Me vs. we: co-creation in experiential attraction design

Chad Kunimoto explores the merits of co-creation in attraction design with Tom Lionetti-Maguire, David Newman, and Sol Song

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From blue sky to opening day, attraction design is a highly collaborative process, with co-creation between several teams. As a project progresses through the assessment, ideation, development, design, and construction phases, teams are brought in at different times. But when and how they contribute, and on what, is changing.

This is because the relationship between creators, tech partners, and installers is growing even more interdependent. Collaborative technology is not only making it easier to communicate, but it’s also allowing complex operations to be completed off-site. Bart Kresa calibrated the Shogyo Mujo skull at AREA15 remotely using PTZ cameras, for example.

Rather than working on pieces of the puzzle in isolation and hoping everything fits together in the end, co-creative teams work closely together throughout the project to diversify the pool of knowledge and solve problems more creatively.

Recently, I had an opportunity to discuss co-creation with executives from two experiential attraction design companies with whom I’ve worked as part of our Panasonic Connect global partnership. While their approaches differ from project to project, both agree that collaboration between companies and teams starts immediately and is the foundation on which experiential entertainment is built.

Co-creation within teams and with key stakeholders

“Our process is always one of collaboration with our own teams and departments, but also external stakeholders,” says Tom Lionetti-Maguire, CEO of Little Lion Entertainment, one of the UK’s largest immersive attractions company, and The Ents Inc Ltd., a studio that blends leisure, technology, and videogaming into hit attractions such as Chaos Karts.

“Sometimes a company will ask us to turn their intellectual property into a live experience. Sometimes we come up with the genesis of an idea and we will then approach a particular IP for a branded partnership. The beauty of this is that it keeps our ideas fresh and the end product exciting. There is no set formula, therefore each project is unique.

“Collaboration with new and exciting companies also allows us to push the boundaries of what people can expect from modern entertainment.”

Sol Song is the creative director at Moongate Design Studio, a company he founded with managing director David Newman by gathering talent with experience of working with Disney, Universal, and 20th Century Fox agrees. He adds that while a creative blank check is always nice, collaboration usually takes place within a tighter framework.

“Most of the time, the client has a high-level vision in mind,” Song says. “Visualization is always necessary to communicate the vision to ensure alignment, direction, and approval. The freedom to go through an ideation process will deliver the best results. Naturally, as creatives, we are aware of the Timeline and financials help set the finish line.”

Involve your problem-solvers

Creative people aren’t always artists or designers. Inviting creatives with differing professional backgrounds into the conversation can encourage lateral thinking for an outside-the-box solution. For example, a product engineer can observe why a designer has done something a certain way and approach their own work differently to create a product more seamlessly suited to the purpose.

Increasingly, design studios involve their tech partners from ideation onward, using co-creation to solve problems earlier.

Close collaboration yielded magnificent results at the Konica Minolta Planetarium attraction in Tokyo

“Especially for live experiences,” says Lionetti-Maguire. “It’s interesting for technology partners to see how companies will use their products, sometimes in ways which they may never have imagined. What this does is create new problems to solve.

“In the live experience space, for example, technology has to be reliable over long periods and over many iterations. When faced with the public, technology has to be at its most robust. These challenges will always create new areas of interest and perhaps even new products for both sides of the partnership.”

Newman says: “On-site experience and understanding the challenges first-hand is irreplaceable. Since Moongate Design Studio focuses on LBE projects, we face many challenges due to the specific conditions of different locations. As a team, we always try to clarify the possible issues in early development with partners.”

Co-creation: considering ‘what’ and ‘how’

From a design point of view, is it better to focus on visualizing the end result, and worry about how to get there later, or should blue-sky ideation be always moored to reality?

“The first concept development meeting has to be totally free,” Lionetti-Maguire says. “We have a mantra of ‘there’s no such thing as a bad idea’ in these meetings. That allows people to be totally free in their thinking. And it means we can push the possibilities of what we can achieve. So, in these very early concept meetings, we really do try to reach for the stars.”

Co-creation can result in an effective fusion of art and technology, as seen at Velázquez Tech Museum in Spain

“It’s then in the second phase that we begin to consider the ‘how’. This is when we introduce existing or new technologies and attempt to see if our earlier ideas were possible. It is often at this stage that we have to rethink certain elements or make compromises. That is inevitable in any project. We have garnered such experience in live entertainment, however, that often we are thinking several steps ahead. So, we will have a very good idea of how to deliver a certain element.”

Newman has a similar take:

“The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ need to be considered equally. But individual ownership should be different. This is an example where the ‘we’ will deliver more than a ‘me’. A balanced team is essential. A creative director, art director, technical director, and producer will work together to create the best experience.

“The creative goal should be to push the extraordinary and develop new ideas. The production team will be there to support their vision, but remind the team what can genuinely be accomplished under the project constraints.”

The rise of the “creative engineer”

Panasonic Connect’s creative engineer initiative seeks to deepen communication between the tech partner and the client. It does so by helping engineers understand the client’s on-the-ground requirements so that effective solutions can be proposed and tested.

XR Labs play a vital role as technology incubators and forums for collaboration

This is part of the impetus behind our XR Labs concept. R&D teams are creating next-generation tech in collaboration with leading entertainment companies at purpose-built facilities in Tokyo, Osaka, the US, and other places around the world. As well as being proving grounds for new tech, XR Labs welcome concept designers and creators to play with prototype ideas so their feedback can impact the end product.

It also works the other way: our engineers are often on the client’s site demonstrating technology and proposing solutions. Projects such as the Konica Minolta Planetarium, NISSAN PAVILION showroom and Velazquez Tech Museum are great examples of operators and tech partners working together to conceive better ways that guests can interact with the content and space.

Co-creation leads to new solutions

For creative studios, it’s the emphasis on co-creation that differentiates “technology partner” from “equipment supplier.”

“We believe the capability of sharing the overall creative inspiration differentiates the term between ‘technology partner’ and ‘equipment supplier,'” Newman says. “In any development phase, coming up with a new idea requires a great blend of experience and expertise. Therefore, when a tech company inspires the team with its cutting-edge technology or shows a way to envision the narrative, we consider them a technology partner like Panasonic Connect.”

“Our experience of working with Panasonic Connect on Chaos Karts so far is the perfect example,” continues Lionetti-Maguire. “An equipment supplier will often do the bare minimum, dropping off an installing kit and walking away without any further care for the project. This is shortsighted.

“A great technology partner, like Panasonic Connect, will invest time and care into their partner’s project. They know that in the long run, this will be a mutually beneficial endeavour. In the true spirit of partnership and collaboration, it is also in these instances that we can solve problems. The overall product will be made better by both sets of teams bringing their various expertise to aggrandize the end product.”

Technology and creativity are symbiotic

Discussion of the creative and co-creation design process raises the chicken-and-egg question of whether new technology inspires new attractions, or if trends in design dictate the direction technology takes.

“I genuinely believe it inspires new innovations for both sides of the partnership,” says Lionetti-Maguire. “Like a river creating new tributaries, the creatives or companies will surprise and push technological partners with new imaginings. And the opposite can also be true of technology partners having prefigured a solution to a problem through their expertise that the creative may not have thought possible.”

At the core,” Song says, “Creatives are excellent problem-solvers who see the world differently. Governments, militaries, and business operations requirements have enhanced technology in the past. And now, the entertainment industry has taken past technologies and pushed the boundaries with the creative vision.

“It’ll always be a mutual relationship where both parties of creatives and technologies inspire each other.”

Looking ahead

Interactivity, gamification, and shareability—these are what attraction designers want to deliver, and it’s evolving technology that’s making it possible. People still talk about the impact of groundbreaking performances, such as the water-screen projection used at the Kabuki Spectacle for the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. So what emerging technologies are most anticipated?

“All of our experiences seek to cultivate a sense of immersion, active engagement, pure enjoyment, gamification, and a meaningful memory that can be shared with others,” Lionetti-Maguire says.

“The technology we are developing with Panasonic Connect for Chaos Karts has enormous possibilities in all of those fields. The idea of fully digital 360-degree worlds in which customers can play in real-time without the use of VR, which is limiting and inherently anti-social in the real world, is one that I personally find extremely exciting.”

“We are definitely witnessing the new trend of immersive experiences these days,” Song affirms. “With more advanced technologies allowing us to share the experience virtually and worldwide, it will only create more hybrid types of new immersive genres where the traditional theme park and new digital age experience collide and coexist.

“What excites us is not so much about the upcoming technologies, it’s about how we can forge all the tools out there to create a stronger and more immersive guest experience.”

If you’d like to discuss how a technology partner such as Panasonic Connect can help with the co-creation of immersive entertainment experiences in your museum, location-based attraction, concert, immersive attraction, artainment show, sporting event, exhibition, trade show, or anything in between, please click here or contact Chad Kunimoto by email.

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