Alumni Create Interactive Light Shows for Music Festivals, Product Launches
Courtesy of BRDG Studios & MASSEDMC//Last Night Was Epic, John Felix Shaw
From a tiny College Park studio, a Terp-owned company creates crumbling stages, touchscreen art canvases that double as virtual game tables and musically synced, crowd-controlled light sculptures for some of the biggest music festivals and companies across the country.
Imaginex, founded by tech and music buff Eric Mintzer ’14, programs custom software to manipulate technology into creating special effects, holograms and 3-D light shows for events, including Pretty Lights concerts and Fashion Week New York.
The startup has also designed interactive digital art displays at product launch parties for Calvin Klein and the American Red Cross, and even created a 25-foot-wide chandelier for an outdoor exhibit last year in Crystal City, Va., made from 10,800 LED lights that were synced to music that audiences controlled via a cell phone app.
“Like a good magic show, you can’t see any of the tricks,” says Mintzer, who was inspired in 2012 after seeing concertgoers refuse to enter a dark, eerie forest at the Starscape electronic dance festival in Baltimore. “These are performances, so it doesn’t have to actually be real, but it has to look real, sound real and feel real.”
It all started in Mintzer’s off-campus bedroom cramped with yards of LED rods, projectors and 3-D-printed objects—a natural fusion of his classic rock fandom and childhood tinkering, whether constructing miniature Lego and K’Nex roller coasters or programming video games.
Mintzer toured concerts and music festivals in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., for the first year and a half, programming, soldering and wiring at UMD’s Startup Shell incubator while struggling to stay on top of the paperwork and contracts.
Luckily, when he presented on stage at the 2014 Cupid’s Cup entrepreneurship competition at UMD, serial entrepreneur Kevin Kirk ’11 was so impressed that he proposed a partnership. Kirk, who as a kid sold hemp jewelry at his sister’s lacrosse tournaments, then launched a lucrative business after graduation coordinating bar crawls in D.C., was the ideal fit to oversee business development and client relations. Together, the duo has made artists’ and designers’ visions come to light.
“They’ll doodle grandiose things that aren’t physically possible, and it’s up to us to make that possible,” says Kirk, the CEO.
The biggest challenge comes from short production windows and limited budgets. For example, they once had just three weeks to develop a 50-foot infrared motion-reactive wall that transformed into a moving backdrop of explosive colors, including a pulsating kaleidoscope, as visitors walked by.
Today, Imaginex has expanded to six employees and strives to one day produce immersive entertainment shows that rival Cirque de Soleil, with its perfectly synchronized music, lights and acrobatics. Harry Geller, a mentor and Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship entrepreneur-in-residence, believes they’ll have no trouble getting there.
“On one end you’ve got a gifted programmer and tech mind, and the other you have a superstar sales and marketing guy who can help take that talent to the next level,” Geller says. “Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see them doing the Super Bowl halftime show.”
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