The $200 Million Shape of Water Fountains

The $200 Million Shape of Water Fountains


For a very long time now humans have had a love affair with fountains it could be a nice gurgle in a park that spices up a picnic a seal vomiting water through all eternity to amuse tourists Or a young boy who made his dad pull over Because he really really has to go. Over and over again Whatever people just enjoy being near water that does stuff But no one enjoys a fountain more than this man. Mark Fuller the CEO and co-founder Of wet design for he is the creator of this this and for just two hundred million or so dollars this I recently visited WET’s headquarters in Burbank, California Partly to find out how mark turned fountains into hi-tech performance art, but mostly so that I could do this If you’ve ever run across a 300 foot stream of dancing water or a sidewalk that spits out fire there’s a good chance that the people at WET made it. The company has pursued this very unique line of work since 1983 that has done hundreds of projects all over the world. Although it’s perhaps best known for the Bellagio fountain Almost every piece of the fountains, the lights, the water nozzles the audio gear, gets designed and manufactured here. And much of it is the brainchild of Mark which brings us to an obvious question How and why does one become a fountain man? I’ve never really had a major surgery But I have to tell you, I’m a little bit afraid that if they ever take the scalpel What comes out may be clear not red? Marks enthusiasm for playful spectacles came to him as a young boy while on that most American of adventures A visit to Disneyland. I was nine and we made our first trip to Disneyland and we left from Salt Lake City then was like a 16 hour drive to Los Angeles And I just fell in love with what Walt Disney had created and I thought man if you can’t be God Walt’s got a pretty close second here and I set myself a goal of working for Disney when I grew up And then you actually end up becoming an imagineer? I did when I graduated from Stanford I went to work right for Disney and there could have been no more perfect you know postgraduate experience than going from Stanford to Disney and I learned so much there. And you’re at Disney for a while and then you And a couple of partners decide to break off and start wet And that’s when he got a call from Steve Wynn the Las Vegas real estate tycoon. He says here’s the goals I want people to not think they’re in Las Vegas I want them to be completely in a separate space and he said we need to tie this, you know to really Beautiful music there’s a third condition I think oh my gosh what says he says this has to be the biggest thing you’ll ever do in your life That’s a scary thought. We kept that for a while I think we’ve gone a little beyond that but it was Steve really put us on the map Steven Spielberg once described the Bellagio fountains as the greatest single piece of public entertainment on planet Earth. And even though they’ve been around for decades. They remain iconic amusing locals, tourists, and movie goers alike But what really fascinated me about WET’s story is how the fountains are made The engineering and material science pushed the limits of what’s possible At it’s hard water in a tube wants to be this chaotic Sloshing around thing and what you found a way to do was to to tame it and send it in one direction. Technique called laminar flow what’s like the kids or laminar flow? Well if you think of water molecules like a bunch of people kind of running around and somebody says get out of here and they all cram towards the door That’s like water coming out of your faucet or your garden hose but if you’ve imagined a military parade where everybody left left left right left. You know marching in parallel step then everybody Exits the door if it’s six people wide in the theater It’s six people wide through the nozzle, the door six people wide down the street So you get those water molecules all marching at the same speed in the same direction. It’s not unlike coherent light in the laser beam in essence You guys do everything from the you know the architecture all the way up to building how does this process work? Sometimes a client will come and say we just saw the Bellagio or something you’ve done. They engage us for what we call a concept design phase of work and we’ll come up with several ideas that we’re excited about From that we do the basic architecture surrounding it and then we’ll do the engineering for the fountain part I’ve no interest in making stuff that somebody else does that’s part of doing something new. We have a new device, then of course we design and make that. This means inventing things like this dragon light contraption that helped make the dubai fountain stand out This is our biggest underwater light. They’re unbelievably bright Or this fountain that’s on fire fire and water. That is cool It’s borderline insane to make so much hardware but Mark has embraced the madness How many square feet is your whole facility? You know I should know that I’m gonna say it’s around two hundred thousand give or take of that Their workshops are huge, super clean, and whimsical with a giant robot Hidden doors that lead to Mark’s personal office. This is my hangout. This is your hideaway. This is my hideaway. A glorious wood shop It smells so good in here It does doesn’t it And even a gym with Eric the trainer this guy does push-ups like the Jack LaLanne of today There’s also a lot of hard tech that goes into the fountains from advancements in chemistry to new kinds of optics Sometimes you have to dig down one level beneath the engineering to the actual science We have four science labs here We have scanning electron microscopes, high-pressure gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers, all sorts of things to really analyze materials and how they’ll interact with each other and with water and so forth. All of this technology eventually comes together at the final assembly Which was designed by Garett here. Officially this is called the bright room But this is where we house our surface mount assembly equipment and then the final assembly and test of the lights Okay So our customers constantly come to us and just say hey do something easy. Just do something you haven’t done before And do it in a way that’s never been done. Yeah, so that’s what we’re constantly push ourselves This most recent thing that we’re working on is 20,000 lights over 2100 shooters 300 robotic devices and several million gallons in the basin Having to top itself every time out makes life tough on WET And so do the boom and bust cycles of the business. It seems like to me it’s just hard to keep getting bigger and better Yeah, you know I read once every every great author goes to bed at night wondering if he’ll ever wake up with a new story idea so I go to bed at night thinking, you know, well, we have a new idea tomorrow and uh So far, we they keep coming There’s something in water that really draws. You know you and I we’re like 70 ish percent water, right? And we’re born out of water coming out of our mother’s womb. It’s such a fantastic substance Now we are doing a few exciting things for the future which are something for consumers. Well, yeah to democratize what we’re doing everybody doesn’t have some big pile of money to do a public feature But why shouldn’t you be able to do that at home? Why shouldn’t you be able to to be the coolest family? You know where all the PTA families want to come and have the party You know in the summer party of your house cuz you’ve got this great thing in your house or yard A Bellagio fountain in my backyard to impress the Joneses. Yes, please just so long as there’s plenty of fire

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

35 Comments

  1. Friends, Hello World is coming back with five fresh episodes. This is the first on one of the crazier workshops I've ever visited. Who knew fountains came with so much science?

  2. A fountain company is able to invest so deeply into their own custom factory? Wow, whats the revenue and profit? Supremely impressed.

  3. Fountains are boring and dumb which is why only corrupt and diseased institutions like governments and casino's buy them.

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