My short bio: Hi Reddit, you may remember us as the folks who brought you the statues of Atlas, from Portal ll, or Corvo Attano's mask from Dishonored. Building tree houses and making monsters for a living is really fulfilling and mentioning it around reddit always seems to invite questions. I consider myself an expert in designing custom things to be actually constructed in a fast and detailed fashion, with a high level of craftsmanship. I use several different CAD programs, graphics programs, work with wood, metal, and plastic, and stay up on all the current prototyping an manufacturing technologies almost as a hobby. I am equal parts artist, scientist, and engineer. I was recently asked to do an AMA so ask away!

EDIT: Corvo Attano's mask kit:

My Proof:

Comments: 72 • Responses: 32  • Date: 


How did you get started doing what you're doing? What was the process of getting your first few projects?

TechnicallyMagic6 karma

I was raised on a farm, we had subscriptions to National Geographic, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, the funny pages were popular, and I saw Star Wars at 11 in 97 when they released the Special EDition. I got all kinds of behind the scenes books, and logged countless hours in the farm shop building things and tearing things apart. I started helping my dad with his carpentry projects, my uncle with his metal fabricating projects, and took a 5 course sequence in CAD, CNC, Digital Electronics, and the like in high school.

I went to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh for Industrial Design with a focus in Special Effects. While I was there I was fortunate enough to have Glenn Currie as a guidance councilor, who let me bounce around between ID focuses, and do a sampler of courses for my credit requirements. I worked in the tool room lending tools to students, and maintaining tools and inventory. I also ended up starting Technically Magic while at school. I took on freelance work through graduating with a Bachelor of Science and winning Best in Show at portfolio review.

When I graduated I moved home, started my shop on the family farm, and teamed up with Jaye. He stuck around for several years but ultimately took a job in Pittsburgh. I moved to my new location, which I own, and which came with two units, and enough space for me to live and have my workshop. Since then I've added another unit, and I'm going to be starting a fifth. This property will be my retirement fund and equity, it can be feast or famine in this line of work and this is my financial rock.

I met my neighbor, the owner of BTH and we became friends, and he was impressed with what I bring to the table.

As far as getting work, my first few clients came into the school looking for cheap student work. I really don't market myself too much, projects happen at a manageable rate. I also sell kits of a video game prop I built, and if things get too crazy or I'm out of town installing tree houses or on set for a shoot, I can't get kits out fast enough, etc. So I try not to bury myself.

rajrdajr5 karma

How has Treehouse Masters effected Buffalo Treehouses' business?

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

There has been something romantic about a tree house for a long time, but here in this part of the north east, its a weird engineering and medical dominated area. It's not a huge haven of people with money and vision for this type of thing. Many have one and not the other. So with the show, interest has risen among the very select few who can see the potential of a tree house as an addition, immense property value, social value, etc. We try very hard to be an exciting crew to have, we love the work and like each other a lot. We have a lot of fun and all of our clients are overjoyed with us. We go the extra mile and try to give people the experience they see on the show.

nbouma5 karma

I think you may have my dream job. Just curious what is the largest budget project you've ever had?

TechnicallyMagic4 karma

These fields are still difficult when it comes to justifying the immense cost in skilled labor. So I budget projects on a sliding scale of sorts, and I can say I've completed projects technically billable over 100k, but the largest actual budget has been more like a little more than half that.

EDIT: That's with Technically Magic, BTH hasn't had anything over $60k since I started but they've been at it for 8 seasons now and have much larger stuff in the past.

rajrdajr4 karma

What is your role at Buffalo Treehouses? Do you design treehouses for them or work as a finish carpenter there?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

I do both, they are a small business and my friend the owner and his wife had been doing everything. As a formally trained designer I'm streamlining their processes and we're moving to more CAD when we need particular geometry. I'm also pretty alright with a toned pad and marker renderings so I will be doing more designs for customers and layouts for presentations. I also participate in the entire building and installing process with hard hat and tool rig. Swinging the ol hammer.

10lbhammer3 karma

I've always loved the idea of designing and living in a treehouse; or more specifically, a complex of treehouses, like a taller, (slightly) less-hairy Ewok.

Currently, I am a drafter at a structural engineering company, and in my years here I have worked on a number of tree houses. What is your role in the "tree house industry"? Do you design, engineer, build? All three? Finally, do you have your own favorite tree house?

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

I've worked at small (20-50 person) companies as a draftsman and mechanical designer, and I've worked at big corporations like Fisher Price (900-1,000 people) as a design model maker, and I'll tell you I wouldn't call this an industry. I'm a professional designer, and essentially a dream builder, production companies, directors, and marketing agencies dream things up like bazookas that shoot sub sandwiches and I have two weeks to produce it on set. So when it comes to tree houses, I apply everything I've learned from growing up on a farm, to everywhere I've worked in the past, and we pull a rabbit out of a hat. We're lucky that we're still a foot note on insurance policies. We are careful, we over-engineer everything, and we put our heart into everything we do. The rest of the team bring years of experience from landscaping, arbor work, climbing, rigging, etc. not to mention carpentry and it all comes together.

10lbhammer1 karma

So brush up on my:

  • carpentry
  • rigging
  • climbing
  • arbory
  • hoagie bazookas

Got it.

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

It's not as exclusive as all that, haha, they gave me a shot and I followed through to the best of my ability. We have a 19 year old graduate of the local vocational carpentry program on the crew as well. I've put 100k into a degree and almost a decade of time and effort in after that, to justify walking on at the level I'm at.

IllFatedIPA1 karma

I've been considering a career change and since the thing I love most next to my current job is building stuff, how hard is it to get into a career like this? I can imagine there aren't a tremendous amount of companies doing this, especially ones that will take people with no real training in carpentry aside from a few small household projects

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

The problem you're going to run into is that I "walked on" because as I mentioned elsewhere, I have a degree I worked hard for and paid a lot of money for, as well as the 8 years I've been a professional designer/fabricator. I also have a natural aptitude for the work.

If you haven't put anything toward a career in this type of work, and expect to walk on and make a living wage, have benefits, and paid time off, you might be dreaming. This is a niche thing and if you don't bring a ton to the table, you're like our young man on the crew, you're learning, doing bitch work, and making $10/hr. That's great for a 19yr/old but if you've established yourself in some other career path, it would be hard to adjust.

redfroody3 karma

Is it ever more practical to build an actual tree house than it would be eg. to put a small house on poles?

TechnicallyMagic5 karma

There is a distinct magic quality, an X factor some ultra-practical people like yourself may not understand. There's a reason Pole Houses or Stilt Houses aren't the thing that treehouses are. If you look through my portfolio you'll notice we use posts set in concrete where it is necessary, for example when there is a suspension bridge, too much motion is transferred to the bolts bearing the house, when people use the bridge. When we can completely avoid posts and use only trees, we get more challenges but the end result is more exciting.

redfroody3 karma

Oh, I totally get that tree houses are cooler than houses on poles.

I was just wondering if they were also more practical. Ie. does the convenience of not having to put up poles outweigh the disadvantage of having to deal with the tree growing etc. Sounds like no.

TechnicallyMagic6 karma

This is an interesting question. The bolts we install are actually supported as the tree continues to grow, it forms a collar and builds material to handle the load. We try to minimize the holes we punch in, and stack multiples which minimizes the routes we cut off from the roots (tree trunks are like a big bunch of straws so we avoid punching holes all around and prefer to stack them vertically). The arrestor that slides onto the bolt and supports the beams on which the house is built, has degrees of freedom and constraint that allow the tree to move and grow, unique to the project. In fact digging holes for concrete and poles, usually by hand, 48" deep on account of frost, in the woods with all the roots, is a whole day of work ("sure do hate hole day") which we don't have to do if we walk on site and set bolts in a tree and just take off and go. So I guess the answer is, without severe unforseen challenges, no posts is preferable all around.

IllFatedIPA1 karma

About how long would you say the average tree house lasts before the tree grows enough to cause problems with the anchors? This is something I've been wondering for years, since I'd love to build one but wouldn't want to have the tree outgrow it and ruin things too quickly

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

The thing is, tree growth is slow, and trees react to the bolts as they would a new branch, they build collars to support the weight and move on. The trunk does not simply engulf the bolt, because the wood in the area is a different type (similar to how a scar is a different type of human skin). The relief around tree trunks that pass through decks on our projects will have to be expanded some once every decade or so, but our framing for such areas leaves plenty of room for growth. Put it this way, a tree house will be just fine for several times longer than your kitchen remodel will hold up to not looking dated. Also, we have adjusted and improved several pre-existing tree house structures, and we will be available to care for our own down the road.

indaelgar3 karma

You mentioned in a previous comment that you were on a reality TV show - did it have to do with any of these things? If so - what was it and how? 2. What are you most excited about as an up and coming manufacturing technology?

TechnicallyMagic4 karma

I was on a show called Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge on SyFy. It was based on creature design and building. You can see my work in those areas in the links provided.

indaelgar1 karma

Awesome! One more: What are you most excited about as an up and coming manufacturing technology?

TechnicallyMagic4 karma

Everyone seems enamored with 3d printing, which has been around since the 80s. I do use it, as a 3d modeler it's a great tool. I would say I'm more excited with a material that has come into more use in manufacturing as costs in mechanical design are cut. Methacrylate adhesives replace intricate fitment of components more and more now. They are formulated to bond aggressively to dissimilar materials, and they cure quickly. They also don't flow like epoxies and run away from joints or get on every goddman thing other than what you're trying to glue, which I find maddening. So I've move to them almost exclusively in my shop and have introduced them to BTH. Minds were blown.

indaelgar1 karma

So fantastic. Thanks for answering! I work at an institution of higher ed that is using some crazy (to me) 3D printing that I haven't even begun to understand (printing ceramics, etc), but I love hearing about new advances, and what works.

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

The core concept of 3D printing is the same, you need to make your desired material dispensable, in an accurate fashion, so that it can be applied to the cross sections that the computer has made from the 3D model. You also need to take that material from dispensable, back to one that has the desired physical properties. This is done in three major ways, and from there it gets more complicated, but it's all an exercise in that core concept.

QuestionMarkyMark3 karma

What is the single greatest thing you've ever created?

What is the one project you loathed doing?

TechnicallyMagic8 karma

I'm both proud of my portfolio, and tired of looking at it. In hindsight there are a million things I wish I could go back and do, I guess that's the artist in me when you're frustrated with your own work. I'm usually happiest with the most recent thing. As far as what sucked, its usually when I'm in over my head doing something for not enough money, because the alternative was not having the project, not having any money coming in at all. That's happened a few times, always looking to have it happen less which it has, thankfully.

Dioxitanium2 karma

This is absolutely incredible - I actually found this through your /r/DIY post. How did you get into the treehouse business? You wouldn't happen to be looking for interns for the summer, would you?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

I was selling some dirt off my property and the blueberry farm down the street bought it, the guy who was trucking it down there for him had heard what I do for a living, and heard what BTH was about because they had just bought the blueberry farm, and he told us about each other. I walked down a few days later and told them about what I do and offered my services. They took me out for a few days and decided to keep me.

We may be interested in interns, are you local?

Dioxitanium1 karma

Random chance always gives the best origin stories.

I'm not particularly local, unfortunately - I'm in Boston for college at a wonderfully tiny engineering school, but my family is back in the Pacific Northwest. I've gone further for a co-op before, though.

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

To be of any use you would need carpentry skills, measuring, using a circ, jig, table, and miter saw to make accurate cuts, and running drill motors. Lifting is also a plus. It would literally be a summer in carpentry work outdoors, with a more creative and fun crew, not necessarily engineering related to a high degree, and definitely not for soft handed indoor kids. You would need lodging (there are several apartment complexes right in town) and transportation.

dshapdesign2 karma

How was the salmon?

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

Good, thanks! You're a mensch!

steveeeeeeee2 karma

Whats is your method like when designing? Do you use the computer or is it mostly hand sketching?

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

I normally sketch out a few thumbnails to describe shapes, and then render a decent 3/4 view to give an impression of the design. From there I try to 3D model what I designed logistically, considering standard dimensions, materials, etc. In the shop we improvise a fair amount, for different reasons, so we end up with a slight departure from the original, but that's essentially a refinement itself. Here are a couple examples.

rajrdajr2 karma

Are you involved in the installation of TABs? If so, how do you recover from a misaligned bore?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

We are obviously very careful, and have been lucky to almost always get a level bolt. If we need to accommodate an angle side to side we make custom arrestors. We accidentally drilled a hardwood sized pilot hole in a soft wood on the last job, which we fixed by installing another bolt 8ft. or so above and cabling down to the end of the sagging bolt, and then bringing it up to level with a turnbuckle.

MrMcGregorUK2 karma

Do you have structural engineer input on these, or is it all done by experience? Some of the larger treehouses look pretty complex!

Super impressed with your work!

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

Thank you!

I'll be honest with you, I've worked with engineers a lot in the past. Generally I'm frustrated with that as opposed to using common sense. That being said I totally respect and embrace structural analysis, FEA on hardware, etc. So we essentially use our judgement and only very rarely need an engineer, in fact before I was with them BTH built a giant pergola with louvered top that could open for sun or close for rain, and did so elegantly. They had to work uphill with the ME they asked for help and eventually bypassed him to get things done. It works great, and the owner and I have both been annoyed with how book-wormy a lot of engineers can be, lacking a practical understanding. You got the numbers and calcs engineers, and then you have the wrench turners and hands on guys. I like to think I'm as close as you get to the latter, with a right brain.

GlazeyAdams1 karma

How are treehouses looked at by your state's building codes/laws? If one of these were to collapse, god forbid, and the company was taken to court, would it need to provide stamped drawings or structural calcs?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

We are an LLC and fully insured, but I'm sure if something did happen it would be fully investigated by an engineering firm. I used to work at such a firm and we investigated structural collapse regularly. Again, I grew up on a farm, and we generally just over build everything. It's hard to explain to the average person but we're not looking at complete catastrophic failure. The bolts are rated to bear far more weight than we ask of them, they're installed correctly, and everything we build is to code and simply stacked on the bolts.

indaelgar1 karma

Do you ever consult for theoretical projects? If you haven't - would you? I'm in the process of world-building for a new book, and one of my countries is in a fully forested biome, and all the cities are partially suspended and built into the trees. If someone like me ever approached you with questions, would you consider drawing up a contract for some consulting time?

EDIT: as an FYI, I'm not trying to get you to agree to anything, ha. I am just honestly curious!

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

Your project sounds great, and love any excuse to design creatures or enviornments, especially visually. I take a scientific approach. I have designed creatures for games and the like and I'd be happy to consult. You can see a few sketches on my carbonmade page, though I should update that portfolio too.


What did you use to cap off under the metal roof edge in pic 20? To close off the ridges etc?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

That's an extrusion available from metal roof supply called gable end, meant to wrap from under the roof sheet itself and onto the fascia of any gable end. Alternatively the eaves call for drip edge which is a different extrusion shape. All available with steel roof systems.

Doctor_How1 karma

This is awesome! I thought that the name seemed familiar and it turns out it's because I was already following you on Facebook! You have some great stuff and I'm really liking following the Godzilla build (along with everything else).

I guess I should actually ask a question...Do you have a "dream" project that you hope to one day be able to do/work on?

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

My dream is to have a steady flow of custom design and building work for the entertainment industry. I like working on commercials, music videos, and independent films, as well as on theater productions and Treehouse building of course. Designing and building a creature for an independent film that garners some attention from my idols would be great. Steve Johnson saw my work in a music video for Owl City a few years ago and made mention of it, which was cool. Props, sets, treehouses are awesome but monster making is my favorite thing. Thanks for following along! I guess I better link this AMA over on my fb page now that you mention it.

Pterocles1 karma

When I was in college I designed a treehouse I planned to live in someday. It was supposed to be built in a jungle, so no insulation and only screen and tarp walls were planned.

What are the difficulties involved in building a house that requires insulation?

Where do you put the sewage? I was planning an above-ground cistern, but I imagine most people wouldn't want to see that, but you'd have to avoid the roots if you dug down.

How do you deal with radial growth? To avoid buttress roots, I planned mine to be 6' off the ground and to be suspended from cables that straddled the lowest branches (with padding) so as not to actually punch into the tree.

What kinds of trees make for more difficult builds?

What's it like getting it approved by an inspector? Do normal regulations apply (e.g. foundation strength, wind resistance)?

When the roof wraps around the trunk/branches, how do you keep it watertight, despite growth?

Sorry for the barrage, I think this is my only chance at an answer to these questions!

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

  • > What are the difficulties involved in building a house that requires insulation?
  • I can't think of anything more difficult than insulating a house on the ground, you will have to insulate the floor, for sure.

  • Where do you put the sewage? I was planning an above-ground cistern, but I imagine most people wouldn't want to see that, but you'd have to avoid the roots if you dug down.

I would likely install the sewage system commonly used in that area, and work around major roots.

  • > How do you deal with radial growth? To avoid buttress roots, I planned mine to be 6' off the ground and to be suspended from cables that straddled the lowest branches (with padding) so as not to actually punch into the tree.

Trees will collar over the boss on the bolts we use for mounting, but don't aggressively infringe on the rest of the bolt.

  • > What kinds of trees make for more difficult builds?

Smaller trees and soft woods are less preferable for obvious reasons, and we avoid Ash on account of the Emerald Ash Borer.

  • > What's it like getting it approved by an inspector? Do normal regulations apply (e.g. foundation strength, wind resistance)?

We are conveniently outside the reach of these things, a "treehouse" is still a footnote on most insurance policies and building inspections. We do build to codes, however.

  • > When the roof wraps around the trunk/branches, how do you keep it watertight, despite growth?

We create a rubber skirt attached to the tree and draped over the hole, you can see it clearly in our photographs. You can use Big Stretch or other tinted, large area caulk to seal course bark to the rubber if necessary.

  • > Sorry for the barrage, I think this is my only chance at an answer to these questions!
  • It's all good, thanks for the interest!

Pterocles1 karma

You're awesome! Thanks!

On another note, is it possible to get a treehouse insured? Does it cost more to insure than traditional housing, considering the perceived risk?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

You would have to take one of our photos to your home insurance and submit it for a quote to find that out. All of our structures are playhouses so far, no finished living spaces unfortunately. If you intend to build a house in a tree, I suggest you find a township or county with laws that will make it easier, and then buy your land there. You're free to ensure these things before you set out to build, and I think that's wise.

By the way, we make the rubber skirts from large tire inner tubes.

TacoTacosday1 karma

Have you ever encountered termites?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

This isn't a big area for termites, and no.

Herr_Doktore1 karma

Are you hiring?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

I think we are going to be picking up one or two people before next season. Everybody and their buddy want to be on the crew, there are plenty of qualified carpenters out there but it's more important to us whether you fit in socially, because it's sort of a tight knit crew. It's not your usual contractor crew.

rr3541 karma

You ever check out the tree houses of the Korowai Tribe of New Guinea for inspiration? They're pretty bad ass:

"The Korowai people live in tree houses ranging in height from 6 to 12 meters, but some are as high as 35 meters above the ground."

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

That's awesome, first time I've seen those! I'm sure they're constructed with lashing which we can't do because of code, and they probably don't have incredible winds to deal with, buried in the jungle like that. I do think the're awesome though.

Masterchrono1 karma

What's the hardest project you have ever done?

TechnicallyMagic2 karma

Across my career thus far, the most ambitious project was the two large models of Atlas, from Portal II. I am now far better equipped for such a project but at the time we got it done on just putting our nose to the grind stone.

EDIT: With BTH we've been in the middle of installation and have come to the realization that we need to upgrade our bolts in some way, or arrestors. There have been a couple slightly dramatic displays of physics, allowed us to handle the issue like the crazy fucking black wizards we are though ;)

deloso1 karma

What industry did you do effects for? I'm a scenic carpenter, but my favorite is we get to build custom effects rigs. Serious respect for you guys.

TechnicallyMagic3 karma

It's not as formal as all that, I take contracts I know I can handle for the money and time. I have been a party to some wild projects, which is what I love. I don't work exclusively for any industry or client type, unless you count not working for people offering only "exposure" or pay dependent on the success of their vision, of which I am only a part. I have bills I need to pay and this is a niche market. All niche markets employ highly skilled people who have sacrificed many things to know what you need them to know. The trade off is that you get what you asked for quickly and without incident. It's that good/fast/cheap pick two scenario.

rajrdajr1 karma

Did you use real rebar in the "road" on the Crushed Bus project?
Also, how did you go about creating the bent & torn steel damage in the PVC guard rail?

TechnicallyMagic1 karma

Yea, the fastest thing was buying real rebar, giving it a bit of a paint job, and installing it with Great Stuff. The guard rail was heated with a heat gun, sawn, and ground to give that effect. This was an extremely low budget project that I came in on last minute but I love those guys and it was a ton of fun. It did a tour of the US the past two years with light touch ups only!