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Interactive Art of Scott Snibbe

Aired July 29, 2012 - 14:00   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: Interactive artist, Scott Snibbe, designed his first app back in the 1990s. Almost 20 years before the first smartphone even existed.

Today, he's blazing the trail in interact you have full body experiences. Working with some of the biggest names in entertainment, he transports his audiences into wholly immersive worlds of interact interactivity, one that commands all of your senses.

Get ready, over the next half-hour we'll explore the future of his creation, a future filled with magic. This is THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


SCOTT SNIBBE, INTERACTIVE ARTIST/FOUNDER, SNIBBE INTERACTIVE/SCOTT SNIBBE STUDIO: I wish there was a word that was something like an interactivist. You know, writers can sell books and scripts and things like that. Musicians can sell songs and albums.

Filmmakers can sell films and movie tickets. But people who make interactive stuff, the only place that we've talked about that is either in game development or in art.

Hi. I'm Scott Snibbe. I'm an interactive artist. I'm the founder of Snibbe Interactive and Scott Snibbe Studio. So I have two businesses here. Snibbe Interactive creates interactive installations and experiences that use your whole body as the input and output.

You don't need a pen, a stylus or even your finger touching something. You just move into space and it starts responding to you. And it is really a form of magic. It's like bringing literally like bringing your dreams to life.

Procter & Gamble used our products at the Shanghai Expo. We had a pretty cool exhibit where they were trying to show all these products about the body. They make a lot of things for your body.

We have a project we're doing with Coca-Cola, for example. They have a kiosk that they're putting in stores and it lets you play and have kind of like Coke pouring all over your body.

We also work with a lot of museums like the Museum of Science and Industry, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, London Science Museum and also a lot of strange places, what I called weird museums that don't fit a normal model like a Science Fiction Museum, the Music Museum in Seattle.

Probably the biggest like value proposition of our company is that there's less and less reason for people to go out anywhere and do anything because they can buy everything on the internet. They can watch movies on a huge screen at home.

They can play video games, so we offer experiences that still aren't at home and essentially will never be at home because they're huge. They're things that are 14 feet, 20 feet wide or they're things that require social interaction or even benefit from strangers interacting with each other in space.

Scott Snibbe Studio is a small organization that focuses on a smaller form of interactivity underneath your fingertips like on iPads and devices like that where it is another way of getting immerses in an interactive world.

I used to joke that it's not a non-profit. It is a no-profit business. It's my art studio and we do things like art commissions. Like we did an amazing commission at LAX, a 58-monitor installation that shows people, this kind of fantasy of what could happen in an airport.

It begins with people just walking, walking, walking, but then it starts and turns into this fantasy where people break up into dance, it becomes like a musical and people are dancing with each other.

You could have a kind of Lavapalooza in an airport with all those people there. It could be a huge party, but instead it is a huge bummer, everybody's scared, tired, upset, being slightly molested.

So anyway, that's what my studio did up to about 18 months ago. Then the iPad came out and that really flipped me out. Big part of my art I had abandoned because I couldn't find a way to distribute it.

So a lot of my artwork was art on a screen. It's call it like an interactive painting or interactive movie that you would touch and something would happen like manipulating stars an drawing with stars, making music with bubbles, things like that.

All of a sudden there was a direct channel to individual human beings to offer them something seemingly absurd and useless and yet that would give them intense amounts of joy and pleasure. You know? Before the iPad I used to joke that I made useless programs. But they're as useless as a song, a movie, a story, something like that.

nd all of a sudden, with the iPad, I could just go directly to people and say, check this thing out. It doesn't even -- we don't even have to label what it is. It is just called Gravel X, it is called Bubble Harp. See if you like it and all of a sudden they did.

So, my dream for the company is ultimately to create like feature- length experiences that are interactive. I began it as an art form and have made pieces very popular as art, but ultimately this medium is just like the evolution from kind of experimental films to TV commercials to short films, to features. I see the same thing in this form of interactivity where we work at the level of kind of experimental film, short film, commercial with interactivity, but we started to move into features now as we're working with people like James Cameron, people like Bjork.

That's like the highest, highest pinnacle of this medium and that's where I'd like to be in five to 10 years, is creating a feature.




SNIBBE: My parents were from New York City and they were part of the ultra art scene, then going to Andy Warhol parties, things like that. But they left for the country really early on and we grew up in a beach town.

It was this amazing contradictory existence where we had incredible nature, beaches, forests, huge garden, running around naked outside.

And then inside it was ultra modern, my parents can a huge plastics workshop that we are free run wild in and make our own stuff. So it was this perfect combination of nature and technology that we grew up with.

The other thing, it is a bit of a strange thing, we were raised as Christian scientists. That's a religion in which you don't go to the doctor. That's what it's best known for, is that you believe in your ability to heal yourself.

I'm not a Christian scientist any longer, but what that meant is our parents weren't afraid of us getting hurt, which is really fun for a kid. It's scary for your average parent, but not for my parents.

So, my parents, they fully trained us in how to use a complete industrial shop, like drill press, from drill press to table saw, you know, I mean can you imagine using a table saw?

When I was 10 years old, I was in this special group of kids, like a special program in middle school, and they took us one day to this room where they had six Apple computers, Apple 2 computers.

I remember when I walked in to that room, and I saw just the quality of the color, it was just like orange circles, a blue square, and I just thought, that is what I want to do with my life.

I want to make interactive computer graphics, computer graphics, film, and art. I got degrees. I got three degrees in all those things, master's degree in Computer Science.

At the time, I was thinking of combing film with technology some way but I didn't really understand what it could be. So my first job was at Adobe. We made a product called "After Effects," which is for special effects software. They use it in everything now. They use it in everything from, you know, "Star Wars" to like a BMW commercial. That went really, really well for a while. And the things that I did were selling very, very well.

Adobe just said, just do more of that, do whatever you want. So I came up with this idea for animation inside of browser where you could just make a simple language that used the smallest amount of data and instructions in order to describe an animation and play it on a webpage.

And I pitched that actually to the CEO of Adobe when I was there. He said, people don't want to see dancing monkeys on web pages. You know? And I said, what do you mean? That's exactly what people want to see! Are you crazy?

Around the mid '90s I started making some kind of more mature polished types of screen-based artwork where you interact with a screen using a mouse. Basically that was the only way we had back then.

They were actually meant as a combination of nature and technology. A way to take something that feels like nature, but looks like technology. So bubble harp is an example of that. We have these geometric bubble patterns, Gravel-X where you can draw with stars.

Those were shown in galleries and museums. You know, they were considered fine art, exhibited as fine art, collectible. As soon as I installed in a gallery, I realized a screen-based mouth is problematic because in a gallery you are experiencing everything with a body.

Yet when you approach a screen your body collapses into one eye and one finger. You know, some kind of like Greek Cyclopes with one finger. So I vowed if I were going to show anything else in a gallery, I'd use the body as the interface.

When I think back, that was really the roots of what I wanted to be as an artist is to create the kind of artwork that hits you first really in your gut and later then filters up.

At first it was this wild excitement about my art career and I did, I think, about 200 shows. But gradually I started to realize the financial implications of that as I was actually losing money on every show.

I actually had just about given up on installation artwork and even longer ago given up on wall screen based artwork. Then luckily it got kick started again as soon as the iPad came out. I realize, wow, finally there is a way to distribute this the way I want to, sell it for $1 or $2, like a song.

There's hundreds of thousands of people -- almost 1 million people have download those apps and it is fantastic because people don't necessarily think of them as art, which is fine. I like them to sort of and surprise, that people can't label them but they just enjoy them. To me, success is people really enjoying our work and the work having a positive impact on a person's day. Just to bring like joy and surprise and wonder to a person's life. Because the thing is, we should all feel that all the time.

So an app album is a brand-new thing. The idea is to create a complete fully immersive interactive experience that involves visuals, music and interactivity.




SNIBBE: Biophilia is a unique combination of media. Bjork had an incredible vision. Her first six albums were about her own experiences in life, and for her seventh album she wanted to do something different.

The topic she chose outside herself was everything else in the whole universe, a quite ambitious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Biophilia, you will experience how the three come together nature, music and technology. Listen, learn and create.


GUPTA: As executive producer of Biophilia, Scott collaborated with Icelandic singer/song writer, Bjork to create the world's first app album, a wild collection of songs, visuals and interactivity. Scott also created three of the album's apps.


SNIBBE: Virus is one of the apps that we created. When you zoom in to it, there is a kind of side shows and main attractions. The virus app launches and each of these apps is a kind of interactive experience in which you can play with the music.

The idea is to create a complete fully immersive interactive experience that involves visuals, music and interactivity. With Biophilia, there are ten interactive episodes kind of like scenes in a movie, but you can interact with each them and touch them.

Every song has three aspects to it. One is a natural element. The second is a musical element and the third is an interactive element. This is obviously about the microscopic world of cells.

So everyone of these cells is totally interactive and you can drag them around by their nucleus. And at the same time, viruses are coming in and they're trying --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you manipulate the viruses as well?

SNIBBE: Yes. So this is a kind of game where these viruses obviously trying to attack this mother cell. So you can fling these away, but if you do protect the cell, then the song gets stuck after the first two versus.

So it is a kind of anti-game where you have to lose this game in order to hear the whole Bjork song. You have to let the whole thing proceed and gradually you actually do learn how a viral infection works.

But it also has this poetic side because the song itself is, instead of a fem fatale. It is like a virus fatale story. These viruses love the cell so much that they have to kill it.

KATIE LINENDOLL, TECH EXPERT: Snibbe is a very interactive, very different artist. His approach to everything throughout the years has always stood out. The level of detail and immersion for a fan to experience, you can tell how much work has gone into this.

And I think when you take an artist like Bjork and she achieves this and puts it out there, I think there's going to be this paving the way kind of process. It is going to be interesting to see what's next.

SNIBBE: I think you need to be at least that age, 42, to remember buying an album. You put the needle down and generally you listened to the whole thing end to end.

Often you'd sit on the ground actually. I think there's something like kind of reverential, like spiritual, the way we'd kind of bond with an album.

And that completely disappeared, especially once we got to downloadable music because now people aren't even downloading the whole album. Certainly, they never had that falling in love period because they're listening to music while they're walking, while they're working, while they're cooking.

And it is nice to have a soundtrack to your life, but we lost that completely concentrated period. The app has the potential to bring that back and the way it does it is by demanding all of your senses at once.

That's the potential with this whole medium is that once again we can captivate all of people's senses and have a completely immersive feature length experience with music.

The next step for me is towards feature length experiences. It's like I would love one day to be able to make the 2001 of interactivity.




SNIBBE: I think the future is a little bit scary. You know, I tell people enjoy these last 10 robot-free years. You know? There are going to be robots walking down the street, maybe even 15 years. But at least for the next 10 years or so, it is more like what I'm doing. She'll grow up never knowing that every screen should be touch sensitive and interactive.

This keeps me going, is trying to push the limits of new ways of telling a story interactively. And I think the biggest risks for us come in sensing more and more about a person's body or their intention.

So just real technologies are technologies that sense the continuous movements of human beings and respond to them. It sounds so novel and exciting, but it's the way human beings interact with each other.

And that's why there's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about these because typically when you think about technology, you think about how am I going to learn how to use this technology?

But a gestural technology ideally should require no instructions, that it just senses the way you move into it. The next step for me is towards feature length experiences. It is like I would love one day to be able to make like the 2001 of interactivity.

I'm not there yet, really far from it, but that would be my dream, to make something that's considered like a masterpiece of expressive man's -- man's place in the universe. The work we did for "Avatar" is a great example of where we think this medium can go. It's a kind of fusion of interactivity in cinema.

We made four exhibits for "Avatar." One of them lets you move and become an actual "Avatar" character, see yourself. Another is a tabletop where you can score all of the conceptual art and the way they conceived of Pandora in the film.

Another is a way of creating your own shop through the film, the same way James Cameron did with this iPad-like device. The last one is a wall where you move and those glowing jelly like creatures, if you're slow and don't scare them, they'll come and settle on you, just like in the movie.

So you can imagine an experience that was like a huge room or even a huge building where you move from floor to floor and in each room there was another narrative experience, part of a story that's told partially through your relationship to other people and also through your relationships to interactive walls, ceilings, floors and tables.

If the people we're working with decide to move forward with the biggest possible vision, it is completely possible right now to have a fully immersive kind of interactive movie experience. Just keep your eyes on our website, I guess.

You'll see what comes out in 2012. So that's what I love what I do, it's social, not just you and the experience, but you and many other people, having a nice time together not regretting the past, not anticipating the future, but just in the present moment. That's it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: So much of today's technology only adds to our stress. But Scott Snibbe's apps and his interactive experiences bring us closer to nature and to each other.

Scott is a part of a unique group of people driven to do more with what they love doing. Sometimes they find that passion by accident and other times it is as if they were born to do nothing else. In the end though, they are all agents of change. That's what earns them a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

For more on this episode and other agents of change, please go to and join me on my live stream at It is a one-stop spot for all my videos, blogs, tweets, and behind the scenes photos.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. See you back here next Sunday.