Koert Vermeulen: “Let’s put some light on it”
Koert Vermeulen is a Founder & Principal Designer of Belgium based company ACT lighting design (ACTLD). It provides full-service lighting and visual environment design across three areas – architecture, entertainment and art.
“lighting has something in common with creating the world”
You fell in love with light in your early adolescence. What attracts you the most in this profession?
A well-known physicist said quite rightly that we only see reflected lights. Until we touch a material that material is only visible through the light reflecting moment in our eye. Our brain then interprets this element into 3D space with the shape and color. Light is our most important means of interpretation of the world around us. That is actually the main idea. So lighting has something in common with creating the world, - smiles Koert.
"Tree of Life / Albero della Vita”, Expo Milano 2015, Italy
Copyrights : (c) 2015 Balich World Wide Shows photo by Federico Vespignani
What are the main things lighting brings to events?
Lighting has the power to create the focus for what people need to see. And what people also don’t need to see, by the way. As lighting designers or as we call ourselves lighting architects we can choose where people should put the focus. Lighting fixes most of the attention because we show people where they should look and hide what people shouldn’t see (which is very important in the event, you know).
Lighting is also the first thing in making a special atmosphere – the one you want people to immerse in. You want them to feel cozy, or you want them to feel mysterious? All that is mostly done with the lighting – the set and the lighting decor you put around the area. So for me that is the main purpose and the real reason why I started working in the lighting aspects of events, it is very rewarding to be part of the real narrative in a space.
Youth Olympics Games, Singapore, 2010
(c) ACT LIGHTING DESIGN – all rights reserved
We live in the digital world. How do you think - is that ideas depend on visuals or vice versa – visuals depend on ideas?
I think if you have a great idea it’s always more easy to have good visuals. The visuals of the event are always a way of delivering your idea, your message. If your idea is a good idea and your visual may not be overwhelming or great, then it’s not a problem, the idea will make your event the best one ever. It’s when you have a weak project or you have a weak concept, of course, then you need to impress enormously with your visuals to make your client think it was… well… interesting. And I know that’s the main difference between most of our work and what I see sometimes from some event agencies (when they come up with dreams which are not possible to implement). At ACTLD we just say what we want to do, what we are going to do, how we are going to do that – and we pride ourselves that we always do what we promised and even try to do a little bit better every time.
“There is always a mix – part of solo work, part of team work”
Lighting designer is quite new and thus a very rare profession. For over 20 years ACT LIGHTING DESIGN collaborates with a wide range of creative individuals and industry professionals: architects, artistic directors, producers etc. How did you manage to find and bring all these people together? Is it hard to collaborate with people of this profession? What are the most important qualities which you are looking for in your team?
We have a good mix of people that came from the event industry and from architecture. Here are architectural designers, architects, landscape people, scenic designers, people from new media and so on. So we have a good mix of technical people, artistic people and creative people. Maybe this is the secret. All of them are different, and working in events and in architecture also differs a lot, but all of them are able to work in a team and play the smaller part within a big machine. Well, of course, very artistic people most of the time are used to working a little bit more alone. But with that unique mix of employees we can actually take care of many more things than just lighting show.
The key characteristic that we expect from our employees is creativity. Anyone in our industry knows pretty much all about the technical aspects.
At ACTLD we believe that creativity is something that happens in a group. Just a few people can do the best work solo. There is always a mix – part of solo work, part of team work (I mean everybody needs to do their work at some point, but everyone must know that they are able to rely on a team).
"Timeless Elegance”, Regent Street, London, UK
(c) 2015 ACT LIGHTING DESIGN – photo by Tomasz Kozak - all rights reserved
How do you motivate your team?
I make them work in architecture. Ha-ha :) Once you’ve come from the architectural projects where everything goes very slow, sometimes years you know, where everything is so difficult. It’s much more difficult than in the event industry, where everything is much more constrained (do not exclude budgets: even while there is more money in construction and development everything is really more constrained than in the event industry). So once they have done a couple of architectural projects, they are all happy to come back to an event. Easy :)
Can you remember any story of force majeure when you and your employees just “saved" your event by making quick and creative decisions?
Well, about a year ago we had an event outside for a big wedding. We had just one day before the event to install and configure our lighting equipment. And so we had to build the set during the day and night and then put on the show the next evening. The problem was that in the late afternoon a storm came up, so that all the works had to be stopped because it was a thunder storm with lighting. And most of the lighting was on the roofs, of course, along with the other equipment. It was a hard decision. The technical director said: “Everybody has to stop working because I can’t put anyone on the roof in such circumstances, it’s extremely dangerous”. So we lost almost a day (the storm stopped only at 5 a.m.) and nothing was set up. We restarted at 7 a.m. of the day of the show itself. Outdoors. In sunny Italy. So the way we resolved it was not so simple: my operator and I set up all the lighting cues blindly during the daylight. We structured the show into the hundred and fifty cues that it needed. Then we marked all the positions where this or that person and all the actors (whom we needed to lighten up) would be in the evening. Then I asked the producer to move the reception area: so that instead of having the reception in the outside garden where the people would later see the show all the guests could have the reception in another part of the site. That’s how I gained at least 55 minutes of dark time to just check all the positions, refocus if necessary and go over things with the artists. And we eventually did it. We were in time! We went through the show and everything worked out “reasonably well”. And our client was very happy. We were like “Ok. But please let’s not do this again” J.
“The visual effects are always a “wow” effect. If delivered perfectly”.
You often tell that you are a creative agency, and you have so many creative people in your team. Have you ever thought that ACTLD could become an event agency?
ACT LIGHTING DESIGN is a company that is first and foremost a creative agency. So we’re not an event production company. We are the people behind the event production although our creative part always comes along with the implementation concept. Because it’s one thing to come up with a nice concept, nice images and nice visuals. But it’s another story to really commit to the visual and make it at reality. And it’s one of the things that I’m proud of with ACTLD, is that we always deliver what we commit to. I’m not saying that our ideas are always a hundred percent realistic. But it’s always close. It’s always this close to what we intended and I may say that we always exceed the expectations of our clients. And the way we do that, is that we never exegerate our visuals. I see a lot of competitors or colleagues of mine that suggest some visual ideas of event which they cannot commit to. Sometimes it’s an impossible picture to bring into reality. So what we try to do is to be a little bit under that expectancy of the visual, because the visual effects are always a “wow” effect. If delivered perfectly.