Creative Talk with Bruce Ferguson from Darkroom
This month we talk with Bruce Ferguson, Creative Director from Darkroom. They are creative experts in experiential motion design, located in Warkworth, north of Auckland.
Tell us about how Darkroom was formed.
My friends and I had a record label in the late 90’s early 2000’s called Kog Transmissions. My contribution was creating video projections for the gigs, music videos and end of year Christmas parties. In 2003 I went it alone and started Darkroom on the back of a job for Louis Vuitton through Inside-Out Productions [Mike Mizrahi and Marie Adams]. Financially that job was a big help to get set up on my own, and the relationships and recognition I had gained with Kog over the years helped create a solid client base.
You had an office in London and made the move back to New Zealand 3 years ago – happy you made the move back?
Absolutely, it was the right time to come home in so many ways. We do miss riding our bikes around London in the summer but we don’t miss the winters! We arrived in London at the start of the 2008 recession. I think that may have provided some opportunities to us. It was a very collaborative time among artists. It’s hard to get a foothold in London but we succeeded in that with mapping projections on to buildings, which were a new thing then. Coming back home we’ve had a lot of our old clients come back to us plus some new ones. We’ve been working hard to maintain our international clients however, as the budgets are generally better than what you get in NZ. The price of living in paradise!
Since moving back you have been based in Warkworth – how has this location been for a creative agency?
Very little of our work is face to face, we use Skype, Vimeo and Google docs a lot to collaborate online so we felt that perhaps being located in the centre of Auckland wasn’t a priority for us. We love the area up there, the outdoors lifestyle is great, the local community is small and friendly and it’s a 40 minute run into the city for meetings etc. I’d love to see it develop as a creative hub in the future.
Darkroom have a great selection of local and global clients – how do you find servicing them from New Zealand?
A lot of our international work is in China, India, Spain and Japan currently, just because that’s where we have relationships with people. We want to build that. It’s really handy being the first time zone each day… and being native English speakers.
Your tool of choice is Cinema 4D. Do you find virtual reality / 360 is now the mainstay of your projects?
No, which is kind of surprising I guess because we’ve been doing 360° projects for the last 10 years working in domes and planetariums. It’s one of the things we do, but I wouldn’t want it to become “The Thing” that we do. Carving out a niche is vital, especially when operating internationally, but we want to keep our work as broad as possible within the live event and site specific motion graphics category. I guess part of the reason why we’re not fully pursing VR is maybe because it’s not a group experience. I think I’m personally drawn to the challenges of working with shared experiences with fixed time and space constraints.
The events you design for are global – do you have to site visit / be on location for events?
Most of our work requires us to be there on site to supervise the technical delivery, be it pixel mapping or stage fabrication or some other technical-creative cross over - so there’s a lot of airpoints accumulating. But if we don’t need to be on site then that’s a bonus. The Fulldome work we do is like that, because Fulldome is a standard format. If we were doing more standard format work – like film and TV - it might make working internationally out of Warkworth easier. But at the same time, we probably wouldn’t have the same interest in our work.
Talk us through your thoughts when a project first comes in.
What stage is it currently at, confirmed or still pitching? Who are we dealing with here - a known entity or a wildcard? What’s the timeframe? Can we fit it in with our exiting workload? Availability of contractors? Any special skills required? Budget? Then creatively I’ll try and draw connections between the brief and tools, looks, ideas, styles that I’m currently into. If there is a tight timeline and/or budget I’ll be more pragmatic in my creative approach, reaching into my old bag of tricks for a tried a true solution. But in most cases, we can launch ourselves at something new, which is creatively much more satisfying and it’s rewarding further down the track as it broadens our portfolio. Clients love to ask for things we’ve already done.
What would be your stand-out project?
Our work with Japanese artist Chiho Aoshima stands out I think because it’s fine art and it pushes the envelope creatively and technically. The first was a multi-screen animation [“City Glow” 2005] with one backwards tracking shot through a 3D world of Aoshima’s vector illustrations. Then we did “Takaamanohara” in 2015 which is a giant looping animated mural. This year we created “Little Mittle Miss Graveyard’s Absent Musing” which is a 3 screen interactive work that runs in Unity 3D. What’s common with all three pieces is that they are presented in a way that encourages the viewer to step forward and actively engage in the work. Audiences are asked to exploring it rather than passively sitting back and being entertained.
Do you feel New Zealand is on par with global design in the event space?
Yes, above par when you consider our tiny population. But there is a huge amount of average work out there, probably because event budgets are smaller than in other industries like film for example. The great motion graphic talents in this country are most likely pouring their energies into film at the moment. But my interest has always been live events, because the work is more varied and faster turnaround. We’re always doing something different which is what our team loves most. It’s also fantastic to be there “in the room” when our work is presented to the audience. It’s a buzz!