The Perpetual School Of Infinite Amazement
Gabo Gesualdi; From Factory to Factory
When you are inventing a new domain, creating technologies or new forms of entertainment. When you are first, who do you learn from? What kind of skills do you need? What kind of people thrive in invention?
One of the places answering these questions every day is Moment Factory which produces innovative and award winning multimedia experiences for the likes of Arcade Fire, Jay-Z, Madonna at the Super Bowl halftime show, the Sagrada Familia, Los Angeles Airport or Foresta Lumina, they are constantly pushing the boundaries of their field.
I spoke with Gabo Gesualdi, one of their Multimedia Directors who thrives in such environments, a neo-generalist creator who draws inspiration from crossing and mixing disciplines. He has not only been at Moment for years but also spent some time at the unique Fabrica, a “communications research center” part of the Benetton Group which also looks for, and fosters the emergence of, multidisciplinary talents.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Patrick Tanguay — At Moment Factory you work on some very innovative projects, the company itself is inventing new kinds of entertainment and technologies. In such an environment, work is bound to also be new and innovative, how did you learn the job you are doing right now?
Gabo Gesualdi — By making mistakes all the time, of course. Even though the disciplines are new, because they didn’t exist a few years ago, it’s more a matter of creating these new abstract profiles by assembling different people.
For example, I have a video background and on a project I might work together with a set designer, maybe a writer for the storytelling and a light designer. Together we create this new, more complete person, ‘more 360.’ Projects can get quite big and complex at Moment Factory, you need to have different people from completely different backgrounds working together. It’s that mixing of talents that creates these new ideas.
The secret is to have people with different backgrounds, people who have their own specific expertise, are quite open and very multidisciplinary. You need video makers who also have an experimental approach. You need set designers who don’t only do theater stuff, who might also create inexpensive DIY… or complex expensive things.
When clients come to us, they don’t necessarily know exactly what they want. They want something crazy, something ‘wow,’ but they don’t have the specific idea, that’s why they come to us. From the start we always try to have everybody together for the initial brainstorms, where we dream about what could be. It doesn’t matter if the person is senior or junior because, as you were saying, this is new terrain so the right idea or the fresh perspective might come from anyone. This is where the best kinds of projects happen.
Can you give me an example of such a project?
GG — Foresta Lumina is a great one. When the client came to us, they were simply looking to do some projections, to do some video mapping on the bridge of the park. Marie Belzil, who was the creative director on that project, went on a site visit, saw the location, and immediately realized that the walk to the bridge was superb, she said “why are we going to waste this walk to make visitors arrive somewhere to simply sit down when actually the walk itself is amazing, we can make it even more beautiful.” That’s how Foresta Lumina — which is now a franchise installed in multiple locations — just kind of happened.
It’s a question of not taking the brief or the client too literally, of playing with the elements a bit. We tend to start from scratch, imagining what would be the most fun thing that could happen within this frame or in this place or in this location, or at this moment of a concert. It’s really created around that, it’s not very pretentious, always kind of playful and entertaining, it doesn’t need to be artistically grandiose but rather about fun and about play.
It’s not very pretentious, always kind of playful and entertaining, it doesn’t need to be artistically grandiose but rather about fun and about play.
You can be an expert or an amateur in any field, but we all know about what makes us have fun or not. Essentially, we’re thinking of people just like any of us, we’re not working for a special kind of crowd, not doing cinema for intellectuals. When you start thinking about all kinds of people, you realize fun has some patterns, we simply try to follow those patterns.
Often when people talk about creativity, they say it’s a remix or a recombination of things. You’re also saying the team itself is a recombination of different skills.
GG — Exactly. Like Saky always says “the real creative power, the creative ‘being,’ is the ecosystem that we form, it’s not an individual.” [Ed.: Sakchin Bessette, one of the founders.]
And that’s very clear in the way that we work. We have pretty crazy schedules as well as different project stages; conception, design, production, integration. Sometimes I might do the first stage, then someone else continues and perhaps somewhat finishes up the project.
The real creative power, the creative ‘being,’ is the ecosystem that we form, it’s not an individual.
Which means we have to make everything super clear and documented, since we are never sure if we are going to be the ones doing the full project. It’s not always easy on the ego but even that can feed the project; everyone adds more levels of detail, more twists to the idea, enhances the final mix.
Speaking of Sakchin, he also said he instructs managers to “ give your creative team the brief to think, live, test, and do.” Which I found interesting, it feels like iteration and learning on the job and making stuff up, as you’ve been saying.
GG — The experimentation that can happen on a specific project is also about the culture the company created. We are always trying to generate moments in the office in which people can just play, we really try to encourage people to work on small experiments and put them out in the hallways of the company just to see people’s reaction. It’s important to have your own little idea, little seeds, and at some point sooner or later there will be a project that can feed from that idea.
We also have some more specific events every year, like a camping trip which is also a kind of testing lab. The company puts quite a bit of money to make things for that trip, to produce things. Every team picks a topic, proposes something they want to do and it potentially becomes an official project, with a budget. You can then really put time on it and develop it. There’s no client at all, so you really have the freedom to just make the idea happen.
At those types of events we have all the employees, and sometimes we have friends and kids. You can really see if an idea catches on or not for a general audience. We keep a record of that work, we document it, and those videos and materials we can show to clients when they come to us for ideas. We can show them a small prototype of an idea, of people enjoying it and the client might think “Oh, cool. Yes! That’s something that could be good.” Something that starts as a game for us can end up being the right idea for a client.
Which is very useful because it’s not an abstract concept where you say “yeah, people will love it.” No, we are showing you that people actually loved it, and you are seeing a video of the kids going crazy in this arrangement of boxes and lasers.
Before this interview, you said “I’m always pushing experimentation, it’s my main source of inspiration. I’m quite curious and passionate about the unknown, mixing disciplines to try to make something new happen as always been part of my DNA and is the main reason Moment Factory approached me.” Please tell us more.
GG — Initially I was simply a video director, not anything multimedia, but I was also really interested in sculpture. By chance, I realized that when I was blocked with one idea for a video, if I would start to play with clay and create a little sculpture, I could find analogies between the video and the sculpture and say “okay, let’s imagine that this is the video. What’s my beginning? What’s my middle part and what is the ending?” I might try to do a little sculpture which would represent the beginning, another little sculpture to represent the middle of the idea, and then the ending of the video.
Let’s say a man is sitting on a couch watching TV, something super simple. I could do that real easy; it ends when the guy disappears from the couch. But in the middle, which part is different? I don’t know what has to happen, so I would try to make a sculpture that’s a mix of the beginning and the end. I admit this may just be a psychological trick on myself, but the sculpture has its own pace, it’s not like a photo where in an instant you have the final product. While I shape this little piece of clay, it pushes me to think about some things more slowly than I would have without the clay. Otherwise if I’m just sitting, thinking, ideas are like ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, going a mile a minute. In clay, for an idea to be materialized, you need to put a certain amount of time. That makes you focus more on that specific idea, I discovered that sculpting was a really good tool or trick for me to unlock obstacles.
Another project was simply showing the faces and hands of Iranian women who have to cover up. I was taking the mold of people around me, of my colleagues and I spent a lot of time doing these faces, because it takes a lot of dedication and effort. And I remember, spending all day with these faces, looking at them and just spending time thinking about them, one day I realized that I was also shooting a video for something else. Nowadays it’s more common, but back then in 2007 it wasn’t, I thought “what would happen if I projected the video of a face on this sculpted face I just did?” The result was crazy, it was like suddenly this mask was alive. In that moment, I discovered video mapping for myself, something I had never seen before. I would never have arrived at that idea if not for the sculptures of the faces, putting my hands on faces and working on them for five days in a row.
One can really feed from this mixing of crafts because there are some things that can only happen in certain disciplines.
So basically a sculpture gave me an idea for something that turned into these multimedia face projections. One can really feed from this mixing of crafts because there are some things that can only happen in certain disciplines.
There’s been a trend for many people working in digital domains, for knowledge workers, to go back to more tactile fields. Often with the goal of disconnecting from the online or of re-connecting with something physical. But most rarely talk about making the two touch. In your case you’re using one to feed to other, as opposed to just saying “I need to disconnect, so I do this offline thing.”
GG — Right, it’s not just to clear up my head. It’s actually to find what elements I can bring from one to the other, even if only in an abstract manner — it’s not that there’s a rule of how to bring something from video to sculpture. But the fact that you are forced to think about the dynamics of other media, like a three-dimensional material, that takes time.
You can think of it as a game, even. Then you can observe the result and then potentially do the reverse process. “Okay, now that I have the sculpture, how do I translate this new thing to the video?”
You’re always jumping into the unknown, which is really good because you get to know yourself through these new contexts.
I do have this expertise as a video director, this ‘comfort box,’ but my nature is being interested by all sorts of things. In a professional setting, a lot of people want to apply what they are good at; but a lot of people, like myself, like many of my colleagues, are very curious about doing things they are not as comfortable with. Moment Factory gives you that opportunity of being curious, you are so often in a place outside of your expertise. Lets face it, no one has done a magic forest before! What’s my style of magic forests? I don’t know until I have to build one. So you’re always jumping into the unknown, which is really good because you get to know yourself through these new contexts.
It’s a journey of self-discovery to be in this unknown. I’m experimenting with a media that I’ve never seen before, which is the exciting part because it will make me know more about myself, while also bringing my background to these new media. It’s always very interesting to be in this mysterious place in which you don’t really know what the project is, you discover it along the way. You have your ideas at the beginning, sure, but the truth is that you just discover it every day.
You spent some time at Fabrica a few years ago. It bills itself a “communications research center” but is actually this quite unique hybrid of a school, a studio and a workshop. It’s set in historical buildings with very modern extensions by Tadao Ando, on the outskirts of Treviso in the Veneto region. I’d like to hear about that experience, it eventually led you to Moment Factory?
GG — Fabrica, is very special, it’s a surreal experience that is very hard to explain. It’s really a life changing experience for everybody there because it gives you something that you’ll rarely have again in your life; free time. When you got to Fabrica, you have a free house and some money every month but they don’t really ask you to do much, you don’t have anything specific to do.
You are surrounded by thirty other people of your age, from all corners of the world, there are photographers, writers, musicians, designers, etc. It’s very weird to be in this context; 23-years-old, suddenly surrounded by super talented people with a lot of free time. It’s very stimulating. You speak with everyone, you learn about all kinds of new things… and then you get bored. That’s what Fabrica discovered, fostered; that an essential part of art making is born from your inner self, explored through this free / boring time.
An essential part of art making is born from your inner self.
Because, again, it’s not normal for most people to have one or two years with no obligations, a free life and a studio at their disposition. That time helped me to discover that I wanted to work in all these disciplines. I had time to sculpt when I wanted to sculpt, produce videos when I wanted to shoot videos. I worked on projects for all my friends and colleagues, helping them out with 200 different things.
That gives you the chance to discover what you want to do, it’s the place where I realized that I wanted to mix multiple disciplines. That no, I don’t want to be a video director, that I cannot be a sculptor because I’m not good at it, and I don’t want to be in front of the computer all day, I like to do stuff with my hands.
Which meant that a mixing of the disciplines was what I wanted to do. And it’s actually what I’m doing now, every day and every project is different, that experimentation, that mixing at Fabrica, allowed me to produce a body of work that Moment Factory would later find interesting.
All images by Moment Factory.
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