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North Eleven: VJing and projections in Trinidad & Tobago: Ultimate Caribbean Guide to Starting from Scratch
Lumen: You seem to have wonderful and inspiring creative life! How did you assemble the team and start calling yourself «North Eleven»?
North Eleven: North Eleven is a play on words. We live in the Caribbean and Trinidad & Tobago (a twin island republic) is positioned above and below 11º N latitude… I chose eleven as it’s located in the middle of the ocean. So later I will live on a yacht at 11º and when needed for visual stuff will come on land! The other reason is purely Caribbean ― there are 11 secret ingredients in KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) ― anyone in the tech world works ridiculous hours and it’s the only place to get food at 4am… As for the team, I was asked a few years ago to lecture in the animation dept. of the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) ― every year I get interested in students who intern and eventually turn into full time collaborators. We end up with an amazing mix of talented artists whose strength lies in 2d, 3d, motion graphics, stop motion, fine art, visual art, photography and film.
Lumen: What’s the main idea of your activities divided into 3 directions — Adventure, Projections and Health? Are you artist, businessman or traveler?
North Eleven: A bit of all three, actually… Healthcare: My background is medical and so I started with consulting to hospitals and so we have a medical division. Adventure: several years after we wanted to do something entirely different and were inspired by trade shows IAAPA, LDI, PLASA, theme parks and live events ― and tripped down the road of outdoor adventure based activities.
Our Projection division was born of a love of playing with light and shadows….
I probably started as a professional, then as businessman, journeyed a lot, and eventually I became an artist. An artist who can’t draw a straight line or circle to save his life!
Lumen: How did you manage to travel a lot?
North Eleven: I was born in Trinidad. I lived and studied all over the world. Then I just returned home after my studies in 2005 to Trinidad & Tobago (T&T).
Lumen: How does your daily island routine look like?
North Eleven: Depends on what hat I am wearing… If I’m in a medical mode, I get up, see patients, suffer with paperwork and go home. If I’m in projection / visual content mode, it’s usually about going to sleep, when the sun comes up, waking up at some point and heading to the next venue… or drag myself and the team into our office and plan out the next few events. The advantages of living here are relaxed dress code, fresh fruits, cold coffee and wearing sunglasses all day and night.
Lumen: You are the pioneers in video design projection in T&T, right? Describe this early explorers’ experience! How to start a business like this from nothing?
North Eleven: It’s been one hell of a ride and while we have been at it for a few years, I think the ride is just beginning. Projection, projection mapping, pixel & led mapping, VJing, content & show control, system design, concert visuals , live triggering, AR, VR ― all words that are still not that well understood locally and in some cases regionally. Most clients still view projectors as those things in board rooms and LED screens as those things you run ads on. I still find myself explaining to clients what the possibilities are. Gear has been an uphill challenge ― we don’t have the ability to rent equipment like most European or North American counterparts. So we end up purchasing our own. That takes time and lots of money to get what you need, far less for what you want. Content & Understanding is always a battle. Clients, advertising agencies, artists and even fellow designers may not fully grasp the formats, codecs, resolutions, placement of content that is required. Some may be afraid of the scale and scope of what is possible as they are quite comfortable with the content on their laptops or TV screens initially ― the perpetual rectangle box of content if you will, when we suddenly project something maybe 100 ft wide x 40 ft high and put up masks and slices to conform to the structure. Then they all go “ohhh I see what you mean”! We also run into the reverse of this ― they whip out their phones and show us some incredible piece of mapping or live visuals and say they want that “next week”.
Lumen: It is absolutely awesome to explore new cultures and open alternative fields to create within! Could you please walk us through the contemporary art environment on Tobago? Are there any local VJing and video art stars, except you and those couple of your buddies?
North Eleven: Art in all forms is alive and well in Trinidad & Tobago and the wider Caribbean regions. We are always described as a melting pot of peoples and the various disciplines of “art” can certainly be seen in our cultural & social endeavors. Contemporary art is ever changing globally and in the Caribbean is a mash up of what we know already, what we are taught and what and who we are inspired by. Local and regional artists usually have strong cultural and self identities that can sometimes be influenced by travel and travelers, so their ‘style’ is always changing. “Multi disciplined”, “jack of all trades” ― here are definitely the ways I’d describe some of our local artists. Visual artists in the ‘video’ sense are not as plentiful as say “fine, photo or graphic” artists in T&T, but the few that have dabbled are bold movers and shakers and that list is continually growing. There are some great creative spaces that actively encourage artists to push their boundaries and we love supporting these venues and artists. In terms of VJing, it’s very underground at the moment. We have been very lucky to work with local, regional and international musical artists and DJs and, in some cases, to create the visual content for them as well as mix it for them. We certainly hope that in the coming years more groups and individuals will follow us. Can’t wait to finally have a DJ vs. VJ battle someday…
Lumen: And what about local audience? Do island people ready for futuristic media art experiments?
North Eleven: Yes, they are! Our local and regional audiences are very knowledgeable, well travelled, well researched ― they know how to have one hell of a party. Triggering live visuals with trippy content was really just the next step from flashing lights and stage effects. Light installations to building projections to interactive surfaces will always amaze people once it’s done properly and is relevant to the audience or the subject matter.
Lumen: Which of North Eleven’s projects became your favorite?
North Eleven: Yet to happen… We are perfectionists, so with every job / gig / event / concert and piece of content created or mixed, we always reflect and find ways it could have been done differently or better. We are happy to get through the events in one piece and look forward to the next one. One of the bigger moments was mixing visuals that we had created for Bad Royale, side by side with the VJ for Steve Aoki at Life in Color 2016, Trinidad. One of the older moments ― projecting images of models walking a runway on a water screen for the local designer, Meiling and having the projection bleed through the water onto the adjacent hotel wall, so the projection went from 11 feet to 55 feet purely by accident or maybe on purpose. One of the best moments ― working with a local group, 3 canal for 8 years and finally putting all the pieces in place to have an almost 100% visual element to their week long carnival show ― custom content, live triggered, relevant to the music, the artists and dancers and most importantly ― thrilling the audience. Moment only the audience saw and there is no photographic proof ― projecting from a party boat onto a mountain side. The people on the boat loved it… No one’s cell phone could have captured it because of the extreme low light conditions.
Lumen: What is the best way to master the art of VJing or video mapping today? What can you advise to beginners? Do they need any special education?
North Eleven: A willingness to learn, a love of light and sound and seeing the crowd with their phones filming what you are doing is all you need. Buy a cheap projector or a big TV and learn scale and placement of content. See how light is affected by surfaces and colors. Understand layers of content and how in many cases mixing 10 layers may not be as effective as mixing two layers. Understand how to edit and manipulate content ― in Paint, Photoshop, Illustrator, After effects, in-design, cinema 4D, Maya or even an app on your phone. Understand your artists or your audience, listen to their music. Know your software and hardware ― there are ample tutorials and blogs, which can get you started. For LED setups, learn the nuts and bolts of a LED setup and system design before it gets to your computer ― know the led panels, how they are connected, how the processors are configured, and when things go apeshit, you will troubleshoot a lot faster, if you know how everything is connected. Create, create and create! There will always be someone better than you. Continually learn new techniques and skills, never stop creating content or mixing content. Take free jobs or intern: yeah, it sucks, but you’ll get the necessary experience. Collab ― chat with other artists, visualists, content creators. We are all in this visual spectacle together. Lose the attitude, chill, go in with no preconceptions and have a blast with Strobe and Hue Rotate buttons.
Lumen: Please, share some of your creative plans for observable future! Any amazing events to visit, ingenious ideas to implement or crazy places to move to?
North Eleven: First of all, the Caribbean Light Festival that will showcase regional talents and also allow fellow ‘light’ artists worldwide to contribute. It’s coming soon! Also we’re excited about Carnival festivities in the Caribbean. It is a big deal. It’s a raw explosion of colour and artists’ talents. We have begun incorporating projection and live visuals into their fetes, concerts and mas (look these words up if you don’t know what they mean) J