Vello Virkhaus of V Squared Labs, master VJ and production designer
Published: April 26, 2013
Photos and story byy: Alex Silva
Our eyes are one of the most complex and extraordinary biological trademarks of the human body. As they capture light from our surroundings, they project images in our mind to mirror what we see in reality. Some images are so powerful they can create an everlasting effect on us that can stand the test of time, rendering a visual stimulus that leaves an imprint on not only our minds but our hearts as well.
Today’s technology has driven our human creativity to a new frontier where we can explore and experiment with different ways to arouse that visual stimulus, feeding our brains the sweetest of eye candy. While some of the things you see on the screens today can be mind blowing and revolutionary to the point of disbelief, this is only the beginning of man’s exploration of the visual dimensions of our universe.
V Squared Labs, a visual art production studio based out of Los Angeles, is one of the companies at the forefront of this phenomenon with individuals like Vello Virkhaus (right), the CEO and Creative Director, spearheading this journey into the future.
While at Ultra Music Festival this year, I was given the opportunity to go behind the scenes to see how this man and his team of professionals worked to puppeteer the body of dancing souls before them. As I sat down with Vello before his first set on the main stage on Friday, we got to discussing some of the reasons behind what lead him to become one of the visual masterminds behind the international award-winning event. Originally studying art technology at The Art Institute of Chicago, Vello ventured into the world of VJing from the simple desire and hunger to create something new and original that would go beyond the limits of his imagination.
“For the need to do something new in art school and to escape the boundaries of the gallery exhibition space and to push it into a more immersive, tactile environment. As a music fan and a music lover and art lover, it was kind of an immediate instant gratification for both those needs — Music and visuals together.”
Vello originally began working with 16mm film and eventually worked his way into VJing larger, more upscale events like Ultra and Coachella later on.
“It never really even occurred to me because I was so focused on post-production when we were doing the film loops and the early stuff that high tech to me was the Onyx and Flame and Discreet Logic software. It wasn’t the concert thing, I was focused on different technology and using it more and more into this field. It got more and more complicated but the growth is so rapid, change is happening so fast. The growth of Ultra and EDM and Insomniac and all these festivals that have become so advanced. I mean, I never expected to turn on the radio and hear dance music. Dance music on the radio? That’s a trip to me.”
Today, the work of Vello and his crew can be seen throughout all corners of the entertainment industry. You may have even seen their visuals and 3D mapping before and not have even noticed it. From American Idol to Germany’s Next Top Model, from Infected Mushroom’s FungusAmongUS Tour to Amon Tobin’s ISAM 2 and Datsik’s Fire Power Tour, V Squared Labs has dipped their fingers in just about every bucket of talent in Hollywood and beyond (full list of projects here). With that said, Ultra is one of many projects that V Squared Labs has in the works on a constant basis.
“We’re getting into a whole lot of content creation and wrapping up our show for Don Diablo that is going to premier in Holland. We’re doing this Don Diablo hexagon concept so once we get that done we’re going to Coachella and producing some really cool interactive stuff for the Heineken dome and main stage Coachella. So, staying really busy [laughs]. As soon as we get out of here I’m heading straight back into the office and we’re working on some television shows.”
It’s not all that simple to be a VJ, what seems like a quick few push of the buttons is actually a lot more time consuming and thought-driven than you would imagine. Nonetheless, VJing is something that just about anyone can venture into with just a simple switch of the imagination and, most importantly, an internal drive for success. Curious as to how to get involved in something like VJing, I asked Vello for some insight on what it takes to be in his shoes.
“There’s more tools than ever now and more than half of them have free trial copies and things that you can get for free. So I think you have the best access to free tools and things to download like TouchDesigner’s free trial, Modul8 also has a free trial and Reseloom as well. VDMX has a trial also, you can’t really save on it but you can configure it. The top performance platforms in the market come with some basic content and tutorials and they’re all free. So it’s really amazing and almost all of them are functional, you can actually create something. In TouchDesigner you can build and create and work and save and output for free, it’s really cool. So to get started you get your media put together and just give yourself an assignment, be exploratory. It really is the best way in this medium to start figuring it out. Obviously, introductory animation and post production classes are a great place to get your hands on content creation tools like After Effects or Cinema 4D which are hugely helpful in terms of creating your own show or your own work. Be original, be inspired and jump in. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet or your hands dirty.”
From the main stage to the Carl Cox mega structure, the V Squared Labs team was in charge of visuals for a handful of artists performing at this year’s Ultra Music Festival — R3hab, Martin Solveig, Sander Van Doorn, Laidback Luke, Carl Cox, Dirty South and Cazzette, to name a few. While some artists leave it the visual magic up to Vello, others have their own show that they put together with their own team of visual artists.
“It’s that’s a big change from four years ago. I used to do everything all day. It’s really good that some of these headliners are doing their own show. It’s good for businesses and the people working for them to create their own shows. It generates revenue, employment and increased visual awareness. People consider that we started this visual arms race like the Tobin show and whatnot but I don’t see it as one-upmanship, I see it as what the audience wants. People want to come see a spectacular show so to bring your own show and have more input into it as an artist is highly respected. For Tiesto or Avicci to forge some vision along that and be able to bring more to it, which I hope that they will be able to bring a lot more in the future, is awesome. I would encourage all of them to do it and really push it.
“Push your identity and not just your logo but what you have to say. What is your show about? What do you have to say? What is this journey we’re going on? What’s this about? I was talking to Moby’s production manager about what we’re going to do for Moby. Well, Moby wants to feature never before seen NASA footage and make it a space journey. It’s the first time we do this so questions come up like, ‘What do we say about the planet?’ You know? My daughter always wants to know what it means? What is it Dad? Just curiosity. Well, what is it? What are we doing with this journey and this oneness that we feel in ‘rave’ and the journey that we go on. We’re piloting that ship and creating this entertainment environment that people are enjoying. And feelings from color. There’s a lot of feeling the color here. Like red is intense and sexy. And green that’s relaxing and blue that we’re just keying in and feeding that to people. And, of course, watching this mass response is really exciting too.”