Bruce Ferguson’s degree in geography was never going to work. Instead, his fondness for a really good party has spawned a career creating some of the most fabulous events in the world. His company is Darkroom and it’s quietly creating graphic mayhem using cutting-edge technology as you read this. All from the top floor of the old BNZ building in Warkworth.
In the mid-90s the dance party scene in Auckland was in its infancy. Bruce had just got back from travelling, and knew what was possible. Then some friends of his set up Kog Transmissions, a now-iconic music label who have produced the likes of Pitch Black, Concord Dawn and P Money.
“Kog took things to a new level,” says Bruce. “The parties needed a little something extra, though.” He had been experimenting with film making, editing them on VHS. He recalls, “I put together a little video as a bit of a laugh, using the theme music from The Professionals TV series. People loved it. And I thought, I could do this.”
A few years down the track, Bruce had teamed up with Mike Hodgson of Pitch Black and the two began to push technological boundaries. In 2003 Darkroom was set up: a design studio creating many forms of digital content (2D and 3D animation, motion graphics, live action) and screening it on all kinds of crazy technologies.
By 2004 Bruce was working with Michael Mizrahi, event designer extraordinaire, to create the most jaw-dropping visuals money could buy for the Louis Vuitton’s 150th birthday party celebrations in New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
This was just the beginning. Darkroom began to be known for its extraordinary ‘projection mapping’ techniques. Bruce explains: “Essentially you make a 3D template using a thing called a Lidar [laser/radar] – a surveying instrument that measures distance using a laser. It creates what’s called a ‘point cloud’. With a few tweaks you can plug this digital information into a computer, map a digital file or piece of film on to it and project the whole thing on to a building, or anything you like. Thanks to the Lidar mapping, it will fit whatever you’ve mapped perfectly.”
Darkroom have mapped trippy 3D projections on to a Scottish castle for a birthday party and on to the historic Kursalon building in Vienna for the global re-brand of Bacardi. They’ve created a magical woodland glade in a marquee for Jessie J to perform in at a Google Zeitgeist gala dinner in Hertfordshire and – one of Bruce’s personal favourites – they projected an enormous 3D Christmas story on to the Madrid City Hall, enchanting over 100,000 people.
Darkroom has done ‘fulldome’ projections inside a huge spherical structure for Audi in Madrid and on to the inside of a giant inflatable rugby ball in London for the Rugby World Cup. They’ve created mind-boggling festival stages at the Sunburn festival in Goa, at the Shangri-La stage at Glastonbury, and the stage graphics for London DJ Carl Cox’s summer club season in Ibiza.
But it’s not all party-party; there’s been fine art involvement for Darkroom, too. Bruce has recently formed a creative relationship with Takashi Murakami, a well-known Japanese artist and producer. Through Takashi, Darkroom set up a projected seven-minute video for super-hip young Japanese artist Chiho Aoshima at Seattle Art Museum, and Takashi is keen for more.
Back home, thanks to Darkroom you can now take a 45-minute Les Mills spin class in front of massive LED screens with eye-popping techno projections and pumping music (changed every three months). And with his early background in music video and many of his best mates involved, he’s very happy working on the biggest night in homegrown music: the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. 2015 was the 50th year of the awards, and Darkroom created a night to remember. “Using LED panels, we created the illusion of a stage set made of concrete and illuminated glass that we could use as a blank canvas,” says Bruce. “We’ve already started work on this year’s awards.”
None of this would be possible of course without Bruce’s partner Emma Wolf, who works tirelessly behind the scenes, “keeping me in line and within budget,” Bruce grins. Emma and their baby Leo will be waving goodbye to Bruce at the end of May however, as he jets off to Europe for the 2016 Venice Architectural Biennale (see article in Arts section) and then on to Ibiza to work the VJ booth at Carl Cox’s last-ever summer party season at iconic club, Space.
It’s a tough life, but perhaps he’ll manage to squeeze in some fun.