The idea for Fly Drive came from trying to
devise a simple simulator ride my 13 year old apprentice could build. In this initial
form, you sat on an office chair in front of a computer monitor. The
motorised chair simply rotated a bit, and the chair back rest had a fly
swot with a motor to swot the back of your head.
Mirror plastic kaleidoscopes
View through kaleidoscope
This project never went further, but the idea stayed
in my head, and became progressively more elaborate. There is a
particularly dreary ecology gallery in Londonís natural history museum,
but it does have a great trick combining video monitors with mirrors to
make video kaleidoscopes. In a traditional kaleidoscope, three mirrors are
long thin rectangles, joined to form a tube. Looking at the video through
the tube makes the image appear to continue for infinity.But if the mirrors are wider at one end, forming a triangular cone,
the image appears to disappear round the sides of a sphere, just like the
multiple spherical facets of a flies eye. Of course flies eyes aren't really like that, but I knew it would look Ďrightí.
real flies eye
I still wasnít sure whether the idea was good
enough to put in my arcade, but I spent a day cutting small Perspex
mirrors, gluing them together in different shaped kaleidoscopes. This
encouraged me enough to make a full scale version in front of a TV set,
and it was the excitement of watching this that propelled me to make the
I started reading about flies.
Iíd never realised they were quite so fascinating and disgusting. Baby
animals can melt anyoneís heart, that is all babies except for baby
flies Ė maggots. If maggots arenít disgusting enough, adult flies canít
eat solid food, so they spew out saliva on everything they land on. They
then suck it back in, after the corrosive juices of the saliva have
extracted nutrients from the food. A teacher told me that the feeding
habits of flies had been set as a recent exam question, and it was the one
question in the exam that every kid had scored 100%. Obviously
So the experience driving the fly had to be as disgusting as possible. At moments like these I sometimes feel sorry for artists. Disgust is so
universally regarded as low brow childrenís humour, its hard to embrace
it if you are trying to be taken seriously, as artists have to do. I once
researched a gallery about the emotions for Londonís Science museum.
Disgust was much the easiest emotion, because itís so totally universal.
People are scared or angered by different things and find different things
pleasurable, but everyone is disgusted by the same things. This is why
disgust can never be sophisticated, why there are art house horror
films but no art house disgusting films.
But just because disgust is not sophisticated
doesnít mean its not interesting. Its perfect for an amusement arcade,
because the machines have to appeal to everyone. My sense of humour has
always been pretty basic anyway. My wife couldnít cope with the knack
that my step daughter and I seemed to have of turning the conversation to
something disgusting every time we ate a meal. It wasnít deliberate, it
just seemed to happen.
machine was fun to make. After the kaleidoscopes were built, it progressed
very fast. Even despite the disaster with the high brightness LCD monitors Iíd had
imported form Korea at great expense Ė LCD monitors have
very different levels of brightness when viewed from different angles,
they just looked drab through the kaleidoscope. The machine just had to be deeper to accommodate old fashioned CRT monitors,
and I bought three from Argos, (one for a spare), at less than a tenth of
the price of the fancy LCD ones.I thought a car stub axle would be good for the seat and the
local scrapyard knew immediately that a rear Astra axle would be best and
cut one off for me on the spot.I had everything else in the stores so Graham and I made the entire
frame and the moving seat in a couple of days. The main motor came from a
treadmill. The main gearbox came from an old wheel kiddi-ride Iíd
stripped a couple of years ago. Even the steel was left over from a
The machine then got bogged down for weeks while I
sorted out two problems. First the ergonomics, making the seat fit anybody
whatever size or shape (using Graham as the largest size ,and Sam, my 4
year old grandson as the smallest). Second the health and safety issues
like finger traps or falling off the seat. These might seem really tedious but can
actually be quite satisfying when you find the best solution.
Once these problems were solved I could fix the shape of the whole
machine. I made a model, always useful, and realised that the seat could
be the flies proboscis (tongue). I thought it might be possible to have
a couple of small pneumatic tyres as the seat, and have them inflate and
deflate while you were feeding. This was a disaster, the tyres tended to
pinch your bum quite painfully. But it led to a highly successful
alternative, a simple inflating rubber cushion.
We had another burst of speed making the flies head out
of blocks of foamed polyurethane roof insulation and glass fibre,and the plywood outer casing of the rest of the machine. This was
followed by another slump, while I struggled to find a way of making
fireproof flies hairs which couldnít be pulled out. I liked the look
of black PU tubing, heated to stretch and taper the ends. Only after a
day making hundreds of hairs did I try setting fire to one Ė the thin
ends were really easy to ignite. The next attempt was sisal rope, died
black and impregnated with fireproofing chemical. This looked great, but
the fireproofing reacted with the resin so it never stuck well. I was so
confident I had covered the whole fly with sisal hairs and I kept
thinking it just needed a bit longer to set hard, but after a week the
hairs still pulled out really easily. The final solution was nylon rope
Ė I never thought it was possible to flameproof plastics like nylon,
but it seems to work. The hairs are knotted under the glass fibre to
stop them being pulled out.
The machine sat in my workshop, almost completely
finished, for over a month while I sorted out the video. I had done
tests, even an unsuccessful attempt to fit a gyroscope to the camera to
make the motion less wobbly, and had got the hang of using the camera
hand-held to make the most of the kaleideoscopic effect.
I had realised that my kitchen wouldnít do as the
film set. Its so full of photos on the walls and other junk it just
doesnít look normal. Rexís house, however, was perfect. Also I
needed an actor to appear in the video, getting cross with the fly.
Iíve never directed an actor before so this seemed daunting. But Steve
was perfect, and I really enjoyed working with him, and he had lots of
good ideas. We filmed it all in a day, and as I drove home I was
confident it would be fine. Editing was a joy, knitting the scenes
together, adding the sounds and perfecting the timing.
I had just started to program the PLC (industrial
computer) which controls everything and links the video to the physical
effects when smoke started coming out of it. Iím still not sure what
happened but it fried the PLC and the expensive lead to my laptop. I
couldnít face buying new replacements which would have arrived the
next day, so I bought them on e-bay (£120 instead of £460 new) but had
to wait a couple of weeks until they arrived.So frustrating in retrospect I donít think the saving was worth
The game is really simple, you just have to judge
when to move onto the next scene before you get swatted (literally Ė
there are two fly swats under the flies head which swot your hands if
you donít take off in time).I
tried the game out on a group of visitors, making them stay outside
until their turn, so they would have no pre-conceptions of what to do.
Both kids got it perfectly but the three adults were much slower. So, I
added extra instructions and took it to the pier.It was quickly obvious people were much too timid, I didnít see
anyone get swatted, let alone die (three swats). So, more instructions
more coercion, if you donít feed for long enough. After
a week of making minor adjustments to the program and video it seemed
right, though I think it will never be as popular as some of the other
machines. The screens full of maggots put some people off and others
assume that the game will be too complicated to understand on a first go
(like many conventional arcade games).