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The Heartbeat that Powers Immersive Attractions

Firefly Creations’ Michelle Hicks discusses the importance of immersive experiences and how they can add to the overall visitor experience.




Disney’s Expedition Everest is an immersive experience from start to finish   Credit: Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

Full immersion in a visitor attraction happens when a guest becomes so involved in the experience that they feel like the world and situation they are in is real.

The story is so engaging that guests feel like they are part of that adventure and no longer in a theme park attraction. When this happens, they are taken away from whatever else is happening in their lives at the time, so they forget the stresses of daily life and are transported to another world.

It’s vitally important that stories told through immersive experiences create a storyline with a ‘heartbeat’ - high impact moments of excitement and suspenseful lows. At Firefly Creations, every attraction we design applies this principle, which will keep the exhilaration and anticipation flowing throughout the attraction from start to finish creating an experience that continually excites and engages guests.

Storytelling and emotion

To start working towards full immersion, the first question should always be ‘what is the story and how will it connect with the audience emotionally?’

Emotional connection is key, as it will pull on thoughts and feelings specific to an individual that relate the experience to them personally. Importantly, relatable doesn’t need to mean realistic.

Part of the fun is travelling to incredible new worlds when you visit a theme park. The emotional connection comes from the story and the feelings experienced as part of that story.

As an example, if an experience is all about an adventure that involves strong teamwork in challenging conditions, a family unit enjoying that attraction becomes stronger by overcoming adversity together. This strengthens the family unit and creates memories for years to come, which in turn strengthens the operator’s brand for the attraction. Memories are the greatest part of an experience and the more immersive an attraction is, the stronger those memories will be and the longer they will last.

The experience beyond rides

It’s important that the guest experience - including the story being told and the emotions guests are feeling - are considered throughout each part of the attraction. From the moment they enter the area, we think about what they are seeing and how key elements can be revealed to create incredible vistas, building excitement and starting the beating heart of the experience.

A ride should become an extension of the themed area it sits within, with storytelling incorporated into this area to start setting the scene before guests reach the ride.

An area can be further enhanced with themed retail and food/drink options, creating more opportunities to build the story. The best retail experiences are those where guests are not simply browsing through items on shelves but engaging with characters during their retail experience - either in person or digitally - so additional connections to the storyline can be made.

Entertainment through characters and shows also play a huge role in world-building. Being able to see the characters from an attraction roaming the park or performing on stage can again help build that emotional connection either before or after the ride. Importantly, the emotional connection is not only with the characters but between groups of friends and family enjoying the moment together. Being able to see characters from the attraction interacting with guests and watching them perform in shows brings the area to life, building the atmosphere and giving the land a heartbeat of its own.


Themed lands at places like Universal look beyond just the ride to create a truly immersive experience - Credit: Sung Jin Cho on Unsplash

Tackling ‘immersion breakers’

One part of the experience which shouldn’t be overlooked is the queue line. Queue lines are notorious immersion breakers and can negatively impact the whole experience if not considered fully.

A well-designed queue line can start to tell the story for the attraction and can play an important role in getting closer to total immersion for guests. This is particularly true where you only have 2-3 minutes or less to tell your story. Introducing key elements during the queue line helps bring guests into the world so the story can then be developed during the ride experience.

Creating a purpose for the queue line is very important. If done right, it will engage and excite visitors, building anticipation before the ultimate ride experience.

Digital and physical interactives can be a useful tool to help change the environment and atmosphere of the space, heightening the overall experience and increasing the suspense. This continues the heartbeat of the experience through the queue section. We can further develop this with pre-shows designed to set out the key background story elements before guests join the ride.

Sound, smell, sense

The next stage to build the immersion is to start playing with different senses. Have you ever been reminded of an attraction through a familiar smell? Scents are one of the most effective ways of triggering memories and have the power to transport you back to relive your visit.

Audio also plays a key role in creating an immersive attraction and its importance should never be underestimated. Audio has the potential to drive emotions consciously or subconsciously and build the desired atmosphere for an immersive experience. Sound is also a useful tool to change the tone between scenes, helping to change the attraction’s heartbeat between high and low-intensity moments.



Seeing is believing

From a set design perspective, it‘s key that all sightlines are considered. Whilst some attractions don’t physically enable the guest to turn around (for example a vehicle with over the shoulder restraints), if guests can physically turn around, at least some of them will!

Whilst we hope the action in front of them is enough to fully grab their attention thought also needs to be given to the walls behind them or the immersion will be broken if guests’ eyes wander from the key scenes.

Screens can be a designer’s best friend or worst enemy when it comes to creating a believable space. They need to be designed into a scene to blend in with the physical theming. Seamlessly incorporated with theming, hiding the edges and with perspective built into the content, screens can be used to create the illusion of depth and show action that would not be possible with static scenery or even animatronics. If the screen edges are visible it can take away from the experience, again breaking the immersion.

The key to any attraction is making sure the story is engaging for fans. Once the core of the story has been established, every part of the attraction should be designed with this in mind to engage guests and create that emotional connection. There can be additional nuggets of information and story details for guests that want to dive deeper, but this should never obscure the overall storyline, which should be clear for every single visitor that comes to the park.

The above only lightly scratches the surface on the complex development and psychology of a deeply immersive, emotionally driven attraction but starts to lay out the foundations that can create a themed experience with a heartbeat. The story is the beating heart. The veins are powering the physical theming and audio-visual effects, while the emotions are driven by the sensory atmospherics and core story beats, which together create an immersive world that is alive in the visitor’s imagination.


Michelle Hicks, executive producer, Firefly Creations

Michelle Hicks combines her experience in engineering, design and project management with creativity and a passion for themed experiences to lead the development of new destination resorts and attractions. In her role, Michelle directs her team from initial concept through to opening, ensuring the focus remains on the creative vision and the delivery of immersive experiences. For more information visit www.fireflycreations.uk


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The Heartbeat that Powers Immersive Attractions | Planet Attractions

industry

The Heartbeat that Powers Immersive Attractions

Firefly Creations’ Michelle Hicks discusses the importance of immersive experiences and how they can add to the overall visitor experience.




Disney’s Expedition Everest is an immersive experience from start to finish   Credit: Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

Full immersion in a visitor attraction happens when a guest becomes so involved in the experience that they feel like the world and situation they are in is real.

The story is so engaging that guests feel like they are part of that adventure and no longer in a theme park attraction. When this happens, they are taken away from whatever else is happening in their lives at the time, so they forget the stresses of daily life and are transported to another world.

It’s vitally important that stories told through immersive experiences create a storyline with a ‘heartbeat’ - high impact moments of excitement and suspenseful lows. At Firefly Creations, every attraction we design applies this principle, which will keep the exhilaration and anticipation flowing throughout the attraction from start to finish creating an experience that continually excites and engages guests.

Storytelling and emotion

To start working towards full immersion, the first question should always be ‘what is the story and how will it connect with the audience emotionally?’

Emotional connection is key, as it will pull on thoughts and feelings specific to an individual that relate the experience to them personally. Importantly, relatable doesn’t need to mean realistic.

Part of the fun is travelling to incredible new worlds when you visit a theme park. The emotional connection comes from the story and the feelings experienced as part of that story.

As an example, if an experience is all about an adventure that involves strong teamwork in challenging conditions, a family unit enjoying that attraction becomes stronger by overcoming adversity together. This strengthens the family unit and creates memories for years to come, which in turn strengthens the operator’s brand for the attraction. Memories are the greatest part of an experience and the more immersive an attraction is, the stronger those memories will be and the longer they will last.

The experience beyond rides

It’s important that the guest experience - including the story being told and the emotions guests are feeling - are considered throughout each part of the attraction. From the moment they enter the area, we think about what they are seeing and how key elements can be revealed to create incredible vistas, building excitement and starting the beating heart of the experience.

A ride should become an extension of the themed area it sits within, with storytelling incorporated into this area to start setting the scene before guests reach the ride.

An area can be further enhanced with themed retail and food/drink options, creating more opportunities to build the story. The best retail experiences are those where guests are not simply browsing through items on shelves but engaging with characters during their retail experience - either in person or digitally - so additional connections to the storyline can be made.

Entertainment through characters and shows also play a huge role in world-building. Being able to see the characters from an attraction roaming the park or performing on stage can again help build that emotional connection either before or after the ride. Importantly, the emotional connection is not only with the characters but between groups of friends and family enjoying the moment together. Being able to see characters from the attraction interacting with guests and watching them perform in shows brings the area to life, building the atmosphere and giving the land a heartbeat of its own.


Themed lands at places like Universal look beyond just the ride to create a truly immersive experience - Credit: Sung Jin Cho on Unsplash

Tackling ‘immersion breakers’

One part of the experience which shouldn’t be overlooked is the queue line. Queue lines are notorious immersion breakers and can negatively impact the whole experience if not considered fully.

A well-designed queue line can start to tell the story for the attraction and can play an important role in getting closer to total immersion for guests. This is particularly true where you only have 2-3 minutes or less to tell your story. Introducing key elements during the queue line helps bring guests into the world so the story can then be developed during the ride experience.

Creating a purpose for the queue line is very important. If done right, it will engage and excite visitors, building anticipation before the ultimate ride experience.

Digital and physical interactives can be a useful tool to help change the environment and atmosphere of the space, heightening the overall experience and increasing the suspense. This continues the heartbeat of the experience through the queue section. We can further develop this with pre-shows designed to set out the key background story elements before guests join the ride.

Sound, smell, sense

The next stage to build the immersion is to start playing with different senses. Have you ever been reminded of an attraction through a familiar smell? Scents are one of the most effective ways of triggering memories and have the power to transport you back to relive your visit.

Audio also plays a key role in creating an immersive attraction and its importance should never be underestimated. Audio has the potential to drive emotions consciously or subconsciously and build the desired atmosphere for an immersive experience. Sound is also a useful tool to change the tone between scenes, helping to change the attraction’s heartbeat between high and low-intensity moments.



Seeing is believing

From a set design perspective, it‘s key that all sightlines are considered. Whilst some attractions don’t physically enable the guest to turn around (for example a vehicle with over the shoulder restraints), if guests can physically turn around, at least some of them will!

Whilst we hope the action in front of them is enough to fully grab their attention thought also needs to be given to the walls behind them or the immersion will be broken if guests’ eyes wander from the key scenes.

Screens can be a designer’s best friend or worst enemy when it comes to creating a believable space. They need to be designed into a scene to blend in with the physical theming. Seamlessly incorporated with theming, hiding the edges and with perspective built into the content, screens can be used to create the illusion of depth and show action that would not be possible with static scenery or even animatronics. If the screen edges are visible it can take away from the experience, again breaking the immersion.

The key to any attraction is making sure the story is engaging for fans. Once the core of the story has been established, every part of the attraction should be designed with this in mind to engage guests and create that emotional connection. There can be additional nuggets of information and story details for guests that want to dive deeper, but this should never obscure the overall storyline, which should be clear for every single visitor that comes to the park.

The above only lightly scratches the surface on the complex development and psychology of a deeply immersive, emotionally driven attraction but starts to lay out the foundations that can create a themed experience with a heartbeat. The story is the beating heart. The veins are powering the physical theming and audio-visual effects, while the emotions are driven by the sensory atmospherics and core story beats, which together create an immersive world that is alive in the visitor’s imagination.


Michelle Hicks, executive producer, Firefly Creations

Michelle Hicks combines her experience in engineering, design and project management with creativity and a passion for themed experiences to lead the development of new destination resorts and attractions. In her role, Michelle directs her team from initial concept through to opening, ensuring the focus remains on the creative vision and the delivery of immersive experiences. For more information visit www.fireflycreations.uk


 



© Kazoo 5 Limited 2022