Escape Velocity: Back Story of Coachella Astronaut

You didn’t have to go to Coachella this year to hear about the #coachellaastronaut. It reminds me of the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, which is maybe lost as a reference on most of the born in the 80′s-and-90′s Coachella audience. Although the astronaut appears to be inflatable, it is actually a giant machine, based around a forklift. Did someone say “art car”?

Here’s their official announcement:


April 11, 2014- Poetic Kinetics Inc., known for their large-scale interactive kinetic art, is introducing “Escape Velocity” to this year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival on April 11-20.

This year they are shooting for the stars with “Escape Velocity”, a 36’ tall x 57’ long x 40’ wide mobile Astronaut. This gigantic kinetic sculpture features radio-controlled animatronics, giving it the ability to articulate life-like gestures, such as peace and thumbs up signs.  The visor of the Astronaut is equipped with video projection mapping, allowing for video content as well as a live, interactive facial and name capture system. This will allow participants to interact with the Astronaut and have their face projected into the helmet visor as well as have their name appear on the suit’s name-tag.

Festivalgoers and artists can follow the astronaut’s adventures via Instagram @CoachellaAstronaut. They are also encouraged to use #CoachellaAstronaut to document their festival experience and interact directly with the astronaut.

3028987-slide-s-5-a-coachella-astronaut“Escape Velocity” is the highly anticipated follow up to “Helix Poeticus,” widely known by festival-goers as #CoachellaSnail.  The Snail garnered critical praise and worldwide attention after debuting at last year’s sold-out festival.

Poetic Kinetics Inc. has created art pieces for the festival consecutively for the past 3 years. Aiming to capture the true creative spirit and ingenuity that Coachella represents, Patrick Shearn and the Poetic Kinetics team poured themselves into crafting this work of art over the last three months. They embraced a broad range of technologies and materials, utilizing modern day digital fabrication processes.

After “Escape Velocity” makes its big debut at Coachella, it will be searching for a new adventure.  It would love to find a home, be it a Space and Science museum or a really, really big backyard.  There are rumors of an eBay bidding war after the first weekend…

Follow this friendly giant and its adventures all festival long via socials. 

Story and photos from Fast Company:

3028987-slide-s-2-a-coachella-astronautAs the hordes of festival-goers descend on the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, they’ve got a friend from outer space there to greet them.Last year, at Coachella, the star of the festival wasn’t Blur, or Phoenix, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers: It was the snail. The Coachella Snail, a three-story-tall art piece, is still a trending topic on Twitter (#CoachellaSnail) and fans were given instructions on how to build their own miniature versions at home.

So how do you follow up the success of an art project like the Snail? You build an even bigger piece–this time, the #CoachellaAstronaut.

The Coachella Astronaut (aka “Escape Velocity”) is a 36-foot tall, 57-foot long, 40-foot wide creation, built on a forklift, that will traverse the Coachella crowd both weekends of the festival. He (or she?) is an astronaut who got lost in space and found himself in another dimension (aka the Coachella festival). “It’s massive,” says Tyler Hanson, of Poetic Kinetics Inc,, who was responsible for both the Coachella Snail and the Astronaut. “It’s a really fucking cool thing. At night, the helmet and visor turn into a video screen–there’s going to be some interesting content, and there are also going to be Instagram competitions, where kids can get their face put into the helmet. They can be the astronaut for a moment.”

3028987-slide-s-1-a-coachella-astronautThe idea of building a kinetic art piece that roams through the crowd appeals to Hanson, who spends a lot of time working on brand activations at other festivals (he worked on the Lady Gaga show and the Doritos Vending Machine stage at SXSW last month). But what Coachella does is different–more akin to a proper arts grant than a branded piece of content. The festival commissions nearly $2.2 million worth of art for the attendees each year.

“Coachella is really unique,” Hanson says. “They’re one of the largest budgets of large-scale art in the world, at a festival or anything else. They have always been commissioning awesome artists to build one-of-a-kind, unique installations. It’s definitely art-for-art’s-sake. It’s for the kids.”

Ultimately, Hanson hopes that the Astronaut ends up being what he calls an “analog meme,” something that travels the grounds of the festival and finds itself discussed by the attendees in real time and in real space, so his giant animatronic float–or perhaps puppet–finds its way onto social networks organically. With the base being a 12k variable-reach forklift and the body components being made out of steel tubing, chicken wire, and pin rods–with the clothing and skin created with fabric and batting–the astronaut looks like something most people rarely see on that scale. Plus, with the animatronics, he can flash peace signs to the Coachella crowds.

“The only thing you could compare it to is like a Macy’s Day Parade or something like that,” Hanson says. “But those are all inflatables. This thing is a massive machine, and an art piece in and of itself.”

To that end, it’s also going to be for sale: the last piece of the #CoachellaAstronaut puzzle is that it’s going to be looking for a home. “We’ve joked about putting it on eBay, just for fun,” Hanson says, but theyare looking for a giant warehouse, or maybe a really, really big backyard, that wants an iconic piece to display. By the time the two weekends of Coachella are a wrap, if it has the impact that Hanson and his team want it to, this thing is going to belong in a museum.




astronaut balloons

It deserves to be in a museum…or my back yard! Let’s hope they go ahead with this eBay auction, should be interesting.

This video shows some of the projection on its visor. Rad. Congratulations to Tyler and the rest of his team.

Going to Burning Man Without an RV

tonyedwardswidget2Comedian, Mac Genius and double-digit Burner Tony Edwards has put together a very useful blog post on alternatives to RV’s for Burning Man.

Reblogged from

Going to Burning Man is a pain in the ass. Two of the biggest challenges are transportation and shelter. This is why the Recreational Vehicle is the king of Burning Man shelter, it’s the easiest way to go. Well, actually, the absolute easiest way to go to Burning Man is to have someone drive an RV to the playa for you, while you fly into BRC airport. Unless you actually own an RV, it’s also the most expensive, which is why it’s called “Rockstarring”.


To rent an RV, you can figure on costs starting at about $3000 and going up from there. That’s not including fuel and cleaning fees. Not everyone can afford that, but, there are other, less expensive ways to bring shelter with you to Burning Man. However, there are some very important requirements to meet for the perfect Burning Man shelter.


1. It must be able to withstand gale-force winds.


2. It should be able to be erected fairly easily and quickly by a small number of people. If you arrive after driving 10 hours straight (not recommended, BTW), you are going to want to get your shelter ready fast so that you can take a nap. Also, you don’t want to be struggling with it while the wind is blowing hard. The faster it goes up, the sooner you can hunker down if need be.


tent-dust3. It should be dust-resistant. The dust at Burning Man is called playa dust. It has the texture of coarse talcum powder. It is also extremely corrosive and alkaline. It gets everywhere. You do not want to come in from the playa, looking forward to a little sleep and find your bed and everything in your tent covered with a thick layer of dust.


4. Roomier is better. Also, being able to stand up straight is a big plus. Imagine trying to get dressed while bent over.


5. You will need shade. Burning Man is a strenuous event. You are going to want to be able to get lots of rest when you need it. Let’s say you go out for the evening and return to your camp just before sunrise, which is also the coldest time of day on the playa. You crawl into bed in your tent at 6am. But, once the sun comes up, the temperature rises very quickly. Within a couple of hours, your tent goes from being a freezer to an oven…unless it’s under shade.


Here are some possibilities.






The tent is the shelter of choice for the 99% at Burning Man. It’s the cheapest, in terms of cost and transportation. But, you have to choose your tent wisely and take precautions. We have done tents at Burning Man several times. My first year, I brought a small, two-person tent. Not good. See requirements 3, 4 and 5. I ended up sleeping in my car (more on that later…).


When considering a tent, try to find one with no mesh panels. In 2012, I found the tent pictured above for an excellent price. It had a couple of mesh panel in the roof, so I sealed them with Gorilla tape and extra nylon fabric. That, combined with the rain fly, partial cover and protection from an adjacent RV made for a comfortable one-person Playa home..


When choosing a tent, you want to give yourself some headroom and floor space in the tent.


I STRONGLY suggest against using any kind of tent without shade.


rebarDo not use the tent stakes that came with your tent. The wind will pull them out and send your tent flying. Get extra long, heavy duty metal ones. The best solution is to use reinforcing bar or rebar, for short. If you can find some with the bend at the top, or have some bent like a candy cane, that’s even better. Note: You will probably need to bring/borrow a sledge hammer to drive the rebar into the playa, and vise grips to pull them out. And something to put over tops so that people don’t trip on them and gouge there ankle, like tennis balls with slits cut in them. Oh yeah, bring work gloves, too. See what I mean? Pain in the ass.


One year, we struck upon what ended up being a great tent setup. We will probably use this solution this year.


First, the tent:

Big Ass Tent


This Trek tent has a foot print of 10’ X 20’, which is why we lovingly call it the “Big Ass Tent”. You can find it online selling anywhere from $250 to $300. Here’s why this tent rocks:


1. Every window and door have both mesh closing and solid closings. That means, when it’s all zipped up, there is no way for dust to get in! But, if the weather is nice, you can open them up and get a breeze.


2. I can walk in standing straight up! (I’m 5’10”). And, I can remain standing in about 80% of the tent.


3. It has metal poles that won’t break in a high wind and lot’s of stake-down loops.


4. It has a full, reinforced floor with a threshold at the door.


5. It has 3 three rooms. There are room divider fabrics built in. Use one room for the bed, the middle room as a living area and the third room for storage.


6. Going to another multi-day festival or just camping? You are all set!


The only part missing is the shade, which is why we also borrowed a legendary Burning Man shelter, the Costco car canopy:




This car tent’s dimensions are…10’ X 20’! Put this tent up, then put the canopy over it. You get extra dust protection and plenty of shade. Air circulates between the canopy and the tent, so you can basically sleep in the middle of the day.




Yeah, I know, I look cranky. But look how cute Laura is in the mirror. You can look inside and see how dark it is in the middle of the day.


Anyway, you could use a smaller tent and/or different shade solution. But, trust me, if you are doing a tent, you need shade.









I don’t suggest living out of your vehicle unless it was made for camping. This is a picture of me the first year at Burning Man, 2002. I was going to sleep in the tent on the right, but after the first morning, I switched to the car. Someone gave me reflective material to put over the windows to help with the sun. I slept in the car and put my stuff in the tent.


Let’s say that you take something bigger that a car, like a van. A van is great because it takes care of shelter and transportation, you can carry all of your stuff in it. But, you can basically only sleep in it. You are constantly getting in and out of the van, so it’s going to get a lot of playa dust in it. If you rented the van, the rental company is probably going to ream you for extra cleaning costs, even if you try to clean it yourself first.


You know how you aren’t supposed to leave dogs in a car with the windows closed on a sunny day. If you sleep in your vehicle, you are that dog, unless you have shade. If you added a Costco canopy to the mix, that would help with shade, but I still don’t think camping like that is ideal.


Campers and Trailers




Campers and trailers make for great Burning Man shelter because that’s what they were designed for. If you don’t own one, see if some kind friend or family member will letyou borrow their’s for the week (Just be prepared to spend a couple of additional days cleaning it up when you get home.)


If you are thinking about using a pop-up camper, make sure that it can be sealed off from the dust. They have a tendency to use a lot of mesh windows.


The main down side to campers and trailers is getting them to the playa. You will be using much more fuel towing the camper, the  trip will take longer and you will be stressing the towing vehicle much more. But, if that’s not a problem, then rock on!






A yurt is kind of like a tent, but with solid sides. Most yurts you see at Burning Man are hexayurts; small six-sided shelters built with rigid insulation. The Hexayurt can be made from about $300 of materials from Home Depot, plus about $100-150 of mail-ordered tape. Depending on the construction technique, it takes about 8 hours to prepare at home and 0.5-4 hours of assembly on the playa. I’ve never camped in a hexayurt, but I have seen them and helped assemble one at Burning Man.


The upside of a yurt is that they are COOL, as in keeps the cool air inside. By just spraying mist in the air, you can drop the temperature down 10 degrees. They also require no shade. And they look cool, in geeky kind of way.


Two challenges to using a hexayurt are the construction and assembly. Unless I had someone helping me who had put one together before, I’m pretty sure that I would be frustrated trying to put one together at Burning Man. Because of the size of the pieces, they need to be transported in a larger vehicle. Lastly, unless you build a tall (and way more susceptible to wind) hexayurt, you will have to bend over every time you go in or out. And, once you are in, you will only be able to stand up in a circular area in the middle off the hexayurt.


So, if you are handy, have a truck available for transport and want to make sure you are a cool as a cucumber, try a hexayurt. Here’s link to get you started.







Last year, Laura and I decided to go to Burning Man three days before we left! We drove up with our friend Rich, who was towing a 6 X 12 U-Haul trailer for the camp. We had brought with us a tent that I had used the year before (the one with the lights pictured above) at Burning Man. It wasn’t bad, but I was concerned about the amount of space for two people. After we arrived and unpacked the camp, we looked inside the trailer and thought to ourselves, “Hmm, that’s a lot of room in there…”


Since the trailer wasn’t set to be used that week, we moved in and used the tent as extra storage. It actually worked quite well.  After figuring out how to insulate ourselves from the cold floor at night, we found that we could sleep in as late as we wanted. We could close the doors almost completely when the dust blew. It was oddly romantic.






I know a couple of people who flew in to San Francisco from London, rented a U-Haul truck, went to thrift stores and got a cheap sofa, bed and other stuff. They then drove to the playa and had their own hotel room on wheels in the back of the truck!


Of course, if you don’t want to rent a U-Haul to just sleep in it, consider offering to take other people’s stuff for a fee, or the stuff for your camp for reimbursement. Another option.






If you have ever visited a construction site, you’ve probably seen one of these portable offices. Sani-Hut is a company which supplies all sorts of temporary buildings for construction and events. They also contract a lot of work with Burning Man. But here’s the deal; You can call them up and reserve an office like the one above. They will then deliver it to you on the playa! For cheaper than an RV! Oh, did I mention the AIR CONDITIONING?

I’ve had friends do the U-Haul truck thing at Burning Man before. It’s good, up until about 10am. After that it’s almost unbearably hot. You could get around this by building some sort of shade structure over the truck.

Personally, after years of renting RV’s I bought an old one on eBay for a great price. It’s survived 3 burns and 1 JuPlaya so far, about 30 days in total on the Playa. I’m not sure how many it has left in it, but it’s been to other great parties too, and on lots of fun road trips. It more than paid for itself compared to rental options, and the plus is I can leave it stocked with all the glowsticks, feathers, glitter, booze, and whatever else we didn’t consume at the festival. Of course, if you believe the burnier-than-thous, you’re supposed to just make your own yurt, sleep in that, and spend the RV money on Gifting to randoms. Make a statue and burn it, why have a nice RV with air conditioning and a bathroom that you get a lot of use out of? Goddamn rich people, screwing up our burn…