#btconf Düsseldorf, Germany 17 - 18 Apr 2023

Hugh Elliott

Hugh Elliott is a Creative Technologist and podcaster. His focus has been on hardware and physical interactions. He also produces two podcasts; Can’t Sell This and Dismissed. In the first, he chats with driven individuals about creativity, process and staying inspired. In the second, he and his guests try and pull the curtain back on the psychology of being let go from your job.

Want to watch this video on YouTube directly? This way, please.

Side Quests: Satisfy Your Distracted Self

Inspiration can come at any time and Hugh decided long ago to embrace it. From building a 2-axis plotter in his basement to proposing a “party glove” because the idea of blasting music out of your hand sounds really fun. Or designing an open source light bar to create large-scale light painting and running a year-long photography project to support the LGBTQ+ community. Random doesn’t need to be intimidating. Sometimes you just need to say “yes” to yourself. Let’s follow the journey of the perpetually distracted Hugh and witness the wonder he creates.


[playful music]

[audience applause]

Hugh Elliott: I am -- full candor -- extraordinarily nervous. But I am going to do my best to take a hugely deep breath, as was suggested yesterday. Close my eyes. Imagine you all nude.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: And release and scream inwardly. That’s not true. I’m not going to do it. You all look amazing, by the way.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: I would like everyone to thank Marc because, without him, this would not be possible. You have done an incredible job, Marc. I’m going to put my mic down.

[audience applause and cheers]

Hugh: Everyone thanks the DJ. No one thanks the organizer, and I feel you, my friend.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: What am I, a millennial? So--

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Apologize to any millennials in the audience.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Don’t write me off. Don’t cancel culture me.

Okay, so yes, I’ve called this “Side Quests”. It’s “Satisfy Your Distracted Self.” I am Hugh Elliott. You can find me anywhere @hughqelliott. No one else would do anything like that to their name, but I figured it’s the way I can do it everywhere.

I am from Toronto, Canada, as Marc said. I am an artist, a technologist, tinkerer, maker, podcaster, huge nerd. If anybody wants to talk Star Wars and wants to get in on the Mandalorian discussion, I’m totally down.

I think of myself as always distracted. I’m going to be referring to my notes because I wrote this, and I’ve been modifying it as I go.

But I always have a new idea. So, if I’m working on something as a professional thing where I’m hired, something else will pop into my mind. I’m like, “That’s a good idea,” and then I’ll turn and start doing it.

And then my boss will call and say, “Hey, was that thing that you said you were going to have done today, was that done?”
I’m like, “No, but look at this!”
And then the boss will say, “Could you please get it done for tomorrow?”
I say, “Probably.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: And I do my best, and I do. Most of the time, I do.

But what I do is I work on them and I improve and enjoy. And as long as they have a way of flowing naturally from one step to the other, I really want to work on them. So, for the sake of this session, I’m going to try not to get too distracted, and I’m going to focus on this one project specifically.

Why did I call it a side quest? Now, anybody play World of Warcraft by any chance, because I got sucked into it a long time ago, and I’ve managed to quit, thankfully, because it is a huge time suck and it’s $17 a month I needed?

But in gaming, a side quest is something that you can do that does not affect the main story. So, you can choose to do it or not to, and it doesn’t change how good the story of the game is.

But if you do it, it can be rewarding. It can add a little bit of experience. It can give you items that could help you along the way. But mostly not. It’s just fun to do.

That’s what I do on a regular basis for myself. I choose to do my side quests because they are things that have always helped me professionally.

I use the phrase, “My 5:00 to 9:00 typically helps my 9:00 to 5:00.” If I learn something when I’m doing something for myself, I can usually attribute that to something down the road.

Or when I’m documenting it, which you’ve seen a lot of people that have been on stage. They document their work. Then someone sees it and goes, “Hmm... I want to get me some of that.” Then they hire that person. That’s what’s happened to me a number of times.

This particular side quest is an awesome example of that. I think of myself as an artist who learned to code by accident. I didn’t mean to. I got hired to do Flash. And when I got the--

This was 19... Oh, I’m so old.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: 1999, I graduated college as an illustrator. I’d learned to paint and draw. That’s how we do. And I got a job interview, and the guy on the call said, “Show us some Flash work.”

And so, I called one of my professors, or my ex-professors, and I said, “I think he wants to see something cool, some flashy work.”
And he goes, “No, you moron. He means Flash, which is software.”

I was really surprised by that. I did not know that existed. So, I downloaded the demo, Flash 3, and stayed at a buddies house overnight because I was living in Ottawa and I was getting interviewed in Toronto.

We had a bunch of pints, and I showed up with a diskette, as one did in 1999. He shoved it in the computer. He said, “Did you learn this last night?”
I said, “Yes, I did.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: And he goes, “If anybody can learn Flash overnight, they deserve a job,” so I got a job.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: That was--

[audience applause]

Hugh: This is going to take a lot longer if you applaud.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: So, I spent the next 20 years doing Flash, getting a little bit better at Flash, every version learning a little bit more, peppering that with my side quests, doing projects that interested me, and then managed to get me a little bit of notice and let me stand on stages. Got invited to conferences. Be part of this community, which is so fun.

That’s 20 years. And so, during that 20 years, as I’m trying to make art, and I would release it and show people. [Laughter] They would go, “Oh, wow. You make art. Good for you.”

I’m like, “What do you mean, ‘Good for me’? That’s what I do. My job is art. Oh, no, my job is tech. Right. I’m such an idiot.”

As we all know, that became a creative technologist. Now, a creative technologist is a super-broad term, and I would just say it’s someone who uses technology creatively, makes creative use of technology.

As a creative technologist, and I was fully able to do this [laughter] as a technical director of a front-team of 30, I just stopped making websites. I was like, “I do not want to do that anymore. You can’t make me.”

And I bought a 3D printer, and I put it up in my office, and I started tinkering with Arduinos and LEDs and motors. My boss would come in and say, “So, how is that website?”
I’m like, “Well, my team is working on it, I believe.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Then I would have a call with HR. Then I would give them a Yoda head, and then they would leave me alone. And so, I...

Oh, I was fired from that job, so I left that job, and I started making stuff for myself. The first thing I made for myself was a two-axis plotter with foam core and motors, and that got me my very first job as a creative technologist.

I thought I was applying for a project manager job. They said, “Do you love the thing you made?”
I said, “Yes.”
They said, “We want to hire you, and we want to call you a creative technologist.”
I’m like, “That’s a cool title, dude.”

That was my title from then on. It was super fun.

This circle is what I consider to be my focus. I’m prone to hyperfocus on one thing and one thing only much to the detriment of family, financial responsibility, and cleanliness, normally. It is what it is.

But what happens is I start getting these requests. I was asked to make a Star Lord 3D-printed helmet. Commission for a guy, so I started working on that.

You can see those, by the way. Those are LED lenses, and you can see out of them (as long as it’s not too bright), so it works really great at night. But it’s really neat to see through them.

Or maybe I’m developing my own party glove. A party glove, of course, is a giant fricken’ transducer that gets kind of hot on the palm of your hand. But when you have plastic in between, it’s just melted plastic.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Then you have a Bluetooth module, and I can play music through Windows and on desks and on walls. I had pitched this as an idea, so if anybody wants to make a party glove, I am down.

You can take over a whole room with enough transducers, and it’s invisible, so you don’t see it. I just kind of go like this, and I interrupted an entire conference call with my party glove. It was the best thing ever. I just blasted Back in Black from AC/DC on one side of the wall. They were on the other side banging on it. “What the hell?!”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.

As it turns out, sometimes I get calls, and say, “Hey, could you build us an automation system for a fish farm?”
I go, “What is a fish farm?”

They tell me, and it’s like sensors and all sorts of controls, so I get to model stuff in CAD, design a system using the ASP32. Go out to the cloud, all that stuff. Super fun.

Then I find a 3D model of the moon where you shine the light through it, and it looks cool. So, I talked to a buddy.

I have a friend named Ben. He’s on the Artemis Mission with NASA. I showed him that, and he goes, “I want one!”
I went, “Me too!”

Then I started working on that. It’s a nightlight that auto-phases with the phases of the moon. If anybody wants one, let me know. It’ll be on sale right after this talk.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: It’s not true.

I also produce two podcasts called “Can’t Sell This,” which is all about creativity. I interview people like Mario and Marc, actually. I produce a podcast called “Dismissed,” in which I talk about job loss and how you move on from the job loss healthily.

Sometimes I build light bars with electrical tape and 3D printed stuff and quarter round. I should have pointed at there so I can click it. And I can make the lights glow, which is super fun.

Most of the time, I do great at this. I am really, really good at scheduling. My wife is an artist, and she’s a former project manager, so she has taught me how to make lists, which, if you don’t make lists right now, get in on it. It’s so good.

You put in a thing. You say, “This is important.” You put the next thing. You say it’s less important. Ha! Lists!

[audience laughter]

Hugh: I’m told it’s called--

[audience applause]

Hugh: Thank you. [Laughter] Get my phone out. That guy is applauding me saying nice things about my wife.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: But it’s called prioritization. Now, it’s a big word but it matters.

Sometimes I don’t do really good juggling all those things, and I ask for help. I say, “What do I do?”
My wife says, “Did you make a list?”

In 2015, I started this side quest about long-exposure photography in which I captured people doing certain things. The first one was a taekwondo blackbelt doing a movement. The second one was a Bollywood dancer. This third one is a... [Laughter] This is a semi-drunk bartender going like this as he walked towards me.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Because if you’ve ever tried to capture a bartender making a drink, that is super boring. Instead, he did that, and I thought that looked good.

I like the aesthetic of it. I really enjoyed how these things went together.

Oops. Bing-bong. That’s okay. I want to show these anyways.

I love the aesthetic, but I had taped LEDs to tensor bandages, and all I had was this camera. But they look great. I was like, “This is perfect.”

I learned what I wanted to learn, and I called it LMC, “Capturing the motion of light through long exposure photography.” LMC, Light Motion Capture.

Every time someone asks me about a project I’m working on -- a side quest -- I have to make up a name because I need it to stand out, I need it to make sense, and I need it to... Yeah. No, I need it to make sense. I don’t know what I was adding on there, but whatever.

Because when someone says, “Hey, what’s that thing you’re working on,” it’s got to pop, right?

Light Motion Capture, I go, “LMC,” and they go, “Oh, what’s that?”
“Light Motion Capture, capturing the motion of light through long exposure photography.”

Fast-forward to 2021, we’re one year into a global pandemic. We’re all freaking out. We’re on Slack all the time. I’m super bummed out. I’m drinking a lot. My kids are going, “What the hell?” I’m locked in a room.

I’m on Slack, and I’m talking to one of my coworkers. She says, “What am I going to do with this disposable camera?”
And I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She says, “Thinkingbox, the agency we’re working for, has decided their Pride Month campaign for 2021 was going to be life for people in the LGBTQAI++ community, and they were going to focus on their own lives. And then they were going to write a Medium post, I assume.”

I say that because it’s happened, and I know, so Medium post.

I said, “Well, as an ally, how would I do that? And I’ve been locked in a house that I want to get out of.”

Let’s go back to this light bar. The light bar gave me a chance to use the original six colors from the ‘70s, late ‘70s pride flag. And because I have this whole thing with long exposure photography, I was able to make these bars.

Meh, we’ll watch it. It’s like 30 seconds. No big deal.

Who is on the Internet?

[video played]

Hugh: Here’s something I worked on yesterday and today.

Note the props.

I have a little battery pack here. There’s a trinket inside of here. There’s a switch on the outside. And I have one meter of LEDs, 60 LEDs per meter.

I’m going to do some light painting, I think.


And this is the pride flag.

There you go.

So, there we go. It’s going to be awesome.

[video ended]

Hugh: Good? Yeah.

I like my decisiveness. “I’m going to do some light painting, I think.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Then I talk a little bit more.

I wasn’t keeping this a secret. This isn’t a thing that I was hoarding for myself. I was just sharing it on Instagram, and then saying, like, “Hey, I’m going to go out to my yard, and I’m going to shoot some of this and see what happens.”

Here’s where I start discovering that if I stand still, I’m in the shot. And I’m like, it’s dusk, so maybe if it’s darker, I can get a better shot. Holy shit!

Is there still children in here? Sorry. Holy shoot.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: I was really blown away by this, but the problem is that it’s not part of the environment. This is just the flag being there, and I needed it to feel like it was part of the environment.

So, I went out to our local park with my son who is 15 and really open to any stupid thing dad wants to do. I said, “Let’s go to the park. I’ve got this thing.”

He says, “Hey, can I try something?” And he takes a walk, waving the bar around, and makes this.

And this isn’t like I didn’t dial anything in. I just said, “Okay,” click, click.

And I thought, “How organic is this? It’s creating something physical out of something ethereal, light and beauty. It’s the pride flag. We’re getting there. I’m loving it.

So, gracefully suspended in the environment. Although, I just looked and saw that this is what I meant to say.

Now, I am aware that this is the progress flag, and I’m aware of this. Anybody that ever messages me and says, “What about the progress flag?” I’m like, “Yes, but I’m not animating, so I can’t make chevrons. And black is off,” so I went with the six colors. Sorry about that. It still looks really nice.

And so, then I got into redesigning it because, “Who is happy with the first version of anything?” I say.

[video played]

Hugh: This is the lightbar I’ve been using. It’s a piece of quarter round with 60 LEDs per meter on a strip and a ... trinket, 3D printed handle. It works okay. It’s not the best.

[video ended]

Hugh: Wah-wah.

[audience laughter]

[video played]

Hugh: Here’s version 3 of the lightbar. I’m using these side-mounted LEDs, neo-pixel LEDs. I have 3D printed some pieces that bracket the LEDs in place, so they are held in place. It also helps to differentiate the colors.


And it’s a piece of aluminum edging. It’s fantastic. A big 3D-printed handle. It’s very comfortable. Love it.

[video ended]

Hugh: All right. We’re going to move. Come on. Bing-bong.

All right, so I went out to the... This is at the beach, and I discovered that, without my reading glasses, when I’m looking at my phone, I can’t actually see anything in the dark and I couldn’t focus, so I didn’t focus properly, and I was really pissed off because this was such a nice feel to it. I was really enjoying the whole shoot.

I shot about 100 shots. I put it in different positions. None of them are in focus, and that’s the best one out of all of them. That’s when I learned the lesson to bring my glasses with me everywhere I go.

I gave myself a splinter, by the way, so I’m a hero right now.

[audience laughter]

audience member: [Indiscernible]

Hugh: Here’s... Thank you.

[audience applause]

Hugh: Here’s the interior. I keep looking back here, but there’s a monitor right here showing me. But I want to point, so here’s what the interior looked like. Like it’s a dog’s breakfast, right?

It’s a power bus that I chopped the thing with a Dremel. I added a cord for a battery bank. There’s the trinket.

I’m just going to hit this button because my... Oh, we got all hot. There we go. That’s why.

All right. Oh, yeah. Shoot. I’m going to unplug that.

FYI: Hot electronics are not cool. [Laughter]

[audience laughter]

Hugh: I was being ironic.

Anyways, I started to think about what I was doing. I’d done a couple of more environmental park-type stuff and testing.

Oh, shit. I’m running out of time. Okay.

I decided to start redesigning. But I had a theme now. I figured out what I was going to do. I’ve got three bars now. I started to reach to--

I’m going to try not to speed up because I don’t want to do that.

I made three bars at this point, so I had my 60 LEDs on a meter. I had 90 LEDs on a meter. And I bought... I had made a half-meter, 72-pixel bar.

I went to a place called AAA Bar, which was not a place I know really well. And the owner was serving outside, so I was able to work inside, and I was able to just fill his lovely establishment with these beautiful ribbons. And people outside were like, “What’s that big fat guy doing?”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: “Is he supposed to be in there?”

But I was really digging how the light would reflect on surfaces, the light would reflect in the mirror, the light would be everywhere. And I just wanted to fill the space, and I wanted to get an understanding of how much more I could move the bar.

Then I went to... There’s not a theme to my shoots, by the way.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: A friend of mine, my neighbors opened a brewery called Red Tape. And you can see here. And this is an interesting thing about the bar -- and Mario and I went on a little shoot a couple of days ago -- when you turn the lights away from the camera, it no longer shows up.

I was shooting the lights onto the stainless steel drum or brew... whatever it’s called. I’m not a brewer. So, a boiler, and then rotating the bar back out. It again fills up the space. I just loved it.

I was able to start using the bar to light stationary objects and then color around them.

And then really, really exploring where I was and just loving it.

Now, I mentioned the theme. The theme became... And this is actually still... This is a month of shooting. I called it “Pride. Everywhere. Every Day.” And that’s when I decided I was going to run this project for a year. I was going to shoot in as many places as I could, and I was going to be unapologetic about it. I was just going to get up in places and just set it up.

What I discovered every time I went to shoot somewhere, someone would ask questions. “What is that? What’s that thing you’re doing? Why are you moving it like that?”

Then I would say, “I did this,” and then I would show them my phone, and they would see the photo.

They go, “Holy!” I was going to swear. Kid in the room. “Holy moly.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: And I would say, “Do you want to do it?” And while they were taking the bar from me, we would talk about pride, and we would talk about what it’s like to be an ally.

And they would say, “You know I’m gay,” or “I’m bi,” or “I’m a lesbian,” or my friend is - or whatever - my mom or my cousin. “I really like what this is.”

And I said, “I really like this too,” so I was going on all these little shoots. I went on vacation. We were vacationing on an island, so there was us and like two other families.

I was going into the woods, and I was really starting to explore the space. I’m not sure that’s super high quality, but whatever. But I was getting better at focusing, as you can see.

I was getting in the water, and I was able to reflect in the water and really take up space and really enjoy being out there. I started to discover that if it starts getting dark in northern Ontario, that’s it. I can’t shoot anymore because nothing else is seen by the ribbon.

Although I really love the ribbon, it’s just not enough. It needs to be in space because we’re pride everywhere every day.

I was able to have the camera be really far away from my subject. [Laughter] I just noticed I’m in this. That’s funny. I’m right there crouching. Beep-boop.

But there’s a reflection, and I loved water, and I loved reflections, and I just was really enjoying the whole process.

I like this one because it feels like it’s a portal into just being an awesome ally. I’m like, “That’s super gay!” You know? [Laughter] I’m so excited.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: This photo is easily one of my favorites, and I was so pleased to have it be included in an art display at a local hospital. A curated contacted me and said, “Could you make it,” I can’t remember, “30 by 40,” or something.

And I was like, “I don’t know. Yes,” and then they paid me, and sold it to them. They have a print.

If anyone wants a giant print, apparently I can do it because this camera is not super high-res.

Oops. There we go.

And then the classic Muskoka chairs. And I got a call from a friend, and he said... He’s living in Australia, and he said, “This feels like home, and it feels lovely, and I love it, and I want to put this up on my walls. Can you sell me a print?”

And that’s when I started thinking, like, I can’t make money off of this. This is not a thing that I’m allowed to make money from. So, instead...

Oops. Oops. Sorry. I’m jumping ahead.

So, instead what I did was I said, “If you donate $100 to an LGBT-led organization, you can have the print. Get it printed somewhere in Australia. Don’t worry about shipping. Then you can have it.”

So, he did, and he sent me a receipt to a GLAD-related organization, and I was just so stoked. I was like, “I can make money to help people. This is the best thing ever.”

Then, coincidentally, I reached out to a friend. [Laughter]

[audience applause and cheers]

Hugh: Don’t make me cry.

So, I reached out to a friend of mine, and I said, “Hey, do you think you could get me some mini light bars?” A guy named Wow Electron. His name is not Wow Electron. His name is Leon, but his Instagram handle is @wowelectron, and he does rave lighting and stuff like that. He does great wearables.

I said, “Could you make me some mini lightbars?” And he did.

And they came, and I loved them. And I have these 3D printed helmets I made because I’m a huge dork, and I set up shop. I set up a little shoot, and I made these awesome little helmet shots. And look at that Darth Vader. Oh! He’s mean, but so sassy.

[audience laughter and applause]

Hugh: [Laughter] Let me talk.

What I really loved about this is it’s a rough helmet by any standards of any cosplayer and prop maker. Stop judging. But the reflections of the light bar in the eye, the way the color moves on the paint, ah... [grunts] I got so excited by it.

And so, that’s when I did, “What else can I do?” And the guy who ordered the print from me, or took the print from me, I thought, “Shoot. I could sell and donate,” so I set up a Shopify shop (because it’s super easy). I found a drop-shipper (because it’s super easy). And I figured out what they were going to charge me to make a print, and I made the price $60 more, and so I sold prints for $100, and I gave all of the $60 to LGBT-led organizations.

Over the course of the next three months, I donated to different organizations. Every month, I would just contact and go, “So, hey. I want to give you some money.”
They’d be like, “So, hey, yeah.”

It turns out people are really happy about getting money and, you know, they’re okay with donations. So, I was able to donate, I think it was, around $3,000 over the course of the next three months, $1,000 every month, because, as an ally, it’s not about centering myself. It’s not about me benefiting. It was about centering the community.

Stop. I’m running out of time and you’re going to fuck it up. Ooh, shit.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: I apologize.

So, up until this point, I’m using... This is not me. This is just a product photo off of... I was using these trinkets, and you saw the wires. It was really getting kind of clunky, and I didn’t like it. And since I am a technologist, that means that I could design my own PCBs based off of these AT TINY85s.

An AT TINY85 is a little microcontroller. All I needed was a switch, send it power, and light up an RGB LED strip. So, I did. I designed a PCB that used the AT TINY85, and then I discovered I could animate the model, so I’m like, “I’m going to make this cool.”

Then I ordered it, and I got a bunch. I swapped them all. I swapped all the controllers out. Not to be outdone, I redesigned the handle, so it also looked cool and felt like a lightsaber because... nerd.

I made a switch assembly. Everything goes together with heat-set inserts. It prints pretty quickly depending on how you feel about it, and the aluminum extrusion just slides into the back. It’s held in by some good, hefty bolts.

I’m trying to remember where I was.

It’s important to remember that there are assholes and there are people that are not going to support what you support. Even if you’re doing the best thing with the best intentions, there’s going to be someone using a slightly hidden homophobic sentence and comment and say, “Enough with the rainbows.”

And when I replied, “I’m not an airport. You don’t need to announce your departure. Stop following me.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Just like Dory, I’m going to just keep swimming.

I kept shooting. That guy took a double gun.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: And I moved on.

But remember to call your mother because I was actually affected and bummed out by this guy. I was really not happy about it, and it was getting cold. Winter in Canada, despite all the appearances, is not pleasant.

I didn’t want to trudge out to a field in two foot of snow and drop a tripod and set it up and then go... [mumbling], so I stopped doing it for a little bit.

Then my mom, I called her, and I said, “I’m kind of bummed out.”
She goes, “Why don’t you come home? Come home and shoot with me,” a 72-year-old mom.

She sat there and waved the bar around. Did her thing. I explained that light needs to be seen, so she’s doing what Mario did and sort of did this.

And I’m like, “You know what I’m seeing, right, mom?” And I show her. And then she figured it out. It was great.

Then I started showing her what I was really liking, which is reflections in water and getting farther away and getting really ethereal with it. Wrapping it around structures.

That evening, we were sitting there having (I’ve got to assume) hot chocolate because she doesn’t drink and I don’t make her get alcohol for me, and we just talked about the whole project. It was so nice, and my mom is the sweetest.

But disaster. Sad Keanu. That’s called job loss. I got fired. Not because they don’t like the gays. No, because... I got fired because of the fact that I disagreed on something that was fundamental to my job, and they also disagreed. They said, “You’re gone.”

I was super bummed out, and I mean, like, instant depression... for three days.

Then I got an email that said, “Hey, I work for the WWE. We love it.”

You can read it. I don’t have to read it.

Anyways, I don’t know why I blanked out her name. That’s a weird decision because her name is Melissa Martinez, and she’s amazing, and she’s my hero. I blanked out her name, but I did blank out her phone number because I don’t want her being called by you guys.

She sent me the email, and I went through that whole process of, “This is a scam. This is a scam.” Rolled over the thing going, “Okay, it’s not a bit.ly. Okay, that’s a thing.”

This was real. This was real. Three days after I got fired from my job, I got an email saying, “Could you come and shoot with us? Could you do stuff with us?”

I was like, “Heck yeah, I can. I love it!”

So, what happened is super, super surreal. I’m not sure why this is blank, but it doesn’t matter. I think it’s work validated. They wanted to pay me [laughter], which is incredible as a newly unemployed human being.

And I had spent a year doing this project, and I had, trying to figure out. I was trying to figure out how I was going to end it. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be working with wrestlers. Twelve-year-old me was just so stoked. Forty-nine-year-old me was like, “What? Wrestlers?”

But still, that opportunity was incredible. They flew me down to Providence, Rhode Island. I got to watch wrestlers. Sorry, they’re called talent. I got to watch the talent get ready. I got to watch them rehearse. I got to watch the crew set up in a day.

It was like watching a circus, and it was just the most incredible experience that I ever had. I’d never seen anything so well organized.

And so, we shot one day in Providence. The entire day, we shot. We drove - not overnight - a couple of hours into Hartford. [Laughter] And I didn’t know how to ship my bars because I had a bunch of bars at this point. I had like six different bars, so you can’t tell it from this angle, but this is a rifle case.

And so, I thought, what’s going to definitely say, “Not a gun,” and I put the URL and the logo, and I figured that’s going to solve that problem.

The Americans, I told them about it, and they said, “You know only Canadians care about guns. Americans love guns, so you could bring it in. We won’t care.”

I’m like, “That’s a good point, Brad.” His name actually is Brad, which is pretty funny.

We set up. We tented off an area. We set up a giant strobe. We taped off the LED lights.

This man at the bottom, you may or may not be able to make him out. This is me lying on the floor, by the way, as I prepare. That’s Mike Marks, and he’s one of the staff photographers. He’s incredible.

They ended up hiring a woman from the LGBT community, Eva, Eva Woolridge, and she’s just a phenomenal, phenomenal photographer.

I guess... Oh, this is Eva. She is a powerhouse, and she’s a millennial, and that’s a whole new thing for me to work with a millennial. I’ll tell you what.

I’m like, “Okay. Let’s work ethic this,” and let’s take a break, I guess, is what we’re going to do right now.

She was phenomenal, and so I apparently don’t smile in photos when I think I need to be serious, but that’s me lighting up one of the bars.

What did we get? We’re all very curious about this and I’ve still got time. I may actually just be speeding this up. This is good. I guess you haven’t applauded in a while.

This is...

[audience applause]

Hugh: [Laughter] That’s called phishing.

I got... We got all these wrestlers coming in, in either their day clothes or their outfits. This is Sonya Deville, and she is an out lesbian within the community, and she was the main proponent for the project, and she was so stoked. We shot so many shots with her.

But then wrestlers would show up in their gear, and that is an intimidating thing, by the way, to be this next to that. And then I would stand there with the bar, and they would walk up, and there was a mark on the floor, and they would look at me, and I’d go, “Hey. I got this bar.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: And then I would have to tell them what I’m going to do, because I would need to be like... I wish I had someone one stage with me, but I would need to reach around them like this and then go--

[audience laughter]

Hugh: But, like, also jump out of the way so that the light didn’t catch me.

And this is... Look at her. Oh, my God! Delts. Crazy. And she was just huge. And I’m like, “I’m going to wrap you up good.” She was a super nice Australian, super nice.

This guy, I loved this. He just goes, “What about this?”
I’m like, “Yes, you can do that.”

“What about this?”
“Yes, you can do that.”

“What about this?”
“Yes, you can do that.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: This is like a former Cirque du Soleil performer, and he’s going, “Can I do a handstand?”
I’m like, “Can you do a handstand?”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: He held that for three seconds. Well, I mean more because I was like, “Now just one second while I tell you what I’m going to do.” He was like this.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Seth Rollins, who is like the big WWE superstar right now. He’s just...

And it was funny because the photographer said, “Show us what it’s like to be an ally to the community.” He goes, “Seth freakin’ Rollins is here. That’s ally shit.”

And I was like, “Yeah, buddy! Come on!”

And they would come in there with outfits. I’m like, “This is so great. You guys are the best.”

Just wrapped up. Ah, it was so fantastic.

We shot a ton. I think we shot like 150 people over the course of the 2 days. It was just so much fun.

And I’m not sure what the next thing is.

Oh... [Laughter] Yeah. So, somebody said, “Do you never want to get a photo of yourself?”
I was like, “Nah, I’m in every photo.”

Then I said, “Could I have all those photos that you catch me at the end?” Look at me looking serious.

Every photo is me going like this and then jumping, so they’d hear 220 pounds go... And then the wrestlers are going... You know?

[audience laughter]

Hugh: The first bunch, they found out that’s what I was doing, and they were like, “Okay. Now we know.”

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes of what WWE did.

I think we’re nearly done, so this is good timing. This is a minute and a half.

[video played]

female: Oh, my!

male: That’s going on a Christmas card!

female: Oh--


female: --my gosh.

Today, we are shooting 2022 WWE Pride Month photoshoot, which I’m super stoked about. I always try to get innovative ideas for Pride Month. With the WWE photo team, we came up with a cool idea to use this, like, rainbow lightsaber that kind of goes across the camera lens, and you get to pose in front of it, and it’s super fun. It’s super cool. And I think you guys are going to love it.

Hugh: I have been described as dancing, and so I’m waving the bar in a way that allows it to create a rhythm while I move. It looks a little weird, but every single time I’ve done a shot, once you see the result, you tend to go, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe that’s what that guy did.”

female: Wow! Guys!

female: ...sparkle in your eye.

female: It’s so cool!

female: Look at that sparkle in your eyes.

female: I know!

I think it’s really important to have LGBTQ allies within the company because it’s not just us fighting our fight. They’re fighting it with us, and they can help. It’s strength in numbers, strength in unity. Everybody is welcome, and so that’s kind of what this photo shoot was all about.

Eva Woolridge: I’m very excited to be involved in this project as a queer woman of color, to be able to put my input and my gaze into capture authenticity with the talent that we have today who have been amazing.

female: Everyone from every sector of this company jumped in and participated. We’re all inclusive. We’re all accepting.

[video ended]

Hugh: Yeah. Yeah. Yep.

[audience applause and cheers]

Hugh: I was taking a break. I was doing... It was 12 hours each day, and so whenever I had a moment, I would just either lie on the floor to stretch my back or I’d sit down and blankly stare out into the half distance.

Seth Rollins walked past me, and he goes, “Hey, man. That lightbar.” No, he goes, “That light thing is cool as fuck.”

I was like, “Dude! I’m putting that on my business card.” [Laughter]

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Okay. I don’t have a ton of advice. I’m not really good at advice. But I want to tell you something that came to me while I do this over the course of the past 20 years.

Ideas are not doing. Even a badly made side quest is better than an excellently dreamed idea.

I’m going to read these because I think it’s important.

Quite early in my career in making, I got into the habit of executing quickly. You can iterate your work to make it better. But if you never start, you’ll regret it.

The next point: Make for you, not likes.

[audience applause]

Hugh: When you make for yourself, you’ll be more true to whatever vision you have. Don’t allow yourself to be stopped by indecision. Sometimes moving forward requires learning. But if you don’t learn, you don’t grow.

Of course, ignore advice if anything comes from somebody saying, “You know what would make this better? Do this.” What? Then tune it out because they don’t have your vision. It’s not longer your project if they start giving you advice.

Or you can listen. And if it’s good advice, you can take it. I don’t know. Whatever.

[audience laughter]

Hugh: But you have my permission to ignore any bad advice.

People are, in general, amazing at having ideas after the idea has been had. So, if you have an idea and you want to make it, make it. Don’t let not knowing be the thing that stops you.

It’s really important we understand this as people that the creative impulse is not something only for people who call themselves artists. You make art; you’re an artist. Believe that because I did, I guess. Right?

But wait. I have no idea what this... Oh... [Laughter]

If you can see my notes, it says, “Insert text about this.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: What were the stats? Right? We all want to know how many sales did I make, how much did I get paid for the job, how many likes. I don’t really know. I don’t track it. I have no idea.

I do know that every day a new like happens on one of the photos from Twitter. The people that I shot with that were part of the crew, every so often I get messages from them, and they talk about how the photos they got were great.

I don’t. I don’t know. I don’t do things for that side of things. That’s for marketers, and marketers can care. I’m sure they do, and I’m sure somewhere there’s some guy going, “Do you know what the ROI on that was? Pretty amazing. That guy was cheap.”

What’s next? It turns out just before I got on a plane, I got a call from the Royal Ontario Museum, and they asked if I would be willing to work with them on their Pride Month after-hours event -- it’s called ROM After Dark -- and would I be willing to--

Every time somebody says, “Would you be willing to work with us?” I’m like, “Fuck yes, I will! Yes! This is my job, I think. Is this not a thing I do for work?” That’s happening, I think, next... in June. Then--

I feel bad. Does she have to write a bad word on that?

Then also, a gallery curator, he messaged me and said, “Do you want to do a show in the summer?” and I was like, “Is that a question? Do you ask people who do art, ‘Do you want to?’” I’m like, “Yes, I do.”

But I think that would be it for me with two minutes left. Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much for your patience.

[audience applause and cheers]

Hugh: Oh, my God! One second. Sorry. I’m so sorry.

You’ve been looking at this this whole time, and I’m like, “What was this for, right?” This is called a prop. No, no, no.

I just want to show you. This is all--

You don’t have to leave.

This is all I did. There’s a light bar. There’s a battery bank, which I overheated at one point, but maybe I can plug it in. Marc, if you don’t care if I do that, because I see you standing there.

We’ll see if this lights up. Whoops. Oh, right.

I gaffer-taped the switch, so that’s the pride flag. Meerp. And you go like this. Right? But you have a camera going. And then you let it go, and it’s long exposure.

This is a cheap camera. This is a nice tripod. So, if you’re going to do long exposure photography, spend a couple hundred bucks and buy yourself a good tripod. I was using a $10 tripod for six months until my wife said, “Why don’t you go out and buy yourself a good tripod?”

I said, “I love you, honey.”

[audience laughter]

Hugh: Now I’ve got this really awesome tripod, and my wife is still amazing. And Marc and his daughter are coming out.

Thank you, again. I’m so sorry.

[audience applause]