Nightfall in Frankfurt. As dusk envelops the city, one of the tallest buildings in town lights up with the saturated dichroic colors of 80 ETC Irideon AR500s. From 6pm until 5am, a changing palette bathes the Dresdner Bank tower with slow fades. The occasion is the launch of Deutsche Telekom on the stock market, and the production company for the event is Satis & Fy, a Frankfurt-based firm that specializes in high-tech corporate presentations.
"The bank wanted to do something special," says Nico Ubenauf, one of the principals of Satis & Fy. The Irideons were installed on the rooftops of nearby buildings, along with lasers that provided projections on the bank's 578'-high (175m) facades. "The bank owns all these buildings, so it was easy," Ubenauf explains.
At 6pm each evening for a period of three months (from mid-September 1997 to January 1998) the Irideons were switched on by an automatic system triggered by a radio signal. "The units went on a few at a time to avoid a power peak," says Ubenauf, who admits that this was one of the most challenging projects the company ever executed. "We did tests, but there was no way to tell what it would look like with all 80 Irideons."
Four separate control systems, one for each side of the building, were used to avoid extra-long cabling. Control was provided by four MA Lighting Scan Commander consoles and LLT switch packs. "The power came from the bank, with cables running to each building," Ubenauf points out. Waterproof, heated boxes protected the equipment from the extreme winter weather.
The lasers were also fully automated, with control via ISDN lines direct from Lichtwerk, a company in Berlin. The projections ranged from animation about the bank to a laser Advent calendar, in keeping with the holiday season. "There was not one system failure or any maintenance required in three months," says Ubenauf proudly.
This kind of perfection is the norm for Satis & Fy, a full-service production company founded in 1993 when Ubenauf and his partner, Kai Weiberg, merged their two small companies. "We both started as lighting designers and programmers. We were fortunate enough to invest in moving lights at the time," says Ubenauf, who claims that Satis & Fy owns the largest collection of AR500s in the world. The name of the company comes from an underlying philosophy to "satisfy the client; we also wanted a name that is different from all the sound and lighting variations," Ubenauf says.
Expanding their scope, Ubenauf and Weiberg added video, sound, staging, and full production design to handle special events and product launches. "Our core business is corporate presentations, from banks to pharmaceuticals," Ubenauf says, noting that their clients come from all over Europe as well as the United States (he maintains a small US office in Hawaii and an office and warehouse in Amsterdam).
One of Satis & Fy's biggest corporate clients is Nike. "We have done all of their major presentations for six or seven years, including Nike Park at the soccer World Cup in Paris last year," Ubenauf says. For this project, Satis & Fy was part of a large team that created Nike's entertainment park on the Champs-Elysees. Since this was primarily a daytime environment, lighting was limited to a large retail tent where ETC Source Fours were used as product illumination.
Satis & Fy also created the audio environment for Nike Park, with 18 digitally-controlled sound systems throughout the park. "There were at least three things going on at the same time," says Ubenauf, "from sports-related music to stadium sounds." To relight an exhibition area for Nike in La Grande Arche at La Defense in Paris, Martin MAC 500 and 600 automated luminaires were used to add warmth to a cold concrete atmosphere.
Over at the Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris, Satis & Fy used a combination of Vari*Lite(R) and Martin automated luminaires for a Nike product launch produced fashion show-style. Their plan for large-scale outdoor projections on La Grande Arche was cancelled, but the computer renderings show the transformation of a cold, white marble arch into a colorful backdrop for Nike Park.
One of Satis & Fy's hometown projects is the annual Frankfurt Opera Ball, held in February. At last year's ball, AR500s provided exterior lighting, and were also used inside the opera house facing out to add to the festive environment. Inside the opera house, over 300 moving lights--a mix of fixtures from Vari-Lite, Martin, Clay Paky, and Studio Due--were used to accomplish different looks for a series of events that lasted through the night.
"The Frankfurt Opera House is a period building but the interiors were renovated in the 1970s and are very modern," says Ubenauf. "We wanted to bring back the original character of the design." With this in mind, large chandeliers and lots of fabric were brought in to change the look of the interiors and make them more appropriate for a formal opera ball. "The moving lights gave it a modern touch."
Control for the automated luminaires was provided by Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles; one for exterior lighting and two for the interiors, with an MA Lighting console for conventional fixtures. "We brought everything in, rather than use the opera house equipment," Ubenauf explains.
For the launch of a Star Trek World Tour exhibition, Satis & Fy designed an opening gala dinner party with a space-age theme. "The challenge was to make it look like Star Trek without using the real images," admits Ubenauf. Planets that served as projection surfaces, a high-tech brushed-metal stage, and rigging with 170 automated luminaires helped transform an exhibition hall into a space station. The rig included Amptown's Controlights, Martin MAC 250, 500, and 600 luminaires, and Clay Paky Super Scan Zooms.
To design an unusual environment for an evening event produced by Union Investment Bank, Satis & Fy transformed an old theatre in Frankfurt, the Bockenheimer Depot, into a submarine. Dining tables for 350 people were surrounded with metal walls punctuated with round portholes to make the guests feel as if they were underwater. In keeping with the theme, the hostess for the event was a mermaid.
An overhead lighting rig with Vari*Lite VL5(TM) and VL6(TM) automated luminaires and Martin MAC 600s cast dichroic colors on the walls and tables, all in a palette of blues and greens. "Continuous fades made it feel like the submarine was in motion," says Ubenauf. "The lighting was designed to look like refections on water." Outside the portholes, 10 video projectors and projections from Clay Paky Super Scan Zooms made it look as if the water level changed as the submarine figuratively dove downward. Images of fish and underwater seascapes added to the marine environment.
All of the production elements for an event like this one belong to Satis & Fy. "We can't find the quality we want in the hire market," explains Ubenauf, whose interest in developing a strong international client base led to an advertising campaign in American trade publications.
"We want to tell producers they don't have to be afraid to come to Europe. We want them to know that we are specialized enough to handle every aspect of their event," he says. "Our customers are large multinational companies who want perfect production qualities. We do not mix our business with rock and roll."
Satis & Fy's home base is a 90,000-sq.-ft. (8,100 sq. m) space comprised of two office buildings and several connected warehouses in an industrial park that the company owns; it sublets extra space to related industry firms. The firm has a permanent staff of 30, and keeps another 30 freelancers on hand. "We also hire people for each job and stagehands in each city," says Ubenauf.
Ubenauf and Weiberg are young entrepreneurs, just 31 and 37 years old, respectively. "We started early, and just wanted to do lighting," Ubenauf explains. "Then Nike, Levi's, and Swatch all called at the same time. We had to grow very quickly." Their company is designed to handle additional growth, with project managers supervising each team. They also work as equipment specifiers, but mostly for their own projects which are primarily spread across Europe.
Production-wise, Satis & Fy likes to work individually with each producer to best meet the needs of the project at hand. "Our main approach is to find what the customer is looking for. Tell me the budget and what you want to achieve," says Ubenauf, who indicates that they rely heavily on computer-generated 3D images to allow clients to see their design concepts in advance. "We have three people who do nothing but computer rendering. This way, you can fix a lot of problems beforehand."
The latest development at Satis & Fy is the recent merger with a production company in Athens, Greece, whose new name is Satis & Fy Hellas. "They are one of the few companies that can pull off a large-scale event," explains Ubenauf, who is looking ahead to 2004 when the Olympic Games will be held in the city. "Now we can be a strong partner for any corporation that wants to do something at the Olympics."
The next step for Ubenauf and Weiberg may be to take Satis & Fy public, with an offering on the German stock market. If past performance is any indication, this is a company worth keeping an eye on in the future.