From interactive flowers to dancing lights to immersive whirlpools, ever wondered how teamLab’s magical work comes alive? Today we share a sneak peek behind-the-scenes story of our Interactive Engineer Jasper Degens and his voyage with teamLab.
Interactive Team / Jasper Degens
Graduated from the Department of Computer Science at Tufts University, the USA in 2014. He joined teamLab interactive team in 2016. Participating in installation projects such as interactive projection mapping and in the spatial direction of sports events.
What do you do at teamLab?
As an engineer in the interactive team, I develop real-time digital artworks that react to their surroundings. The ‘Spirits of the Flowers’ project in “MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM：teamLab Borderless” where flowers respond to people’s movements and ‘Walk, Walk, Walk: Search, Deviate, Reunite’ where anonymous figures walk freely around the museum are some examples.
Tell us your background
I always believed that when technology is paired with other fields like art or education, it can empower people on an unimaginable level. At Tufts University in Boston, I majored in Computer Science with a focus on Musical Engineering. Since then, I have been exploring the exciting possibilities of technology. I started as a consultant for a financial software company in London, then I worked on software/hardware design for musicians in Vietnam. Before joining teamLab in Tokyo, I was working as a facilitator for a digital education company in Sydney.
How did your journey with teamLab begin?
It all began unexpectedly when I came across an interactive installation during a business trip to Hong Kong. The installation was a large crystal chandelier built out of LED strips that allowed viewers to change the displayed content with their smartphones. I worked with LED strips at university, but how it was presented was really interesting. Paired with music and space, it was overwhelmingly emotional and special.
I didn't know anything about teamLab. I didn’t even know teamLab was in Japan but what I did know was the potential for digital art and how underutilized it was and still is. Making public spaces interactive and bringing people together in those places using technology is a powerful idea. I felt that teamLab was on that road so I got in touch.
I still remember how I went through the all selection processes.
At the time I applied, there really was no process for international members. I first messaged a teamLab member whose email I found on the internet directly but never heard back, so then I went through Pace Gallery and was actually put in touch with teamLab’s communication director, who then connected me with teamLab’s CTO. Then I had an interview with teamLab’s CTO and COO, and then another interview with about 10 members of the interactive team, then another interview, then I flew to Japan, then another interview and then received a contract.
It was pretty all over the place. I really think it was the first time for everyone for a member to enter the company in that way, but luckily now we have been working to make the process a lot more straightforward.
What is it like to work at teamLab?
I really wanted to find out exactly to what level I can use spaces to bring people together with digital tools. At teamLab, I get to explore this as much as I can. It’s exciting yet challenging. From ice rinks, to water, to concerts, the projects are all so unique and the locations are so diverse: everywhere from Paris to Manila to Singapore and the U.S.
But the biggest reward has been the connections I have made with the people here. I didn't speak Japanese at first so I couldn't communicate well, but since the non-communicative period I have built a really strong relationship with my team members and that is very meaningful.
What are other challenges you have faced at teamLab?
Working at teamLab was a bit intimidating at first because I work with such talented individuals who are at the forefront of digital art and I wasn't that confident in my capabilities. But my colleagues accepted, welcomed, and inspired me. They helped me get to where I am now. My colleagues are my friends and family here.
What is it like to work in Tokyo?
Tokyo is a really comfortable place to live in. There is always a lot to do. Several colleagues introduced me to DJing and VJing so I DJ and VJ with him together after working hour. Also, I often have visitors dropping by. In fact, my parents recently visited me. I wanted to take them to teamLab exhibit but at that timing there is no ongoing event.
Who would you recommend to work here?
I encourage students to think outside of the box a bit in terms of what they can do. Especially in the U.S., if you are in a computer science department, you are on track to go to Silicon Valley or a larger tech company. That’s great, but many people feel confined by that. I did a bit as well but there's just a bigger world with many possibilities out there.
If you want to do something a bit more expressive, adventurous, and unconventional, this is a really cool field. teamLab has the resources, the tools, and the track record to enable people to have this experience. You are inspired to be creative.
Anything else you would like to add?
It has been a bizarre journey going to a place not speaking the language to being involved in all these high-profile projects. It has been really rewarding and I am appreciative and proud of the accomplishments that we've had as a company and individually.
We have already done so much by allowing the public to see that there is all this potential in digital art and technology, yet we have barely scratched the surface. My journey with teamLab was totally unexpected, but often the best things in life are unexpected.