A Hero’s Journey, Part 2: Pip’s Island Immersive Set Design

scenic design for Pip's Island
(Courtesy of Pip's Island)

Children are encouraged to find their inner spark during a heroic journey to a mystical island and use their light to save the inhabitants from darkness via New York's custom-built flagship attraction, Pip’s Island, which is currently in previews and will officially open to the public on May 20. Conceived and designed by its three founders, CEO Rami Ajami, Chief Creative Officer Rania Ajami, and creative director Walter Krudop, Pip’s Island combines innovative puppetry, digital animation, cutting-edge technology, and live actors to create an immersive theatrical adventure for young audiences and families.

Read our in-depth look of Al Crawford's lighting design here, and learn about the immersive scenery and interactive set pieces below.

The Immersive Set Design

Pip’s Island contracted numerous leading NYC scenic shops and designers to create the immersive scenery of the thematic rooms, from an underwater escape to a bakery challenge. Brooklyn-based design and fabrication shop Pink Sparrow, who has produced activations for the likes of Coachella and Austin City Limits, created many of the multi-sensorial environments.

Famed puppeteer and builder Monkey Boys, with Sesame Place Theme Park and Universal Studios Orlando in its portfolio, designed the perpetually-hungry Mrs. Grumble Plum, the luminous Amperes Watson, and the dastardly Moles. Theatrical costume designer Fabio Toblini, who has designed everything from My Fair Lady to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, created the costumes for the live actors.

scenic design for Pip's Island

Brooklyn-based scenic shop John Creech Design and Production (JCDP) produced Pebble’s sky-ship, Cloud Rover, an interactive set piece propelled and powered by participants. “We wanted everything to have a rustic, handmade feel, as if Pebble herself had made all of the parts and pieces as she saw the need for them,” says John Creech, president of JCDP. “Guests can power the propellers and the shadow mechanism that casts moving shadows upon the sails around the ship, creating the feeling of motion. There are also various pneumatic devices to convey the complexity of Pebble’s creation, which are operated by the kids. There is also an interactive main steering Astrolab console to experience.”

NYC custom prop shop Paper Maché Monkey produced interactive props throughout the experience. Mrs. Grumble Plum’s room is a bakery where kids create and decorate cakes for Mrs. Grumble Plum to eat and the best cake wins. The prop shop created cake and muffin props with metal infrastructures and custom, magnetic decorations for kids to design however they wish.

scenic design for Pip's Island

In Shelly’s room, an underwater escape filled with bubbles and a coral reef, Paper Maché Monkey designed the puzzle to free Shelly from her confines so she can guide guests to the final room. “We needed a puzzle the kids could solve in about six minutes that would also become like a mantra that they could yell or sing,” explains owner, Grady Barker.

Paper Maché Monkey settled on Rebus Puzzles, where kids interpreted the phrase from certain graphics. Ten different themes are hidden behind paintings on the walls. “The paintings were backlit so the Rebus puzzles were nowhere to be seen, and then all of a sudden, they emerged from the paintings, glowing.

“Creating these items for a highly interactive, young crowd is a nuanced challenge,” Barker adds. “During the fabrication phase, we had to remember that these were items that the kids would be touching, dropping, and even eating, sometimes doing things that an adult would never think they would do with it. So we had to make sure that pieces weren’t too big, too small, or too heavy. They had to be highly functional, but resilient pieces.”

4 Shelly Sketch by Walter Krudop.jpg
Shelly's Room sketch by Pip's Island co-founder and creative director Walter Krudop

Scenic art shop Infinite Scenic was hired to create décor and scenic elements in six of the rooms, including the coral design of the shore in Shelly’s room. “Rania and Walter were hoping to create a fantasy world where we could immerse the audience into a parlor that had a coral reef growing slowly to encase it,” says Katie Fry, founder and president of Infinite Scenic. The team, led by Julia Buerkle, created custom, unique coral elements that are integrated into the walls, moldings, and furniture within the room. “We aimed for the room to shimmer and glow in unexpected ways. Wherever you look there is something curious to examine,” she adds.

“By focusing on creating a flowing, encroaching coral effect, we fashioned an otherworldly experience that feels like, not only are you underwater, but in an intimate, serene place,” Fry explains. “In the calm of the room, you can find details everywhere. Each piece of coral is different from another, and small, shimmering coves could hold something unknown. From there, Elizabet Puksto's detailed set dressing brought a finishing element of taking the serene, whimsical environment to a further level of intimacy to help share with the audience who lives here.

“One of the most gratifying parts of working on Pip's Island was how individual the creations were in the different rooms,” Fry concludes. “From creating muddy, underground tunnels to crisp, clean bakeries from snowy blizzards to our underwater serenity, there was truly no end to the artistic creations we were able to help evolve and advance. Pip's is truly a unique production that allowed our team to grow creatively and develop original techniques.”

Stay tuned for more on the video design, sound design, and show control for Pip's Island.

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