“There’s beauty in the unexpected.” Kristin Banta is a design genius, never doing the same thing twice. But how do you continue to get fresh inspiration? She joins us and shares her process.
David Stark is an event veteran who uses design to make guests feel moved. How does he find inspiration? How does he give back?
Tell us your story.
When I went to college, I had no idea that there was an events world. I had no idea that this kind of career existed and that people do this. I studied to be a painter. I had every intention of being an artist and making paintings and sculptures and having shows in galleries and museums. That was always my goal from the very early age. I graduated from school and I went to graduate school and about 30 seconds after I got out of graduate school, I realized that I actually hated being in a studio by myself. The act of being alone painting was something that kind of made me a little bit crazy. I would get on the phone and I would call anybody that would possibly talk to me. I’d have a paint brush in one hand and I’d have the telephone in the other hand. I would talk my way through. What I realized in that process was that I actually like to collaborate with people. Transitioned from being a fine artist, working by myself to working with a group of people. More brain power created better stuff or more stuff or bigger stuff. I originally got involved working with flowers as a way to support my painting. That was really the way that I inched in. Working with flowers was a creative solution to waiting on tables to support my artwork. It felt akin to painting and it felt artistic. Somewhere along the way I realized that flowers were just one of the tools in the toolbox it wasn’t really right for every single occasion, but we’d work on these little events and that would lead to a slightly bigger event, which led to a slightly bigger event. Along the way I realized I’m really doing this, so let’s just do it. I approached what we do, like making a painting. So my approach has not changed. I’m still the fine artist deep down, but I do that for people. I do that for milestone occasions for individuals or corporate events or non-for-profit events where we’re looking to raise money for really incredible causes. I apply that same kind of art training and art making to those experiences.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. I don’t look at a lot of other people’s events for inspiration. Not that I’m not interested or not that I’m not curious, but I actually find that my ideas come from culture. My ideas come fromseeing art, going to the theater, going to movies, hearing music, being part of fashion experiences. Seeing the world of culture that’s around me, that is much more gratifying than adapting somebody else’s idea that they did for an event. I really stay focused on exposing myself to what’s going on in the world and having an ear and really truly being interested in what’s going on out there. It’s not always very immediate where the idea comes from.Sometimes I see an exhibition and I’m moved by it and I put it into the back of my brain. Then three years from now the right event comes up and all of a sudden that thing that was in that pigeonhole in my mind comes out. Sometimes it’s an immediate response to something. For me traveling, going to see stuff, being out and about, that’s where it all happens. Inspiration hits when you least expect it.
What’s the craziest or most unique thing that you’ve ever designed?
Things that I’m really proud of as an organization is we’ve done a lot of work in the non for profit space and for non for profit galas and we make a big distinction between the difference between decorating and telling a story. I think that our job when we create these installations and the decor is of course to make a room look a certain way and make people feel a certain way within that room. Ultimately I feel like my job is to create a safe set that tells the story of the organization. We do that in a lot of different ways.
I think the biggest example of our work is for the Robin hood foundation.It’s a New York based organization that looks to eradicate poverty in New York city and they’re taking the rich and they give to the poor. It’s not about giving, it’s about empowering and it’s about creating access. The thing that’s important to establish is it’s very large. So it’s a seated dinner for 4,500 to 5,000 people. They come to dinner, they have cocktails, there’s the big presentation, there are films and then there’s a big giant concert after with the likes of the Beyonce’s of the world. It’s at the convention center in New York, which you know is a vast, vast, not incredibly attractive space that we need to turn into something, and you have lots of choices, right? Like one choice is, you make it something that’s really beautiful. That could be a choice. But I always feel like my job here is to actually tell the story of Robin Hood. Several years back we created an idea where in partnership with Robin hood, we sought out $1 million worth of donated items that people in the programs needed. Some of that was pretty self explanatory, it’s food, it’s clothing. Other things were really surprising and moving: alarm clocks, you and I take it for granted. We have an alarm clock and what does that do for us? That gets us to work on time. It gets us to a job interview, but if you don’t have an alarm clock, it’s a little harder to do those things that we take for granted. We made a giant installation out of thousands of alarm clocks that went to people that needed the alarm clock. So all of these items were donated and then they went directly to the programs after. From a design standpoint, what’s tricky about that is you can’t nail into it. You can’t screw into it. You can’t mess up the item because it needs to have a sure life after. So we’d have to come up with all kinds of ways to make these 30 foot tall set pieces where we preserve the integrity of the item in the first place. Very proud of the fact that it was.
A. Very great way of telling the story of all of the different programs that Robin hood is involved with.
B. We were able to rally the community to donating these things.
C. They went to the hands and the hearts of the people that needed the most after. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me really excited about being in the events world. I throw a great wedding. I love that too, the milestones of one’s life are really important to celebrate. Things like the Robin hood foundation where we can really be making a difference is something that I think always remains dear to me and my goals when I wake up in the morning.
You’ve made a great point here in that it’s very easy to get distracted with the mechanics of things when first we need to determine what is the purpose of it, why are we doing it? Right?
Yeah, I think so. I think the why is the key and then the how of course is a big part of that. We extend that to everything that we do. You guys are in Minneapolis and one of my longtime great, great friends are my pals at target. I realized last week that I’ve now been working with Target for 20 years and we also had the occasion last week to create a big event with target in partnership to honor their 20 years of design for all, it’s been 20 years of their designer partnerships. It’s designed for all. That was a great honor to be part of that and having such a journey with them for so many years and then having to really apply the beautiful thinking that really happens behind the doors of Target to what the intentions are and then illustrate that by what we do with the material. It’s both a challenge and it’s great fun. It’s really satisfying to be able to be thinking so conceptually about this stuff.
Target invented the pop up store. Target invented these designer partnerships. There’s a tremendous amount of trailblazing and visionary thinking that have gone into the history of style and many of those things have now been copied by others and everybody brings their own spin to it. The original impetus was really about providing access to great design for everybody. Target is rereleasing product from 20 of the designer partnerships over the last 20 years. Aat the event that we did, we had the occasion to look at that history and see all those products together. One of the things that was mind blowing to me is how fresh it all looks today. Something that was created 20 years ago looks like it was just created last week.
Tell me about, do you have any mantra you live by?
One is one that my parents taught me from an early age, which is that I could do anything that I set my mind to do and I do really believe that to the core. The other one is that it’s just quite all right to break the rules as long as you do it really, really fabulously.
Any advice for newbies starting out?
Work really, really, really hard and no matter what the scale of the event, approach it as if it’s the biggest, most important thing in the world. The special events business is very, very difficult, right? People see the photographs and they see the celebrities and they see the glamour of it all. But at the end of the day, it’s a very, very difficult business. Part of the thing that’s important is to recognize that the hard work that you put in is an investment. You can work really quite tirelessly and you can not necessarily see where it’s going to get to but I promise you if you invest the time and the energy and the love and what you’re doing, it does eventually pay off. Give it your all be present, meet people, follow up with them, continuously create new relationships, and when you do give those relationships, they’re all, honor them with the same kind of devotion you would give to a friendship. Ultimately that pays off on the business landscape front as well.
Pet Peeves: Not being nice to everybody
Pet Peeves: Floor plans not to scale
Super Power: Very very calm
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Halfway through season 3, done with the ILEA Live episodes, and new music: we drop an episode on a Wednesday and bring in a special guest. Elizabeth Partyka is no newbie in the events space. She owned a business for many many years before joining the quest team. Listen to hear her story!
What is Quest events?
A decor and scenic company based out of Dallas Texas. We have 26 locations nationwide. We have a lot of stuff. We have one in Canada as well.
What do you do?
We started out as a pipe and drape company, in the last several years we’ve moved into offering a wide variety of scenic options.
You have a unique story, why don’t you tell us that?
I had my own decor company for 15 years, we did ceiling draping, chandeliers, lighting. A year ago quest approached me they needed a sales manager because they opened here recently. They acquired my business and now I’m moving more into the A/V world outside of weddings. I have been able to move into more large scale events.
How did you build your company into what it was?
It grew organically, in my early 20’s. I worked at a local rental company since I was 15 went to college. My friends were getting married, I did their weddings, a few proms asked if I could help and it grew organically.
What do you guys do now?
We are the premiere provider in scenic stuff. If people aren’t familiar, when you look at a stage set, the back drops, we have different tiles, fabrics. Basically anything you need for a gala, conference.
What trends are you seeing?
A lot more customization. All of our products you can brand and put pictures on them. You can have branding everywhere.
What conversations should people be having for their event?
Start with a realistic budget or planners looking to say I have xyz dollars, or this is the look I’m trying to achieve what can you offer me and what will it cost. How do you engage the audience? How much branding do you want? A lot of our clients request renderings, we can go in and plug in our products, lighting, seating. It’s a great way to help new planners or sell it to the client.
Pet Peeves: Touching and Moving stuff around
Super Power: Always listening. In one conversation and can listen to another
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On this episode of Meeting Minds; Charles and Paige chat with Zach Sussman about merchandise trends in the event industry. Swag (stuff we all get) that people actually want is crucial. Find out what merchandise is likely to resonate and not become waste!
Hal Lovemelt, an Event Technologist, talks about the creative side of events. Ever wanted to know how to use new technology to captivate your event? Hal brings a perspective we haven’t yet seen on the Meeting Minds podcast!
Tell us about you. What is an event technologist?
To illustrate where it comes from for me is, I would tell you a little bit about my background. I got sucked way into TV, public access TV. We did live public access TV in Minneapolis, every Sunday night live on air with a phone number on it. I considered it my education. We had to come up with content for an hour every sunday night. We had to free for all it, it was an improvise show. People could call in and interact with us. It was called Freaky Deeky. Everyone that came on was a freak. It was the freakiest show you could do and very experimental. We had a lot of costumes, basically a mountain of costumes and a huge green screen studio. Everyone improvised we came up with a skit in a matter of seconds. Did weird things, the callers would interact with us and help us to do weird things. I was behind the scenes doing the technology and mixing the feeds and doing video art with lots of different camera angles. We had 4 different camera kpeople and they are all dedicated, and we would make this show every week on Sunday without fail and that kind of forced us to come up with a streamline process for the creative thinking around video experiences.
I realized it’s less fun to watch the show, it’s more fun to be on the show. When we would be done with the show the guests would come and watch it and they would be having a blast seeing themselves. I said that’s it, I have to put people on camera, give them their moment of fun on camera. I built a really crazy ghetto video booth out of wood and I would bring it to clubs. I was still a kid at the time and we would do these dance nights but I would have this crazy green screen and little tv studio you would walk in. It was a hit so one thing led to another and we kept upgrading and upgrading and we are basically on version 10 now.
You’re kind of inventing a whole new interactive experience when it comes to this photo booth type thing. How does that work and what does it do?
In the beginning what happened a lot was people would come up to it and see it and see people getting all weird and stretching their face and they thought it was fun and cool. They thought it was just playback and they’d look and see people in their and realize it was live and then they would get really excited and want to jump in. Then they’d realize when you were in there you could see yourself on a makeshift teleprompter. I get all those bumps everytime i see someone get that moment of magic in their eye. I keep getting motivation to upgrade and keep developing.
You’re writing software, code, and meshing things together.
I basically got so dedicated to this kind of medium that I learned how to code just to do this.
How does this all tie in to larger events and stages?
My craft is actually a more visual artist and a VJ. I’ve done a lot of stage shows for bands. I’ve projection mapped for orchestra hall and festivals and stuff. I will do lighting and video installations for experimental bands here in town. The way it ties in is kind of a deeper understanding for taste and how to mix this different kind of visual art with sound and lighting and a mood. I’ve had a few opportunities to whole event moods and design a whole event where things got a lot crazier.
You were telling me about kinetic lighting, talk about that.
I think it’s the next big thing. I’d like to see it for an audience. It’s definitely seen on the stage and around a fashion show or something. I’d love to see it used in an audience fashion where the audience is interacting with it in a more cohesive way. Waves of people are controlling different moments of it. I’ve seen different approaches to the challenge of large interactions, customized apps with video wall software. You hold your phone up and you’re 1 pixel of an image. There may be apps now that do that, but a couple of artists have done that in the past where they’ve done it with a touch designer system. What that does is it opens what I get excited about in the industry as a whole is companies and small studios developing really unique solutions to interesting event problems and having a market for it.
When you say software what do you mean?
I’m more talking about the service product. For years event producers will come up with a crazy idea and say this is nuts but can you do it, to a big house. A solution house and they will say yeah we can do it and they work tirelessly and make it happen. Whether or not the execution is good, that was a one off because it has to be a one off right? You have to do the next big thing that hasn’t been done before. However what I’m getting excited about is people are realizing that is a very inefficient model for the industry. You can come up with ideas and make products and flush them out over time. Everytime you deploy it keep flushing it out and have that product be a single product you can sale.
If you put on an event and spend all the time and effort to build something cool that’s used once it feels wasteful. Is there technology that will track somebody?
Yeah BlaxTrack. If you buy one I will help you set it up.
Will it integrate with all of our Martin Lighting and can hook it up to our DMX board?
Yeah but it’s not that simple. This system is really quick, you can move you can run and it will track you. It’s tough and it’s just so expensive.
Is that something they use for concerts like following a performer?
Circ de sole, maybe big concerts?
Could you projection map lighting on a human figure and cut them out real time?
So it’s just hitting them? So the fallout doesn’t happen? (yes) Typically what happens, the projector itself the framerate wouldn’t keep up. It wouldn’t feel real, you’d see the edges and see the cross bleed. Most of the time people do that with depth sensors which are low res, that will change and things will get crazy when that changes. Depth sensor now, you can cut people out you can make really simple background subtraction but it’s choppy and low res. You make a blob.
What I do with background subtraction where I can cut people out in total darkness without a green screen, that technology can;t be applied to any scenario, but with depth cameras it could be applied to any scenario once the resolution is there. You can imagine walking past a wildont and a camera being in the window and looking at it and it completely cuts you out from the scene you are in.
It’s like live rotoscoping.
For those of you listening rotoscoping is a film term. In post production, let’s say you have a video of somebody standing in a family room and there is a chair in the background. Rotoscoping is frame by frame they cut the person out or a particular item and manipulate it. You don’t have to have them stand in front of a green screen to have a background behind them. Another use would be when somebody is using a bald cap makeup so it looks like there is bald. There is always wrinkles and edges so you will edit out the wrinkles frame by frame and blend them.
There are whole production houses that just make actors look tinier bit skinnier or fix them.
Tell me about the theatrical element of an event. I think a lot of meeting planners are always seeking new ideas to engage the audience.
In my opinion it’s all about attention. Most event producers know that too, it’s all about getting the attention: creative voices of god. It can be really upgraded and really creative ideas. I want to encourage event producers to not limit their crazy ideas just because they don’t think it’s possible. If you have a crazy idea for something and the answer that you say to yourself is but one one will be paying attention that problem can easily be solved. If you have something really unique like an elephant walking in and out of the room – something crazy for a gala or something I say go for it. Just really nail the attention part. Corralling people is always a challenge for event people. If the cocktail hour is going long and everyone is still gabbing and you need them to get into the venue, you can flash the lights or strobe the lights and make a crazy scene where a car crashed into the building you can go nuts you can go crazy.
A lot of the non profit events that raise money for years before they worked with us they struggled to get the attention of the audience to stay on stage. Or getting them into the ballroom in a given period of time. You are right, using directed attention and cues to pull people in, it’s age old stuff.
The age old stuff is the stuff that works the best.
When you can control the sound and the visual you can really control the audience and what they are looking at.
Don’t be afraid to make a couple guests mad. When I would bring that up early in my career, why don’t we go dark. Somebody has to put their glasses on, but they have a family that can help them.
If you are going to cater to everyone you’re not going to cater to anyone.
Tell us more about the onstage theatrics.
I’ve see a lot of cool things. I saw this show in Berlin that blew my mind. This goes back to kinetic lighting. They made and now sells the DMX motors. This was one of their first projects they built these one meter mirror disks and had LED edging on the disc, and both sides were mirrored. They had three points of being hung and three motors per disc. They had 100 discs and they were hung in a very interesting pattern and all of them could move up and down and they lined the room with the grid of the movers. Very nice precision movers. I talked to the guy later and he told me he had to calibrate them every day because the room ambience of the heat and stuff changes. This act was very precise. They would have the show that was synced to music and sounds where they make these crazy patterns and shoot pointed lights at these mirror. You would be underneath and they would get really close then go up.
You will see a lot of these motors coming into the A/V houses because it’s a cool easy thing to wow someone.
Even if you move anything during a show people are so excited. What other cool things can you technologists do?
Anything you can dream of!
Tell me about projection mapping vs LED.
It depends on the application. Although i’ve seen an LED video booth and I’m very intrigued, it’s that there’s a cost difference that is so hard to get beyond. I’m a resolution kind of guy, I’m really into it especially with what kind of art I do. I don’t want a low res LED wall. It’s about the pitch of the LEDs. If it’s a huge stage it doesn’t matter because people are far away from it. All my ideas with LEDs have people being close. Small pitch LED walls are really expensive.
I don’t understand why a 4k 70 inch tv is $1000 and the pixel density is microscopic and you can walk up to the TV and be an inch from it and still not see the pixels. Why can’t we use that to make LED walls.
It’s never bright enough. We put TVs on the side for my video booths they are awesome but if you look at the whole thing we put Robis up top and we have pixel strips going down the side and those always make the TVs look dark. They make really bright tvs and we’ve purchased them. THe problem is you can’t get the $1000 tv. They make display tvs that are made to run 24/7 and made to look good in broad daylight those are still Tvs, still LCD and they are way more expensive than your average TV. The brighter you get the lower, crappier black and color levels.
Give us things you’d like planners to think about when using technology.
I always like to say don’t take the human out of technology. I’m kind of anti automation to a certain degree when it comes to technology. I don’t like kiosks at all. I like humans being involved and that comes back to the theatrical part and that will make things memorable.
One think I’d really like planners to think about is bringing your vendors together to the creative table. As a video booth designer, all I want to do is work with bigger and greater decor companies to make crazy sets and come up with cool ideas. That way we are not splitting the budgets. Bring everybody together.
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