Mark Fuller discusses the simple yet complex nature of captivating peoples attention through creativity. This is something Mark has done through the countless spectacles that he has designed around the world - water features that cause people to stop, ...
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Srini: Mark, welcome to the unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.
Mark Fuller: It's such a treat to be here. Thank you for having me.
Srini: My pleasure to have you here. So I found out about you by way of your publicist. And when I saw the words, the guy who designed the fountains of the Bellagio, I was like, what?
Srini: I'm like that is a spectacle of epic proportions. Whoever can create something like that is somebody I have to talk to. But before we get into all that I wanted to start by asking you. One of the most important things that you learn from one or both of your parents that have influenced or shaped who you've become and what you've ended up doing with your life?
Mark Fuller: It was probably by example, hard work. My dad is a real session child. He wanted to be right. A very good writer. Got a number of stories. Published was part way through a book. And then the recession came in and big family quit and, he had to work and And he would late, late at night, I'd hear the, the old Royal typewriter down in the down cooking away.
Mark Fuller: But dad would, and he was a great dad. He would, want to play catch with me in the weekends and all that stuff. But then he'd go back in and have dinner and he'd be in his desk doing work. And my mom was, my mom worked for the FBI up until two weeks or three weeks or something I get before it was born.
Mark Fuller: They weren't female agents in those days, but and there weren't cell phones either. So she was on the. Other end of a landline and the agents, if they were on a hot case, had to call in every hour. So if somebody knew they weren't shot or whatever, she worked the Bugsy Malone case with the agents in the field and she on the inside.
Mark Fuller: So that's the hard work. Yeah. W what
Srini: advice did they give you about potential career paths? Because to me, what you do for a living is not something that anybody would pick out of a, high school guidance, counselor list of recommendations. I would just pretty much like anybody I've interviewed, it's not, a career that end up in by by choice, it seems like almost accident.
Mark Fuller: The answer to that is they didn't push me into anything, but whatever I wanted to do, and a few of the possible choices along the way were a bit on the crazy side. They were just a hundred percent supportive and I was one of those kids. You know how many people you ask today? Even young people when they're, I don't know, upper teens, what do you want to be when you grow up and you get a lot of G I don't knows, or I don't know.
Mark Fuller: I guess I'll go into business. Which I don't have a super love for hiring MBAs. Cause I figured that was typically the default category for people never knew what they wanted to do when they grew up rude. But I'll say it anyway. But I can remember when I was little going to the kid's library and I fell in love with Roy Chapman, Andrews, who was a paleontologist who discovered the first dinosaur egg in the Gobi desert.
Mark Fuller: And then I fell in love with speed locking. I thought I wanted to be a cave Explorer all my life. Then I wanted to be a chemist and, but it always came back to it to circle around something. When we were nine, we went to Disneyland for the first time. Now this is a drive across the desert, no divided freeway or anything.
Mark Fuller: Cause this would have been the earliest. From salt lake city to Los Angeles, we would leave with no air conditioning in our second or third hand car. We'd leave about four in the morning to get past the worst of the desert heat. And we pulled up at Disneyland and we walked through that gate and I was nine.
Mark Fuller: I thought this, if you can't be God, literally being Walt Disney or at least working for him and creating, magical lamps and places and experiences, this has gotta be, it's always circled back to that. And of course I, I did this. Five or six years working there, which I was lucky to do. I think that what is striking to me about
Srini: this story is that you had this sort of moment when you're really young.
Srini: And I think a lot of people have those, but most people don't recognize them for what they are.
Mark Fuller: And
Srini: often do nothing with them. Why is it that you had the foresight to see that there's something magical about what you saw here and the, that would shape what you wanted to do
Mark Fuller: with your life? I think I was born gifted with an intense sense of curiosity.
Mark Fuller: And that is such a driver. So I would watch Don Herbert, who was Mr. Wizard or something on Saturday morning TV. I get really interested in that. And then I'd add in those days you could buy some rather dangerous chemicals in the kid's chemistry set. And so I, I just want to find out about that.
Mark Fuller: And then, let me turn the clock back for you. When I went to the university of Utah, which is as a state resident wonderful campus, big campus tuition was I think $145 to quarter. Wow. So even though we weren't, we were on the poor side it was no rush to get through college, because you couldn't afford the tuition.
Mark Fuller: My degree in civil engineering, which is a four year degree. I took five and a half years to complete, not because I was on the dumb side, but because I fell in love with other disciplines I took as a civil engineer, you have to take three quarters of physics. I took two. And some of them were in optics and it was just fascinating, I thought.
Mark Fuller: And then that was the time when the original television version of mission impossible came out and they would, do you remember the latex masks and the disguises and all that great stuff. And so I went, just went waltzed into the theater department. I found that the the professor there who taught.
Mark Fuller: Lighting design and stage makeup, bill barber. It turns out and I took classes from him as a civil engineer. It turns out he would disappear every once in a while for a few weeks, because he was employed by the CIA to help disguise their agents. So he was a very interesting guy, but those are the crazy things you find.
Mark Fuller: If you don't tether yourself to. Racing through school. My, my son's in college now, my daughter will begin on a year. And when we go through these orientations, one of the recurring themes, maybe it's the high cost of tuition, but the counselors will say if you're really focused, you might get your degree in three and a half.
Mark Fuller: And we've told our kids take, don't waste it but it's an opportunity to try things, to learn things, take take five years or a little more and stuff way out of your. Presumed major. Yeah.
Srini: But yeah, it's funny because I've talked to numerous people about this and you, the way our education system socialized as to commit to a path and it actually discourages curiosity and exploration, it's in a lot of ways, like a fast food menu, it's here are the majors you could choose.
Srini: Here are the potential career paths that, it might lead to and you do, people are forced into boxes so early in their lives. You know what? I went to go speak to my high school, AP English teacher's class. After I got my book deal, I was amazed at how worried they were about what they plan to do with their lives.
Srini: So I'm like you haven't even left high school yet. Granted, I know this all too well, cause that's what I was like at 20. Why do you think that is? And if as somebody who had this experience of really, taking a more exploratory approach to college what would you change and how would we go about doing that more important?
Mark Fuller: That's such a great question, particularly now since and I'm, you can tell I'm a big proponent of education I've been tossing in my mind, the current administration's plan. A lot more preschool and I'm thinking, is that good? Or we'll let you have to almost audition to get in a good preschool.
Mark Fuller: And then most of those two years are spent preparing you to get into a school with a good kindergarten. And that's preparing you to get into a great middle school, which has spent preparing it to get into a fabulous high school, which is a, I don't have to finish that paragraph. And then I guess it's all just, I, if you really just run that out, it's just preparing you to get better.
Mark Fuller: Fabulous funeral home. Worried. Where does that stop? Where can you start living in the present instead of preparing for the next stage? It's such a waste of time. I don't mean it's a waste of time to be active and learning, but if you're focused on tomorrow, you don't even notice today. Yeah. And
Srini: It's funny because I think for young people, especially ambitious ones, I went to what is arguably an elite school, which is Berkeley.
Srini: It's not Harvard or Stanford or Yale, but in environments like that, people are incredibly future-oriented. They really don't. And I know this because
Mark Fuller: that was. Yeah.
Srini: So I guess the thing I wonder, based on your experience, the fact that you have kids, what would you say to parents who are listening to this about encouraging exploration and curiosity in their kids?
Mark Fuller: I was trying to make a point to some younger people the other day about, and there was talk about do I really want to get them into PhD or, and that's great but the classic things you want more and more about less and less until, absolutely everything about absolutely nothing.
Mark Fuller: But but I was, we were walking along and I was looking down at the sidewalk and there were some cracks between the piece of concrete and the stones nearby. And I said, let's look for life. What kind of. Where do you see a little blade of grass or a little dandelion or something spouting up?
Mark Fuller: Not out of the middle of a big old block granted or cement, but where those two, maybe a stone is budding up against a tree root or something. And I tried to spin that into the metaphor of the most interesting stuff and new life coming. When two dissimilar objects or fields of study or human beings bumping into each other.
Mark Fuller: And one of the really fun things about wet for me I say both, if you're ever out there and have a time to come by, sometime I'd love to show you through, but we have a super fun campus and we don't discipline. We don't have a lot of anybody, but by golly, we've got one of just everybody. We've got, textile designers, optical engineers firmware developers painters, illustrators, dance, choreographers.
Mark Fuller: You could thumb through in my day, thumb through the physical college catalog today, scan it online. And we've had, I don't think we have an astronaut at the moment. We've got an academy award winner a. So you think you can dance a winner? When we're doing fountain design, you go figure out how that comes together.
Mark Fuller: But it does, I was like to refer to Steve jobs, fabulous. Commencement talk where he reminds everybody that he was a computer guy, but he. Duck his nose into a calligraphy class and decided to just sneak in an audit. And that later became the Genesis for the whole, beautiful written form of script on the Mac instead of the typewriter monospace lettering.
Mark Fuller: And I spoke to a group of engineering students earlier this week came by for a tour. And I said, anything that interested you. Learn it for yourself into it. Don't have somebody say what does that have to do with your major? I can make, I made them all a promise that whatever they learn, they will use at some point in their life.
Mark Fuller: And that may be the thing that distinguishes them from the folks who just followed the yellow brick road. We're about to jump into today's podcast, but first here's a message from Queensland health children, aged five and over and now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine it's clinically tested and proven to be safe and effective for people five years ago.
Mark Fuller: Having your child vaccinated will protect them from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 for more information, talk to your GP or pharmacist or search COVID-19 kids vaccines. Can you imagine getting paid to do what you actually love doing? Tell us what those things are, and we'll tell you how you can do them in the army.
Mark Fuller: Go on, get paid for doing what you love. Search. Do what you love.
Srini: Hey, it's Srini. So one of the things that makes it possible for us to make the show is by selling sponsorships to advertisers. And one thing that would be really helpful in terms of helping us get more sponsors that are relevant to you and useful to you is that if you tell us a little bit about you, who you are, and you can do that by filling out this quick survey.
Srini: Unmistakable creative.com/pod survey. The questions are about you demographic information and information. That's helpful to the team that sells ads for the show. And if you're someone who wants to buy ads, you should definitely get in touch. It'll only take a few minutes and it's an easy way for you to help the show.
Srini: Again, that's understandable. creative.com/pod survey, and there'll also be. In descriptions of most recent episodes, if you're listening to an older episode, thanks and stay tuned for the rest of the episode. It's funny you say that because I have an econ degree and I thought, what a useless degree, I'm never gonna use this.
Srini: I still, to this day, remember sitting in a, an, a final class at Berkeley, it was environmental economics. And I'm sitting here listening to this guy. Talk to me about how do you use the utility function to maximize the amount of milk that I can get out of a cow? And I'm thinking, when the hell is this everything.
Mark Fuller: And
Srini: then I went back and I read the wealth of nations recently, and it was one of those things where I started to just see my business through that lens. And I realized, I was like, oh wow. That degree actually, Circle, but it took almost 20 years. Yeah.
Mark Fuller: Yeah. W what's the series of books thinking I'm gonna make something crazy Nomics and it's written by a couple of economists who just analyze the darndest things, economic lines.
Mark Fuller: Absolutely. It's just, it's a different camera lens to look at life through and you see it very differently. It's like looking, looking with an infrared lens or something that is not visible light at a subject you're used to seeing in our RGB. Yeah.
Srini: Speaking of looking at the world through different lenses, the average civil engineer doesn't become a fountain designer, but usually her, building bridges, how in the world do you get from studying civil engineering to designing
Mark Fuller: fountain?
Mark Fuller: If I may, I'll take two, two little short snippets along the way. Yeah there, there was a there was a bit of what did you call method to my madness? See, when I was I'm not any genius by any stroke. I just tell everybody to work really hard. But so I'm in civil engineering and so I've got a pretty good technical mind, pretty good background.
Mark Fuller: But when we had to give class presentations oh my gosh, they boring. Cause these engineers don't, aren't really into standing up. They're scared to be in front of people or what have you. And then I was taking these classes over in theater. And over there, of course it's all about being on stage and presenting.
Mark Fuller: But the gosh, they couldn't build a simple prop in the world and have it not fall apart. So I could have been a relatively, I hate to use the word mediocre, let's say mediocre plus engineer and being a superhero in all my theater classes. And I could have made kick ass presentation. Not only could, but did presentations in engineering because of my theater background.
Mark Fuller: So sometimes it's good to step across the border. And enjoy the fun of being there. Also a few and those days I hope it's sincerely improved, but in those days there were a little better dating choices in the theater department for an engineer than the word. Beautiful.
Mark Fuller: Oh, but the story is going to tell you about supporting parents. So mom and dad they, and it wasn't a lot of costs. I lived at home and I went through the university there and then I applied to a number of schools and a professor said you really had to think of Stanford. It's a very interesting school.
Mark Fuller: So I applied and was accepted there, obviously in civil India. And so we're driving again across the desert this done the salt flats going to Northern Cal. And I remember sitting, I can picture sitting. My dad was driving. Mom was on the right side and I was sitting behind dad and I took a deep breath and I said, dad, yeah, I don't think I want to be a civil engineer.
Mark Fuller: Now the tuition at Stanford was not $145 a quarter. It was, they were going to deplete the family savings. He's wa why don't you want to do that? And I said if you're a civil engineer, basically your goal is to design and build things that do not move. Bridges, you do not want them to move skyscrapers.
Mark Fuller: You do not want them to move right. As it tip over. And I said, oh, I like moving things. I like moving stuff. So I want to poke around when I get there and I went and saw the Dean. Of engineering when I got there and shared that story in a little more serious vein, and he said, what are your GREs? And I had a pretty good score.
Mark Fuller: So he's you can be whatever you want. So I went into mechanical engineering and there was an orientation and the head of the mechanical engineering division said we have three groups here. We have machine design, which I thought that sounds like me. And then we have the thermal dynamics stuff, the heat and the energy and stuff.
Mark Fuller: And that's amazing, but w wasn't my cup of tea. And he said, we've got a third little group. I don't even know how to describe him. So I'm going to let Dr. McKim who heads it up, describe it. It's called product design. He said we really don't claim them completely because they're half in the college of engineering and half in the college of fine arts.
Mark Fuller: And I thought, boy, this sounds great. It was a two year master's program instead of the ones I had to break that double X news to my folks, tuition wise. But there again, it was this cross-fertilization. And I struggled because I didn't have a lot of art training with my engineering studies.
Mark Fuller: But th that was that's w if you came through wet, you'd see it patterned on many of the things that I learned at Stanford in that. Bizarre program. One of the professors Dr. Fatima when he was on loan to the engineering school, but he was from the department of psychology. And we've just had crazy professors from all over campus, come in and stir the pot.
Mark Fuller: And it was the whole program was about, being creative, inventive, and stepping across the line. And. And then I went to Disney. And at that time, particularly, Walt Disney was no longer with us, but I got to work with most of his peers, who were still there and rich, creative bumps.
Mark Fuller: I've been very blessed with the experiences I've had. I think I just keep my eyes open for them. I do that at least and try to step into those. Calligraphy rooms that Steve jobs peaked into. When I see one with the door cracked open. Yeah. So how do
Srini: get from Disney to, wet?
Srini: I am so fascinated by, the work that, like people do with water in particular as a tenure surfer. I have this. Immense love for anything water. And I still to this day, remember the first time I saw the fountains at the Bellagio and I remember sitting there. I was probably, when I was in college, I was my parents.
Srini: And I'm like, you know what, dad, I was a freshman in college and I was like, I'm going to be a billionaire. And I'm going to have whoever designed this, design this in front of my house. And he just looked at me and rolled his eyes. He was like but I, to this day, like it's just one of those things that, I don't really like Vegas, but that is one of those most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Srini: But hi. Yeah. How do you go from Disney to this? And then we'll then I really want to get into the actual creative process for how all this
Mark Fuller: happens. Thank you for saying that. I will say one thing there are, I'm sure shorter, faster, better ways to getting to be a billionaire going into the phone business.
Mark Fuller: I always like to play with water as a kid. Dad built from my brother and I have a really cool sandbox behind the garage. And I, first thing I did was screw two garden hoses together. So they'd reach and flooded, and then build sand dams and which I guess a little pre civil engineering coming.
Mark Fuller: And play in the snow and build, I built, I remember building some kind of ice dams after big storms so that all the cars driving down the hill that we were, our house was near on the road would have to swerve out of the way, the big lake I could dam. So there's something about water that's fast, it was always been fascinating to be.
Mark Fuller: And then in civil engineer one of the reasons also took me a little longer. I was the first civil engineer in the history of the university of Utah to go through the honors program which is which is a an accoutrement, an add on to any other degree, but it's intense liberal arts.
Mark Fuller: And I thought, I don't know why they, somebody taught me. And a couple of great things came out of it, by the way. The classes I, university of Utah, I don't know, probably in those days, even 40,000 students or something, I don't, except for one chemistry class. I don't think I ever had a class in my whole university that were more than like 15 people.
Mark Fuller: I had a few classes for. So I really, that, that made things. Really rich. Then I went to expensive Stanford and I was in huge classes. But I had that that honors program, but that required us to actually write and publish a written thesis, not for a master's degree, but for a baccalaureate degree.
Mark Fuller: And so it, I say it was the first I had a friend who was also in the program and we did it together and we were trying to think of what to do for a thesis. We were sitting in the back of a fluid mechanics class. And those days, nothing on video was the old 16 millimeter click click, black and white films to show.
Mark Fuller: And the lesson was was a little movie on something called laminar flow, which is you, if you take all the turbulence out of water, it's if you take all the turbulence out of light, you get a laser. All the little photons are moving, the same beam you can do the same.
Mark Fuller: With water and Dave air, my friend wanted to become an architect and I wanted to go to Disney and we thought, what can we do? We and the other kids were talking about thesis projects and sewage treatment plants whatever. Let's see if we could scale that up to human size, architectural size and make these clear streams of water.
Mark Fuller: And in the film, they're like matchstick size right there. It's just three in shy stream about the diameter of a tube. And so we said about to do that. And we did, and the dad of a friend of my girlfriend at the time was building up a little new apartment building and he gave us some money to actually build a model of our thesis project in the lobby, which was super fun.
Mark Fuller: So why am I telling all that? Oh, fountain. So I have a thesis published on axisymmetric laminar fluid flow. And applied in an artistic or architectural installation. And then when I went to Stanford and had to do a lot of different projects I pursued that is, is as one path. And then when I interviewed at Disney, I I, instead of just having a, resume with classes and grades, I had a lot of projects cause I'm a real project kid, but I, I showed that off and got hired.
Srini: And so what I wonder is, like I said, when I saw this for the first time, of course I didn't have the sort of creative insight that I do now from thousands of interviews. Just to understand what the hell goes into something this complex or. Yeah. Like you've mentioned that, you have all these peoples, because I think that has always been the thing.
Srini: Now that I'm talking to you that has struck me about it is you take something that is, basically, a material and you humanize it in a way, you bring water to life. It's wow. Like every section of that fountain, it's oh, there's a person dancing. The music, all of it.
Srini: So start, which I realized in the same question, but like, how does it even start? Like, how do you conceive an idea this grand and was it Steve wind coming to you and be like, yo, I need you to build this. Or how
Mark Fuller: does it even begin? That wouldn't began. We had done some smaller projects as well.
Mark Fuller: I don't remember how many people we had under probably 30 people or something, maybe in the company in those days. And Don Brinckerhoff was a very well known landscape architect and had done Steve's properties. He'd done the landscaping around the Mirage hotel and so forth. And I guess Steve told him on, I want to build a big lake.
Mark Fuller: I got this idea of doing kind of this Italian themed hotel called Bellagio. And Steve was thinking of oh, maybe we'll put water skiers up front or whatever, but maybe I'd like to try a fountain. And Don says you got to talk to Mark Fuller. I've done a couple of projects with him.
Mark Fuller: So Steve flew my wife and I up there and we had a dinner and Steve is I've learned a lot from these amazing he's, he's very nearly blind from retinitis pigmentosa. Never complains about it at all, but. He's very visionary and he knows what what will touch and appeal to people.
Mark Fuller: And he said, mark, he said, I wonder this big lake. And it has to be when you, when the people are there they have to feel, they're not in Las Vegas. We're not gonna do colored lights. Weren't gonna do flashing anything. It has to completely remove you from that experience. And he said, the other requirement is I love music.
Mark Fuller: Cause he was buddies with Frank Sinatra and the rat pack. And then. A bunch of people whose life, it has to be integrally, tied to music in a very sophisticated way. And thirdly, you have promised me it will be the best and biggest thing you'll ever do in your life.
Mark Fuller: That's an interesting promise to try and make somebody like Steven. Yeah. But, and he said and he said, this is a big deal to me. It was three years before the hotel would open. And he said, I've never been really happy with the volcano in front of the, a Mirage. It sorta looks like a big rock thing with colored water squirting out of the top.
Mark Fuller: So let's try getting to know each other. And why don't you take a, I don't remember what it gives me or something. And see what you can do that. So we redid that we had a lot of and then we build a big mock up here in our parking lot. And Steve and his family came down. We, this is my theater, see prop building and set building.
Mark Fuller: And Steve, when we invited him down, he saw, I was expecting to see something I size of a coffee table, and you're gonna show me how the water looks like love or something. Now this was as big as a, I don't know what I want to say. Two story, two step garage or something, all sculpted and. We're in Hollywood.
Mark Fuller: So even then I had a lot of my friends and stuff were scenic designers and we blew Steve away and he admitted that. And that's a hard thing to do. I guess that's and if I'm going to slip another piece of advice into anybody who's listening, it's always, almost try to really surprised the heck out of people by, going further than even, maybe you yourself expected.
Mark Fuller: It's if first of all, it's just playing fun. And second of all, it, it guarantees you that you're your competition. And see, I don't think of our competition awareness being other fountain companies. Cause they all bunch of them coffee it one way or good or bad. Not very much. So what we've done in the past.
Mark Fuller: If you were to ask me mark, who's your biggest competitor? I would say the last project we did because the portal expects is not a top. That the next one, I guess they probably say that Steven Spielberg or something right about you can move it. And so that's, that started this. We did that.
Mark Fuller: He loved the Mirage. He was, he, Steve was very leery of technology and he's very much to show him. And then one of the hardest challenges. And if you remember standing there, you don't see any nozzles come up out of that lake surface. It's just a beautiful lake and getting those old babies to appear on cue and disappear.
Mark Fuller: Thousands of them was as hard as any other aspect of the farm that I learned that from Steve, I think whatever a few fountains we'd done before that the nozzles probably all poked up, but that gives the whole weight thing away. You can say it there's going to be a circle, legit see, it's if you had all the actors in props on stage for every scene of a play or something, it would, wouldn't be a thing left to your imagination or surprise in the next scene. Yeah. And then he was really afraid. We flew to Disneyland together and we showed him what we call the shooters.
Mark Fuller: Those are the big ones that go up like rockets. They're very, I call them a staccato part of the fountain, boom, the fired by compressed air, which is amazingly green and energy efficient compared to pumps and the traditional ways of moving on. But I said, Steve, we need it. We need the legato side too, to do music well, and we develop these underwater robots, the ones that you can see sway around.
Mark Fuller: And there's a whole story at that. I won't take the time to tell you and went back to university of Utah and had one of my college professors help us there who had a small company on robotics. But and that's what came up. A lot of it didn't work of the first time. I did work by opening day, but, right up to.
Mark Fuller: You've got 200 and I think it was 216 of these underwater robots that have never been done before that have to move with the grace of the, of a ballet dancer. We learned a lot of choreography on that from Kenny Ortega, who was Michael Jackson. I can, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Kenny and I are going to Dubai a week after next together will be really fun.
Mark Fuller: We've worked together on and off ever since then, but he said, mark, he said, I can get humor. Melodrama. I can get grand you're out of your jets. Just like I cannot have a human performer. And of course that's what we strive.
Srini: All so many questions come from that first briefly about, about Steve, when, what is it that enables somebody at his level to achieve at the level that he does?
Srini: Because from what I, what little research I've done, I knew there've been a few books written about them. There's not a whole hell of a lot. You can find about the guy. And I wonder if that's by design. But from what I'm told, he was a tobacco salesman in Las Vegas who basically, became this cultural icon.
Srini: What is it enables like the visionary thinking of somebody who has like that?
Mark Fuller: That's a good question. I wish I've had, I've spent a lot of time with Steve during the Bellagio. His CFO came out to me once this. You do know Steve spending more time with you than he is with his wife.
Mark Fuller: But it wasn't a tobacco salesman, but there was a liquor delivery.
Srini: Okay. So yeah, I knew I didn't have a story completely,
Mark Fuller: Steve is, I wish I could wish I could send me up. He pushes you so hard and he can be brutal. Oh my God. Th the I'll tell you quick, a quick story. What, just, as we were starting to fill the Bellagio lake and it takes a good number of days to fill because of the water volume.
Mark Fuller: And we, within a few days of filling it and I was in another client's office or something here in LA, and the receptionist said, there's a Mr. When on the phone for me. And I went in and picked it up and I, hello, Steve. And he started to scream at me. You cannot imagine you could hurt all over the office.
Mark Fuller: I'm sure. Because someone had told them. That we had messed up and those little nozzles wouldn't be hidden that when the wind blew and there would be waves, troughs and peaks that you would see the nozzles on. I was pretty sure we'd calculated that, but I said, Steve, I'm sure on top of that, if we're not, we'll fix it.
Mark Fuller: And he was pretty, pretty articulate in telling me, he wished he'd never met me, wish he could burn my conference and and Steve's, Steve is as powerful guy, ah, And anyway, a few days later we filled it in the problem. It was okay. Now Steve is a exceptionally handsome man. He radiates the sense of power and an intelligence, which he has, and I'm a small person.
Mark Fuller: I'm about five foot seven. And so I'm standing, I'm thinking now we've got to now create all these shows and I'm sure I'm going to be working with Mr. Wynn along into the future. And that was a colorful conversation. So walks up to Steve, took three deep breaths. And since. Can we talk for a minute about that phone call a couple of days ago, and you know what he did, he stepped closer to me and he put his arm around my shoulder, like a big bear hug.
Mark Fuller: And he said, mark, you just have to know I was not mad at you. We just have to do fantastic work. We can't fall short on anything. I'm just passionate about the project. Wasn't about me. Maddie was, but I, we can't let anything go wrong and you sit in and if you thought it was yelling at you, I'm sorry. I'm going to remember this day.
Mark Fuller: How many billionaires tell somebody that they're sorry. And I became a fan of Steve Wynn on that very day. And he continued to once in a while, scare me a little bit, but always inspire me and my team to get even more out of ourselves than we thought we could. And that's his gift. He, you can see it in, in everything.
Mark Fuller: He's touched. Stupid
Srini: question. What's the water bill for an average, one of these fountain shows.
Mark Fuller: The power, I don't know the water bill. Cause some of it is I think they have a well or something that used to irrigate the golf course. It was there formerly. But the last time I looked several years ago, I don't think power has changed too much about $50 a show.
Mark Fuller: So you got 5,000. I think the most they've ever had, they've had up to 30,000 people out there on the sidewalk to watch a show and for $50 of electricity, I think that's pre.
Mark Fuller: There is
Srini: talk to me about the actual design process for this. What from sort of conception to actual execution, to the final product that we see does it start on pen and paper? Are you guys sketching? What is the ideation process for something of this magnitude?
Mark Fuller: It's exactly all of those things and a lot of other things we're really big into building physical models and mock-ups and of course the wonders you can do with CAD models and 3d computer models, of course. Fantastic. And that's another tool. Yep. It's interesting. Sometimes when we're interviewing like a young engineer out of college.
Mark Fuller: And if I say, Hey, draw me a circle, draw your circle. W where's the computer, can I have you got solid works installed so I can draw a circle. And I'm thinking more like a napkin, right? In a piece of paper because the computers are great. But they instantly demand that you feed them all sorts of information about that circle.
Mark Fuller: What should the line would be? What should the diameter be to the nearest 10th of a millimeter or something whatever. And when you're in an ideation frame of mind, you've got this mind to hand sort of a muscle memory, but muscle connection. And if you watch somebody who can sketch and we teach sketching here, just as they taught it to me at Stanford, just so you can get your ideas.
Mark Fuller: They don't have to be beautiful, but they flow. Fast at that way. So we do, we go through all those traditional sketching processes like that. And then and then we build small models and we tear them apart. We're not too precious about them and bigger ones. And then w we w the place here is kinda like a movie studio.
Mark Fuller: We've got a big old backlot and something that you would call probably like a soundstage. We're in control, light and noise. And we ended up building a fantastic scenic shop, which up, and we build kind of a movie set section. Full-scale none of the whole thing, obviously, but have a piece of it because water, if you do a miniature thing, the nozzles may be smaller, but gravity stays at 1.0, it doesn't go down just cause the nozzle smaller.
Mark Fuller: So you have to really see what it's going to be like. Is it going to splash too much? Is it going to be as exciting or as beautiful as your thoughts? Everything we do. It goes through this incredible modeling process before we commit to, construction drawings to build the actual piece.
Srini: Yeah. Okay.
Srini: I, you probably know this as well as anybody, right? You can model something down to perfection, but then when you go into an actual implementation, things go wrong. What went wrong? Like you mentioned earlier, there were things that weren't working again and, cause you're talking about something probably with what.
Srini: Thousands of moving parts with one variable that could totally screw up everything.
Mark Fuller: Yeah. What you said about models control you? Yes. You get a really bright young person in here, maybe fresh out of college and they're a gee whiz at a 3d modeling program. I can do it on the screen. And I said, yeah, he's, they'll say I can build you a fantastic 3d model of anything you can imagine.
Mark Fuller: And I say first of all, it won't be 3d because I can run my hand across your screen. It's it's very 2d looking like 3d, but yes, you can not only meet. Everything that will work in the real world. You can model everything that won't work. You can build me a fantastic computer model of a lightsaber, but if I ask you to build me a real.
Mark Fuller: You can't do it just cause that model Fujis, that's called science fiction movies, right? Yeah. But if I ask you to build a model that works, of course, then all of a sudden, all the impossible, physics limited things are off the table. So that's the value of doing it at some stage, switching to the real thing, all the problems with.
Mark Fuller: Some of them are absolutely crazy. We did what I said. We followed our preaching and we modeled these big shooters. We call them there, if you imagine a big old pipe, but say, I don't know, 10 inches in diameter and 10 or 12 feet. You stick it in the lake and there's a little flapper valve on the bottom so that the water rushes in.
Mark Fuller: And then when it's filled to the top, because the top of it's at the water level, that the little flappers go shut on the bottom. So you've got this sealed pipe full of water. Now, if I inject a big high pressure bubble of air in the bottom, it's kinda if you shook a champagne bottle up and then release it w that air bubble would expand, it pushes the water out of the top.
Mark Fuller: That's the technology we use. Fantastically more energy efficient and and green. Pardon my cough. Then if we use pumps for reasons, I can tell you if you're interested, but probably not. So I won't, unless bagged. So we, we built all those shooters and we mock them up here and we used air compressed at 120 PSI.
Mark Fuller: If you go to home Depot and you buy a compressor for your project or something that it'll compress air up to about 120 pounds per square inch, but to get the height we wanted to blogger, we wanted to go twice that to 40. So we thought what's the big deal, which is you can't buy up 240 pound compressor at home Depot.
Mark Fuller: So yeah, we'll take a, there's no risk. So we were up there, the lake was filled, everything was full. Mr. Wynn was out there. We were just getting ready to start choreographing and we'd fire these shooters. And instead of you've seen it these missiles of water, they come out, they launch and then they're disappeared.
Mark Fuller: The jet would stick open. So it would look like old faithful on a bad date with just start it and destroy any sense of being tied to music. And you might, we have, what w what do we have over a thousand shooters have two different sizes there, but if one of them is stuck open, it's if you go to, if you go to a fancy dinner and you're all in, in whites and tails, and you've got to catch up spot.
Mark Fuller: On your lapel. What's the only thing anybody look at quicker spot. So one of those jets, even Mr. Wynn was a little bit impaired eyesight. What's wrong with that jet over there, mark. And so we would send, we ha we had all of our engineers we can about, I don't know, just under 30 of them. We sent them to dive school because the lakes about 12 feet deep, they all good.
Mark Fuller: Patty certified divers have licenses while they're working on the project for. So they would see a couple of them would go out, dive to the bottom, unbolt, this shooter valve, bring it up to the surface. And we figured, oh, it's probably got dirt in it. It's a construction site. Some dirt got in the air piping and it's the sand in it or something.
Mark Fuller: So we'd set it on the tape work table, take it all apart and sparkly and clean. And then we put it back together, go out there, dad, put it in and boom, we'll work like a million bucks. And then half an hour later, it would stick open again and do this horrible spattering thing. And we were just mystified and we're getting uncomfortably close to opening.
Mark Fuller: So I reached out met the head of the fluid mechanics department at Caltech, and he did a computer model, very sophisticated, a reasonably sophisticated physics model at what was happening. And if you've ever if you've ever painted something with a can of spray paint, you shake the little ball in the.
Mark Fuller: Or hairspray or anything like that. If you'll hold the button down a long time, the can gets cold in your hand because as Eric spams, it absorbs the energy to accomplish the expansions thermodynamic principle. So we had this air that we were now pressurizing to 240 PSI, very highly compressed. And then when we opened the valve, it expands the room temperature.
Mark Fuller: It got so cold and the professor model. It was that air was dropping to minus 50 degrees. Now this is in the lake about 80 degree water in the middle of the summer in Las Vegas and the air going through that valve that would drop to minus 50 degrees. And also there's a little bit of humidity and all air, even in Las Vegas.
Mark Fuller: So that moisture would freeze. And what was happening. It was actually forming an ice ball inside of the valve that would open and close just like the Arctic and then that ice would stick it. And then this takes you back to the station and say, what was the ed ground post? Sorry, where the murderer used a knife made of ice.
Mark Fuller: I don't know if you remember that one and you murder somebody. And then when the cops came around, there was no murder weapon. Cause it would have nailed it into a puddle of water. By the time the cops got there. So our culprit here, which thinks ice balls, as soon as the divers would take them apart in that 80 degree, water would hit that ice, but they were long since Nelda.
Mark Fuller: There was no evidence when they got to the surface. So that's one of the crazy problems we had to work around. Wow.
Srini: So one thing, I wonder that, cause I talked to Wallis Nicole's about this. He wrote a book, which I'm sure you're probably familiar with called the surprising science of war.
Mark Fuller: And I'm going to have to get that
Srini: Yeah. Never talking about why water has the effect on people that it does. And he was, he's a surfer slash Marine biologist and just surfing. Yeah. It makes sense to me. He said, the minute you get into the water, you activate the default mode network and you like in a very different state of mind.
Srini: And we actually had a very brief conversation about fountains. And the idea was that, by meeting people, near bodies of water, it changes the interaction that you have with them. Definitely. And I thought to myself, my God, from now on, anytime I go on a date, I'm going to make sure there's a fountain close by because I don't live in California anymore.
Srini: But when I did, anytime I met somebody, I would have them meet me at the beach because especially podcast listeners, I'm like, all right if I think you're an idiot than at least I can get a surf session and if you're cool, then we're at this really beautiful place. But fountains in particular.
Srini: You have this sort of magical quality to them, almost particularly the ones that you design why is it that they have the sort of psychological impact on people that they do? Because, like I said, I think, I mean to this day, anytime I've seen those times, I don't like going to Vegas and you're right.
Srini: It is one of the few places in Vegas where you don't feel like you're in Vegas, but it's spelled out biting, like it's mesmerizing to watch, and I wonder why that water in particular has that effect on.
Mark Fuller: I, and I've given some thought to that and I'll tell you a surprising reason that I think it's true.
Mark Fuller: And this comes from my theater background in any good play. There's always a protagonist and an antagonist, right? Good guy, bad guy fighting against each other. And they're separate individuals. Of course water is simultaneously a protagonist and an antagonist. It's beautiful. We love to swim in it.
Mark Fuller: Like you say ski on it when it's frozen and surfing it splash around. Kids love to do it. And yet all you've just turned on the television during a hurricane, like Katrina. And you realize the terror that water can bring and how much, how destructive it can be. I read recently that the one thing that's in common among all sailors of all navies of all nations in the world, is that their greatest fear.
Mark Fuller: It's drowning now. You'd think somebody who's on a boat for them, their life would quickly get over that they don't. So when water can snuff and if you have a small child at home, you have a swimming pool and the phone rings and you start to dash in to get it immediately. Your heart rates.
Mark Fuller: Do you think God, 30 seconds. My baby could drown. So it has in itself, this charm, this seductive. Central, when you feel it against your body and it can take a life or a hundred or a thousand lives and laugh it off, that's an amazing property. I can't think of anything else.
Mark Fuller: Fire doesn't fire stories, a lot of stuff in a very small amounts, we can enjoy it, but at a grand scale water mixes, that, that sense of joy and almost. Playful inconsiderate destruction together, so that I, there has to be some, some way that touches. Especially when w I don't know what the number is, but what does it were 82% water, something physically when the JPL guys go to look for life on another planet, they don't look for life.
Mark Fuller: They look for water because if there's no water, ain't gonna be no life. And we all come from water on a small scale, from our mother's womb on a large scale, evolved from the ocean. So there's these hereditary million year old connections. And then there's the psychology of something, I guess if you were dating a serial killer or somebody you thought he or she was just so attractive, you're going to do it anyway.
Mark Fuller: That's a crazy analogy, but to cut that.
Srini: It's funny. They tell you, here, you talk about both the destructive and beautiful qualities of water, because as a surfer, you experienced the same thing, right? The bigger days when you go out there and you feel like the ocean is like your greatest lover.
Srini: And then there are days when they're like, this is the most indifferent lover on the planet who wants to basically hand my ass to me.
Mark Fuller: Yeah. That's it right there. Yeah. Wow. So
Srini: you said to go back to, to, what Steve went and said, about this being the greatest work of your life. It reminds me of that Elizabeth Gilbert speech.
Srini: So how do you follow an E pre. So for you when you've done something that is this grand, this known, because I'm sure everybody listening to this probably knows about the fountains of washer. And I know you've done a ton of other stuff. That's also a huge magnitude, but that's in a lot of ways.
Srini: To me, the minute I read that, I was like, yeah, that's, that was what got me. So how do you maintain a sense of creative persistence and not be forever defined by this one
Mark Fuller: thing? Yeah. Like an actor who doesn't want to be thought of as a cowboy was life.
Mark Fuller: That was his first role. Yeah. Early on, I was standing by, but one of our fountains and I overheard somebody say, I never knew water could do that before. And that phrase struck in my mind. I thought maybe that's, that should be our judgment. If we hear that. So we take one of the most ordered.
Mark Fuller: Substances on the planet. We all take it for granted. We don't normally look at it even twice. And if we can bring out an aspect of its personality or its essence where it's being, that will be a pretty good achievement. And then I had in the fairly early days of the company, we'd done a, I don't know, maybe a couple of dozen features and someone called me up somebody that I guess had gone to school with him because I just saw a fountain that.
Mark Fuller: Was that your, since the answer was, he said, I knew it, I know your work. And there's just some quality to it that without reading a sign or anything, it's your soul. So we always look for those ways of just catching, catching people's interest in the most ordinary thing in the world and allowing them to see it freshly with the, the eyes of a child when they w when you see something new for the first time, that's a challenge.
Mark Fuller: There's waters all around us, but that's really that's the goal. Wow.
Srini: So two final questions for you. You've accomplished what would be, a massive degree of success by any measure. How has your personal definition of success changed with age and life experience?
Mark Fuller: And I think I shared this with Steve jobs and Walt Disney and a few other, the people that are my heroes and that is I don't measure success by piling up money. Now I'm a capitalist and I'm not ashamed to say that. And I money is incredibly useful. But I think if you do really great things and you have to work hard to get to that point, then, people are attracted to them and you can make money.
Mark Fuller: And that's what enables you to do the next great thing. So I like to, in my own way, in my, with my own medium, and whenever I say I'm speaking for my whole team of several hundred people here, we love touching people. When you mentioned standing at the Bellagio and you could look to your left while you're there, and it might be Rupert Murdoch with his billion standing on one side, And it might be a homeless person standing to the other side.
Mark Fuller: And they're both there. Neither of them paid a nickel to see that feature because our business model doesn't require the ultimate viewer user to pay and they're happy. And we see people all the time, they propose their, they hug each other. They hug strangers. I, we coined a phrase a little bit.
Mark Fuller: What do we do here? We don't really create films. We create. Magnus for human connection. Cause you connect with the people that you're with. It just makes you, I don't know, you feel good? Like we said, that essence of water you connect with your inner self. I think I get very contemplative when I'm in.
Mark Fuller: I just like when you go to, the mirror woods or something, when you're in a, in an environment where you're just all inspired by something of nature and seeing water on the scale, bloggers was certainly does that. And then you do you connect directly with nature itself. Harder and harder to do because everything wants to be on a 4k Rez screen these days, instead of the real thing.
Mark Fuller: And we have not evolved to relate to things on screens, to the degree we relate to the real stuff. Wow.
Srini: Beautiful. I have one last question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at the end of the stable, creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?
Mark Fuller: But to make something unmistakable now
Mark Fuller: share with me just a little more what you mean by,
Srini: yeah. It's funny when the moment that you said that somebody looked at something you did and they knew it was yours. That is my definition of unmistakable. That's my personal, the definition,
Mark Fuller: right? No, that's perfect definition. Meaning unique enough that it's not confused with anything else.
Mark Fuller: Yeah.
Mark Fuller: I know you, and I know you've asked that to some really amazing people. I th I think you have to clear away all of the I'm going to, I'm going to call them templates. We all work on word and stuff, and everything's so much easier if you've got a template, you just fill in the blanks. And I think that's one of the worst things in life.
Mark Fuller: I would you propose to somebody, would you download some proposal templates? W E the things that really matter in life have to be built word by word, stick by stick originally, and then they will be unmistakable. And I think most of us are sophisticated enough that we can spot something that originated on a template.
Mark Fuller: I'm asked all the time, mark, whether. Yeah, you spend all the time and it takes a lot of time choreographing. One of these surely computers and AI and stuff, they can figure out how to move the water to the music. Let's because we don't move the water to the music. We were inspired by it and we create a set of moves that feel right for it.
Mark Fuller: But if you had the Rockettes lined up and you a computerized version of the Rockettes, and you said every time you hear a middle seat, kick your left leg, six inches high. Yeah, that's what you'd get or maybe some more interesting variation on that with AI, but that would be derived from a formula.
Mark Fuller: An AI is just a massive series of interactive formulas. I don't think the human mind is. So if you start like the classic statement, white sheet of paper, clear mind not a variation on something you or somebody else has done. Were informed by. But then you build it brick by brick, not filling in the blanks between sentences that just have blanks here and there.
Srini: Amazing. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners. This has been fascinating. Where can people find out more about you your work and to everything they up to?
Mark Fuller: Right now you can probably catch us on a lot of the new shows and on our.
Mark Fuller: Instagram page and whatnot, because we just finished a fantastic fan that I will say. I think it's the best work we've done in our whole life at the Dubai expo 2020. It's totally different than anything we've ever done. It's got huge queue lines. I'm told it's the most popular thing at the end.
Mark Fuller: The whole expo is fantastic and we're seeing it's the biggest and best exposition on the planet. So if you, the name of it is surreal, S U R E L, or just about just Dubai expo water feature, and then our website, which is a wet design as one word, what design.com either the mobile version of the laptop version.
Srini: Awesome. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with. Thank you for listening to this episode of the unmistakable creative podcast while you were listening. Were there any moments you found fascinating, inspiring, instructive, maybe even heartwarming. Can you think of anyone, a friend or a family member who
Mark Fuller: would appreciate this moment?
Mark Fuller: If so, take a second and
Srini: share today's episode with that one person because good ideas and messages are meant
Mark Fuller: to be shared.
Mark Fuller: Can you imagine getting paid to do what you actually love doing? Tell us what those things are, and we'll tell you how you can do them in the army. Go on, get paid for doing what you love. Search, do what you love.
Chief Excellence Officer & Co-Founder
Mark Fuller is the visionary force of WET (Water Entertainment Technologies), the world leader in water feature design and technology. His creativity and innovative spirit have led to the creation of The Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, The Dubai Fountain, Revson Fountain at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, the Cauldrons at the XXII and XIX Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and Sochi, Wynn Palace in Macau, and Aquanura at The Efteling in the Netherlands, to name just a few. The company has launched over 260 features in 20 countries and is comprised of over 300 designers, architects, engineers, scientists, animators, choreographers, cinematographers, machinists and a myriad of other talents.
Upon graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in Engineering and then from Stanford University with a masters in Product Design, Mark joined Disney as an Imagineer. Following the success of the never-before-seen water features at Epcot Center and Disneyland Japan, Mark co-founded WET in 1983. The company has launched over 260 features in 20 countries and is comprised of over 300 uniquely experienced team members, including designers, architects, engineers, scientists, animators, choreographers, cinematographers, machinists and a myriad of other talents.
Mark has spent his career exploring why water fascinates us, and how that fascination can foster human connection with nature’s elements, with each other, and with our inner selves. His creations are profoundly democratic, in that even those costing millions of dollars to create are free to be experienced by anyone. As Steven Spielberg said upon seeing The Fountains of Bellagio for the first time, they are” the greatest single piece of public entertainment on planet Earth.”
On October 1, 2021, The Expo 2020 Water Feature in Dubai will be unveiled. It is designed as a place where nature plays and performs complete with an original soundtrack composed by Ramin Diawadi of Games of Thrones, Westworld, and more.