Name: Howard Sienkiewicz

Position: Technical Director

Years: 8 Years

Favorite Event to Date: I have done some incredible, amazing events over my life. There are two that jump to mind almost immediately. One is that recent Vienna show, I think overall, knowing we only had that building from Monday at 7am to a Wednesday night dinner. Ended up working 24 hours until showtime and we had to be out by 8am Thursday morning. It was an army of people. To have it look gorgeous in that short of a timeline was one of my favorite accomplishments. And the second one is an event we did in Johannesburg. Same client as Vienna, but it was at a convention center.


Howard Sienkiewicz will tell you he enjoys nothing more than working in the world’s most bizarre event locations. If there is a square peg to be put in a round hole, he’s your go-to guy. Beginning his career as a teenager, there is nothing Howard hasn’t seen evolve in his industry over the years. He signed on to be a full-time technical director at EMP in 2007, admitting he would not have come to work full-time for anyone else. In this EMP Spotlight, Howard explains projection mapping, the trends of lighting technology and managing tall orders from clients.



Can you explain in layman’s terms, what is the technical director’s job?


My job is to take the producer’s design and ideas and make them reality. So we have executive producers on our shows, such as Ellen, Don and Steve, that will work with the client. Then work with our scenic designers and create renderings and ideas and they will pass them by me to do a reality check to make sure we can actually put what they are designing into the spaces they are looking at. Once the client has decided what they want and how they want it to look, it’s then my job to make the room look like that.


What is projection mapping?


Projection mapping is a technology that’s been around 10 years now but it’s becoming more and more popular as the technology is becoming easier to use. Basically projection mapping is kind of becoming a broad term. It means a number of things. In its broadest scope it’s taking video projection systems and laying them over non-traditional surfaces. One of the most famous projection mapping jobs has been the Sydney Opera House. They did the mapping of the Opera House from across the harbor and they put beautiful landscapes and pieces of art up on it. It’s mapped to fit onto the surfaces it’s being projected on.


So how would clients use this technology to be beneficial to them?


In our world, it can manifest itself in a number of ways. Sometimes the client wants to do a really spectacular entrance or a really big media piece and they might map a building.  A couple years ago for First Night in Boston they mapped the front of the library. It’s been done in the front of a couple of buildings in San Francisco as well. There are probably half a dozen companies in the country that are the go-to people for that.


We also can use it for non-traditional surfaces to create a background for a show. We just did a show in Vienna in July, we were in the Spanish Riding School, which is part of the castle. Instead of having just a large screen surface behind the stage, up above the stage there were a number of different size and shaped panels and the projection was mapped over those panels.


So at any time, you could have the entire group of panels be one image or you could split it up and piece it together in any form you would like. There were also a couple of surfaces where we could run high-res video on a decent size surface in and amongst these panels. We also washed the entire room with light so that the whole surface of the entire room became the canvas for the production.


I saw those event pictures. It was really amazing how those two qualities, the projection mapping and the lighting, can really change the event space. Do you find that you always use them together?


Certainly to get the best bang for your buck, you want your projection mapping to be in-sync and designed with the lighting component so that it pulls it all together. There are certain situations where you’re outside, lighting the front of the building and it’s just the mapping. But when you bring that into a room, you’re going to want to marry that all together and make all those components respond to each other.


What’s required as far as equipment for projection mapping?


It needs what we call a media server. There are a number of servers available. Some companies have gone and made their own hybrid servers. When you think about these projects you have to think of them in pixels.  Pixel mapping and overall pixel count of the entire project. So you need massive amounts of computer power to be able to manage that pixel count and not have it lug and chug. So when it’s moving on the screen it looks smooth, like traditional video.



Do you think being in Silicon Valley helps you keep up with the pace of how quickly technology changes?


A lot of our clients are technology companies because of our contacts in Silicon Valley. They want the sharpest pen, the coolest thing and the latest stuff. So for that reason, I think it keeps us pushing the envelope. That’s kind of one of our jobs, our producers and myself. To be able to offer our clients the latest and greatest and coolest thing. How they want to present their brand and how they want their show to look and feel.


What do clients typically ask for and want? Do they understand what your scope of the event is?


This is where the producers and scenic rendering guys come in. They know they want something cool. Often times a client has seen something somewhere in the world that gives them an inkling of what they want. But they have no idea how to make that happen.


So you come in and translate it all for clients.


Yes. We had a client that looked at the panel wall at LAX and that was the start of an idea on a design for their show. This multi-panel piece was where they came up with the idea for their event. But we have to take the reality of an airport install piece that took millions of dollars, because it’s permanent for years, and then try and create something that we can install for two days and then put away. It’s always the balance of, “I want this spectacular thing”, that was done as a permanent install and then bringing that back to reality for what we can put in the venue in the timeframe we have.


Being a technical director and working with lighting schematics and mapping, how would you say that has changed over the years, then vs now?


Oh my. I’ve been in this business since 1974. I was a kid. So I’ve seen this industry, especially lighting and projection, come from almost a non-existent place. I remember doing a truck and bus for Beatlemania that was nothing but slide projectors. Just dozens of slide projectors. And the lighting packages were conventional. Moving lights came of age when I was in the industry. And continued to transform and recreate what the lighting world is. The new consoles have completely changed the world of lighting. It’s all about the movers, the LED wash lights, the vast number, literally hundreds, of moving fixtures. Miles from where we started. The LED technology is becoming more and more the light source in our industry.


Have you ever been asked to create something from a client and just thought to yourself there’s no way? How do you navigate that?


Many times (laughs). Almost on an every show basis. It’s really a matter of taking what the client wants, hearing them, knowing what they are after and then comfortably steering them to a reality. Without upsetting them. ‘No’ is never the answer. I find that having really good scenic designers who are in the industry and good rendering artists who know what the schematic reality is. Those are the two pieces to the puzzle. Having an understanding of the space and the reality of the mechanics, those are the guys I love to work with. I think, I can actually produce this. It’s rarer than you think when I walk into a room and go, okay, this is exactly what the rendering looked like.


How long is the production and planning process on your end?


Used to be much longer. A period of six months, back and forth conversations with the client. I liked everything done three weeks before load-in. Nowadays that timeline keeps getting shorter. Clients have a tendency to have more on their plate. Now clients, through no fault of their own, has five or six things on their plate. So that focus is now spread out. What we used to look at six months out, we now look at two months out. It becomes a race to the finish. I’ve waited for pieces from production houses for load-in to come in, because they aren’t even dry yet!


Well, you don’t want the quality affected.


Very, very true. I’ve always said the reason I’m with Ellen Michaels and the reason I agreed to work for her, is she is the first person I’ve found in my life who says “do the right thing” and means it. And has actually had to put her money where her mouth is, a couple of times and has never once complained to me about it. There is a standard I want our shows to be at before anyone whispers the name Ellen Michaels Presents being involved.