Inspired and encouraged by a creative father, Brian Allen, executive vice president of Technology and Content, Illuminarium Experiences, grew up building haunted houses in the family garage. But his creations took the experience to a level most wouldn’t have dreamed. Skeleton masks sitting on compressed air actuators were triggered as unsuspecting trick-or-treaters walked past. “I live and breathe immersive,” Allen said. “Since childhood my mind has been molded and framed to think about experience.”
For Allen, the idea spans across many modes of life and can be applied to any exercise of curating, manipulating, or framing the way a person sees, hears, touches, smells, and tastes a world you are trying to create. “These are the building blocks of experience—whether you are designing a restaurant or a rock concert—all the same rules apply,” he said. This principle applies beyond one’s physiological sense. “I would argue that when designing a truly immersive experience you need to take into account one’s emotional and cognitive events. What does the audience feel emotionally? Do they come away with questions? Do they come out inspired? These are all important factors in a great experience.”
Allen and his team at Illuminarium Experiences use projection as the main method to transport audiences. “With a pixel space in the hundreds of millions, there is no shortage of canvas to work with. No matter how big or small the installation or high or low the budget is—in the world of projection, content is king,” Allen explained. But visual content is only one element, and he urges creators to broaden their ideas about what content brings to the audience experience. “Too often I see installations heavily rely on video content to carry the audience experience. This tends to be one-dimensional in that that experience is only stimulating one out of the five senses.”
A Landscape of Sound
In theater, the illusion of depth is created with layers of set pieces and props given the fixed audience position. “You can take that same idea of layering to create depth where there is none. You can layer the mise en scène (the arrangement of scenery and stage properties, usually in a play) of a given shot in your video content or you can take it a step further by breaking through the fourth wall and “spill” your content into the physical world,” Allen said.
Now, what does it sound like? Audio content is often underappreciated and overlooked but adding a curated layer of audio to your space can make all the difference. “Audio technology nowadays can offer many methods of delivering sound to your audience. It can be localized, big, small, far away, vocal, musical, or completely ambient. The word ‘soundscape’ gets thrown around a lot and I love that for describing sound across an experience. A landscape of sound,” Allen explained. Experience designers and creators imagine what an experience sounds like, not just at any given point in time but also at any given vantage point in physical space. “An extra dimension in sound design is another tool in the toolbox for creation. Not every experience requires every tool to be used to be great but remembering that you have them at your disposal is a key tactic when designing and engineering a new experience,” he added.
There is a wide array of special effects available when designing immersive spaces. “The dreaming phase when you have no constraints to fit into is the time for you to craft your experience and think outside the box,” Allen said. “There are no limits whatsoever and the world is truly your oyster.” Then comes the seemingly difficult part. Designers need to work within budgets, physical constraints, power requirements and structural load requirements, which for some, puts the dream back into a box. But not for Allen, “I think this is where the magic happens. As a creative, giving yourself rails to work within is often one of the most freeing things you can do. Not burdened by choice, you now have the opportunity to shape your idea into something that will function. It's good to have one foot in the dream world without boundaries and one firmly grounded in what is actually possible. This will make you dangerous in this industry: A realistic dreamer.”
When creating a dream within the bounds of reality, Allen suggests that less is often more. “Can this experience be boiled down to a few core elements? Stripping away the fluff will often times bring the foundational elements back into focus.”
360-degree Experiential Entertainment
Illuminarium Experiences is a global experiential entertainment company created by worldwide leaders in cinematic and interactive content, architectural and theatrical design, and venue operations. The immersive entertainment spectacles presented in custom-designed venues are called "Illuminariums." These reprogrammable immersive theaters surround visitors in a sensory space of sight, sound, and scale, and provide access to exotic and often out-of-reach places, people, and experiences.
Panasonic is the exclusive visual solution provider of native 4K projectors, 4K professional displays, and 4K professional camera solutions for Illuminarium’s 360-degree immersive experiential entertainment centers.
In July 2021, the first illuminarium opened in Atlanta, with its debut spectacle, WILD: A Safari Experience. The 26,000 square-foot entertainment complex showcases the splendor of Africa's most exotic animals in their natural habitats. Created by Alan Greenberg, RadicalMedia and Rockwell Group, and operated by Legends, Illuminarium Experiences will open in Las Vegas at AREA15 in January 2022, and in Miami, at Mana in the Wynwood Arts District, in fall 2022. Other North American locations are under consideration with plans to create a global footprint in the world's leading international destinations.
Personalization and real-time content are going to change the way experiences are made. “With the advent of the game engine and the golden age of real-time graphics, more and more experiences will take advantage of this technology,” Allen said. “So much technology around us can be manipulated and customized to fit your specific needs.” He likens this to personal experiences such as frequenting a restaurant or bar and being greeted by name, or the bartender knows your favorite drink. “When personalization and real time manipulation intersect, you get something truly immersive. Not just in scale or in beauty, but real interaction. A chance to leave your mark and contribute to a living experience,” he added.
Create Your Own Playbook
In the world of immersive and experience there is no playbook, which means you can find inspiration from anything. “Allowing yourself to become inspired by anything in life will take you much further. That incredible dinner you had last night where the wait staff remembered your name and never let your water glass go empty, or that botanical garden greenhouse you visited and smelled roses and oranges in the dead of winter—these are the tidbits that begin to craft legendary experiences,” Allen said. These are things that people remember for the rest of their lives. “Great artists and designers can look at the most mundane things in life and pick out the tiny spark that allows others to change the way they look at the world. Anything can be captivating and there are endless opportunities to wow, awe and inspire,” Allen concluded.