In the past few weeks we published an article about the F1 Grand Prix in Las Vegas.  

Thanks to Motif PR we had the opportunity to talk with the two minds behind this show, the executive producer Brian Burke and with the chief designer of STUFISH Entertainment Architects, Ray Winkler


SDM: Hi Brian, how did you start to work in the entertainment world? What was your inspiration?

B.B: I think that I was one of the first creative producers in the industry when technology first came in. There became a need for more creative directors, creative producers and concerts and television and live shows. I started performing on Broadway and then I moved to Las Vegas in 2002 when Celine Dion did her first residency. They built a 90 million dollar Coliseum outside Caesar's Palace, a custom theater and Franco Dragone had left Cirque du Soleil and started his own company Franco Dragone Entertainment group, went through a couple of names and I went out to Las Vegas to go and work on that show as an artistic director. So because of all my work in New York and my work on Broadway as an associate director for many directors, I worked as an artistic director with Franco Dragone for ten years in his company, specifically in Las Vegas and all over the world. I travelled the world with Franco Dragone, creating and directing shows with him all over the world in China and Europe and Simon Cowell and his team at the time were looking for creative Directors to do their TV shows because X Factor was a big hit in London. It was coming to America. American Idol was on TV, America's Got Talent was on TV. So they came to see all these shows in Las Vegas looking for creative directors and I met with them there and I started going over. Basically I also started workingwith Simon Cowell's company doing the X Factor and then America's Got Talent and then American Idol. So I was working back and forth between big TV series shows where I was producing hundreds of performances and also using my background with Franco to create Las Vegas shows. David Hill, who used to be the head of Fox Sports, and when American Idol was on Fox Network I worked with him before it was on ABC with Disney, he's the one that introduced me to the CEOs Emily Fraser and she said that want to do a 30 minute welcome tribute of all kinds of entertainment of Las Vegas. We want to be bigger and better than the Super Bowl. So I grabbed the best designers that I've spent years working with, of course STUFISH was my first phone call along with Tom Sutherland for the lighting design. STUFISH are set designers, but they're also architects and I knew working with them all over the world I Knew that because it was going to take engineering, you know, it's a race track It's a construction site. We had to get on and off the track within 10 minutes we needed to do a show outdoors it all the engineering and the rules the FIA have with the track and what you can and can't do on it and so there they were really a wonderful partners because we had to basically transform the entire paddock building into a concert venue for one night only and everything that we did was temporary infrastructure for this one night! Very narrow but very long, and for 30,000 people.

SDM: Incredible!

B.B: Moreover there was no power or infrastructure to do a show outdoors like that because it was really only set up for a race. We had to make LED stages completely battery operated so they were all done and be able to drive in and out and fit certain parameters and weights and all these things. Logistically it was a real effort to pull all the creative off that I wanted to do of having mobile stages, and drone show, all the pop stars used the roof, used the rooftops of all of the buildings in Las Vegas to fire fireworks off of like the 4th of July or New Year's Eve. I had to shut the airport down twice to do the drone I had to go to the City Council and the mayor and the commissioner and ask permission for us to have the police force and you know the fire department and we had to close down roads and closed down buildings and so it was really an accomplishment in that way because everybody in the city was involved. It was a risk but everybody believed in it. That’s for sure!

SDM: This show has been something bigger than other shows, we can only imagine the effort to combine everything and everyone to work hand-in-hand.

B.B: I had to wear my show creator hat which was driving the creative part and keep the vision on track as the executive producer. I never had more conversations with accountants and lawyers so I had to go in and defend every single penny I was spending and why we needed it and you know, the budget shifting and bringing partners in to execute things. We involved and worked with a lot of partners from the PRG North America for the realization of the show, to the team of Formula 1 and tv broadcasters. But there is an important thing that I always do. I always invite the clients. They sit in an office all day long with a budget and paperwork and they just see the money going out, and so we invited the F1 president to come and see our work. I love doing that because you bring the client into the process, we ran the show with lights and video content, and it was just so great to see them get so excited from our work.


SDM: We are talking about an event in a completely open space without any roof, completely open! What about the audio?


B.B: Well, it was a real challenge, because we had the live audio. A real challenge for the limited time and the coordination of everything in space that was still under construction. But to be honest, the most challenging fact was the comm. system. PRG provided us an efficient comm. system. We had people on the paddock building side. We had people in the tunnel. We had people on the track. We had people under the bleachers. We had the drone people who were on the other side of the city where we had to shut the city down. We had the pyro people on four different rooftops. We had to coordinate with the sphere video content people in Burbank because they run the F1 signage people from the rooftop. So the biggest challenge honestly was to connect all of our comms to be able to talk to each other.


SDM: Everything has to work like a clock, a very nice oil machine!

B.B: Absolutely, so you know, it's not like we went into an existing venue and we could go, but it was a new space, under construction. Every day there was new information that the team had to react to, so my biggest concern was just making sure that the crew, and the artists and the performers, everybody working on it was safe because it was still a construction zone. F1 has incredible security systems and passes and logistics and it amazes me how tight their security is. It was very very strict, it was quite amazing to see the whole operation because we were happening in the middle of the city, right in the heart of the city so there were a lot of individual security partners having to combine together. It was a feat!

SDM: We like the challenging part of this work, if it doesn’t produce problems to be solved, it’s not interesting anymore.

B.B: As an executive producer and a show creator I like building the right team that believes in division and believes in challenges and will bring you solutions to any problem and sit down and help you figure it out. This show was a success because everybody that was on the team came with a problem and with a solution, everybody tried to transform the concept into reality, they really believed in it and every single person believed in it and there were hundreds of people that worked on this show, hundreds of people yeah, hundreds!!




SDM: Hi Ray, tell us a bit about you, your work, your starting, your difficulties and then we get into the more detailed versions.

R.W: So just in general. My name is Ray Winkler. I am an architect. In addition to that, I am the CEO and the design director of STUFISH Entertainment Architects. And STUFISH as it says in the title, we do architecture and entertainment. And we like to describe it in simple terms that we put rock and roll into architecture and architecture into rock and roll, meaning that we service both ends of the same rainbow. The one is big shows. The other one is buildings and anything in between. We have established a reputation in the last 30 years as being the go-to for some of the biggest names who want to go on tour or host events. So we have a privilege of having worked with the likes of Madonna and Beyonce and Adele and U2 and the Rolling Stones, ACDC, Elton John, Queen and many more. But we've also done interesting work in the field of architecture. We've designed theatres and museums in China. More recently we have done the Abba Arena, which has hosted the Abba Tar Show, Voyage for Abba. We've done a number of Beijing Olympics. We've done it in Winter Olympics, in Turin. We've done Asian games. We've done ship launches. So there's a huge selection of work in our portfolio that all comes under the guise of entertainment architecture, meaning that as architects who design work, we have a very good structured approach to problem solving, which is both beneficial to the world of architecture that is looking for a little bit more flamboyance in the language of architecture and a little bit more structure in the rock and roll world that is looking for a bit more process in the way, how they procure things.

SDM: What is the main difficulty you find in the beginning, just to inspire young set designers to approach this working environment?


R.W: Well, where we see difficulties, we see opportunities and where we see opportunities, we naturally encounter challenges and I think the challenge to start off with is to understand what the client wants and help the client understand what they want if they don't know what they want, which is very often the case, meaning that we like to be at the beginning of the conversation where jointly with the client and their team, we create the brief for what we at Stufish are meant to do and the brief can range across a whole different fields of expertise, it could be from a logistical point of view, you know, if it's a big rock and roll show, it needs to fit into X amount of trucks, not Y amount of trucks. In terms of the amortization, it will be amortized over 10 rather than 100 shows, which is also a big different on a conceptual level is what is the narrative that the client or the band or the individual wants to achieve, is it a new album, is the tour meant to represent a promotional tour for the album or is it a celebration of past work like Madonna just did or is it a, as we just mentioned, is it something that Renaissance brought to the masses in Beyonce delivering something completely unique for the first time. So once you sort of put those questions into place and you get some answers, then the real challenge is then how one translates an abstract concept that might sit in everybody's brain as a different image and makes that into a consolidated proposal that satisfies a whole plethora of different requirements. And to do that, we work like the architect would do through different stages. So roughly speaking, we have a pre concept stage in which we would discuss it with the client, we might draw a few reference images, there might be a few hand sketches and we present that to the client, say, you know, I think the mood should be like this and it could look a little bit like that. And if we did this, we could use the other. And if that resonates, then we know we can go from the pre concept into concept where we start to refine some of the ideas and become a little bit more specific saying, oh, you know, it's an arena tour. So we have to be cognizant of the fact that probably be of the limitations of the amount of weight that we carry in the roof. And we know that you want to sell seats to 260 rather than 180 degrees, which is important. So sight lines are very important because the last thing you want to do is propose a design that half of the people can't see or see badly. And that's in that phase, which we call the concept development, a lot of things will be weeded out because we know that there, you know, a rock and roll show might be two if lucky three hours long. There's only so many songs that you can do in that period. There's only so many set changes that you can have. There's only so many trucks that you want to do. So some ideas fall on the wayside. Some, you know, evolve and develop. And we go from that sketch phase into what we call a schematic phase where very quickly all of the ideas get drawn up on the computer, meaning that we can now run a parallel conversation on one side with the artist saying, look, this will look like this in an arena. And to the production team and the technical team, we can say, and it will be this big and we think it will need this amount of video. And I think this is what it should do. So performance specifications. And what our role is in that stage is making sure that the creative and the technical trajectory towards the common goal of the opening night don't go out of sync so that the creative does a left turn and the technical and logistical side does a right turn because that will only be leading to disappointment. And once we've gone through the schematic, there are different routes that we can take. We like to work with a lot of our established relationships with some of the specialist vendors in the industry, not everybody can design a rock and roll set. Not everybody can build a rock and roll set. So if we go to our trusted vendors, then, you know, with 30 years of experience of working together, there's a certain amount of shorthand where we know how much information we need to produce for the vendor to fully understand what it is that we're after. And then in that period where things get built, you have to absolutely make sure that the client completely understands what it is that they're getting before they commit to it because what you don't want to do is in the fabrication process, which is the most time consuming and expensive part of the entire process that you have to make changes at that stage. And that is all down to communication and the clarity of information that we provide and they exchange with us.

SDM: Okay, because we're talking about big projects, big budgets, and of course, if something else.

R.W: Not always big budgets. I mean, the budgets, you know, big, there are big projects.

SDM: Architecture and set design are two different worlds, with different timing in the design and longevity of the projects, what is your approach about it?

R.W: Yeah, and I think it depends on what you want to, what measuring stick you want to use. If longevity of the object is the objective, then of course, doing it a set will never ever retain the longevity that a building would do. Certainly not a Parthenon on an acropolis that lasts for thousands of years, far from. But that is not how we measure it. We measure it in terms of the experiences that we create that sits within the emotive landscape of a person's memory, which is an important aspect, which they will carry probably for the rest of their lives. Because the combination of the visual and the audio in terms of seeing a Beyonce or Rolling Stone is an incredibly strong trigger of emotions that we know that the brain can retain. You know, I remember the very first concert I went to when I was a child and I can even describe what the set looked like. When I was only 16, because the combination of the music and the visuals were so strong. So in that, I think I have a lot of joy in seeing that the people are happy. There's nothing more rewarding than being in the middle of the crowd and seeing that what you have done, albeit just a supporting role, is contributing to the general well-being and the satisfaction of the people around you. And hopefully those are memories that they will carry for a very long time, if not for the rest of their life. So it doesn't bother me personally. And quite frankly, if it did, I'm in the wrong profession. Because most things come down very quickly and then move on to the next city or, you know, like an Olympics will never be seen again in a physical manifestation.

SDM: How did you manage to arrive at the position you arrived at now, what were your struggles? And what about technology?

R.W: Well I started straight out of architecture school. I went to University College London to Bartlett and to the Southern California Institute of Architecture. And when I graduated I went straight into this genre of work. And I have seen over the decades, nearly three decades now, things like video screens have become lighter, brighter, higher resolution and cheaper. Speakers have become lighter, louder, less energy consumptive, you know. Manufacturing processes have become more sophisticated. Staging in general has become lighter and is much more clever in the way it can pack up these days because we now have modeling tools in our computer that allows us to do things that you couldn't have done maybe 10 years ago, certainly not 30 years ago. So like, excuse me, like in every industry, technology advances at a rate by which you can either make a decision that you are either going to participate and extract the values of that or you just stick to what you know. And I don't think at Stufish we would survive to where we are if we just stick to what we knew. Because that on its own by definition is very regressive and you will never innovate and we live in an industry where we have innovation is what all of our artists clients do. Take any of our artists, you know, they have an increasingly demanding clientele that they want to go back on tour with and show them that they can do these fantastic things, you know. Look at what you are doing in the sphere. Look what Beyonce did in Renaissance. They follow the same principle as they are innovating, they are innovating their music, they are innovating the presentation of their music, they are innovating everything to do with how they tour. And I think as a result Stufish has been very fortunate that we have been at the forefront of a lot of these very privileged relationships that we have with the artists and the productions around them to deliver some of the most exciting productions.

SDM: About the Formula 1 in Las Vegas we would like to explain a bit about what was the inspiration, what was the idea. If you have any similarities with some other works you have done or is it just like a classical approach of an experienced designer?

R.W: I don't think there's a classical approach. If classical means that we're working to a sort of a formula. When you look at something like F1 everything that you're trying to do has to work within the context of the environment that it has to work in. In that sense we are very well rehearsed in having done lots of shows in stadiums where you are limited like a Super Bowl halftime show where you have half an hour for everything and you have to hand over the field of play exactly how you found it. And so similar restraints were on the formula one we had to be on the race straight. We had about 400 meters of field of play but only 12 meters deep which meant that it drove the design into a certain direction. We knew that we had to be flexible from the onset because at the time that we started the design and fabrication none of the artists that were most of the artists that were performed and the night were known so we couldn't design anything that was specific to Kylie or Wil I Am or to Steve Ioki we had to be flexible as possible. And once you have those sorts of parameters again like I mentioned earlier you sit down with a client and the producer you know in this case creative producer was Brian Burke you sit down with him and you start to define together what the brief is. What are we trying to do? We're trying to play in front of 30,000 people in the grandstand but ultimately to a billion people at home who are you know Formula One fans so you have a multitude of different buying interests you know there's a camera requirements the lighting for camera, lighting for the eye, the set design for the eye that sits in the environment and watches it. So all of these things come in and I think in the end it's true to say that you don't refer to a template and say well because it's like this it has to be like that but what you do is you distill all of the experience that you've had over the last 30 years of doing shows and you say okay I think this would work better than that. And then you go through the processes architects you do you know you show sketches you show mood boards you go references then you tighten these sketches up and you start showing some first 3D modeling and then renderings and at the end of the day you try to make sure that what you've rendered and presented to the client is as close as it can get to the real object because you've satisfied all the practical requirements all of the technical requirements and all of the artistic requirements and when you reach to that point and you hand over you have to be very sure that you've done it because if you haven't done it it's not going to be fit for purpose to clients and not like it it's not going to work for the artist and so there's a huge tea but a company like Stufish with the experience that we have I think we can navigate through those processes and challenges quite effectively and remember different to an architectural world there is no such thing as a delay.


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