A gushing combination of showbiz, engineering

The gig: Don’t call Mark Fuller, 58, a fountain maker. He prefers “feature creator.” But he does make fountains -- spectacular ones. The company he founded, Wet, based in Sun Valley, has taken on some of the largest water fountain projects in the world.

Fountain maker: An article in the March 14 Business section about Mark Fuller said his project for the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas amounted to $2.7 million. His firm’s contract was for $27 million. —

Projects: One of his latest creations is a 32-acre artificial lake at the foot of the world’s tallest building -- the Burj Khalifa in Dubai -- with 1,500 water jets that can blast streams 500 feet in the air, plus 1,000 fog jets, all tightly choreographed to put on a computerized show to music. Other projects can be found at City Center and the Bellagio in Las Vegas and Lincoln Center in New York. Locally, they’re at the Music Center in Los Angeles and the Grove, Americana and CityWalk shopping centers.

Design philosophy: “We’re in the emotions business,” Fuller said. “We make experiences that draw people in, that make them stay longer and that make them want to come back more often.”

Engineering and theater: At the University of Utah, Fuller, a Utah native, divided his time between two disciplines. “I was the best engineer in the theater department and the most theatrical student in the engineering department.”

Disney years: Upon graduating from Stanford in 1978 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Fuller got a job at Disney Imagineering. “I loved it. You’re creating this imaginary world where people step out of the mundane and have a great time. Plus, there’s a lot of technology.”

Going independent: Fuller created Wet in 1983 but the company struggled, sometimes operating out of his garage. He had trouble convincing clients that an expensive water feature could be more than decorative. “We’re not an amenity,” he told prospective customers. “We’re something that can make you more successful.”

Big break: In 1995, billionaire hotel developer Steve Wynn was looking for ways to promote his upcoming Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. A landscape architect on the project recommended Fuller, and the resulting $2.7-million display of dancing water and music was a hit, drawing crowds and international media attention. “Bellagio charges $50 extra for rooms with a fountain view,” Fuller said. “That fountain has paid for itself many times over.”

Keeping it fresh: “We have a little bit of showbiz in us,” Fuller said. “In everything we do, there has to be a wow factor.” The R&D lab at Wet is now experimenting with fiber optics and ways to add fire plumes to water effects.

Keeping control: Wet has 220 employees, most of whom work on a campus of industrial buildings that includes a design studio, science lab and high-tech manufacturing plant. Fuller wants everything done in-house. “We don’t outsource to China, we don’t outsource across town,” he said. “That gives us complete control and a nimbleness that is a competitive advantage.”

Thinking smaller: “We hired up to a huge peak on the Burj fountain and we have contracted a bit since then,” Fuller said. Some projects were canceled because of the economic downturn. What helps keep the company going are smaller commissions, including a fountain under construction at a university in Saudi Arabia and three water features being done as part of Salt Lake City’s downtown revitalization. “Small doesn’t mean boring,” he said. “We give each project our full attention and work really hard to make sure everyone gets the same treatment.”

Hobbies: Fuller collected rocks as a boy and he still does. He also collects insects, which are pinned and displayed in frames in his office. “It keeps me in touch with the wonders of nature,” he said. “We make use of technology, of course. But our work is really about the water, the mist, the fire -- the natural things.”