"If you want to build a skate park on stage at a Justin Bieber concert, or build the largest LED screen in the world at Coachella, or map a 45-foot tall sculpture with 100,000 LED lights, who do you talk to?"
Well... I might to know a guy. His name is Michael Figge. Let's just say "Figge" and his partners at Possible Productions are doing stuff that will blow your mind.
Video Provided by Possible Productions
LET'S SET THE SCENE
Going into the interview I knew a lot of their work would be proprietary, but I figured the work is the product of a deeper creativity that I wanted to tap into. I figured that's the special sauce we can all learn from.
So I was looking for the following:
- Where Figge and his team gets their inspiration (we need more of that in our lives).
- How they approach each project.
- The impact LED and Projection Mapping have had on the industry.
- The future of stage production.
- And how you can prepare yourself if you're looking for a next level installation like what you're about to see.
- His career advice and more.
Photo Cred: Yuzu
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Norwalk, California. It's about 20 minutes south of LA.
Big family, small family?
Small family. Big extended family, but small immediate family.
What was 15 year old Figge like?
I was somebody who, by every normal metric, was not on the way to success. I didn't have great grades. I didn't have the top SAT scores of my class. I wasn't bound for an Ivy League and so when I recently gave a talk at my high school, it was more of a message to the teachers: "Don't count people out just because by the metrics that you have, it doesn't look like they'll do anything with their life."
At that age, what's hanging on your wall in your room then?
I was really into Muse. I had their poster up.
If you were a piece of event equipment, what would you be and why?
High resolution LED screen because I could turn into whatever I want to turn into. I could show movies on it. That would be great.
I hear you're a bit of a conspiracy theorist. What's been one of your favorite conspiracies this year?
Oh man. I'd have to say the curse of Oak Island, the longest running treasure hunt in the world. Started in the 1700s and it's off the coast of Nova Scotia and there's a curse on that island that says, "Before the treasure shows itself, seven people need to die and there can be no oak trees on this island." So far six people have died in search of the treasure and there are no more oak trees on the island.
Yeah, actually, I was really into it last year and this year I found out the History channel actually has a four season show specifically about this.
Wow, so how do you follow along with this type of stuff?
I'm a historical gossip connoisseur. It's not that I believe in conspiracies. It's just I really like how conspiracy theories take place. I think it takes a lot of imagination to reduce a complex systemic problem to a couple of guys in a room.
Figge exploring the depths of a cave in Vietnam
If you could work on one event in the world, which one would it be and what would want to do?
You know, I always thought it was really cool how film and concerts allow for a lot of people to experience the same thing at once and I'm interested in how that scales up really, really big. Imagine if you could get a big enough LED screen and have 500,000 people watch Lawrence of Arabia at the same time. The crowds reactions on a scale of that magnitude would be epic.
Imagine watching a movie on this thing:
Photo Cred: Possible Productions
Where did you start to learning your craft?
"I went to film school at UC Santa Barbara and after I graduated I noticed there was a lot of people really wanted to make or put on shows with high-end video content. That's how I kind of slipped into it. I took what I knew from film and I was able to take that and implement it to the concert environment.
Is that how Possible came about?
After a few years of freelancing, my partners and I started Possible in a literal closet with a card table, a phone, and a computer. Now we take up a warehouse in Burbank.
When you started, what were you most nervous about?
I think from an artistic standpoint, it was, "Can we achieve a similar product that the big studios are able to provide, but can we do it for less money?
The Possible Productions team and their mascot brainstorming the next mind blowing structure.
Was there a moment along the way where you were like, "Holy shit, we made it!"?
I haven't had that "We made it" feeling yet. That sense has been there from the start, but it's bigger now only because I feel like we still have a long way to grow.
How often are you like, "Holy shit, we created that"?
Pretty often, actually. Last year we did an E-sports event where it was a very complicated projection mapping show.
"Also, last year at the Democratic National Convention, I think there were a lot of eyeballs on a very high stakes moment."
"And there was Coachella, too, where we designed large scale content for one of the biggest LED screens ever put up at a festival."
So to answer your question: it happens often, which is a good thing.
Cred: Possible Productions and Tribe Inc.
"And when do you have that feeling? Is it in the editing and the creation process, or when it's finally revealed to the masses?"
I'd like to say it's in the journey to the destination, but usually it's the destination because most of the time, things aren't working. Like 90% of the time, things don't look right. If it looked right, it would be done. There is something special about revealing the final product to a large group of people and getting a reaction.
How would you describe what you and your team does?
We create large scale video content for world tours, television events, and architectural installations.
Architectural installations. Wow.
Yeah, that's kind of like that show we're doing in Manila right now. It's part of this resort, but it's a massive installation that will live there for years to come.
Which is very different from, say, a world tour or a television performance where those products are far more ephemeral. Architectural installations, you have to build them to stand the test of time and you want to make sure that whatever goes in there, you can look at five years from now and not wince. You want to get that same wow factor as you did on installation day.
Does that mean you have to have an architect or architect on staff?
No, typically, we're able to work with an architectural firm or another organization that partners with that architectural firm, so as they are building a media integrated concept, we're able to furnish them with mock-ups.
Photo Cred: Yuzu and Possible Productions
Umm... That is one hell of an installation.
The structure is based on the mascot & icon of the Japanese band Yuzu. The LED sculpture serves as a 45 foot tall scenic focal point for their new Stadium Tour. It can be taken apart into segments that fit into trucks. Each of the 100,000 LEDs are digitally addressed so we can map content on to the character. It's definitely the most elaborate touring LED piece in the world right now.
And how long did you have to create this?
We had around 4 months from idea to execution for this sculpture, and worked closely with the Japanese team, who handled the fabrication.
BTW - our LED sculpture is one of four sculptures on stage. The other three are by renowned artists Takashi Murakami, Kohei Nawa, and Makoto Azuma. I think that's a really good indicator of how fine art is cross pollinating with touring rigs.
What's your favorite type of live experience?
I really like a rowdy Motown concert. Like a Janelle Monáe or a Stevie Wonder. I think that they have pretty amazing crowds, and lately, I've really been getting into E-sports too. I think E-sports is a really amazing trajectory to witness.
Are you able to pull yourself out of work mode and just experience it?
Yeah, it depends on the event, but I can when it matters.
When you take on a project, do you have a process you put every concept through?
Usually, we talk about references with our collaborators, so what kinds of things they want and what they associate it with and what kinds of things inspire them as it relates to the core concept that they want to make. Then based off of those references, we will draft a couple of design frame mock-ups and start doing test animations before starting to take those ingredients and putting them together into an edit. That's the process throughout, whether it's music or the DNC or Coachella or Justin Bieber's tour. We usually take the same standardized process.
Video Cred: Possible Productions (Justin Bieber performance at 2015 AMA's)
This Is NOT a Green Screen. Possible flew Justin Bieber in front of an LED screen to achieve this effect in camera.
The Justin Bieber Purpose Tour Cinematics Team
When you guys are faced with something you've never done before, how do you approach some of the overwhelming challenges?
I think what really helps is having a good team of people involved in the process. Even more than just having the idea of how to solve a problem. I've been working with our team for the last five, six years now and know that even if we don't know the solution, I know that with the right team, we'll be able to figure out the best solution. And then it's just a matter of tenacious trial and error.
With the right team, we'll figure out the best solution. And then it's just a matter of tenacious trial and error.
The Possible Productions team conceptulaizing the experience for Eminem's Monster Tour
The Possible Productions team designed and animated custom video content for Eminem's half of his and Rihanna's The Monster Tour. They also worked with Paul Rosenberg and prolific stage designer Bruce Rodgers.
Here's a behind the scenes look at their process:
Here's the link, just in case you didn't know you could click the screenshot above: https://vimeo.com/108498418
What would you suggest an event do prior to coming to a firm like yours to make sure things run smooth?
What is the color scheme or the lighting? I think what's really important is that it all feels cohesive, and so, setting up the rules and the design language for your event, I think goes a long way to impacting how people perceive that event.
Here's another behind the scenes look at the process:
Of all the technology you work with, what do you think has had the biggest impact on the evolution of the live experience over the last few years?
In the last few years, I think the thing that has had the biggest impact, is scalable LED.
Concerts before 2008, were mostly lighting and people. Nowadays, if you were watching the DNC, the wall that was behind them was just an LED wall. Before 08', the only place where you could really experience strange shapes of LED was Time Square and the fact that LED is now tourable is relatively a new innovation since 2008, but that's probably had the most impact on us and the most impact on what you see at festivals because now you're not seeing really dim projectors. You're seeing these massive walls that are bigger than movie screens and they're brighter than movie screens and that can help take the audience to a place they've never been before.
Back drop & LED Cred: Possible Productions - Nothing like designing the world's stage.
Do you see other industries benefiting from that?
Festivals and TV shows have definitely taken advantage of it. If you look at a lot of TV shows right now, you'll think that you're looking at scenic, but it's actually just really well-modeled 3D objects on an LED screen. If you look at a presenter talking in front of a set, there's probably just a high resolution LED screen behind him or her. So I think other than concerts, television's really benefited from it. I think architecture will continue to benefit from it in the future, because it is a texture that you can integrate into or onto a building.
What technology or medium are you most excited to work with?
I mean, I like the classic stuff that exists right now. Projectors and LED. But I'm more interested in the scale of it - putting a hundred of them together. Don't think we've got to reinvent the wheel and come up with holograms to really do something amazing. I think scaling up what already exists is itself a massive challenge.
Sculpture Cred: Possible Productions
In your work life, are you insecure about anything?
I'm constantly thinking, Is it going to be good enough? And Will people like it? But I do wonder if those questions are just part of the process and if they'll always be there to some degree.
You mentioned you're growing your team. I'm curious, when you're sitting down across the table in an interview or meeting a new prospect for your team, what are the things you're looking for besides the kind of technical expertise?
The type of person we want on our team, is one that if they found a wallet on the ground, they would go to extreme lengths to try to return that wallet. If they don't know all of the technical aspects of what we do, that's ok if you have a great attitude and you pick up knowledge super fast. That's the type of person that I look for.
What's the best piece of career advice that you've received and from whom?
I have always liked the phrase, "Plan B just gets in the way of Plan A." I like to devote all my resource to Plan A. I think you should pick one and go with it. And I truly believe that applies to a lot of things in life.
If you were to give an event industry State of the Union address, what topics would you hit on?
I would talk about a few things:
First, I would push people to always question how the events we work on are realized in a physical space. I think the set up always needs to be questioned. It's paramount to make sure the set-up is connecting with the audience and we're not just throwing up the typical thing because that's how it's always been done.
Second, I'd discuss the broadcast element as well, I think the internet has gone really far in helping to catapult things like E-sports to a much wider audience. So now we're not only contending with the question:
"How do you make something interesting for the 2,000 people in the arena?"
Now it's, "How do we also make something interesting for the millions of people watching online?
How big of an impact do you think the second screen is going to continue to be at these bigger experiences?
I think there is something to be found in augmented reality still. It has yet to be fully realized into what it can be, so in the future, I think it's going to be very important. I don't think we're quite there yet, but within the next year or two, we're going to see some really great innovation happening in that area.
And do you think that will happen AR will be ahead of what VR would be in a live event realm?
I'm not a big fan of VR in a live context. Being able to sit on the 50 yard line while looking at each other's avatars sounds interesting, but that's still a very separated experience because you're watching it through this apparatus. I still think in-person is the unrivaled, unimpeachable experience
Do you utilize VR as you are building these major event installations?
We have VR for our architectural installations, and it's really great because the buildings that we're working on are still under construction. They don't exist yet so if you're able to put on a VR headset in a room that's 15 foot by 15 foot by 15 foot, you could get the sense that you're looking at a screen that's like a hundred feet away from you through VR, so from a creator's perspective, I think that it's an invaluable tool.
What you should invest in more than anything else, is the community around you. When you have a community of people that come to the table with the same level of passion you do, it doesn't matter what kinds of challenges you face, because it's that community that you'll be able to tap into.
LENND's comprehensive platform helps event teams manage all aspects of the logistics and operations process. From incoming requests, approvals and management of inventory needs and credentials, to document management and tracking, to production scheduling, workforce management and more. The future of event operations is here.
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