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SCN: The Nine 2015

The words “young talent,” along with “passionate, up and coming, AV innovators,” elicits a bit of an interpretive dance depending on who is asked.

As we set out to track down nine such impressive individuals this year, we became mired in a rather grueling process, a much more challenging task than we had any idea of at the time. What we came to discover is that not only is there a larger generational gap in the AV industry than we knew of, but it translates to a full-on identity crisis.

Perhaps the shorthand definition of what SCN’s The Nine is has been vague. This is just the second rendition of this unique editorial feature, so it’s natural for there to be a bit of confusion. First off, what The Nine isn’t: your typical “Forty Under 40” list. When SCN’s editors looked to create a truly different way of looking at young talent, we wanted to create the anti-Forty Under 40 list. These aren’t just young-ish people in AV with bright careers already well underway. No, these are truly incomparable personages working across various scopes of audiovisual.

For a young person today—and by young, I mean mostly 20-somethings—audiovisual really encompasses a much broader range of applications than the traditional AV experience defines. While AV still has a very long way to go in terms of its recognition by the youth of today, for a generation surrounded by ubiquitous technology, they see virtual reality, multimedia digital video, interactivity, LEDs, generative data, and beacons. Many of these elements are just beginning to work their way into your AV designs, but they are the future of technology, and inherently, audiovisual.

In terms of best defining what The Nine was created for, it was best put forth last year as “exemplars of talents we’ll need to move this industry forward.” Some of the other keywords in mind while seeking out The Nine included: iconoclast, unique ambition, life passion, and vibrancy. Some of these exist on the periphery of what you do, yet they represent fundamental elements of success and innovation, in the same vein as many of the AV industry’s earliest leaders.

The Nine: The Next Class of AV Innovators

SCN's 2015 class of The Nine (Image credit: Future)

In terms of selecting this year’s class of The Nine, we turned to some of our closest collaborators and reached out to firms we knew doing different and impressive, new wave-type installations. We also turned to social media. We received an outpouring of responses—as if we didn’t already know the type of chord the issue of young people in AV struck. Many of the nominations presented strong skillsets and impressive track records. But also, this is where that identity crisis emerged. The majority of the nominations that rolled in were for prominently established people that we already knew, and they were all over the age of 35. Not to be ageist, but The Nine is really about identifying tomorrow’s leadership, through talent expressed in different thought channels that are just beginning to emerge today.

Take the exhibit designers’ view of the world. How will people interact with the technology? AV designers are always asked to think about the user and design for interaction, but in doing so, are we also thinking about how people behave, or are we thinking about how we wish they would behave? How do we want them to use our technology, and how do we expect them to use it based on our own viewpoint of its capabilities?

[ Related: The Nine Online Exclusive: Projects to Go Wow Over

We must also look for what we have in common rather than our differences. Some of the bright young minds gracing the following pages don’t fit into a traditional AV firm, yet they influence our work in various capacities—even if that is on an inspirational, insightful level. Young people today are often told that they can make their own job, that their ideal career might not have a name yet, and that’s a concept that applies to all of us at the most basic of levels.

With The Nine, we also look to step outside of the normal bounds of thinking. It may seem a bit unusual to find a team included in this year’s class of The Nine. That’s because, in this scenario, every individual brings their own unique talents to the table, and their contributions are considered on equal merit to those from the rest of the team. There is no “new guy,” versus “the boss.” Technology industries like AV have operated on this principle for years, and it’s the young tech that brings new ideas to the design and installation practice. Each idea is weighted the same, promoting a better collective result. By not attributing any one achievement to an individual, this team promotes the highest level of contribution from all.

So it's by looking at examples such as these, seeing all of The Nine not as different from “regular AV people,” but as new contributors, that we promote the best results for our future as an industry.

The 2015 Class of The Nine

The Nine 2015

Meet The Nine, exemplars of talents we’ll need to move this industry forward. After consulting our top peers in the industry, we selected the folks you see below because they had the most vibrant new ideas in business and a passion for every aspect of life. The Nine are a new class of AV innovators who live to the fullest at work and in all aspects of our constantly changing times.

Rebecca Sullins

Rebecca Sullins

Rebecca Sullins

Title: Senior AV Engineer and CAD Manager

Company: AVDB Group

Why You Should Know Her: A die-hard theater buff, Rebecca Sullins insists that she is just much more logical than she is artistic. As one of the top engineers at AVDB Group, she helps people create art and do business in a more logical manner. She dually holds the role of CAD manager because she sees one of the biggest problems the AV industry has as efficiency in communication, or, as she puts it, “you’re only as good as your tools.”

Victoria Berela

Victoria Berela

Victoria Berela

Title: Student, Senior

Institution: Columbia College Chicago

Why You Should Know Her: Here we have a young woman in college aspiring to a career in AV. Barela is still riding high the wave of excitement following her first InfoComm show earlier this summer. It was at InfoComm in Orlando that she discovered she could combine two of her passions: audio and computer programming. While the type of position in AV she hopes to work in continues to evolve, she is now focused on AV programming.

Oronde Wright

Oronde Wright

Oronde Wright

Title: Designer

Company: Thinc Design

Why You Should Know Him: An industrial designer with a fine arts background, Oronde Wright thinks in 3D and then draws beyond it into the dimension that gives an object meaning—how people will fit with a design and how the latter can serve the former. In speaking with him about the Thinc exhibit design projects he has contributed to in Kathmandu, Milan, and Jordan, the word “people” comes up constantly as a source of inspiration and information.

Matt Pollard

Matt Pollard

Matt Pollard

Title: Engineering Manager

Company: Linx Multimedia

Why You Should Know Him: This one-time aspiring biologist walked onto his first AV job site as “the lowliest of lowly, green techs you could be,” for what he expected to be a temporary job. Four and a half years later, he’s the engineering manager, heading up two formerly separate engineering teams that he brought under one umbrella.

Tanner Upthegrove

Tanner Upthegrove

Tanner Upthegrove

Title: Media Engineer

Company: Virginia Tech, Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology

Why You Should Know Him: As a media engineer at Virginia Tech, Upthegrove manages six multimedia labs at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), including the Cube, a first of its kind black box theater and high tech research lab. The Cube specializes in research for spatial sound and virtual reality, yet it is a truly flexible space, essentially limitless in its research potential.

B-Reel Creative

B-Reel Creative

B-Reel Creative

Why You Should Know Them: An ever-widening “team of technologists and storytellers creating new ways to connect brands and audiences,” B-Reel Creative is the place where far-fetched ideas are met with a question, “Who is going to pay for that,” not spoken in an incredulous tone, but merely enquiring which current or potential client will it suit the most. Dream it up, build it, use it. Nearly anything is workable among the members of this egalitarian tribe founded in Sweden by five creative, and expanding to six offices worldwide, staffed by 170 designers, writers, strategists, producers, and developers.

Evan Hooton

Evan Hooton

Evan Hooton

Title: Owner, Consultant

Company: Pure Quality Sound Productions

Why You Should Know Him: The ultimate self-starter entrepreneur, Hooton owned his first sound rental company at the ripe age of 13. He thinks he still holds the record for youngest SynAudCon attendee ever, at 15. By the time he was 18, he’d completed all the SynAudCon classes. When he is not consulting on audio, video, and lighting system design; installing systems; renting systems; or working on InfoComm’s advisory board for audio coverage uniformity standards, Hooton handles sales for the Music Group in the Americas, which covers everything from production to system integration to training seminars and all the necessary media material.

Tim Perez

Tim Perez

Tim Perez

Title: Consultant

Company: Threshold Acoustics

Why You Should Know Him: He actually understands how the human brain responds to sound. Like, he quantified it in his graduate work at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by computationally simulating the human auditory system and feeding it audio files. His results were presented at the Acoustical Society of America, and yeah, ideas like that could change how we measure room acoustics and make them more relevant to human perception.

Emily Webster

Emily Webster

Emily Webster

Title: Experience Designer, Interactive AV & Systems Specialist

Company: ESI Design

Why You Should Know Her: As a media architect of sorts at a top innovation and experience design firm, Webster gets to dream up elaborate AV showpieces. She is responsible for the conceptual technological requirements and communicating them to systems integrators. What this means practically is that she estimates AV designs at a really, really high level, early on. She takes the functional requirements from the client and devises the technical requirements, before then reaching out to integrators to help with a more granular systems design. And if that’s not impressive enough, she dabbles in product design, successfully raising over $50,000 in a Kickstarter for modular LED blocks, called Tangeez.

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