Each year Manchester Central is transformed, ready for the arrival of Vivid’s spectacular Christmas Parties. Once our new themes are confirmed, our creative team – led by the designer, Myles Smith – get to work designing and building the incredible theme sets that we have become known for. Everything from giant chandeliers and indoor water falls to Safari Land Rover bars and two-storey ski lodges are designed and built by hand in our workshops.
The brains behind the designs that bring our themes to life took some time out to chat about his work, how he got into the industry and, of course, Christmas!
Hi Myles. Please introduce yourself.
Hello my name is Myles and I am the Designer and maker of "things" for our themed Christmas Parties.
How did you start in this industry?
After five years working in the fashion industry, I simply answered an advert in the local paper for a set construction carpenter at the theatre. With no previous theatrical experience but several completed ‘projects’ for bands and a smattering of artist talent, I went for the interview. No one was more surprised than me when they offered me the job on the spot. And a week later I was the best dressed theatre chippy on the set. Crikey... Rumbled! Now I had to prove I could do the job!
Whilst working in theatre I volunteered for anything and everything outside of being a chippy and worked with lots of different departments on many, many shows!
Around five years later (an itch needed to be scratched) it was time for a change and I decided to go freelance… daunting but wow! I got work with a prop making company, went on several nationwide theatre tours, worked in television and film, and any spare time I had went into restoring old VWs. Weirdly things happen in approximately 5 year cycles, and significant work changes found me being introduced, via an old theatre friend, to Vivid Experience. I’ve now been here about five years!
What training do you have?
As far as official training is concerned, I have a couple of A-levels in art and a bunch of GCSEs and that is it! All my training has come from my experience of working on the job. I love to learn new things and luckily I enjoy the process of research, which is very important to me. The internet has massively increased the ability to learn but you do have to be careful about "wrong" information.
Where did you get inspiration for the pieces you are working on for this year’s Christmas Party theme?
Inspiration for the themes comes from being given the names, talking about the basic concept, and then going away and doing the research. I then form an idea and usually do a sketch, make any changes and then start building. I work with a couple of skilled fellas who put up with my ramblings and cope admirably with the workings directly from my head, and that is definitely a strange place to be!
What has been the most enjoyable piece to make?
Normally, each new piece, is the short answer! I think that when I’ve done it once, I need to move on and do something new, better, bigger, so consequently with each new design I try to improve on what I've done to keep the interest. So in the great scheme of things each new piece becomes my favourite.
What has been the most challenging piece to make?
These tend to be for the largest venues as things are, well.... large! These can cause logistical problems due to juggling space in our workshop. The current "project" for the NEC is a good example as it fits in the workshop with inches to spare and the workshop is 10,000 square feet! Without giving anything away, there’s a lot going on with this one, but it will look pretty special!
What happens to the theming set after each Christmas Party season?
After Christmas the sets are brought back to the workshop and put into storage (like we have the space!) and will be re-used at another venue. Sometimes things need changing to fit but on the whole the stuff is re-cycled, re-used and re-imagined year on year'
If you weren’t in this job what other creative job would you like to try?
I have always been interested in the movies and TV special effects, in particular make-up effects. It is something I have dabbled in for some time but more recently I have taken the time to learn more and gain some practical experience, so I’ve been scaring my colleagues at Vivid with various fictional gory injuries – much to my amusement! I am, however, torn between that and my love for old Volkswagens, particularly Beach Buggies as I acquired the moulds for the original British Buggy in its current guise of the MK8 Volksrod – these things put a massive smile on my face and everyone should have one, wink wink (volksrod.co.uk)
Do you have a regular Christmas tree at your house or something a bit different?
OK, to be honest, no – I actually haven’t had a tree for a couple of years. The reason being is my house is so full of useful "stuff" that I just can’t throw away, that there is physically no room for a Christmas tree' Although last year I did borrow a sparkly decoration off the bar tops, as we did the de-rig the day before Christmas eve. It was gold and kinda like a tree but only a foot tall. I put battery fairy lights on it and that did the job for the week over Christmas!
And finally what’s your favourite thing about Christmas?
In truth, my absolutely favourite thing is to spend time with my daughter for as long as I can get away with on Christmas day!
So to end with, I hope you have a fantastic party and enjoy the results of the hard work Vivid have put in to creating these nights to remember!
Have a fantastic Christmas and be sure to spend time with the ones you love!
Happy Christmas Everyone! Cheers!