Between paid gigs, designer Spencer Haley makes motion tests, practicing for his next challenge. One of his recent studies uses the disembodied head of a man who looks like a 1960s car salesman, multiplied, twisted and slid around. The salesman is still confident and cocky, even as he’s spun silly and shish-kabobbed—an indication of Haley’s considerable talent.
“I get to make stuff, and I get to give it to [a lead] designer who comes back to me and says, ‘Change this,’ and I do,” he says. “I kinda like not attaching myself in an emotional way.”
The work of the Vegas-born and Boulder-city-raised Haley is everywhere; you just don’t know it. He can’t discuss most of his gigs in detail. They come with non-disclosure agreements. In some cases, though, he’s making the digital footage for big concerts, the eye candy that gives you that giddy, elated feeling—the visual equivalent to your favorite refrain or power chords. For a high-profile reunion concert, he created a massive video backdrop showing a 24-hour diner in action.
This mostly anonymous and humble fabricator enjoys figuring out how to work towards artistry and how to communicate emotion, even if he’s discovering a new context, driving a brand or advertising.
After graduating from UNLV in 2011, he co-directed 5th Wall Gallery in Downtown for a couple of years and worked in-house on a contract basis on the Cosmopolitan’s design team, before going out on his own. He picked up small jobs and referrals from friends, and business took off. He and his wife—a freelance voice-over artist—sometimes think about fleeing the heat, but the close-knit Vegas community has been good to them.
“A lot of the work I get has come from being here, being the guy that somebody knows to recommend. Everyone supports each other here in Vegas,” Haley says. “I’ve had a bunch of jobs dropped in my lap.”
At this point, Haley has worked for almost every Strip casino. He has authored digital billboards and motion graphics. For a few recent jobs, Haley has been on his computer at home working for another designer in New York City who interfaces with clients about to launch their residencies in Las Vegas. Something of a local design subcontractor in these cases, he thinks of himself as a carpenter for the digital age. He works behind the curtain, inside the machine.
Even so, technology is changing, and that digital carpentry increasingly requires improvisation—namely, creating interactive video content in real-time. In the future, design will include instant reactive effects. It will adjust immediately depending on what is happening around it. It will perform live, which is a good reason to have someone reliable behind the scenes doing their job and doing it well. Haley aims to meet that future head-on.
For now, when he’s at stadiums around the U.S. watching the dress rehearsals for major acts, Haley’s sole focus is on making sure his new video content works, that it looks great projected on-stage. “I like the process,” he says, “and then after I’m done with it, I like letting go, letting it disappear into the ether.”