engineer

tim   .

                                                      


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.   hunkin

                                                         


cartoonist

 

MAKING FLY DRIVE 2008

 

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 whole machine.

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 unforgettable.

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.   

 The 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 previous project.

  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 delay. 

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 and 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). 

   

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