Passion, Play and the Spirit of Invention

What makes an inventor? Is it about being an Einstein, unspooling brilliant theories onto a blackboard? Or Wozniak and Jobs, disrupting the world from a garage? Maybe, when you think of an inventor, you picture dear, frazzled Doc emerging from his time machine in “Back to the Future.” No matter which image you have in mind, the best inventors pour their passion into their work and push the boundaries of what we know to be possible. This year for National Inventor’s Day, we’re recognizing a few folks whose personal passions have driven their inventions:

Bhautik Joshi—Blending Art and Science So Moviemakers Can Tell New Stories

Top right: A still from Come Swim; Bottom right: The still redrawn in the impressionistic style of the painting using Neural Style Transfer.

Bhautik, a research engineer, loved movies as a kid. Years later, when he started building surgical simulators for his doctorate, he realized he could combine his studies with his old passion—he started creating tools to make computer simulations for film. This led him to a stint at Industrial Light & Magic where, Bhautik explains, “I learned that science could be steered in service of a story; we could build tools to help artists express themselves in entirely new ways.”

Now Bhautik has figured out how to use the technology behind neural style transfers, the tech that recreates an image in another style, and turn it into a tool moviemakers can use to completely rework the look and mood of their scenes. For his first experiment, Bhautik redrew “Blade Runner” in the style of “Starry Night” by Van Gogh; then he remade “A Space Odyssey” in the colors and expressive style of Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger.” When he posted his work it went viral in tech and art circles, which brought him to his most recent groundbreaking project—a collaboration with Kristen Stewart in her short film “Come Swim.” The film, which was shown at Sundance Film Festival in January, uses Bhautik’s tools and the style of Stewart’s paintings to redraw key scenes in her film. Read more to find out about the evolution of Bhautik’s work.

Danielle Morimoto—Unlocking Creativity with Smarter Design Tools

Right: Danielle presenting QuickLayout at Adobe MAX Sneaks 2016.

Danielle, an experience designer, owes her parents a small apology. As a kid, she loved drawing, sewing, photography, but especially making collages. So when her mom and dad would sit down to read their mail, they’d find it was already full of holes. Danielle had snipped out the images, words and letters that caught her eye, and stashed them away for her collage projects. “Looking back, I realize I was always drawn to typography and graphic images. In a sense, I was composing layouts and thinking about what would be aesthetically pleasing,” says Danielle. In high school, she took design and web engineering courses, where she learned programs like Photoshop and Dreamweaver. That’s when she found her passion, and her future career—in the spot where design meets technology. 

Today Danielle has helped invent the next generation of the tech she loves. Her latest project is QuickLayout, a drag-and-drop interface for design. QuickLayout creates a grid-based relationship between all of the elements in a design and then, when users want to add a new image or piece of text, the document automatically adjusts its structure to accommodate the addition. Danielle originally imagined that the tool would help non-designers create fliers and brochures, but even professionals are excited about the efficiency it brings to their process. “It wasn’t until I was given powerful tools to create things digitally that I saw myself doing this as a career,” explains Danielle. “For me it’s really cool to be making tools like the ones that helped unlock my own creativity.” Read more about QuickLayout and watch a video of Danielle presenting it at Adobe MAX here.

Gavin Miller—Merging Biology and Robots to Inspire New Thinking in a Software World

Right: Gavin’s S5 snake robot which is now on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Gavin, fellow and head of Adobe Research, has lots of patents and publications under his belt, but his passion is robotics. Early in his career, Gavin wrote a paper, “The Motion Dynamics of Snakes and Worms,” and from that moment he was intrigued by a question: Could he build robots to bring these movements to life? “Creativity comes from having a rich metaphorical landscape,” says Gavin. “Being able to draw on different stories or ideas for inspiration can often lead you to a technical idea that becomes a practical thing.”

Snakes were the inspiration, and they led Gavin to build unbelievably life-like snake robots (one of which was the ring bearer at his wedding!). His robots now thrill museumgoers and You Tube fans, and inform academic audiences. The work keeps Gavin on top of the latest technological advances, especially deep infrared cameras and inertial sensors. The robots also give him a great tool to get young people interested in technology. Every year Gavin participates in Girls Who Code, where he’s found that a novel, relatable technological invention can inspire curiosity. It’s how he’s passing his love of tech forward. Read more about Gavin’s passion for snake robots here.

Each of these inventors helped us think differently about what it means to create. You don’t have to sit in a lab working on formulas, and you don’t have to tackle something as impossible as a time machine. Somewhere in between are the folks who channel their talents and passion and playfulness to come up with better tools and new ways to do things. And that’s something worth celebrating for National Inventor’s Day.