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SXSW Recap by Theun de Bruijn


It's a wrap. We're done. let's put it in the books. At least the part of the annual cross culture media event known as SXSW that falls under the interactive umbrella.
Year after year the worlds of tech, science, film, music, style and yes, sports, are converging into some kind of primordial creative soup. With the city of Austin, Texas serving once again as its buzzing host, the eclectic set of attendees stir the pot into one of the tastiest creative meals you can imagine. Or, at least that's what the card labeled as SXSW promises. Putting aside the joys in catching up with old friends and meeting new people, there sure was a lot on offer this time around. Here's a couple highlights that struck me as significant.

Kicking things off the nerdy way I'd say it's time we dust off those biology textbooks. And yes, that includes those of us working in advertising.
With the advancements being made in the field of Biotech, a future where we spend our evenings manipulating DNA strands in front of the telly isn't that far off. Garage Biology will absolutely be a thing.

Starter kits developed by entrepreneurs such as Orkan Telhan are bringing industry tools to the masses in a way that may change the way we interact with nature forever. At least in the USA. Strict governmental regulations are looking to make this a little less of a run-of-the-mill affair in the EU.

Another aspect of the sciences addressed by multiple speakers is the rise of a movement that's advocating for a remodeling of the STEM system. With all kinds of disciplines converging in the industrial markets, it might be time that the traditional educational pillars start including some of the softer aspects of human learning. By introducing art and design into the mix we recognize the importance of human interaction and esthetic value in whatever field we decide to devote our time to.

Some prominent voices in the area of robotics put forward the notion of introducing the letter R into the mix as well. Which, although charming, seems a bit of a stretch.

Striking was the amount of panels dedicated to the advancements being made in the world of fabrics and fashion. We've been buying, touching and wearing fabrics for thousands of years. It's clearly time to bring computing into the mix. Big time.

While still in early days, all aspects of the ways we make, buy, use and dispose of our clothing are being looked at. Innovations such as haptic feedback allow for technology to be completely integrated into the fabric, providing signals to your body while keeping your hands and eyes free to handle other tasks. Taking the idea of integration a step further, computational power has gotten possible at such small scales we're able to embed them directly into the fibers of the fabrics you wear. And with energy being obtained from your bodily movements, bulky accessories will no longer be required.

There's an analogy we can make to Apple's new MacBook that was announced last week. Its core premise is the idea of prioritizing portability over computational power, singleminded in its focus and made available at a premium price. All concepts the upcoming wave of fashion tech will share.

A session that stood out in particular was one by UK's own T H E U N S E E N. An up and coming fashion house that takes scientific advancements and combines them with world class esthetic sensibilities. The recent exposure they've received, including being featured at London's V&A, is completely deserved.

US POWERHOUSES
Rounding out the show were sessions by US staples NASA, Pixar, and Hollywood. While the content presented was somewhat predictable it's still a joy to see people that excel at their craft talk you through their personal and professional journeys. Oh, and yes. We're going to see humans set foot on Mars. Soon!

Besides taking the audience through the hardships and highlights of producing Toy Story 20 years ago, Pixar decided to bring in actual props used during the film's production. Including a pre-Woody doll used to do positioning, lighting, and motion tests. The wool and fabric easily outperforming the computer hardware available at the time. Fascinating stuff.

Interested in a lite taste of what the Films part of South By would have on offer, I popped in on the post-production panel for last year's critical darling Boyhood. Wow! The room was packed! With all the interactive gadgetry going around you'd almost forget classic storytelling is a true cornerstone of our culture.

If I had to guess I'd say one of the questions that'll be answered next year is if the up and coming Virtual Reality revolution will make good on its promises, and deliver storytelling in ways never experienced before.

Wrapping up you could feel a sense of relief coming from the panels. Glad to be done, yet with a tinge of sadness about the experience coming to an end. 
Not a bad way to end a festival I'd say. 
Till next time Austin.
Hook 'em Horns!

- Theun de Bruijn. Technical Director at B-Reel's London office.
Follow him on Twitter @theundebruijn

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