Every square inch of the universe, quantum physics tells us, is in a constant state of flux. Even seemingly “empty” space roils like an invisible sea of colliding quarks and gluons. It is exactly the sort of environment that feeds the soul of this Nashville-based creative and cofounder of Cour Design.
Embracing constant change, not only as a reality, but also a welcome source of inspiration, Anderson and his team have fearlessly explored new ideas and technologies. The result has been a series of startlingly original and captivating designs for clients like Billie Eilish and Kacey Musgraves.
When the COVID-19 lockdown brought Cour Design’s concert business to a halt, Anderson redirected his visions and energy to adapt a new reality. He launched EAMOTION, a new venture dedicated to creating immersive drive-thru events, the first of which, Tempo, opened on September 18 for a test run at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville.
During this five-day period, Tempo drew over 8,500 visitors. The attraction’s two-mile, hour-long course transported them to a fantastical place, where the concerns of their lockdown world evaporated (at least temporarily) amidst a magical swirl of sights and sounds. Projections, mapped on 400-foot wide surfaces, and over 2,000 video panels, along with a galaxy of lights and lasers, helped make this wizardry happen. At its heart though was a restless creative spirit that eagerly morphed with change.
Taking a break from working on his next project, Anderson talked to us about the evolving nature of design.
Are you going to miss anything about this lockdown era when it’s over?
“HA! It’s hard to say, because in so many ways this has been utterly devastating for most people. That being said, I have been incredibly grateful for the ability to narrow my focus on a single concept instead of balancing ten projects at once.”
When the pandemic hit, some in our industry opted to do livestreams, while others did drive-ins. But you took a different course with your EAMOTION drive-thru events. Why?
“We come from the design school of necessity being the ‘mother of invention.’ It became pretty clear back in March that this pandemic was going to be an historical pivot point for the world. Everything has to evolve, including our industry and it feels like it’s the job of creatives to take part in assisting that evolution. Livestreams and Drive-ins felt like a really soft landing, creatively speaking, so we wanted to make something that was familiar but still unique.”
The scope of your Tempo drive-thru in Nashville was enormous with 400’ wide projection mapped surfaces, 50’ pyramids and so forth. Was it scary to make this kind of commitment in the middle of a pandemic?
“As with any ambitious experiment, the fear of failure is always in the back of your mind. That said, I was more afraid of an underwhelming failure than a spectacular one.”
How did you begin building up this amazing concept? Which part of the design came first? What followed that?
“For us, design always starts with identifying our basic building blocks and the parameters (real and self-imposed) that we need to build within. We knew the industry shutdown had suddenly given us a new set of building blocks in the vast abundance of available production gear as well as the vacancy of so many venue spaces. You don’t often get to debut a new experience concept with virtually no competition from other entertainment outside of the home.
“So, we took the usual building blocks, factored in the new circumstances, put them all into a jar and shook it up. In the end we wanted to re-imagine the idea of who the actual artist was here. There is so much artistry in putting together a brilliant live experience that extends well beyond the performers on stage. This experience was about using the collaborative artistry of the designers, programmers, content producers, engineers and technicians that are the backbone of our industry.”
Earlier, we mention all the projection mapped surfaces. But you used LED video walls too? What’s your thinking on projection mapping vs. video walls for this kind of application?
“Oh yeah, we used a ton of LED. Over 3000 tiles. Projection and LED offer such different design opportunities, so you have to use each based on their strengths and weaknesses. You can’t compete with the brightness and impact of LED, plus it’s relatively accommodating for outdoor settings. Projection lets you play with surfaces and shapes and scale in a new creative way that surpasses LED, but it’s not ideal for outdoor settings since you can’t work with it during daylight hours and it invites a whole new challenge of weather-proofing.”
The experience you created pushes into the area of virtual reality, or perhaps augmented reality. Do you see this as a step to creating something that is completely VR?
“I think the VR world is distinct from what we are trying to create with EAMOTION. People really responded to the physicality of this experience, and that’s something we want to continue to create. With VR so much of the focus is overcoming the ‘uncanny valley,’ but when we actually build an immersive world there is no need for the audience to suspend their disbelief.”
Why did you do this under the name EAMOTION rather than Cour Design?
“There were a couple reasons. We wanted this concept to get its own branding opportunity, plus the business structure of EAMOTION is much different from Cour Design. At its core functionality, EAMOTION is an immersive experience production company while Cour Design remains a creative design company.
On the subject of Cour, we were always impressed by the deep, textured, 3D type of looks you created for Kacey Musgraves and Billie Eilish. Their depth made the stage seem like something you could actually physically enter. Was this part of your design philosophy?
“Absolutely, we really spend a lot of time thinking about the angles, depth and perspective of our designs. The EAMOTION layout offered us a lot of new opportunities to re-think the elements of perspective and scale since our audience was no longer fixed in time and space. The entire idea of building a dynamic show for guests had to be re-imagined because now we are putting together a show where people were constantly flowing through the space and seeing production elements from different angles.”
What sorts of lessons did you draw from these pre-COVID shows when designing for EAMOTION?
“So much of design is problem-solving and trying to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. All the tools we have been developing over the years came in handy as we approached this like a new problem that needed a solution. “
You made ample use of lasers in EAMOTION. Were you more prone to use them at an outdoor drive-thru event that at an indoor concert?
“You really get two different uses out of lasers with indoor vs outdoor settings. Indoors, you are typically deploying lasers from the stage and terminating on balconies etc. behind the audience so you typically lean into the “liquid light” effects and large crisp sheets of color. Outdoors, with wind causing inconsistencies in the hazy atmosphere, we had to think more about how an abstract laser show would present itself on the various termination surfaces, but they gave us a perfect tool for long-range coverage throughout the site. “
What are the elements that you would incorporate into an indoor concert that you wouldn’t use at this kind of drive-thru event?
“The most obvious advantages to an indoor show are all around weather contingencies. We were mostly limited to IP65 rated fixtures and always had to think about how wind was going to affect things. Indoors you don’t need to think about building things that need to withstand sudden gusts of 30mph wind.”
Nashville was your first drive-thru event. Were there any lessons that you learned from Nashville that will change the way you do drive-thrus in the future?
“We learned quite a lot, but honestly I was pleasantly surprised with how many of our initial design instincts translated to this event. It’s mostly simple things like moving different elements further apart so they didn’t wash each other out on the site.”
At live events you feed off the crowd. Is this kind of energy absent when you work a drive-thru?
“This experience brought a different type of energy, but it was absolutely invigorating. Watching a constant flow of people move through the space and seeing car after car as they went through different areas and experienced elements for the first time – that never got old to stand by and watch.”
Is there anything like busking at EAMOTION?
“Not yet… but there are endless possibilities of what you can do with future events. I would like to incorporate more dance/performance elements into the show as we move forward and let those be more free-form.”
Your literature mentions that the experience will be different for me each time I drive thru Eamotion. How is that possible?
“The entire show is running on a 60-minute loop and everything on-site is synched to the same audio. So that means that each vehicle gets a slightly different experience depending on when they enter/exit the site, and if you return a second time you will most likely arrive during a different part of the music so you will see all different programming.”
On a personal level, how is EAMOTION influencing you and your outlook during these times?
“As unfortunate as this year has been for so many reasons, from a creative standpoint it has been a breath of fresh air. I am personally very motivated by new obstacles.”
Where do you see this kind of drive-thru experience going in the future? Will they be bigger? More common?
“As things open up, we want to incorporate many more pedestrian experiences into the EAMOTION model. There is something fun and intriguing about the drive-thru model, either as a stand-alone experience or as a companion to other types of events. But I am very excited about continuing to explore the design concept of “wayshowing” where we are guiding people through a built environment while giving them a novel entertainment experience.”
What do you hope people get out of visiting Tempo by EAMOTION?
“For those who are desperate to get out of their homes, I hope it is a welcome relief to a very tough year. For people in our industry who are without work, I hope this inspires all kinds of new experiences that will continue to get people back to work.”