Marcello Pontalto – Biography

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The beginnings

It all started in 1985, I was only two years old and already I had fun hacking my father’s stereo system, a modular Sony. I inserted the Compact Discs and started the music. I well remember the feeling of immense satisfaction that I felt in doing it, obviously it amused me.

I was three years old when I stole my mother’s radio cassette and made it mine: I listened to the radio and retrieved some U2 tape from my uncle’s car.

My father has always been a handyman, an inventor. In those years, in particular, he was at its peak: he built houses, repaired things, as well as working so hard for the family.

I, for my part, played a lot with LEGO constructions. So I formed my character that, in the following years, led me to dismantle and reassemble everything that passed through my hands. Of course, when it came to reassembling, it took some experience and some trouble before I learned how to make things work again, but I may say I did it.

What is certain is that, since ever, everything that has to do with music and electricity particularly fascinates me.
At the age of six you would have surely found me around the country by bike, I always liked traveling and exploring.
I think I have scoured the small village of Terrossa, where I grew up, palm by palm, really.

I remember that, for a long time, I was looking for old televisions to take them apart and take out their loudspeakers. Then I connected them to my father’s beloved SONY amplifier, which only God knows how is still working.

One day, I had a flash of genius. «I want music on the bike» I told myself. It could have been more or less the ’90 / ’92: at the time there were no smartphones nor bluetooth speakers.

So it was that, in the throes of my creative delirium, my mountain bike found a radio stuck in the cage, old crates of televisions scattered here and there and, final treat, a television antenna hooked to the luggage rack. You surely understand how a good reception was essential!

I confess that I would pay gold to get even only one picture of that experience.

It was on that day that someone from the village stuck to me the label of “Marcello Elettrico”, coining the nickname that I would have taken with me for the following years.

When I turned 10 I wanted the Nintendo console. In response, my parents made one of the wisest choices they could make:

they did not buy me the Nintendo, but they spent ten times as much to give me a personal computer.

I still remember the technical specifications of that machine, I think that nowadays it would be exceeded as a calculation capacity even by the electronics of a hair dryer: 386 processor, 25mhz frequency, 2 megabyte ram and 83 megabyte hard disk.

Anyway, I was thrilled, only I had a pc among my peers! Obviously I used it for my sole purpose: to play. I praised my cousin Francesco, who, having a few years more than me, came from the city with floppy video games.

It was without a doubt in those years that my technological imprinting was outlined. I had no internet and, consequently, when I “wrapped” the system because I touched what was not to be touched, I had to solve it myself.

I believe that the ability to be methodical in my empirical approach comes from that period: when there was a problem, I really tried to solve them, one attempt at a time, until I found the right path. Only over time I realized that studying before performing is important and I learned to balance the creativity of those who do not know and proceed by trial with the patience of those who know well before doing an activity.

In the meantime, the second half of the 90s had arrived and with it, finally, the first internet connection via modem.

I was downloading music with Napster, browsing and chatting on IRC. I knew how to use the computer well and I started from DOS, so I was much more experienced than the average of my peers.

My adolescence was difficult: my family did not have a rosy period and so, rebellious and unmotivated, I decided to leave school at 16 to start working. I worked in the factory, in assembly lines of boilers and air conditioners. I also worked in some metalworking companies in the area where I lived. In my spare time, I “put on my motorbike” and went to the discos on Sunday afternoons. Like many, I loved music, dancing and having fun. But this also did me good, and I’ll tell you soon why.

My first approach to technical services

We said: I loved music, dancing and fun; What could I do at 18 if not buy a sound system?

I went to the nearest service, the one that provided the audio / lights to the festival of my country and asked if they had a sound system used that they were willing to sell. They bounced a couple of times between colleagues, before realizing that I would insist for a long time and ended up giving me an old sound system. Two columns of loudspeakers about 2m high and a small rack of mixed amplifiers.

“They start to work,” they told me, “you’ll pay for it later.” As you can imagine, I started organizing parties, but my goal was not to make money, it was fun. So it was that, after 6 months of non-payment due for the plant, the owner of the service told me: “Come and work for me. We make fairs and festivals. Working you will pay for the plant ». And so I did.

Thus began my season as a porter and carrier of Americans, lights, sound systems and layher. I liked working, I’ve always liked it, and the beauty of the service world is that if you want to make more money than others, all you have to do is to never say no.

I was working there and I was working, driving and earning.

The eight hours of the factory bored me. I preferred rather to make 16, but getting around, going to Germany for exhibitions, to Milan, on tour with Radio Company.

I felt I had found a right dimension for myself, a condition of gypsy probation that allowed me to feel free even if I was still a “slave” to work.

 

Raise the bar

But no more talk. I had found a work dimension that I liked, I earned better than the average, for example, of a worker, but I did not stop nurturing ambitions for growth. I think I have never counted the verb “to be content” in the dictionary of my intentions. I worked at the fair, I installed lights and structures, I was autonomous and so began to be entrusted with people and materials to be managed.

Within a few months, I found myself working for an owner who made me find materials and personnel in the premises of the fair; then the design drawings arrived and I had the task of coordinating the assembly of American pavilions and lights.

It’s true, the work gave me economic guarantees and satisfied my ego making me feel a leader that moves the troops on the field in the style of Age of Empires (do you remember?) Masterpiece!).

«Marcello – I was still wondering – is that enough for you?» Of course not!

When the opportunity occurred, in the form of an encounter with an old friend, who came to take some material for a Diesel job, I was ready to pick it up and immediately told him: «Come on Andrea, take me with you to do these super cool works for Diesel!»

A week later, I was on a plane to Thessaloniki: we were going to create what would be the first of a long series of Diesel business events I’ve worked on. They were moments of great commitment and, together, great fun.

 

From a technician to a designer

My background of lights and structures completed in a very synergistic way the needs of the company I worked with: it was a congressional service that was approaching a client like Diesel, who organized corporate events, and therefore needed a certain level of set-ups.

I was also working for Fiera Milano. The new fair at RHO had just been opened and, for a season, I was part of one of the first hanging teams. We wandered the empty pavilions between one fair and the other with the task of preparing all the steel ropes to allow fitters to hang their “americane”. Furthermore, we took care to set up the stands that were commissioned from the company we were working for.

In those years I understood that I should study, to continue growing.

My empirical and intuitive abilities were always good and they had led me there, but they could not lead me to a further leap in quality, at least not in a short time.

So I started my training course with a two-week study-vacation in Brighton. English school and accommodation in a family home. I was 23 and the “vacation” studio was paid for with my money.

I remember that I avoided the Italians in Brighton like the plague! I had sweated the money, I understood the value they have and I would have felt a real fool if I had paid a trip to Brighton to end up staying with Italians speaking Italian.

In short, it was this experience that gave me the basis of my knowledge of the English language. I realized how important it was to know it to advance in my career, it did not matter which way.

Later, I also trained in scenic and civil lighting, participating in courses organized by light console distributors and the most advanced lighting design courses for newly graduated architects.

In particular, the courses I attended in Targetti left a mark, thanks to which I understood the most psychological and emotional aspects of light and its colors.

In addition to training, I had to invest. Without even having any prospect of working with it, I learned how to use and then bought a software for lighting design which was very advanced at the time: wysiwyg by Cast software.

I have to confess something: I was about to repent of all these efforts because, in the meantime, I was still going around to “beat up” pylons, to lay out wiring and to point out shapers. Finally, the right opportunity came to collect what I had sown. There was a reshuffle of staff in the service that followed Diesel and I had the chance to get involved. I caught it without any hesitation. I was only 25, but I found a way to convince them to believe in me. I began to deal with the technical design of all the equipment.

Basically, I started doing what I still do today: helping people who have a creative technological idea to turn it into reality,

with an approach that is at the same time respectful of artistic choices and very concrete on the practical side. The years that followed were very entertaining and profitable. I worked with a very close-knit team, every time we organized bigger and bigger works, and more and more beautiful too. Parades, events, huge booths at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. The final customers were Diesel, Guess, Luxottica, Fantoni, Alberta salotti. It was a period full of satisfactions that, as happens a little for everything, slowly began to decline, because of reasons that were beyond my control: the financial shock Lehman Brothers. After the bubble burst, an inexorable drop in sales, for the fashion companies I worked for, began. The budgets thinned and I realized it was time to look around.

A tool that used video projectors in a creative way, the media server, had just appeared on the market.

In particular, I was impressed by Pandoras Box, the first media server with a built-in 3D engine. «Wow, cool! – I told myself – it is very difficult and full of pitfalls, why wouldn’t I make a profession out of it?».

But that’s another story, read it in the next chapter.

 

The media servers – the large projections and events of NiceFall

The media server is a complicated device, and it works only on computers. I like complicated things, and I have a huge passion for computers.

It was a marriage already written, and I started programming the media server for fun. We used it in events, installing it as an accessory to make mapped or very particular projections. The following process was almost natural: I delegated the programming of the light console and I found myself programming media servers and pointing video projectors.

I must admit, in hindsight, that I have always been homesick for the light console. This tool is so fascinating and powerful, with which, if programmed in the right way, you can turn on the emotion of the audience even just by moving a cursor, and above all without letting you know who you are! 😉

I assure you that, when the applause starts in the concerts, credits aren’t due only to the artist, nor is it a completely independent choice of the public: it is often those who are behind the light console that decides when people applaud.

But I digress, let’s get back to the media server.

The media server by definition is a video player, capable of managing multiple contents on multiple video outputs.

This means that, thanks to this software, it is possible to synchronize, that is to coordinate, multiple video projectors or video displays at the same time. Add to the recipe the fact that nowadays almost all media servers are able to control audio and light as well and you’ll understand why this technology is only used for a small percentage of its actual potential.

We arrived at the events of 2011, when my first company was born: NiceFall srl.

The company’s main activity was to provide design and direction services for events. Managing lights, video and sound.

In the years that followed, the combination of my non-exceptional commercial capabilities and the market conditions themselves led the company to deal mainly with media servers.

I worked with the company for years with the prevalent activity of installing and broadcasting video-mapping for the most disparate show situations: from Macbeth at La Scala Theater to the United Arab Emirates for different occasions and celebrations, without forgetting the big projections on palaces and various objects in Italy.

Pandoras Box, the media server we had chosen, was on everyone’s lips. The best in the market.

Today it has been reached by many of its competitors, but at the time it was a machine that had such flexibility to allow unique results. My colleagues and I became very experienced in using it, and in those years we were identified for this: we were “the Pandora guys”.

Two years have marked in particular the destiny of the company, just because we were “the Pandora Guys”: 2013 and 2015.

In 2013 I was contacted for the application of the most creative media server I’ve ever seen: the IMA videowall project.

Instead, in 2015 we were enrolled for the Tree of Life of EXPO, but this is another story you can read here.

Videowall – The video brochure at real dimensions

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