Not so long ago, Dean Hopkins was touring the Midwest – and sometimes the rest of the country, too – with his Kansas City–based rock/funk band Pomeroy. But, as these things happen, one of the guys got married and the band split in 2010 after a solid 12-year run. Dean, having spent the past decade in and out of studios, decided to turn his attention to engineering, which in turn led him to Full Sail’s Recording Arts program.
After graduation he headed out west to Los Angeles, a “dude with a dream trying to make it,” he says. He spent a few months working as a studio installer before landing an internship at Santa Monica’s Remote Control Productions, a studio run by famed film composer Hans Zimmer. (There, Dean sat in on a session for the movie Life of Pi in which an Indian vocalist was recorded over the Internet.) Still, he wasn’t happy installing studios, and started casting about for his next move.
One day last year, he received an e-mail from Full Sail’s Career Development department, highlighting an opportunity with a company he’d never heard of called iLuminate. Or at least, he’d thought he’s never heard of it. Turns out, the year before the company’s team had come in third on America’s Got Talent – a show Dean saw even though, he says, he doesn’t watch much TV.
iLuminate is a hybrid of sorts of a performance troupe and a tech company: high-octane performers are outfitted with individualized light suits – as the name suggests, suits programmed with light displays – and perform in the dark, creating a mind-bending sensory experience of music, dance, and flashing LED displays. Having launched only in 2009, iLuminate’s technology has been used by artists including Chris Brown, Christina Aguilera, and the Black Eyed Peas, among others, and has made its way from the MTV Video Music Awards to Good Morning America to Ellen to, most recently, Michelle Obama’s Kids Inaugural Ball in 2013.
Today, Dean is iLuminate’s technical director, which means he’s in charge of not only the company’s shows, but also its Brooklyn office. He headed up its off-Broadway show in Times Square called Artist of Light, which sold out in its final two weeks after word spread. He also redesigned the company’s light suits to enable them to perform an hour-long show rather than the three- or four-minute productions they were doing on America’s Got Talent, as well as corporate events (in late January, right after the inaugural event, he flew to The Netherlands so iLuminate could perform at a Nike corporate powwow).
“The company is continuing to grow,” Dean says. “These kinds of events just keep flowing in, and the big-name clients really just can’t get enough of iLuminate. Well, I’ll shut up for now. I get excited when I talk about what’s to come.”
The thing he finds most enthralling about his job at iLuminate is the variety – there’s no such thing as a typical day. One morning may find him soldering wire; the next day he’ll be editing sound; the day after that, he’ll be playing secretary, answering phones and catching up on paperwork. Or, as he puts it, “Some days,” Dean says, “I’m just moving stuff; some days I’m flying first class to another country.”
For the immediate future, company founder and president Miral Kotb has tasked Dean with concentrating on the technology behind the light suits. “We’ve come light years since I first started with the company last April,” Dean says. “I’m excited to do what I do best and invent new ways to bring Miral’s vision to life. The tech behind everything is so new, we are constantly finding new ways to make the suits more durable and comfortable for the dancers.”