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Connecting people with powerful, audio-visual experiences

by Nicole Pickett-Groen

February 2, 2021

Three interviews with three digital spearheads. Based on the themes of the Adyen Design Meets webinar sessions held late last year, in collaboration with Dutch Digital Design. The second interview is with Wouter Westen, founder and creative director of Amsterdam-based Circus Family, and once a keen snow-boarder, DJ and traveller. We talk about interactive installations, or as they like to call them at Circus Family: powerful, audio-visual experiences.

About Circus Family

Back in 2004 Wouter and Daan Lucas (now MD and founder of Random Studio) started Circus Family: a collective of like-minded freelancers – each with their own expertise. Most of them dedicated snow-boarders who were keen to create amazing work by selling their own stories about their travels, and take editorial content to the next level. One of their first clients was Canon, for whom they developed interactive content, including short animations, films, moving imagery and photos for events.

Then, in 2007, Wouter decided he wanted to focus more on film and motion graphics, and taking this to events, in new shapes and forms. For example, instead of creating ordinary commercials, they would look at projection mapping. A technique used to turn objects into a display surface for video projection. This was the start of Circus Family as we now know it. To create an all-encompassing experience that fits with the concept that matches a client, a brand, or a product. From LED-installations to awesome motion graphics for social media.

Why powerful, audio-visual installations?

‘It is what we believe in, what we are good at. To combine graphic design with technology. This way we are able to create bold, visually strong experiences. Experiences that are tailor-made for each particular client, brand or product – bringing a concept or idea to life. A match between people, expertise and technology will create the best ideas, not just a compromise.’

A powerful experience by Circus Family

The KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) Hologram Bar at airports in Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro and Oslo. A great collaboration between DDB Unlimited, ourselves and the client. An experience that truly brings KLM’s pay-off ‘connecting people’ to life, as well as creating surprise and intrigue amongst KLM travellers.

Customers who are travelling to these three different airports are connected in real-time by being projected onto a transparent hologram fabric: their faces are tracked, and their movements determine the projected angle of the hologram - creating a 3D effect. The tracking data is wirelessly sent across the world. This way travellers can have a live chat with a hologram of their counterpart at their destination airport, and get tips on where and what to visit at their destination. The Hologram Bar enables strangers who would otherwise never have met, to connect, chat and exchange local travel tips.

Was it all plain sailing?

‘It is definitely one of the projects we are very proud of. It does everything we wanted it to. The whole package worked. And most importantly it brought the client’s brand message to live. And no, it wasn’t all simple and straightforward. We’re talking wireless technology across thousands of miles, across the ocean. Also, all our installations were beyond passport control. So, if anything did go wrong, something as simple as no WiFi connection, our people on the ground had to obtain special permissions to enter this part of the airports. However, it didn’t stop us. We made it happen!’

And then came Corona

‘As much as we do not want to let the Coronavirus crisis get in our way – it challenges us to think even more beyond the norm, something we like doing - Corona has made events and public spaces less accessible. Also less accessible for our installations. Therefore, we moved our creative spirits online, to content and social media. How we could move our expertise online. Creating bespoke, interactive and still powerful experiences. We also started working on how we could link our physical installations to an online environment. As part of this new way of thinking, we were invited to take part in an amazing social project in Utrecht: Living ApartTogether.

About Living Apart Together

Loneliness is increasing in cities across the world. Also in Dutch cities. The Corona pandemic has only added to this. Living Apart Together is a research and art project that wants to make loneliness less of a taboo, and reach out and help connect people.

‘We were one of the makers who created an installation/artwork on Berlin Plein, Utrecht. All outside, completely corona-proof and free of charge. Our creation is called Harmonie, an interactive installation consisting of 16 pillars – all exactly 1.5m apart - where light and sound meet, activated by the presence of people walking around. Sensors detect movement and create sound and light effects accordingly. The interaction between people at the installation and online visitors creates a true symphony of sound and light. Yes, you can also interact with the installation online! We hope it encourages people to discover new spaces, interact and connect. Both off-and online. Reducing that feeling of social isolation.’

Trendspotting by Circus Family

‘We believe that people, including clients, are looking for a more personal, bespoke experience. A unique experience. To stand out from the crowd. Essential in a world where so much is happening. It is also what people expect. They are sharing their personal data, and expect something personal in return.

Of course, technology is important for us. However, we will always first look at how to bring a product, brand, etc, to life. We will then find the right technology to make this happen.

We also just spoke about data. Data, big data, being more and more accessible is important for us. Having access to open source data* enables us to create these personal experiences. We can build installations that are based on and interact through data. Like we created for Dutch energy company Eneco.

We built an interactive LED-strip wall on one of Hollands’ biggest wave breakers. The wall responded, in real-time, to the wind, through data collected from analogue wind meters across the entire length of the wave breakers. This data visualisation enabled participants of the Dutch championships ‘cycling into the wind’ to be prepared for gusts of 134 kilometres p/hour.’

Circus Family’s wish

‘That the world will soon be able to physically connect again, and that we, at Circus Family, will be able to continue creating physical, audio-visual experiences. To help with this process of connecting people, both in the real world and online.

And to create more of our own commissioned pieces of interactive art, and display these in either a public space, museum or hotel lobby. To bring our own message, our own vision across.

Circus Family’s ideal future would be to find a balance between art and commerce, combining graphic design with technology.’

*open source data: an open source database has code that is open and free for download, modification and re-use.

Main image by Juri Hiensch