Q+A: David Crumley, the artist behind the new, iconic DUMBO Reflector Sign

We recently had the chance to get to know David Crumley, the talented Experiential Design artist who designed the DUMBO Reflector, DUMBO's new iconic sign, which will be placed throughout the DUMBO neighborhood later this year. Read on to hear about his artistic journey.

How did you get into art? Were you always an artist?

Yeah, I did art, you know, growing up, in school, but never pursued it super-seriously, I always did things on the side, but took art class. When I was in college at U.T., I was close to double-majoring in studio art and film, and then decided to focus just on film production to try and make some money in my career doing art, but I was always into kind of blending together media and technology, lighting, physical-type stuff. Growing up, my dream was to be an Imagineer, working for Disney and doing theme park-type creations, creating physical spaces, story-based, immersive environments, so that’s what I was always trying to build towards.

How did you get into using lights?

My mom tells me ever since I was able to walk and be with her, I was always into lighting and electrical cords, things like that. She tells a story about one time, being at a store, when I kind of walked away from her for a second and she thought I was going to be in the toy aisle but I was in the electrical aisle, with cords and power stuff, and from then on, every year I would do a ton with Christmas lights; I would be looking forward to it all year, being able to do things with lighting outside. Instead of just kind of putting things up once, I would do things outside, and then take it down pretty much every day and do something new, and after the holiday season, just because I liked doing it so much. Yeah, so, the earliest I remember getting into lighting is doing things like that, and then I got into existing design and electronics that way, by, you know, taking apart our Atari Nintendo and hooking everything up, and just making different things out of that kind of stuff. So yeah, I just think it was one of those weird things that I was born with.

How has your art evolved over time?

I’ve definitely gotten more complex and technical. In college, I started off in architectural engineering, because I was originally thinking about wanting to make my way to Imagineering, and do that type of work, and then when I kind of looked at the four-year plan for engineering courses and all that, and it wasn’t super exciting, and so I looked into doing studio art, and then also kind of landed into the film school at the University of Texas, because at the time they had a program called Conversion Media, which was basically Experiential Design, before that term became popular for that kind of work. But there’s a blend of architecture, computer science, theater, dance, and UT had an actual lighting program for doing concert lighting, which at the time was one of the few programs around. So I got involved in that degree, and started learning about all those different aspects, and incorporated them into my work, and that’s when I was able to start thinking about doing theatrical lighting, and automated lighting designs for concerts and events. I started incorporating video projection, and interactive components into my work, so that was probably my sophomore/junior year in college, when I started increasing the complexity and scope and all that, by working with interdisciplinary, skilled people and teachers and all that. I think one of the first projects that put all that to use was, there’s a class in college called Building Interactive Experiences, and was taught by a dance professor who just happened to be into adding technology into performances, and he was working on a wearable computer project that allowed ballet dancers to track their movement and project their real-time movement on a screen, that you could kind of interact with. So his work got me interested in that, and his class was basically- he came in the first day and talked to us about what he’s doing, and he’s like, okay, you guys come up with some sort of interactive experience that’ll be in a physical space. Come up with ideas, pitch them to me, and then we’ll all decide on what to do, and then the next time I check in will be the end of the semester, when you do the actual project. And the project I did with a couple other guys, where I came up with the concept, we used Dance Dance Revolution pads, and used Macromedia Director, I think, because this was before Flash and a lot of other stuff was out there, and we used those pads to control and trigger lights and projections and sounds throughout this big lobby of a theater in Austin. The pads were hidden in the carpet as people walked through. So that’s definitely one of the first experiential-type projects I did, and from there I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I also didn’t know where the market was, or how to go about doing that kind of stuff, and it was early on, so I focused a bit more on traditional film production and post-production, media creation, did that for a few companies after college. And then I did a lot of motion-graphics and video production, sound design, other media-type work. And then later on, I was starting to really miss the lighting and experiential-type work so I started doing that on my own, on the side, out of my normal, main job that paid the bills. So that was 2005-2006, I guess. And then on the side, I started doing lighting for a lot of electronic / dance music EDM-type concerts, and started doing more big events for corporate clients, doing creative direction and lighting, content creation for galas, set events, started building into that world, and then ultimately I started a studio in Austin that kind of combined media production and motion graphics with experiential work, and that’s when I started doing a lot more of that professionally, and you know, bigger and better things.

One of the things I’ve always been interested in is mixing light with mirrors and lenses, and reflective objects where what you’re looking at transforms depending on the kind of day, or how it’s being used, or the angle you’re looking at it from.

David Crumley

What was your inspiration for the DUMBO Reflector?

I started talking to the DUMBO team last year about doing different LED-type installations for lighting. They were interested in lighting, and saw my work, that I presented in kind of a show-and-tell, in the 68 Jay St. building, which was great, being able to get connected that way. We flew through several concepts, and one of the things I’ve always been interested in is mixing light with mirrors and lenses, and reflective objects where what you’re looking at transforms depending on the kind of day, or how it’s being used, or the angle you’re looking at it from. So I’m really interested in looking at something and trying to figure out how it works, seeing people think they’ve kind of gotten the whole picture of it, or understand what it is, and then it kind of changes, and surprises them, makes them want to spend more time with it, or it evoke more of a feeling, have more of an impact I guess. So we pitched a few ideas, one of them being a series of stacked 3D boxes that would involve mirrors and LED’s and two-way mirrors, things like that, to kind of play off of the cardboard box being made in DUMBO. So, we went back and forth— they were really into that concept, as was I, but then it proved to be a bit more complicated, a bit more out-of-reach dollar-wise, for the needs of what we’re doing, so we morphed that concept into playing off of the DUMBO logo, with some of those same ideas, where it’s sort of branded, but the logo is a great logo anyway, and it’ll kind of be a great photo op, and turn into the equivalent of the LOVE sculpture in NY, or the Vegas sign, or some of the other things where they’ll become a huge landmark. So yeah, we took those ideas with all the mirrored finishes, with the two-way mirror, with different lensing, and different types of LED’s inside, to where it’s basically a morph of all those ideas together, in this unique way.

What’s your favorite aspect of the project?

One of the things that excites me the most is seeing what people do with it, and how they interact and take pictures with it. The entire thing will be reflective, and it’ll be in a few different locations throughout DUMBO, so, not only will the entire thing look different depending on the time of day, but then depending on how you’re looking at it, how people pose with it and frame their shots. So I’m looking forward to looking on Instagram, or Facebook or whatever, and seeing all these photos of people doing something with it, which is great. And then on top of that, the interactive aspect of it, I’m really excited to see how people start interacting with it. It will have a Twitter-based interactive feature where if you tweet a certain hashtag, the sign will trigger certain animations across the sign based on that. And then a few things we’re kind of debating by August to tell people, the system we’re designing will also analyze the content of the tweet, so if you say a certain key word, it’ll do things on the sign, like if you have words like ‘purple’ or ‘blue’, the sign’s colors will change based on content in the tweet as well. So I’m curious to see what people start writing, or how they start seeing stuff. And, if we do other key words, like ‘sparkle’ or ‘glitter’ or things like that, what other words people try to come up with to think could be an animation, and just seeing that kind of crowd aspect of it will be interesting. It’s meant to enable people to contribute to what it is, and to control and trigger different animations, which will be interesting. Especially during the day, depending on how bright it is, you may not even notice that there’s LEDs and all the stuff inside the sign, because it’ll all be reflective. So it’ll be at night, as soon as the LED’s are on, when the entire look of the sign will change. So it’s this evolving experience for people, which will be interesting.

What brought you to DUMBO in the first place?

So I visited NY several years ago, and was running my Austin-based studio from here. I was looking to start a new office here, but then based on the work the Austin office was doing and what I was wanting to do, it just made sense to transition it to my second-in-command man, and for me to do more individual-type projects like this, and so I was looking for the team has done a really good job of getting its name and brand, the coolness aspect of it out there. But then, when I was looking at areas to locate, DUMBO had one of the highest concentrations of the types of studios, and types of artists, and fabricators and tech and art and all of that, in one, kind of, small, condensed area, and so in addition to just being a cool-looking area to it and all that, what drew me to it was the existing companies, and people that were already there. And it doesn’t hurt to see every TV show and movie always shooting in DUMBO, and always seeing photos of it, and you know, it’s very visible and recognizable. It’s a nice hub for all the stuff that’s going on in New York, and then even from a more logistical factor, when I work with people who don’t live in New York, it’s still convenient to get to, it’s a crossroads between downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan, it’s kind of an ideal place to be for the work that we’re doing.

Do you have any favorite spots in DUMBO?

I went to the Vinegar Hill House for the first time two months ago, and that was an awesome place, in terms of restaurants, really liked that. Atrium is great, of course, my wife and I were watching the Sherlock Holmes TV show, ‘Elementary’, and the whole episode we were watching was shot in Atrium, which was funny. I love the new park along the waterfront that’s opening up in phases, the way it’s done and the views, and the peacefulness of it. And just walking around Front St., Water St., any of those areas, where it feels like old New York, the cobblestones and warehouses and all that, that’s kind of a feeling I get sometimes in Soho or Meatpacking, where it just feels very old, and what you think of New York when you’re not in New York.

Mentioned in this article

Vinegar Hill House Atrium Dumbo