Combining engineering and the creative for exceptional experiences

A new AV design agency promises to combine the engineering and the creative. Paul Milligan speaks to its two co-founders.

When asked why it was the right time to launch a new AV and acoustics design agency, the response from Kevin Luckhurst (above left) speaks volumes about their approach. “It was an opportunity to combine the engineering and the creative.”

Luckhurst and Mark Murphy (above right), who have more than 40 years’ AV experience between them, are the co-founders of Experience Studios, who will design and deliver technical systems and creative contentfor the sports, music, live entertainment, and arts industries. Luckhurst and Murphy worked together at Vanguardia for 10 years which included working on the 2012 Olympic Stadium in London, recent projects for the pair include the Outernet (Luckhurst) and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (Murphy).

The two of them are clearly equally as passionate about producing engaging content as they are about AV and acoustic design. “For me, it’s always been quite frustrating that I used to design the systems, and then when it gets to the fun bit you don’t get to play with it,” says Luckhurst. “I want to be doing the system design but I want to help the client and the team build production capability too. I want to be there to commission it, I want to be there to bring in artists we know and help curate parts of it into the venue. And that opportunity has come about with Experience Studios.”

As we emerge from the Covid pandemic, how do the pair view the AV world right now? “One thing we definitely see is a convergence in terms of visitor/fan/user expectation for high production quality. It’s being driven partly by the pandemic (through the need for virtual production) but also because of the benefits of bringing virtual production into live shows, and sports has also taken that on,” says Murphy. “There’s a massive appetite at the moment for live events, there’s a desire to get
out and experience shows, to be together. What really drives us is the desire to create exceptional experiences that bring people together. We see convergence between the pull of ‘in the room’ as well as live broadcast in various forms, to people that are participating but are not in the space and the connection of the technology between those parties. We’re seeing venues start to understand the need to be ready to be not just live ‘in the room’, but also broadcast live as well. That’s really exciting.”

caption: Populous and Experience Studios are working on Germany’s first climate-neutral arena in Munich, the 20,000 capacity MUCcc Arena

Luckhurst adds; “For the venues we’re working on now we’re designing streaming functionality so that they can be witnessed by 1,500 people in the venue, but then also be an event to be viewed online. We’re seeing a great opportunity for artists, particularly playing in smaller venues to tell them you’re not just going to reach 1,500 people at your gig, you could reach another 20,000 via the online stream.”

Two facets of modern life are dual drivers in what Experience Studios will do moving forward says Murphy. “The first is sustainability, there’s a reasonably well documented climate crisis going on. But the other one is wellbeing, what it means to be human and what makes us be great as humans. What is interesting now is we’re seeing the assessment of existing buildings, can they be used for something else? can they have a life they didn’t once have? We’re very keen on taking existing buildings and repurposing them for use that’s relevant now.”

How would the pair describe their approach to AV design? “Our approach firstly is to listen, we’re keen to understand the client’s vision,” says Murphy. “We want to work with architects and designers, we see what we’re doing as a part of a holistic design process. The experience people have when they’re in a building is about all their senses, it’s about the space and the flow through the space, and it’s about how they’re taken on that journey. And the technology that we use, there’s a reason for it to be there, it’s not just about putting in the latest, greatest, or fanciest new technology just for the sake of it, we’re there to design on behalf of humans. Our team are all seasoned industry professionals, we’re coming at it from the viewpoint of the end user, both from the experience of spectators and also from a production understanding, bringing that into the venue and interior design.”

Content will be a big part of Experience Studio offering, what can Murphy and Luckhurst offer in that regard? “There are
a few ways content is going to be realised. One is through the technical design process. When we’re working on the construction of a project the content is going to permeate the whole design process. If we’ve done a concept design for a venue, we might present that to the client using VR, and within that world we might present some content we’ve created on the displays in the venue, we might present sound design or audio we’ve composed as part of our library, that’s being used as part of the design process, that allows us to tell the story of how the venue’s going to operate with some actual content on it through the design.”

The current Experience Studio team consists of seven staff, including 3D artists, visual designers, and sound designers, and is expected to grow as more projects come in. It is already working on some big future projects ‘we can’t talk about yet’ says Murphy.

For the markets Experience Studio is targeting (music, live entertainment, arts) what do Murphy and Luckhurst think clients want from AV, is it for wow factor? Is it engagement? Is it to provide a point of difference from other events? “It’s engagement, and technology enable us to tell a story, enable us to create the wow factor if that’s what’s needed, enables us to create the message if that’s what’s required,” says Murphy. “I think we’re at a time where the audience’s expectation of audio and video quality is right up there. Now it’s more about using those tools to deliver the best experience we can."

Just how important has social media become to boost engagement at events? “It depends on how these elements are deployed,” says Murphy. “Social media can’t be ignored, and all of the spectators/fans outside of the venue can’t be ignored either. We can grow the reach of an event or venue way beyond the architecture of the building. If the strategy is good and clear then you can have a benefit from engagement on social media and engagement in the content that’s right in front of your eyes.”

Finally I asked the pair how they thought the Experience Studio offering differed from other practices? “We’re not just AV design,” says Luckhurst., “We take the client’s creative vision and collaborate with the project team to make it reality. We work across a number of disciplines both within construction but also in content creation and operations. There’s quite a few elements which all have to come together.”

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