Integration is where all of the different systems, machines and pieces of a project come together. It’s also the part of the project where we take the equipment out into the field to install the equipment on site for the customer.
A lot of what we do is completely custom to each project. Even though we have these stock building blocks, the way they get assembled varies each time. There is a lot of interaction between myself and the end user to make sure that we’re tailoring the equipment specific to the project and training each user how to use the specific parts and features of our software.
This is one of those jobs at TAIT that’s on a unique line between art and engineering. If you’re too mechanical, you may not understand the artwork that we’re trying to achieve. But if you’re too artistic, you may lose sight of the gear’s capabilities and may not have a greater understanding of what we need to do to fly somebody across the stadium.
As a kid growing up, I knew that I always wanted to make things; but, I didn’t really know what that specifically meant. I started off with my degree in mechanical engineering. But, ultimately, I found that I wanted to make things move which meant I had to transfer from doing mechanical work to controls and robotics. People that know about robotics and automation technology are the people that have really important and relevant experience in this industry.
Today’s shows are more and more interconnected. Video works with lighting which works with motion which works with all of the other components. TAIT Navigator connects the dots for these components. Elements that TAIT built or external equipment that we didn’t build, Navigator acts as the central hub and is a conduit of information.
My job as a 3D artist with an animation background is to figure out how to make these tools accessible to other animators. So, really, I design the first fifty percent and then hand it off to our integrators to do the integrational and the Navigator side of the project. For Taylor Swift, they were programming things based on where she was in 3D space. So if you put her at the end of the moving propeller arm, you don’t really have to think about “How is the propeller arm moving?” when you’re trying to focus the camera on her. You can just say, “Focus on Taylor.” There’s a lot of specific project-based investigation and learning that happens as we figure out how to program something we haven’t used before that’s from some other vendor.
Our R&D group is working on bringing the software and the hardware together. There’s always projects pushing new technology boundaries. What I do is bring new technology and hardware and make it compatible with the Navigator software.
I have a strong half of me that’s technical and solves technical problems but there’s also a really strong part of my job that requires soft skills and human interaction skills because I work with a lot of different people with different backgrounds. You can seamlessly go from being an engineer one moment to riding on a tour bus with a bunch of roadies the next moment.
You’re not just building a show, you also have to think about how the production team is going to tour the show. You have to make it easy for them. You’re breaking the gear down into sizes that fit efficiently on sea containers, trucks and airplane pallets. The really impressive part to me is the fact that it can all be torn down in a matter of three hours, packed on a truck, driven six hours down the road, and set up in a matter of hours before they do it all over again the next night. They do that day in day out for months at a time.
I had never been involved in the theater/entertainment industry so being backstage during the creation of a show was really exciting to me.
To be able to take a step back and see how people react to it is really an amazing experience.