me forever. As an invited artist in residency at Autodesk, I have a grasp on both incredible software and pre-released features within an amazing production facility.
Check out Anouk’s Instructable titled “How to Get Fashionably Struck by Lightning” for more design and build details of the Faraday dress.