John Park was a Maker long before the term was ever used. And he’s here to tell you anyone can be a Maker, inspiration is everywhere and it’s easier than ever to learn what you don’t know.
John is quite well-known in the Maker Movement. He’s shared his projects with millions of people around the world, and now he will be sharing with the Miami community. You don’t want to miss his keynote talk at Maker Faire Miami April 6-7 at Miami Dade College.
His career is almost as interesting as his creations. John works for Adafruit Industries, creating a weekly project and corresponding video tutorials as well as other video content for the company that makes products for Makers. No day is typical for him, as he hops around between breadboard prototyping and 3D modeling, photography, video editing, 3D printing, electronics, carpentry and answering questions on social media for Adafruit. After hours, he might be tinkering on his own creation or helping his daughter with one of hers.
John also writes for Make magazine, Boing Boing and Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools. In addition to a 20+ year career in computer graphics for the likes of Disney (we’ll get to that in a bit), he hosted the Emmy-nominated Make television show on Public Television, where he taught viewers how to make a VCR cat feeder and air cannon Burrito Blaster, among other creations. He also co-founded a company to design and build hacking/prototyping kits and contributed to an excellent kids’ project book called Unbored.
You don’t have to be an engineer to do any of this stuff, he says. And he should know.
As a kid, John was always taking things apart around the house and putting them back together and soon he was modifying things, such as joy sticks for the Atari 2600 in the 80s. He went to college to study acting, not engineering. From a starter job working in a warehouse for a cool gaming company, he learned his way into a career in computer graphics, including as a character technical director and supervisor with Disney Animation Studios and Disneytoon Studios.
A highlight of his career was being involved in building computer graphics used to inform Disney Imagineers who were designing park attractions. “I was involved in research and development for the upcoming Star Wars land…. It was an incredible highlight to be involved with a group that was taking the skills from a number of disciplines and trying to work quickly and creatively to fail fast, fail often — to be involved with a scrappy R&D group that was doing very difficult things.”
But he also missed building things with his hands, as opposed to in the computer, and the launch of MAKE magazine inspired him to go back to his roots.
These days John has been building musical instruments, mostly hand-held synthesizers, drum machines or samplers. “I built a joystick the other day that I can use to input filter sounds and sweeps and whooshes into the synthesizer and it literally took me less than an hour to build it. It was super fun.”
It’s also a testament to how accessible tools for this technology have become, he said, noting that an open source software for micro-controllers developed by Adafruit called Circuit Python helped make it all possible.
He also likes build big, quite literally.
He built an Arduino, a micro-controller popular in the maker community, that was six times the size but functional. “It was a lot of fun because it involved a lot of graphic design, laser cut acrylic, really big LEDs, really big motors.”
Repurposing vintage gear is one of the hallmarks of a true Maker. A friend lent him an old school TNT detonator (think Road Runner-Wile E Coyote) and he turned it into a really elaborate on-off switch for his coffee grinder.
His wife, who raises guide dogs and is a very active mom of two, “accepts that what I do is my weird thing that I do.”
John’s advice: “Find places like a library maker space or a club where you can collaborate with people. There is something so exciting about working together and you tend to find ways to complement each other’s skills or interests.”
Take on projects that interest you, he continued. Start small or take on crazy, ambitious projects — you will learn a lot and help is a click away on a YouTube video. Get inspired at the Maker Faire Miami.
“Maker Faires tend to be so inclusive of all different types of people and projects and interests, and there is something really optimistic and encouraging about that. Collaborations can come from that,” John said.
To learn more about John’s crazy projects and celebrate the show and tell that is the Maker Movement, come to the Miami Maker Faire April 6-7. Buy your tickets here.