Ice cream — one of life's most wonderful treats. That statement goes for most people on this planet. I happen to know someone who doesn't like ice cream, and I am quite certain that she must be a part of some communist party. Honestly, who doesn't like ice cream? It's sweet. It's refreshing. You can doctor it up with more variations than pizza. The possibilities are endless. What's better still is that it's been around for what seems to be forever — okay, perhaps the late 1800s or so. I'm not exactly certain when it was invented, but in the movie Blazing Saddles, which took place in the days of the Wild West, there was a Howard Johnson's advertising one flavor, so I know for sure that it's as old as Mel Brooks. Regardless, it's one of those incredible childhood treats that you took for granted as being a staple indulgence that simply wouldn't change. Well, allow me to turn your Wonka World upside down, because that has all gone straight out the window with the Wonka-Vator. It's official folks. Ice cream has changed forever, and it's name is Dippin' Dots®!
Dippin' Dots, the self-proclaimed “Ice Cream of the Future,” are little pellets of ice cream packed into a simple container. When you utter the tagline, you need to yell the words like a 1950s movie announcer deeply bellowing the title of a sci-fi, Flash Gordon-esque, Saturday afternoon double-feature. Go ahead. Say it with me now: Ice cream of the fuuuuutuurrrrrre!
Why all this revelry over ice cream, you might ask? Well, this month's theme is the future, and Dippin' Dots proves that the future is now. Well, perhaps it's not right now — maybe more like 20 years ago. The reality is that Dippin' Dots have been around for about two decades, and not too many people are familiar with the product and its delicious promise to travel you through time to gain a taste of the future that you thought you wouldn't be alive to witness firsthand. You can usually find them in vending machines at arenas and amusement parks. Being a complete sucker for weak advertising, the first time I saw them, I simply had to give them a try and was completely intrigued. The reality, however, is that the future really can be now, as long as you make it possible.
I have had the dubious distinction of being the first at many things in and out of this industry. One of the most prominent in my mind was being the first to use the High End Systems Catalyst product on a production here in the States. There was a lot of marketing hoopla about it at the time, and everyone gathered around the seemingly small project for an NHL sporting event, waiting to see what this new technology would yield. It wasn't that there was anything so technically outrageous about the individual components of the hardware and software that we were using. However, when you put all of the pieces together and moved a projected video image around the arena via the manipulation of a lighting control console, everyone thought that it was incredibly high-tech and futuristic for the time.
The real reason that I gained the opportunity to use the Catalyst first wasn't because I had some magic crystal ball or even access to sales reps showing me things that were on their companies' drawing boards. I found it at LDI before High End Systems even had a final name for it. I was walking by the booth, and off in a corner, I saw a projection of some lava lamp-looking blue goo. Being enamored by all things shiny, I was immediately drawn to it, and then it happened: the image moved across the wall a few feet. I was blown away because I immediately saw one of my problems possibly being solved.
For several years prior, I had been using Martin PAL fixtures with video projectors to do precisely what I had just seen on the High End booth. Now let's not beat around the bush here. Call a PAL what it is: a jet ski without an engine. The fixture never had the most reliable track record, but I did find a terrific alternative use for the units. You see, PALs have a great range of movement on their mirror head system. Furthermore, their mirror heads were completely detachable and had a very long line of extra lead wire going to their stepper motors. This meant that you could detach the mirror head and, while still keeping the wires connected and thus retaining DMX control of movement, ratchet-strap the head to an LCD projector. This ultimately gave you control of video positioning from the lighting console and, most effective, the ability to use moving video imagery as an aerial beam effect with traditional projections and lighting.
Now, the few times I used this trick, it inevitably received great response from the audience. Although the technology and technicalities of creating the effect on stage wasn't necessarily apparent, the response was to something recognizably different going on. It wasn't the rotating gobos that they were used to seeing. It wasn't a laser twirling around at high speed. There was some sort of holographic effect going on that they hadn't seen before, and it was futuristic in nature.
Stumbling across this new product without a name was extremely intriguing to me, so I started asking the High End reps about it. It was only on exhibit at the time to judge market reaction. I didn't have an immediate project for it, but I knew that it was going to solve existing difficulties on certain shows, so I gave my input, took special note of it, and moved on through the trade show floor. It was less than a year later that the prototype production units were shipped to me for that first project, and the client was even more blown away than I was.
The fact of the matter is that other designers had also been doing the same trick in many variations years in advance of this product's first public outing, but the fact that we could do it differently and with a much greater amount of ease was what made it technically special. We were doing something not done in any prior live production. The future was most definitely now, and there's the moral of this long-winded story: don't speculate about what's going to happen in our industry within the next decade. Go out there, and find out for yourself what is on the immediate horizon. Keep an open ear to what manufacturers have in development, and do not just dismiss the seemingly crazy ramblings of some of these manufacturers when they take a 90° turn toward something you think they should never be considering. Controlling video with a lighting console? Crazy talk. Crazy like little pellets of delectable ice cream treats! The Dippin' Dots folks have done their part and brought us time-traveling into the future. Now it's your turn to make a contribution.