Designer Profile: Michael Mahlum

Name: Michael Mahlum

Title: Principal Lighting Designer / Director of Design & Production

Years Worked at VT: Since April 2006

Favorite Project: Tough question. The ones I have enjoyed the most are the ones I have the most continual connection with. Like, Choctaw Casino – when we opened the project, we worked not only as designers but also as the system integrators. It was the largest Color Kinetics ColorReach project in the world at the time of opening. Once it opened, we continued to work on the project for another three to four years, helping to maintain the vision of the design and programing. 

I also really enjoy theme park attractions, mainly coasters, but of all different types. During the rework of a coaster in my first year, I realized my favorite part of the job was being on site. Getting to ride the coaster multiple times and enjoy the ride, while creating at the same time. It’s interesting, because after a while you see things that you never recognized before as you learn the coaster, its twists and turns and it allows you to shift your focus to the normally unseen elements. 

In three sentences tell us your funniest or most memorable memory at Visual Terrain: My favorite, kind of crazy memory was working with Jeff Ravitz on a Telemundo show. We were going to focus the rig and it just started pouring rain. We still completed focus anyway, it was just not your normal process. We got into an all-wheel drive ATV and drove out into the area to be focused, which, because of the rain, was deep mud. I drove Jeff around in the foot-deep mud while Jeff stood up and focused lights. We would drive out to the focus spot, Jeff would stand up to focus a light and then sit back down and we would move to the next one. It was never something that I thought I would end up doing in a remote region of central California. 

Favorite Aspect of Lighting Design: All of the moments. It’s all about stepping back and watching the guests and seeing them experience the “Wow moments” for me. I really enjoy visualizing the intent of the design, looking at the next steps, and the thought process for creating the moments. A lot of people think that putting lights up is the design, but it’s not. It’s about finding those moments that you want the guest to be able to experience. These moments that I visualize and create helps inform all of the choices I make. The moments are what I live for. 

What or Who Inspires You: This one is difficult for me. I sometimes show the typical classical artists and paintings. I enjoy Edward Hopper’s work and others. But, mostly I pull inspiration from my coworkers and from the projects. I’m always inspired and driven toward getting to the seeing a project through and getting to the end goal.

Fun Fact About Yourself that No One Knows: I like to refinish furniture. I love working with my hands. I’ve built and refinished some of the furniture in our home. It’s really satisfying to get the see the final product from one of my projects.

What is your favorite part about being a lighting designer? Well, my favorite part of the process is the level setting. It’s the first time that you, as a lighting designer, get to see everything start to come together. My favorite part about being a lighting designer, is when I get to see everyone’s faces when they experience the final product. It’s awesome to get to see how everyone experiences what we created. I enjoy creating moments of light and sharing those memorable moments for people to experience.