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ed burton, soda creative - sodaconstructor

soda - sodaconstructor, 2000 - displayed as single-channel projection; silent interactive

Sodaconstructor, 2000

TBC displayed as single-channel projection; silent 
Interactive com; b&w
Collection: Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Courtesy: Soda Creative Ltd

contents:   essay  |  artist's bio  |  artist's statement


Soda Creative Ltd is a British design group formed in 1996, which combines art and research with a broad range of commercial activities. Ed Burton, Soda's Research and Development Director, originally created Sodaconstructor as a tool to help him learn the web language Java. After a quiet beginning, 'word of email' about the site grew and its popularity soared: Sodaconstructor now receives up to 200,000 hits per day from its dedicated community of users, and has been awarded a BAFTA and nominated for two Webbys.

Burton has long been interested in the way young children develop drawing skills, and he has designed artificial intelligence programs to explore different models of learning behaviour. This fascination with the connection between play and learning is at the heart of the success of Sodaconstructor. As well as providing a dynamic environment for creative play, the constructor also embodies a concept of interactivity that goes far beyond just selecting options from a series of pre-programmed outcomes.

The constructor invites players to create two-dimensional shapes and models which can be animated by manipulating muscles, springs and masses. Gravity, friction and speed of movement can also be adjusted by controls represented as simple visual graphs. In the Sodazoo there is an amazing variety of moving creatures and models created by people of all ages and skill levels. Users can interact with individual creatures in the zoo to figure out how they work, to extend the ideas of their original maker, or even to mutate or destroy them, giving elegant 'walkers' a limp, or crushing fragile 'amoeba' by increasing the force of gravity. These new hybrids can then be saved into the user's own personal file, along with any models they create from scratch. There is also a forum where model makers discuss the finer details of construction and share their latest creations.

The immediacy of the process is immensely satisfying - combining the freedom of 'a blank sheet of white paper' with the logical constraints and predictability of the laws of physical motion. The beauty of Sodaconstructor is that users can play with it successfully regardless of their mathematical abilities; there's no right or wrong way to proceed. The simple pleasure of making still graphics move by the touch of a button is fulfilling in itself, but as experience grows and skills increase, the pride players feel in their creations spurs them on to attempt more ambitious and complex models.

Ed Burton is interested in the way Sodaconstructor challenges the distinct roles of artist and audience: 'Good art isn't easy, and if the audience are included in the creative process that's demanding a lot of them. What's been amazing to see emerge in the Sodazoo is the appearance of power-users who have stretched the application with mould-breaking Sodaconstructor models. Incidentally, I'll be taking the level of meta creation to a further level later this year, at we'll be facilitating researchers to create Artificial Intelligences which then in turn create Sodaconstructor models, meta meta creation, where will it all end?'1

1 Interview with Ed Burton by Rob Turknett, AMODA.
accessed 12 September 2003

artist's bio

Soda Creative Ltd is a UK-based design group founded in 1996, which combines an arts and research practice with a broad range of commercial activities. The members of the group come from an eclectic range of backgrounds, including art, design, architecture, software design and music. Work created by Soda and its individual members has featured in a variety of exhibitions of digital art in recent years, including the Sonar festival in Barcelona and the prestigious Ars Electroncia in Linz, Austria. Soda has developed interactive sites for media groups such as the BBC, and in 2002 the Sodaplay site was listed in Time Magazine's '50 Best Websites'.

Ed Burton, Soda's Director of Research and Development, originally designed Sodaconstructor as a toy to help him learn to program in Java. Burton's current research interests are reflected in his ongoing doctoral thesis applying artificial intelligence as a framework to represent and investigate the way young children learn to draw. A philosophy of fostering creativity, innovation and play in the development and implementation of new technologies underlies the Soda approach to both commercial and artistic endeavours.

artist's statement

Sodaconstructor is an engaging online construction kit that gives players the ability to build interactive creations from a sparse framework of limbs and muscles. By altering physical properties like gravity, friction and speed, curiously anthropomorphic models can be made to walk, climb, wriggle, jiggle or alternatively collapse into a writhing heap. Sodaconstructor exploded across the internet in a wave of spontaneous email communication and web postings in the summer of 2000. Since then a large and active worldwide community of Sodaplayers have been creating their own Sodaconstructions which now populate the Sodazoo with a bourgeoning menagerie of models that are stranger and more diverse than Soda ever imagined possible.

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