Keeping it ‘Mello’
Taking his passion to the next level, local inventor designs helmets for electro-dance musician
April 5, 2017
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What began as an earnest hobby eventually led to a career working with one of the music artists who sparked the inspiration to follow his passion of designing props used by popular performers.
Curt Patrick began making replica props of famous musicians’ helmets in his spare time between managing popular Whitewater bar Pumpers & Mitchell’s and his graphic designs company, Collective Designs.
Patrick is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, holding a degree in Marketing and Advertising since 2008.
Patrick designed props for himself and other fans. He created replicas of units used by several musicians, such as DeadMau5, Daft Punk and Marshmello.
While attending Wompfest, a music show in Whitewater several years ago that he co-hosted, Curt Patrick met the laser technician for the event, Patrick Murphy. The two bonded over ideas about lighting, and a plan to design a personal replica of Marshmello’s helmet together came to fruition.
Patrick and Murphy would eventually become business partners.
Their first project hit the ground running on social media, and the two say they quickly realized the demand from fans was extremely high.
Patrick designed a pair of miniature Marshmello replica helmets as Christmas gifts for twin siblings, Lethan and Leanne, who live with their parents in Dallas, Texas.
“The boy is known as ‘Minimello,’ he’s pretty well-known on social media,” Patrick said. “I always like to give back, so for Christmas, I got in touch with his parents and offered to make him and his sister Marshmello helmets pro-bono.”
Lethan’s father, Steven Tran, said he barely even knew Curt when he offered to build the helmet for Lethan.
Upon finding out that Lethan was a twin, Patrick didn’t want to to leave Leanne out, so he built two helmets instead of one.
“Curt and Marshmello are great guys,” Steven Tran said. “We always appreciate what they’ve done for our family.”
There was only one stipulation: The twins had to wait until Christmas morning to open their gifts under the tree.
Patrick sent photos of the finished helmets to the family before Christmas Day, and the project went viral on Instagram.
That’s when Marshmello’s team heard about Patrick’s design work.
Marshmello’s team was in the market to find a new builder for helmet designs. Marshmello’s manager, identified as “Moe,” connected with Patrick on Facebook and asked him to join the team.
“I got a friend request from his [Marshmello’s] manager, Moe, and within two minutes of accepting his friend request, I got a phone call,” Patrick said. “They were looking for a new unit pretty fast.”
Patrick immediately contacted Murphy with the news along with a proposal to partner up on the project. Patrick offered Murphy a 50-50 partnership for future Marshmello projects within Patrick’s company, Collective Designs.
The pair signed an exclusivity agreement with Marshmello’s management company. They no longer manufacture helmets for the public, building solely for Marshmello.
“We got the bells and whistles figured out pretty quickly,” Patrick said. “I ordered the supplies needed and built the project within eight days. It was definitely a rush job, normally taking us three to four weeks, but it turned out really well.”
After completing the first V4.5 helmet model, Patrick and his wife, Amanda, flew aboard Marshmello’s private jet out to Los Angeles, California, to deliver the helmet to Marshmello himself.
“They really, really loved the unit,” Patrick said. “He [Marshmello] said ‘this is some next level s*&%.’”
Patrick and his wife then traveled with Marshmello and his managers to Las Vegas, where the musician was scheduled to perform the next day at Club Intrigue, a nightclub music venue.
While staying in Las Vegas for a couple days, Patrick said he met Paris Hilton, The Chainsmokers and Alison Wonderland. Marshmello’s team had set up a private liquor bottle service backstage for their guests.
Although VIP treatment is enjoyable, Patrick said he doesn’t expect handouts or like to cross boundaries.
“Being backstage is cool, but I don’t go to venues or music festivals expecting free things,” Patrick said. “They’re sending me a care package with merchandise, it’s definitely a good relationship. There are perks of being in my position, but I don’t by any means take advantage of them. I just try to stay humble.”
What’s next for the helmet design duo?
Patrick and Murphy are currently working to design a V5 model, a project that is expected to take several months to complete.
“I went from being a really big fan to building his new units,” Patrick said. “I enjoyed making props and replicas even before getting that phone call from his manager. I’m really honored by the opportunity.”
He added that once you put your mind to something, you can take your passion higher and make something of it. He remains optimistic about the future.
The feedback on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, Patrick said.
“Seeing the love his fans have for him [Marshmello] is really cool,” Patrick said. “I had never been on the other side of the stage before, seeing the back of his head instead of the front of it.”
What it’s like to be in the spotlight
Lethan Tran, better known as “Minimello,” gained nearly five thousand Instagram followers overnight after meeting Marshmello in a Dallas hotel room last year.
The Tran family’s claim to fame began around Halloween in 2016.
Lethan told his father, Steven Tran, that he wanted to go out dressed as Marshmello for Halloween. Steven researched how to make a helmet using a paint bucket, and subsequently created two: One for his son and one for himself.
Father and son went out together, and a video of Lethan dancing while wearing the helmet his father made went viral on Instagram.
Marshmello’s manager, Moe, then contacted Steven Tran to ask for more video footage of Lethan dancing while wearing the replica helmet.
“He (Lethan) wanted to be just like Marshmello,” Steven Tran said. “So I went out and bought him a DJ set, and he started using it and mixing his own music, just like a little Marshmello.”
Marshmello himself arrived in Dallas for a music show, and his manager offered for Lethan and his family to come visit with them in their hotel room.
Upon first meeting, Minimello and his idol immediately bonded.
Lethan and his twin sister Leanne wear their personalized replica helmets every couple days while listening to their favorite music artist’s songs.
“He’s too young to really know how famous he is,” Steven Tran said. “But once he gets older, I think he’s going to be pretty stoked. His mother and I are always bragging about him.”
The experience of working with a famous musician
Doing work for a large artist is a strange feeling, Murphy said.
“I have done many shows and have met many famous people, and after a while they become normal people just like you, doing what they love as well,” Murphy said.
There is a lot of pressure on the designers to do a good job on designing the units.
“It kind of felt like making the emperor’s new outfit,” Murphy said. “You have to make him look noticeably good to everyone.”
Patrick said he could write a novel on his experience of designing the first unit and flying out to Las Vegas alone.
“We have many crazy and good stories, and together we will make many more happen,” Murphy said.
Patrick said Marshmello is a very private and down-to-Earth person.
“A lot of people think it’s a glamorous life, which it is, but at the same time, it’s a very demanding job title,” Patrick said.
Why does Marshmello wear the helmet?
There are a few reasons why Marshmello wears the helmets. Part of it is to avoid publicity.
Marshmello’s message is to recognize “the underdogs in life,” Patrick said. In his music videos he wears the helmets and stands out from everyone else, “letting everyone know that it’s okay to be different.”
Why the musician chose to wear a helmet modeled after a marshmallow specifically is a secret, and there are infinite rumors questioning his real identity, but Patrick will never tell. He is sworn to secrecy.
How are the new helmets different?
The previous helmets worn by Marshmello had been causing him neck and back issues, Patrick said. The music team’s main goals were to reduce the helmets’ weight as much as possible while also introducing new LED lighting options within the helmet designs.
Patrick and Murphy were able to reduce the helmet’s weight by 46 percent.
The new helmet designs are secured with an adjustable head mount to improve comfort while preventing the helmet from falling off.
Patrick previously used 12 by 12 molds to design helmet props, but he has since adopted a custom size requested by Marshmello’s team. Patrick owns the rights to that specific size, and cannot share the exact dimensions. He is the only person who can order that size from the manufacturer.
“Anyone can get their own helmet made anywhere they want, but no one knows the exact size that I use,” Patrick said.
How do they design the units?
Patrick creates the cast mold for the helmet using acrylics and resins, while Murphy completes the wiring inside the models.
“He [Murphy] is the genius behind all the electronics,” Patrick said. “He’s a really talented technician. Few people in the business can do better than what he does. He really knows his stuff.”
Several aspects of the design process were altered during completion of new helmet units.
“As we moved to make better changes to the models, we also kept thinking of every idea to improve,” Murphy said. “Like better wiring, batteries, adhesives and weight reduction.”
Murphy cites excellent communication and Curt Patrick’s perfectionist mentality for these incremental improvements along the way, yielding results that were well worth the efforts.
“This allowed our work to shine through and bring attention to the right people,” Murphy said.
The hardest part of Murphy’s task is soldering.
Murphy said he must create around 200 physical connections with wires that need to be attached inside the helmet. He has soldered for many years, but he said it can still be difficult doing it in a roughly 12 inch wide by 12 inch deep area.
Completing the wiring process became easier over time.
The first few units required two weeks a piece to set up as Murphy tried to get the feel for how to position himself while working. The V4.5 unit only required three days of work, roughly 30 hours in total, with about 33 percent more LED power capacity contained inside the unit.
“The wiring can get interesting due to how much there is and the types of trouble shooting there may be,” Murphy said. “Having an oscilloscope helps makes that go quicker as well.”
Murphy described his workplace as a desk of wonders.
An array of electrical parts are scattered around the bench, bins line the walls and tools can be found all over the place.
“I try to keep a healthy imagination going as I work,” Murphy said. “It’s a heavy mix of incredibly technical stuff. It’s kind of as if someone one dumped out a box of UFO parts on your desk.”
Curt Patrick’s own workstation is located in the basement of the house that he and his wife and built.
“It’s sort of my man cave,” Patrick said.
A section of the space is setup to hold multiple castings. He uses resins, fiberglass and other materials in the mold making process.
A large toolbox holds many items in an organized spot. A sound system playing music helps to keep him moving and focused. A cooler stocked with Red Bull cans is tucked in the corner. The walls and shelves are covered with art and memorabilia from previous festivals he has attended along with a display of previous projects he has worked on.
“I like to surround myself in things that inspire me,” Patrick said.
He has recently begun to work on honing his skills with an airbrush.
“This will allow me to make specialty themed units for Marshmello and other artists or projects,” Patrick said.
Slushii, another well-known producer, recently contacted Patrick expressing interest in customized design work. A second producer from Spain and a third from Miami also have contacted Patrick and he has begun projects for them.
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