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Peppermill’s ‘living art’ creates competitive advantage

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

Joe Ness had an artistic inspiration something more than a decade ago — “living art,” video images framed like oil paintings and shot with ummoving cameras that neither pan nor zoom as they capture the scene in front of them.

More than 10 years and millions of dollars later, his vision plays a key role in creating the ambiance of the Peppermill Casinos Inc. properties across Nevada.

Four to six months a year, the company’s video team travels the world from New York City to Antarctica, shooting fresh material for a library that includes more than 50,000 scenes.



The work is sufficiently important that Ness, the Peppermill’s director of entertainment electronics and media department, is one of the small handful of staffers who report directly to Bill Paganetti, the founder and president of the company.

And Paganetti thinks the video art is so important to the creation of a distinctive feel for the Pepppermill properties that he’s turned down numerous offers from others willing to pay big dollars to license the art that Ness and his team create.



The living art is ominipresent in the Peppermill properties, running constantly on 400 large-screen displays in its flagship Reno property alone.

Its use is so widespread, in fact, that the Peppermill buys large-screen televisions by the truckload — and its efforts are occasionally stymied when it buys out all of the 71-inch monitors that manufacturers have available.

Along with Peppermill Resort Hotel in Reno, the videos play at Western Village in Sparks as well as the company’s properties at Wendover and Henderson.

One peaceful scene follows another — a desert sunrise, waves lapping on a tropical beach, wildlife in Africa — in a random sequence.

That random sequence of videos is one of the keys to the success of the video art, says Ness, as viewers stick around to see what scene will arrive next.

It’s also darned tricky to pull off.

The Peppermill invested heavily in the creation of custom software that sequences the videos. It invested equally heavily in development of technology that allows the video art to be displayed in wide shots on as many as three screens side-by-side.

Ness and his fellow video artists travel the world — lugging equipment out to some of the world’s most remote areas before dawn, shooting a couple of hours, stumbling back exhausted to grab a few hours sleep in rustic accommodations.

“Wherever we go, the sun shines,” says Ness.

For underwater shoots, the crew members travel with their own underwater camera equipment and scuba gear.

Along with hundreds of hours of video art, they return with sharply etched memories.

Ness was deeply moved by the opportunity to photograph a prime male lion in the early morning light of an African savannah. He was equally moved by the chance to create video art of emperor penguins in the bitter cold of Antarctica.

But some of the world that’s framed on the Peppermill’s walls was shot far closer to home. One of Ness’ first favorites, in fact, is video of the Tracy power plant east of Sparks, its steam rising in the early morning light.

The key always, Ness tells his team, is to frame the scene as if it were a painting or a fine-art photograph. The motion — a lion yawns, a cloud crosses the sun over New York City — arises naturally in an otherwise still scene.

When the team returns home, they get to work in the Peppermill’s film production facility.

Located inside a nondescript office building in central Reno, it’s the largest film production facility in northern Nevada. Along with the video art for the Peppermill properties across Nevada, Ness’ department creates the company’s television commercials and promotional videos.

He learned his craft working on crews that developed video in the early days of cable television’s MTV and worked on projects for Disney and other major filmmakers.

Returning to Reno, Ness launched a small production house and began experiments with early-day high-definition cameras that would lead to a career with Peppermill Casinos.

His goal today is simple: “I want to take people to all the corners of the world.”


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