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Blending Creativity and Innovative Thinking With new Technologies

Zsolt Kassai, general manager of Special Effects International, talks to the Budapest Business Journal about changes in the industry, the development of the business, and his dream event to stage.

BBJ: You now have 36 years of experience as an event production company. How has the market changed in that time?

Zs.K.: Special Effects’ history started, believe it or not, producing special effects for feature films. Upon identifying an increasing need for professional audiovisual equipment and services at conferences, our focus moved towards this area. Imagine that in the beginning we operated overhead projectors and slide projectors; an LCD projector was the dream of many customers. Today, complex panorama projection or 3D mapping are not science fiction anymore either. Not only the technology has changed at rocket speed over the past years; clients also compete with each other or even with themselves to create bigger, better, brighter events year by year.

BBJ: You have offices in Budapest, Berlin, London, Dubai, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. What is the split between the original, Hungarian market, and business from overseas?

Zs.K.: First of all we have to separate our “sending markets” and operating markets. Around 70% of the events we service take place in Budapest but are mainly organized by international clients. We hardly have Hungarian clients going abroad with their events; the few hundred projects we have outside of Hungary are for international clientele. The majority of these take place in Europe and this year we had nearly 40 events in the Unites States. The number of events we service in Asia and in the Middle East is also significantly increasing.

BBJ: This year you acquired Dubai-based event design and production company Kraftwerk. What do you hope to achieve through this?  

Zs.K.: The acquisition is part of our business development strategy to increase our international presence. Our local production capacities in Dubai now enable us to provide full-scale technical, installation, exhibition and design services both in the UAE and in other GCC countries. Complementing our four current business units – Hotel AV Services, International Production, Event Production and Exhibition & Installation Services –, this Dubai-based co-operation will help transform our graphic and event design services into an independent Creative Event Design division that will allow us to create and produce full event concepts and support clients with complete event branding to deliver unforgettable event experiences.

BBJ: What are the latest trends in event production?

Zs.K.: Interaction on every level. Smart phones and collaborative applications, greater audience engagement, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things are the hottest buzzwords in event production and event management. Our customers want to achieve long lasting results from their events and the merger with Kraftwerk has brought a good variety of these services into our portfolio.

BBJ: What do you think we will see in the future? How will the industry evolve?

Zs.K.: Home technology heavily influences event tech. Gadgets, apps you use in everyday life will come to events with modified or extended functionality; for example, voice direction or face recognition. Social media will certainly play a bigger role, too. Event organizers will be able to enhance the event experience by adding influencer commentaries to their original event contents. Sharing these new contents on social media platforms will reach greater audiences. In addition, video and audio streaming, live 360-degree videos, remote interpretation can all connect the remote audience in a much more efficient and measurable way. Clients will request and use these solutions more often, requiring more and more creativity from our teams. To keep pace with the latest, or even future trends, we implement technologies and create new brands like the interactive event app Evendo-r.com, or combine the skills of our partner companies Kraftwerk and Special Effects Media. Brand activation, live video streaming, YouTube channel management are just few of the services our companies embrace.

BBJ: How much of what you do is responding to client requests and how much is giving suggestions?

Zs.K.: We mainly respond to client requests but for every event, we make technology suggestions. Many inquiries still ask for the projector/screen/microphone trio where we have little space for unique solutions, but selecting the best fitting projection or sound equipment is still inevitable for every client. The real challenge comes when we need to transform a venue into a completely different interior or create a replica of existing historic landmarks with the help of technical or stage equipment to deliver an extraordinary experience. These events not only put our creativity, originality and innovative thinking to the test, but always require us to implement new technologies and materials.

BBJ: What is the event you are proudest of having arranged, and which was the most challenging?

Zs.K.: It is hard to choose one. Working for FIFA, UEFA, FINA, NATO or providing services for the 300 plus official EU-Presidency events in 2011 were all challenging but made us very proud, too. However, the real success is to create and build a full event concept from scratch for a client and make their “dream event” come true. Technology plays a huge role here, but due to the size of some events, it is rather more scenic or even venue design, not simply event production. It requires full attention, participation and coordination of multiple divisions, involving in some cases a team of up to 150-200 people.

BBJ: Is there an event you have not yet produced that is on your wish list?

Zs.K.: Lots! We always want to improve and seek new opportunities and challenges. If I want to mention one in particular, the Super Bowl Halftime Show could be a really motivating target.