Tiger Heart: Staying ahead of the curve

When it comes to delivering show-stopping experiences, it takes an equally impressive design approach to get results. Reece Webb sits down with Tiger Heart’s Sanj Surati.

Today, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar and rapidly evolving media landscape. The technologies used in the AV space are almost unrecognisable from the offerings of a mere decade ago, so with this ever-more-rapid pace of tech evolution, how can you stay ahead of the curve and deliver cutting-edge solutions?

Enter Sanj Surati, an innovative, award-winning veteran of the technology space with more than 20 years in the business. Surati has found global success from a secret recipe of creativity, a firm grasp on emerging technologies and a unique approach to client and audience that delivers truly breathtaking spectacles.

Surati has played a pioneering role in the delivery of countless cutting-edge projects around the globe, starting with a career in music that took Surati down a path that led to the delivery of outstanding concepts and technological innovations in today’s AV space.

Surati played a central role in the delivery of the iconic Tupac hologram at Coachella in 2012, Charlotte Tilbury’s magic mirrors as well as outstanding work for clients including the Outernet, BMW, Alphabet, and a roster of artists that share an irrepressible desire to adopt cutting-edge technology into their workflow.

Surati explains: “Today, I’m an innovation consultant that specialises in new and emerging technologies. A quite sizeable aspect of those technologies are LED, projectors and touch screens.

“Like many, I got into this industry by accident. I was in a rock band before the internet had really taken off; we were selling out shows, selling records, and I had dreams of being a famous rock star. I noticed during that period that human behaviour was changing dramatically, especially with digital media.

“I became a consultant working with record companies that wanted to build websites, which led me into working with new technologies and working with the live sector in particular; everything from RFID ticketing to digital aggregation which was a new concept at the time.”

Surati’s career reached a dramatic turning point through a consultancy role with hologram specialist Musion 3D in 2005, as the company began working with global music stars to integrate the technology into their performances and brands. With extensive first-hand knowledge of the music industry, Surati was hired as head of music, which exposed Surati to a whole new world of possibilities.

“I noticed that the AV world was just massive,” says Surati. “There are a lot of young people who don’t know where the routes to market are in AV. This market is more buoyant than it’s ever been and there are more clients than ever before that need it. I got into it and became a ‘hologram guy’ quite quickly.

“I started to understand that, when you are working with technology, you need to be culturally relevant. After working with holograms, I worked for the Holition agency where we turned the company into an innovation “I started to understand that, when you are working with technology, you need to be culturally relevant. After working with holograms, I worked for the Holition agency where we turned the company into an innovation agency selling holograms, AR, VR, projection etc. trying to get consumers to engage with brands in new and exciting ways.”

This bleeding-edge experimentation and exploration with new technologies eventually led Surati to found Tiger Heart, Surati’s own innovation agency that aims to use AV technology to create a narrative that engages audiences in groundbreaking new ways.

“I have worked on so many cool projects and also projects that have failed dramatically that we have learned from,” says Surati. “Companies come to us with their ideas, and we try to listen to what their idea is and offer them the right solution or work with them to define the right solution. When the focus on technology is at the forefront of the creative process, it really limits what you deliver. Often, this means that you deliver something that doesn’t connect with the crowd.

“We try to listen to the client and work with them to redefine what that creative output is, so that they get the maximum benefit out of it,” explains Surati. “We want them to inspire the audience, and if they do that, they will pay for what the company is offering. The key thing is that you have an opportunity to be culturally relevant, and that’s what we look for. We look for projects that are exciting, fun, and really put the consumer in an environment where they feel like they are learning and walking away talking about what they’ve just seen.”

For Surati, testing sits front and centre at the heart of the designing and building process, bringing the drawing board to life to not only see if a proposal can be delivered in the way it is envisaged, but also to explore and evolve a concept.

Surati says: “We like to design and test to get our clients to explore their ideas. If you don’t allocate time to test, you’re not going to learn how people engage with what you are delivering; I learned this at agencies where big brands call the shots and think that the consumer will engage in certain ways, but they don’t engage in the way that is expected. It’s important to make the client a part of the creative process, not just in the design phase, but also in the development phase.”

A changing toolbox

Today, Tiger Heart works with a wide range of technologies to deliver inspiring and immersive experiences, using a combination of LED, projection and VR to engage with audiences.

Surati says: “I’ve been working with VR since 2013. There’s lots of learning outcomes that I have learned from exploring that technology, but there’s lots of problems with it from a human perspective. If a VR experience isn’t formatted properly, three out of four people will feel ill as a result of that. To make the right VR experience is hard, however there are companies that have created experiences that have gone on to win awards.

“To work with clients and see them explore technologies like projection with their artistic impression is also really interesting, and it’s a question of making sure that you have the right projectors, align everything perfectly and ensure that the servers are powerful. The industry is constantly evolving, and I am working more now than ever with LED. It used to be seen as this niche form of live-event

visualisation and now it’s everywhere on a biblical scale. Things like the Sphere in Las Vegas and the Outernet in London wouldn’t have been built five years ago as the technology just wasn’t there.

Surati continues: “The format that LED is taking at the moment means that this is a really exciting time. If you’re a property developer, now is the time to use these technologies to create experiences that connect with everyday people.”

Time for revolution  

Innovation doesn’t begin or end here for Surati. Today, it is his belief that we are experiencing the fourth ‘industrial revolution’, a dramatic shift in the economy driven by artificial intelligence that could dramatically redefine not just the AV industry, but our cultures and societies.

“Generative and creative AI is the fourth industrial revolution,” explains Surati. “When it comes to human behaviour, I have noticed that in the past year and a half, humans are changing their habits through generative AI. There is now a huge land grab, everybody’s using AI now, so it’s an interesting time as we are seeing people change their habits in this new space.

“Of course, there are fears that AI will lead to job losses, and there is a valid argument for that, but I don’t think that it will impact people in the way that they think. It’s going to liberate a lot of creativity which is a beautiful thing. We have to think about where the equity lies in these new creative silos that are growing around us.

“We don’t know fully where these technologies are going to take us, but it seems that the age

of the developer is starting to disappear. Developers will see their roles change because automation can develop things very quickly. In the cybersecurity world, people are asking AI to find security flaws in websites, with the AI writing code to fix those flaws. There are companies we are working with that are using AI to create sound design landscapes just with information, taking CAD drawings of spaces and using AI to create a dummy setup for how the sound environment needs to be designed or tweaked. How we design is already changing, and this technology stems from the nuances of what’s already out there – we’ll always need human minds to utilise these technologies and help us move forwards.”

Tackling this ever-shifting landscape is no small feat for any company, so how can AV professionals continue to land on their feet and incorporate the latest and greatest innovations in a way that delivers consistent results for their customers?

For Surati, the answer lies solely in understanding value: “If you’re an AV professional investing in a lot of technologies for the sake of it, it isn’t going to help your business. You need to look at how specific technologies can benefit your business and bring value to the customer. If it isn’t adding utility, then it’s pointless.

“As an industry, we are problem solvers, so if AI can help us solve those problems, then it’s going to be useful, but if you are just using AI for something that isn’t broken, then what’s the point? We need to understand where the value is, both on the production side and from the customer’s perspective.”


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