Immersive experiences provide audience centric events that are engaging, multi-sensory, and transformative. Making visitors the protagonist in the story, they transport them to another world through moments of magic and wonder, cultivating a cultural impact and sparking new conversations and thoughts.
This form of storytelling takes place in an interactive 360-world that is technically masterful and purposely human. Multi-layered, detailed, innovative and inspiring, immersive experiences are the epitome of imagination and creativity and part of our work here at Imagineerium.
But what really goes into creating an immersive experience, what obstacles are faced and how do we overcome them?
Table of Contents
Wake the Tiger, Bristol - Designed by Imagineerium
Photographer: Channon Wallace
The design process for an immersive experience is broken down into three stages – Concept Design, Technical Development, and Fabrication/Installation. Depending on the size of the project, there may be multiple points at which the client would need to review and sign off development before final approval.
1. Concept Design
The process often begins with concept design, which consists of an initial meeting and design brief from the client. During this we gain information about the budget, opening date, target audience and expected numbers before we move into the research. In the research phase, we bring our team of experienced industry professionals together, including project managers and concept artists, to produce a treatment. Together we come up with mood boards, narrative details, and concept visuals that are all informed by the clients original dreams. The roles required in this phase range from creative director to producer/project manager; a team of designers and other production crew that include the likes of an art director, technical manager, costume designer and production assistant. During this phase we might also have a conversation with a build manager or scenic manager, depending on what we are looking to build.
Project initial sketch - Imagineerium
2. Technical Development
Once we have the concept clearly defined, we move into technical development where the technical manager becomes more involved along with a team of technical designers and CAD specialists. At this stage we work on the accurate scale and dimensions of the design layout as well as materials and technology that link to the theme through the creation of elevations, 3D models, technical plans and renders. Most projects have specifications on the desired materials, but we often like to continue working with clients to find sustainable and feasible solutions where we can. With the use of a site map, we look at the fabrication and technology requirements, walk through/flow areas of participants ensuring that every aspect of the original idea and experience is included and effective to the prospective audience. As creative as this part of the process is, it is also important that there is someone able to keep a costing eye over the design, so the project manager’s involvement is crucial.
Project render Silver Hayes @ Glastonbury 2022 - Imagineerium
3. Fabrication and Installation
The final stage is fabrication and installation. Bringing together the right team is essential in our success of projects; working with the best craftspeople in the industry, from set builders and carpenters, to scenic painters and prop makers; having a reliable and adaptable team is what really allows the dreams and designs to become a reality. All carefully crafted and richly detailed pieces are then transported to the site and met by the onsite crew for the final segment of installation before completion.
During installation and de-rig we bring on a host of people to get the design and fabrication up and running from riggers to plant drivers, dressers to tech operators, but we still have full involvement from the creative director, production manager, carpenters, scenic artists, technical manager, and lighting/sound designers, as well as anyone required from the previous two stages. It really is a collaborative effort and something that requires a full range of people with many different skills.
Throughout the process we work very closely with clients to ensure we are interpreting their concept correctly; that we are telling the story of the brand through the design, and ensure that we meet their expectations when bringing their vision to life. By meeting deadlines and staying within budget, design integrity is key for us as we strive to ensure we achieve the best end results for every immersive experience.
Imagineerium Silver Hayes build team onsite at Glastonbury 2022
Photographer: Channon Wallace
4. Location, Location, Location
When it comes to location the main foundations of the design process will remain the same, however the visual language and presentation may differ. For example, if the design was for an experience in a different country we would need to culturally reflect the client’s base, be aware of certain cultural traditions when it comes to the sensory designs, the colours used and language. Another example would be, if the location is a warehouse or field, the differences in the two spaces are so vast and would determine what design features we could include or pitch. Location can mean how weather resistant the design and materials need to be, how we combat inclusivity and accessibility, even how much natural light is on the space, which affects our colour scheme. All of these things play a factor in the initial design and at times don’t become apparent of their effects until in the further stages of the development process. When designing we aim to get to the crux of the nitty gritty details as best we can so we know what we are working with from the offset, enabling us to find solutions to all of these factors prior to moving into the technical development and especially the fabrication and installation.
We pride ourselves on our ability to tell a story through immersive experience design and promote the wealth of benefits it has for business-to-customer relationships to all of our clients.
Through engaging, entertaining and informing, we have seen first-hand the benefits of storytelling when it comes to building that bond of trust, cultivating an organic following and community who align with the values, as well as creating that truly unique experience and interaction.
Through the art of storytelling we gain new perspectives and a better understanding of the world around us. We know that teaching broad lessons, which engage human beings through immersive, multi-sensory experiences and compelling thematic content, are inspiring and influential. By telling a story, defining and depicting the why, and adding those personal touches, a brand can focus on the audience’s needs; attract and keep clients/consumers, exchange ideas, and encourage people to tell their story too.
A successful immersive experience will have a memorable, lasting impact on the audience and create a positive connection.
Image from Adobe Stock
Using state of the art technology in this digital era is imperative when it comes to translating a story into an unforgettable experience and by integrating it seamlessly into the set design audiences can organically engage with it on a multi-sensory level.
Types of technology include special effects such as smoke, haze, fire, wind, water, scent and audio/visual products like premium projectors, augmented reality, virtual reality and cutting-edge sound systems.
Another exciting concept to hit the scene in recent years is live projection mapping and Limbic Cinema are taking the industry by storm with their innovation in this field. Projection mapping is a video production technique where visuals are projected onto surfaces, wrapping around the physical features, turning them into astonishing 3D displays that offer bigger visual stimulation and a more engaging experience. Live projection mapping takes this technique to a whole new level by matching the visuals to the bpm of the tracks being played by the artists. This process is more complicated, from capturing with sensors, processing the data, creating CG renderings, and using projectors to getting the timing right spot on, fixing delays and making sure the projection technology had the maximum precision to match what it needed too.
With these sorts of blends of visuals, sound and technology, immersive experiences are able to create unforgettable and engaging worlds with interactive technology enhancing the personal experience of the audience.
One of our most recent designs, the Elder Forest in the Wake the Tiger Amazement Park in Bristol, involved another exciting use of technology known as movement reactive LED programming. This system provides attendees a true sensory immersion, with the plants’ colour and lighting visibly changing as they move around in their vicinity. This effect draws individuals in and highlights the impact they have on their surroundings due to their movement. This is a great way to indicate and make them think about the energy and environment around them, how much their behaviour really affects the planet, from even the smallest movements they make.
The Elder Forest, Wake the Tiger - Designed by Imagineerium
7. Pleasing the audience
It cannot be denied that the popularity of immersive experiences is all down to the modern audience’s excitement for the opportunity to escape or interact with products and brands.
Living in a fast-paced world, full of constant stimulation and everyday interactions with technology, the demand for ground-breaking, impactful experiences are more important than ever to attract a response. Pleasing the audience has become absolutely key when it comes to marketing driven sales, brand and product reach and maintaining loyal followers and customers. Through storytelling and placing the audience at the centre you can ensure you keep the audiences happy, engaged and wanting more, through immersive storytelling you take that to a whole new level. By taking audiences out of their comfort zone, to initiate a time to explore, interpret and follow a narrative, customers can find themselves being captivated by a new journey that encourages a sense of exploration and triggers the senses, leaving them wanting to be a part of the story… leaving them wanting more.
8. The Challenges
Devising new concepts and bringing them to life is one of the most exciting parts of our job
… but it doesn’t come without its challenges! There can be many limitations when turning fantasy into reality, from design integrity, practicality and durability, as well as budgets, materials and the environmental impact of the build.
Challenges can arise on any development when the fabrication and installation process begins from fitting the design to a challenging site or location, to meeting a deadline due to unforeseen delays, finding trustworthy suppliers and subcontractors, as well as, possible budget constraints or issues.
Also, these obstacles we face are constantly changing due to the nature of the industry, but through developing new or improved techniques in production, remaining adaptable and knowledgeable, we know that a top-quality product will always be delivered thanks to our talented and passionate team.
Beacon at Boomtown Festival 2022, designed and built by Imagineerium
Photographer: Jody Hartley
9. Lifespan and Sustainability
The longevity of an experience is based on the initial design approach and client brief. For example, an immersive cinematic event or immersive art exhibition are designed to be a short-term experience. More permanent immersive experiences will be designed in a way that can be modified with new technology or storytelling amendments all depending on the brief and requirements from the client.
At Imagineerium, we have a passion for sustainability and design as best we can to create something that has as little impact on the planet as possible. This includes our approach to immersive experiences whether they be long or short term. We are always looking to reuse or recycle materials used in previous projects where possible and create things for companies and brands that can withstand time and be used in many different spaces in the future. We have designed and fabricated things for experiences that are now housed in their headquarters or offices and are a main plug in their marketing strategy. The design and feature can often become just as well known as the brand, being used throughout digital marketing campaigns and moved to other venues or exhibitions/experiences to be at the forefront.
Constantly developing relationships with new partners, from material suppliers to fabrication partners. It is an important tool in our industry to have reliable partners who can work to our timeframes, quality, and budgets to offer the best results possible to our clients and also have the knowledge of sustainable building.
The fabric of an immersive experience doesn’t have to be designed and built for one time use only. Modular designs can be adopted to be malleable in any situation the company sees fit. However, beyond the structures we know that, overall, a successful experience, short term or permanent will have an everlasting, memorable effect on the audience and is therefore timeless.
Drty Seltzer sign at El Dorado Festival 2022 (now being used by the brand at other events)
Designed by Imagineerium. Fabricated by Chateaux Projects
Photographer: Channon Wallace
Since coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic we have really noticed the rise in popularity for immersive experiences. From brand activations to event design, brand storytelling to experiential events, as well as permanent brand assets and bespoke interiors, all of these can be tailored to and incorporated in an immersive experience. Engaging through exciting new technology, yet interacting with audiences and consumers on a much more personal level. With this we see the future of the immersive experience being bright and bold. Growing audience engagement and evolving technology will encourage designers to push the boundaries of storytelling to more and more enjoyable and thought-provoking adventures.
nuclear_lily via Adobe Stock
At Imagineerium, we relish the opportunity to work on something from the very beginning, making a dream a reality by taking projects through from concept to creation. We love seeing people’s amazement at the spaces we create, changing mindsets through the stories we tell and making people feel a part of something by interacting with others. Our aim is to ‘place-make’ for escapism, transporting people to the hearts of brands and experiences by tuning in on what they desire to hear, feel and enjoy. Always building on our client base we take pleasure in hearing from companies, receiving briefs and having the opportunity to take ideas from page to ‘stage.’ Having had a fantastic summer of immersive experiences, festivals and brand designs we cannot wait for what the future holds and for what amazing, bold and daring dreams make their way through our doors next…
Dare to dream and imagine that!