Introducing The Experiential

Introducing The Experiential

It is here, on a NY street corner: A tightly coordinated operation results in an appearance of spontaneity. Cues are called, traffic stops as the police crew swing in, and the timecode rolls, creating a magically immersive environment on LED screens in the intersection as a flash-mob gathers to deliver hype. Highly technical production delivering a brand moment disguised as civic art of occasion.  

It is also here, in a team-building exercise, a collective solution session hosted in an Escape Room. The goal: to sort through the files of a scientific collector and find the gems from the works of Michelangelo, Einstein, and Hawking that create the "ah-ha" pattern for the participants, unlocking the room, as well as a new capability in their leadership arsenal. Leveled up via production of a live consensual experience.

Over here too, a vast multilayered, coordinated production combining a Blake Shelton performance aboard an aircraft carrier, becoming a 30-second broadcast commercial, following into an interactive street engagement, all one calculated, curated piece of art, production, and commerce for Pepsi, featured throughout the festivities of the Super Bowl.

Add to this a vast, every-single-day deployment of massive AV, complex scenic installs, pop-up retail, conventions of every stripe, and trade shows. This is the exploding world of experiential and immersive entertainment. Much of it is in the service of marketing, but some of it exists as secondary or tertiary layers of 360 degree storytelling, leveraging creative media intellectual properties. It includes personally delivered productions (experienced a multi-million dollar wedding reception lately?). More and more, it is woven into the fabric of retail architecture. Brands are recognizing the value and opportunity of activated spaces, places where brand identity and marketing becomes compelling and entertaining story, and where interactive engagements, rich with production values that rival high-end concerts or Broadway, integrate to create immersive and interactive environments.

The result?  Vivid experiences that create deep and durable memory, reaction, education, and epiphany. Such things are immensely valuable to brands, causes, and creative that seek to establish important and lasting connections to consumers, constituents, and collaborators. A deepening understanding is gripping the agencies and brand creative that drives most of this market: Create experiences, moments, that compel people to include them in their personal story. In the memory, narrative, and tone of their own inner movie. Now a symbiosis is established, an authentic connection that transports payloads of knowledge, message, emotion, or motivation.

The technology supporting these productions represents some of the most powerful, versatile, and cutting edge capable to be seen anywhere in the world of technical production. Familiar layers of projectors, lighting fixtures, and LED are woven into complex, often kinetic sets, and controlled and programmed via complex bespoke layers of environmental interactivity, programmed playback, and very individual occurrences of interactive phenomena. Augmented reality and virtual reality are being deployed more and more. Projection-mapping found a fundamental use in many of these applications, allowing outdoor architecture, or constructed environments to become on message immersion.

Familiar players like Barco, Panasonic, Christie Digital, Winvision, Martin by Harman, Advantage, and Blackmagic Design are deploying their newest technologies here first. The connective tissue might include Microsoft HoloLens, HTC ViveFLIR sensors, LIDAR providing active interactive 3D tracking, spaces that are entirely image constructed, LED walls, ceiling, and floor. Pulling production together, we find crews from VER, PRG, LMG (you may recognize some of these guys from arena tours or Broadway), we find specialized producers like Production Glue, experiential agencies like Jack Morton Worldwide, George P. Johnson, EWI, all producing hundreds of events and experiences a year, connecting the dots of live with cinematic, interactive, thematic, and all with no option for failure. 

Among it, within it: performance. On screens and off, experiential production utilizes a range of personality from greeter, to aerialists, to superstar pop acts. And the production required to support and enhance live people in spaces is here as well, one more layer in what are often some of the most multifaceted instances of telling or selling that exist.

The confluence of creative is also an embarrassment of riches. It is here, in this space that you find Academy Award-winning filmmakers joining forces with creative ad agencies, starchitects, top-tier live production designers, masters of game engine rendering, interactive installation artists, and performance directors with Broadway and Vegas pedigrees.  Normally these people practice in what has been there compartments of the industry. But immersive experiential requires all of their talents combined, and that combination means we are seeing some of the most powerful and memorable events happening anywhere.

Supporting all of that creative staff are huge teams of people that include account managers, lighting programmers, AV vendors, game engine programmers, projectionists, content management personnel, technical directors, fabricators, electricians, grips, gaffers, and camera trackers.

Some might find new semantics and acronyms here. It's also a fascinating intersection of languages. Terms like attract modes, activity heat-mapping, LIDAR surveys, street teams, sampling, breakouts, dynamic edge-blending, facilities impact, and mobile vehicle tours all find a home in this marketplace.

Speaking of new, on the front and back side, these extraordinary events are plugging into familiar pipelines for those who practice social media marketing, advertising metrics, or CRM. Data collection at opt in, passive and active metrics on what people do within engagements, what they like, how they react. A near-constant stream of value added takeaways for participants (all requiring production elements to be coordinated). It's cooler to go into an LED cave with your friends if you are snap-chatting and tweeting it as you go. And the upside of this outside? A growing trackable avalanche of consumer data and opportunities for ongoing connection. It is here that the all powerful ROI (return on investment) is found.

Last fall, Marian Sandberg at Live Design and I began having some fascinating discussions about the cross currents in the culture of storytelling, production, architecture, and branding. The fruit of those discussions was a desire to expand Live Design into a resource for covering this amazing and sprawling sector in live production, as well as spreading the message in this world that treasures of technology and artistry are to be found each year at LDI

Now an invitation: Join me as I spend some time pulling the curtain back on the work of the best creatives in the business, as well as in depth profiles of the technology and techniques that you can sample to inform your own work, making your clients look fantastic. I'm going to be connecting you with some of the most interesting and prolific minds in brand experiences, retail architecture, production technologies, interactive engagements, and immersive themed installations. We'll be telling the tale of the biggest installations, as well as reviewing the newest technology, and curating a series of interviews bringing you into the room on conversations with masters practitioners of all these disciplines.  We're going to be shining the light on the tech and logistics, balanced by seeking out the why and how of the creative.  We hope this is going to expand the horizons of the production culture we know and love, while introducing a new gathering place for professionals from all these diverse sectors to spark discussions and make the most of opportunities.

So keep your eyes and ears peeled. If you like what you are seeing, please do give us a thumbs up, a like, and by all means, share away. Let's not just discuss amazing things. Let's create them.

Thanks, Bob.

Bob Bonniol is a director, production designer, and contributing editor to Live Design. He is known for his implementation of extensive media and interactive features in his productions.

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