So many of your projects are super big and awesome - for example your lotus, that ginormous helicopter (with inflatable Gatling gun!!) - but have you ever thought of making tiny inflatables? I’m thinking things people can put on a desk or maybe on a bookshelf as a tiny sculpture inflated by one of those computer fans.
Gaia: Yes we have actually thought about making small inflatables. I found some really small fans that plug into the USB port on a computer and I have been experimenting with doing funny little objects like rabbits and robots. We like the idea of making interesting lighting sculptures and other high quality sculptural work for personal use.The small items can be challenging because the pattern pieces can be difficult to work with at such a small scale. The large items for the same reason but the opposite... Some of the pattern pieces can be really really large and if they are made of heavy PVC material it can take a few people to manoeuvre the fabric to get the stitching done. I love making medium sized details objects because they tend to have the most impact, I can work on it by myself late into the night and puzzling the pieces together becomes strangely enjoyable on a lack of sleep high.
The largest job I worked on was a cover for a 14m diameter dome. That definitely wasn't the hardest though!
I have done some funny jobs before like traveling to site to fix things. One time we had to drag a huge industrial sewing machine to the middle of a giant deflated structure to fix a tear. Unfortunately there was no electricity on site (we thought we were going to be able to power the machine using a car battery generator set up thingy, but it wasn't working :-( ). I had to control the material and the foot pedal as my colleague turned the sewing machine wheel manually, there have been some comical times!
Mahani: As the Product Designer, I work mainly on the computer designing the inflatables in 3D. So, on screen it doesn't really make any difference how big or small the object really is. I have worked on large scale projects of structures up to 30m but as they are generally simpler and minimalist they are not the most difficult to design apart from making sure they are structurally sound and wont collapse on people inside!
I would say the most challenging project I have ever worked on was at the company where I met Gaia. It was a travelling Pavilion for Puma for the Volvo Ocean Race where I was Project Manager, Project Designer, Assistant, Client and Sub-contractor liaison all rolled into one. It was a highly stressful project but after seeing it built and how it turned out, my confidence grew. If I can do this, I can do pretty much anything! this was the deciding factor for me to move on and set up Studio Souffle with Gaia.
Among the projects done with Studio Souffle I would have to say the Weston Flowers was one of the most challenging. As they were quite small and slim in comparison to what we were used too, it was difficult to find the balance between making sure the sections were thick enough to have enough pressure to stand up and at the same time keep the look of the original sketches which were pretty twiggy.
Since this interview will be on and one of the company’s founders is @budnitz formerly of Kid Robot, I’d be sort of remiss if I didn’t ask about your cool Kid Robot inflatables you did for Selfridges back in 2008. What has been your favorite project so far, and are there any you are looking forward to in particular?
Gaia: Oh yes, that was a great project! I loved making those Kid Robot figures. That was when my colleague Mahani and I were working together as the "bespoke team" at the company we met at. The boss had me make a chromed effect rabbit for him later. (Photo: Courtesy INFLATE)
Kid Robot sent us a bunch of characters to make sure we got all the measurements right and everyone who visited the studio loved them, as did we.
I have a lot of projects that I loved working on. I guess the one that always stands out for me the most was the Selfridges Baubles. The patterns were very complicated and I had to be extremely organised to make sure it was put together correctly. The time scale was really tight so I was working a lot of hours every day.
The finished product was the most exciting and to be locked in Selfridges late at night while all the riggers hung them up was fun.
I also really enjoyed doing the Circus Tents because I just made the patterns by hand instead of computer generating them. I use them every year at Burningman and it's so nice to lay inside daydreaming to the bright colors and let the sound of the fan calmly lull you off to sleep on a late afternoon nap before heading out into the wacky world of Burningman alien night scape adventures.
Mahani: My favourite projects so far have to be SNOG, Dream Circus Elephant and the Lotus Pavilion. Having to give full concentration on the computer to make sure the shape is right gives me a buzz. You never quite know how it will turn out until you inflate it and is hugely down to experience.
Dream Circus Elephant
Our projects are normally either smaller scale and intricate or larger scale with minimalist design. With the Lotus I got the opportunity to work on an intricate design on a large scale. We also had a lot of technical details to work out to make the petals open and close.