Embracing AI

Whether we like it as a tool or fear that it might steal our jobs, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay in all its manifestations and permutations. In fact, in one year from now, AI will be doing things, enabling actions, and disrupting businesses in ways we cannot begin to fathom right now.

Many in the experiential industry are afraid AI platforms like Midjourney and ChatGPT are going to render their businesses moot, but Thinkwell embraces Artificial Intelligence. Why? It’s quite simple.

Art is communication. Design is providing solutions. Building projects is hard.

Some in our field have pivoted to using AI as a means to get work done faster and cheaper. We use AI as a tool to inspire new takes on our communication tools and empower our artists, designers, and writers to lend new perspectives on our work or serve as a design inspiration tool.

It’s easy to stop there. Let’s be clear about what is going to happen right now. Clients will be coming to us with their own ideas, generated by AI. They will have their own pitch decks with grand art and straightforward narratives, showcasing a vision for what they would like their new project to be. By all appearances, this suggests that what we do (develop a strategy and approach, come up with the grand vision, then execute) becomes completely devalued, as clients could say, “Look, we’ve already developed the big idea. We don’t need your ‘Blue Sky’ phase any longer.”

Whether this is true or not doesn’t really matter. There are two adages that are true in this situation:

  1. Perception is 9/10ths of a person’s reality.
  2. The client is always right.


You could probably add a third:

  1. Clients want to save money.


So where do we go from here? For TAIT + Thinkwell we don’t even have to pivot. We are already the largest independent experiential design and production company in the world. With our team of seasoned, passionate creators, 1200 engineers, and one million square feet of fabrication space worldwide, we have the capability to turnkey deliver virtually any project.

AI will empower our clients to “pre-vis” their projects, aspirations, and big ideas. That’s amazing. Now TAIT + Thinkwell can bring those AI-fuelled “Blue Sky” concepts to life–while we continue to validate those big ideas by bringing our acumen and decades of experience to the strategic development, functionality, throughput, engineering, detailed design, buildability, budgeting, scheduling, and in-field direction, programming, and completion to our client’s projects. With hundreds of projects opened successfully around the world pleasing more than 430 million people, we know how to bring big ideas to life.

Artificial Intelligence is a tool that brings the power of pre-visualization into the hands of all. How those aspirations get brought to life still requires the best wetware on the planet: skilled, experienced humans.

Introducing Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience

Follow a forest light trail and discover illuminated moments from the Wizarding World this Autumn at Arley Hall.


We are thrilled to announce Thinkwell’s newest project with our partners at Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, Unify, and Fever. Read on for the full launch announcement!

BURBANK, USA and MANCHESTER, UK (21 July, 2021): Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with Thinkwell, have announced a breathtaking experience that will take Harry Potter fans of all ages down a light trail inspired by the iconic Forbidden Forest featuring creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience will make its debut in the beautiful woodland at Arley Hall, Cheshire, U.K.. As evening falls, mesmerising lights will transform the landscape into a magical outdoor trail for families to enjoy. As visitors make their way through the woodland, and follow the illuminated path, they will discover wonderful surprises, some of their most favourite moments from the Forbidden Forest, and encounter mystical creatures such as Hippogriffs, centaurs, unicorns, Nifflers – and many more.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is suitable for the whole family to enjoy and provides a huge amount for fans of all ages to see and do, giving them the opportunity to experience the magic of the wizarding world in a brand-new way. From discovering the wondrous and beautiful forest come to life, enjoying a wide range of delicious food and drinks at a lively and seasonally themed village; to perusing the on-site shop for Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts merchandise to take home – it promises to be a special evening to remember!

The outdoor experience has been created by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with award-winning theatrical designers and experiential creators, Thinkwell and their partners Unify and leading entertainment discovery platform Fever.

The Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience offers fans a new way to enjoy some of the most iconic and magical wizarding world moments,” said Peter van Roden, Senior Vice President of Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment. “We’re thrilled to be working alongside Thinkwell to bring this incredible light trail to life at Arley Hall & Gardens, a perfect location where the natural beauty of the forest trail and illuminated sets filled with familiar creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series, will make for a magical experience for fans of all ages.”

The trail follows a one-way route and is designed to be accessible to all as well as COVID secure and will adhere to the latest Government safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. Guests will be able to view the most up to date guidelines on our website, www.hpforbiddenforestexperience.com.

Fans can sign up to join the waitlist at www.hpforbiddenforestexperience.com and receive early access to tickets and information about the experience.

Ticket prices will start from £19 and will be available on Fever’s marketplace here.

Press Contact
[email protected]

Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment

[email protected]


About Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment

Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment (WBTE), part of WarnerMedia Global Brands and Experiences, is a worldwide leader in the creation, development and licensing of location-based entertainment, live events, exhibits and theme park experiences based on WarnerMedia’s iconic characters, stories, and brands. WBTE is home to the groundbreaking global locations of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, WB Movie World Australia, and countless other experiences inspired by DC, Looney Tunes, Scooby, Game of Thrones, Friends and more. With best-in-class partners, WBTE allows fans around the world to physically immerse themselves inside their favorite brands and franchises.


About Wizarding World

In the years since Harry Potter was whisked from King’s Cross Station onto Platform nine and three quarters, his incredible adventures (based on the original stories by J.K. Rowling) have left a unique and lasting mark on popular culture. Eight blockbuster Harry Potter films have brought the magical stories to life and today, the Wizarding World is recognised as one of the world’s best-loved brands.

Representing a vast interconnected universe, it also includes two epic Fantastic Beasts films, (the third releasing in 2022), Harry Potter & The Cursed Child – the multi-award-winning stage-play, state-of-the-art video and mobile games from Portkey Games, innovative consumer products, thrilling live entertainment (including four theme park lands) and insightful exhibitions.

This expanding portfolio of Warner Bros. owned Wizarding World experiences also includes Harry Potter New York – a brand new flagship store, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo, and the Platform 9 3⁄4 retail shops.

The Wizarding World continues to evolve to provide Harry Potter fans with fresh and exciting ways to engage. For the worldwide fan community, and for generations to come, it welcomes everyone in to explore and discover the magic for themselves.

WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s21)


About Thinkwell

Thinkwell Group is a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Montréal, Beijing, and Abu Dhabi. For the past 20 years, Thinkwell’s multi-disciplinary team has created compelling experiences for a wide range of clients and brands around the world. Thinkwell has extensive experience in the strategy, planning, design, and production of award-winning theme parks, brand & intellectual property attractions, events & spectaculars, museums & exhibits, expos, and live shows.


About Unify

Unify Productions Global are a UK experiential  and production consultancy with operations and guest experience expertise stemming from their work as senior group leaders at London Olympics 2012. Unify’s principals, Heather McGill and Anthony Norris, honed their skills creating and operating major festivals around the UK., are now helping to create, craft, and bring to life the experience and operations of Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience with Thinkwell.


About Fever

Fever is the leading global entertainment discovery platform. Fever has revolutionised the world of entertainment since 2015, inspiring over 40 million people every month to discover the best experiences in their cities. Through the use of its technology, Fever empowers event organisers to create amazing experiences, and works alongside organisers, promoters and brands. Successful examples of their experiences include the “Candlelight Concert Series” attended by over 1 million guests, the Los Angeles based “Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience”, or the “Mad Hatter G&T Party” present in multiple cities across the world.

Celebrating 20 Years: Looking Back & Looking Ahead

It’s hard to believe that this year Thinkwell has turned 20.

When Thinkwell first started, the owners thought we’d be a small, boutique firm, serving just a handful of clients in the theme park industry. Needless to say, we’ve outgrown that vision several-fold. With projects on almost every continent and at every scale, from adorable little 300 square foot children’s exhibits you want to hug to the world’s largest indoor theme park, we’ve been to places, dreamed up concepts, and built things we never imagined back in the Fall of 2001.

The moments that stand out to us over the years inevitably come down to people: the colleagues and clients who have become our friends, the current and former Thinkwellians doing amazing things out in the world, the guests who are awed and overjoyed in our creations. The isolation and strangeness of 2020 has made us miss the people in our industry all the more intensely, and reinforced for us the truth of how the places we design and build really are meant to be enjoyed together as social experiences. 

So we hope you’ll join us throughout the rest of the year through continued employee, client, and collaborator stories that explore and celebrate the best of Thinkwell – from looking back at the moments Thinkwellians hold dear from projects over the years, to a few behind-the-scenes and never-before-heard stories, and of course, a look towards the future of what the next 20 years will begin to look like for us.

We’re grateful for every client and collaborator we’ve had the opportunity to work with over these two decades, and for every guest our clients have had the pleasure of inviting into their experiences we’ve worked so diligently to create.

Thank you.

Celebrating 10 Years Of Naturequest: A Retrospective Look Back With the Fernbank Team

In 2007, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s visionary CEO Susan Neugent and her team engaged Thinkwell to reimagine their much-loved (but well-worn) third-floor children’s exhibits. At the time, Thinkwell was still new to the museum world, and Susan’s leap of faith initiated a rich and rewarding collaborative partnership that would lead to Naturequest, a groundbreaking children’s exhibit that celebrates its tenth anniversary this week.  

NatureQuest Starfish

“From the moment we kicked off the design process in 2007,” notes Fernbank’s current CEO Jennifer Grant Warner, “we intentionally set out to create something fresh that had not been seen before at museums for young kids. Our team at Fernbank, alongside our colleagues from Thinkwell, were committed to developing this uniquely immersive space that was rooted in science and education curriculum from top to bottom, providing inclusive opportunities for all  learners to explore the natural world…in a safe, indoor environment.”

Naturequest was intended to shatter the conventions of typical children’s exhibits by creating a playful, highly explorable landscape that piques each visitor’s innate sense of curiosity without relying on didactic text or explanations. Anchored by a multilevel treehouse and a meandering virtual interactive river that winds from the mountains to the coastal reef, Naturequest provides a comprehensive, accurate, region-specific overview of Georgia’s complex biosystems. Since it’s opening, the exhibit has provided ten years of adventure to its guests, but getting to opening day was an adventure all its own.

To start with, the logistics of creating a bespoke, aspirational, indoor forest on the third floor of the building were daunting. Fernbank’s main loading dock was located four floors below, on the opposite side of the building, impractically far away from the space. Thinkwell proposed a radical solution, punching a new hole in the building three stories above an adjacent service area, and the Fernbank team unflinchingly approved the plan. It proved to be an invaluable decision, minimizing the impact of construction on the rest of the museum.

Another key objective was to include a floor-to-ceiling view to the natural forest just outside, which required the demolition and relocation of the office of the Museum’s CFO, Catherine Nowell. With typical Fernbank spirit, she unhesitatingly agreed to the plan. 

Due to the “haute couture” nature of the exhibit, every element had to be custom designed, tested and installed onsite. Once construction was underway, the Thinkwell team, led by Project Manager Courtney Kleinman, was embedded with Fernbank’s staff in Atlanta to oversee the placement of everything from the largest tree to the tiniest fossil in the rockwork strata. 

As scenic elements arrived, they became furniture for the project team; the treehouse an ad hoc conference room, fallen logs became workbenches, the under-construction ladies room served as the flooring vendor’s field office, and a faux dugout canoe was a welcoming spot for a quick power nap. The team spent all of their waking hours together. “For a while I thought I was married to (Technical Director) Gene Rogers. We drove together, worked together, ate every meal together,” Art Director Gwen Ballantyne said. 

Gwen sculpted and baked animal figures and rockwork samples in her apartment for Nassal’s scenic team, who used the models as guides for the full-sized rocks, caves, and strata they sculpted in place. They meticulously added fossils, geodes and other inclusions selected by Fernbank’s geologists to the appropriate layer of strata. They molded tree bark samples from the trees just outside to create accurate copies inside. “I was so impressed with the rockwork team from Nassal,” says Ballantyne, “They were brilliant and so patient with us and everything we were asking them to do, which was crazy hard. Everything they did was stellar.”

Elsewhere, Gwen worked with the flooring vendor Rubbertek to custom mix their primary colors to create the perfect color gradients for the riverbed, beach, and reef, an effort that they had never accomplished previously. While art directing a tree stump, Ballantyne became so captivated by the history conveyed in tree rings, that she joined the Tree Ring Society.

Meanwhile, Kate McConnell, who had already learned the Latin names for hundreds of indiginous species of plants and animals in concept development, installed animal paw prints throughout the space, each set representing a different creature and telling a unique story. Kids can follow those prints and see where the creature emerges from the grass, pauses for a drink, and finally darts away again. Kate got so caught up in the effort that Thinkwell CEO Joe Zenas unofficially dubbed her V.P. of Animal Tracks.

The tech team hung and focused lights and mapped projections in the now open, naturally lit space. They also installed computers and software, rigged interactive elements, and mixed twenty-six separate audio zones together to create a seamless, accurately immersive soundscape in the compact space. Even the soundscape is Georgia-specific, with bird and insect noises selected specifically for their accuracy to each zone of the exhibit.

“There is no more destructive force in nature than a four-year-old-child” said Rogers, and all of the Naturequest team aggressively field-tested every touchpoint to make sure they could withstand the onslaught of the destructive forces to come.  they jumped, smashed, pulled, and pushed every new set piece and element trying to break it. “Is this good to go?” asked Chris Hawkes before grabbing a balance beam log with two hands and tearing it out of the floor. “Apparently not.” Thinkwellian Cynthia Sharpe would frequently pressure-test play elements, once putting her foot through a crab pot, then testing prototype acorns, seashells, and game pieces by smashing them to the floor or against a wall. When a transfer basket for a seed dispersal activity proved too fragile, Cynthia hand-knitted a pouch instead, a solution that remains to this day.

All of the tireless work and attention to detail was put to the test on opening day. The team held their breath as the first wave of kids entered the space. As expected, they jumped, smashed, pulled, and pushed every element. Grown ups explored as well, some laying across the virtual river, climbing up the central tree, or hanging out inside the narrow burrow. Kids beckoned to parents and caregivers to share discoveries and even sought out other kids to help with cooperative games. They had turned over stones, climbed trees, explored caves, and hopped across the river. Naturequest was now theirs.

As the activity wound down towards the end of the day, Gwen Ballantyne noticed an elderly docent gazing in wistfully through the circular windows at the entrance, “The children love it,” he whispered, “Looking at this, I just want to be a boy again.”  

“Naturequest was a game changer for Fernbank,” asserted Dr. Bobbi Hohmann, Fernbank’s VP of Programming and Collections, “Our younger visitors don’t realize that they are learning as they play and, of course, our adult visitors have just as much fun in the space!”

NatureQuest Floor InteractiveBrandi Berry, VP of Marketing agreed “I knew we had created something very special and innovative when Emory University included Naturequest in their field research of early childhood education. Ten years later, I still want to climb up the inside of the tree every time I visit the exhibit.”

“Naturequest has been pivotal for Fernbank in many ways,”  Jennifer Grant Warner adds, “ the exhibition has helped Fernbank grow as an organization, expanding our reach and being recognized for our commitment to science education. Best of all, to this day, we see kids light up when they enter Naturequest and realize this space is just for them – they speed through to get their bearings and then dive into their favorite area to explore, which is exactly as we had hoped.” 

Naturequest was the product of an unprecedented partnership and collaboration between Thinkwell and the Fernbank Museum that continues to this day. Since opening in 2011, the multiple award-winning Naturequest has exponentially increased memberships, opened the door for new exhibits like WildWoods and Nature Stories, and has made Fernbank one of the most treasured spots in Atlanta. Happy anniversary Naturequest, and congratulations to our dear friends at Fernbank. It is a privilege playing with you.

Experience Arcana: A Thinkwellian’s Instagram-Based, Top 10 Game of 2020

The Los Angeles Times recently named Arcana, a horror-based interactive social media narrative I co-created with my team, AOTW, as one of the top ten games of 2020, just behind the likes of Animal Crossing and Mario Kart Live. This came as a true shock. We feel extremely proud and also humbled beyond belief. How did our Instagram-based never-before-done month-long super-hard-to-explain project get on such a list? 

ReView asked me to talk about the process of getting Arcana up and running. But to do so I feel I first have to remind readers that Thinkwell is made up of incredible artists, many of whom are working on creative projects outside their job description. From Chris Durmick’s Three Stooges TikTok page to Sara Beil’s incredible live theatre events on Zoom, we are a bunch of strange, talented creatures who bring our know-how, creativity, and lived experiences to the work we do at Thinkwell. 

My outside experience is primarily as a theater maker. And in the last decade, my theater efforts have been focused in a subgenre called immersive theatre, which blurs the lines between reality and performativity, and challenges the relationship between performer and audience member. In 2019, I worked with a team of brilliant creatives on a four day long city-wide immersive theatrical game called “All of Them, Witches!” in New Orleans, in conjunction with the Overlook Horror Film Festival. We intended to adapt our project and turn it into an evening-long Los Angeles-based experience. But then: COVID. Suddenly, the idea of having audience members in close quarters with performers was off the table. We had created an immersive theater experience that was, in every way, not permissible during the global pandemic. For a while, we attempted to re-tool the script to make it a COVID-safe one, but eventually we started from scratch, determined to create something that was tailor-made for the at-home always-safe needs of the pandemic. (I liken this moment to our creative process at Thinkwell, when we assess project parameters, and figure out how we can flex our creative muscles within a box, no matter how rigid the walls may seem.)


Arcana developed quickly into a narrative focused on the isolation, loneliness, and heartbreak that COVID was causing. But Arcana was never explicitly about COVID. We wanted that element to be subtextual. To do so, our protagonist, Jade, was set up as a loner, recently abandoned by her dear Robin, living alone in a big house with a spooky attic. Weird stuff started happening to Jade: dreams, visions, and visitations from creepy fox creatures. We put everything on Instagram. And as spectators got more involved with Jade, they started playing the game of her life by solving riddles tucked inside artwork, or decoding a cypher that had to be assembled from numerous posts. Eventually our audience became friends with Jade. We had our audience hooked, and that was only week one! In the following three weeks, the narrative moved into other forms of social media, direct email messages, internet-based world religion research, and some serious puzzle solving. Our players dove head-first into user-created communities like Slack and Discord to collaborate, communicate, and squabble over how to solve mysteries inside the narrative. Some players remained spectators, happy to watch the story unfold, but not keen to spend hours solving complicated riddles. The entire time, we observed from “beyond the veil,” keeping tabs on player delight and frustration to ensure we could adapt and evolve alongside our audience. This was real-time adaptation and pivoting, which enhanced our ability to give the audience real agency. In the final week of the narrative, our audience decided upon the outcome of dear, sweet Jade (who, by then, wasn’t so dear nor so sweet.) You can re-live the entire experience at Arcana-Game.com. 

Our process, internally, had to adapt and evolve as we created the experience for audience members. My writing partner, Eva Anderson, and I would brainstorm and break episodes, which we would then pitch to the rest of the team. Then, our production team E3W (Natalie Jones, Austin Keeling, Aaron Keeling) would collaborate with puzzle mastermind Tommy Honton to figure out how to put the narrative/script into action, aided by a wonderful performance by Nerea Duhart, who played Jade. Keeping tabs on everything was our ever-watchful and brilliant producer, Mali Elfman. Just as we figured out how to produce week one, we were in “pre-production” for weeks two, three, and four! It was a whirlwind, and one that I’d gladly step into again. The LATimes enjoyed the whirlwind, too

The question of how to give audience members a flexible amount of agency to influence the outcome of a narrative experience, whether it be in a theme park setting or while roaming an illuminated garden, is one that we enjoy discussing at Thinkwell. My experience producing Arcana will surely influence how I think about experience design as a Creative Director for Thinkwell, and I can’t wait to apply that knowledge to future projects. 


A Look Ahead: Thinkwell’s D&I Plans For 2021

Like many, we here at Thinkwell had more than a smidge of gladness to turn the page on 2020 and welcome the new year. With the promise of widespread vaccination in the not-too-distant future, there’s cause for optimism. At the same time, we are keenly aware of how much work there is to do this year in inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, as we continue our intertwined efforts of Thinkwell 3.0 and the work of our Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Council

These represent profound organizational change: they both touch every aspect of how Thinkwell operates, the work we do, and our role in our industry. Part of that work is fulfilling our pledge to be open and honest about our work, our progress, and our shortcomings.

As we look to the future, we’ve implemented several key changes and have additional work in development. These include:

  • Our D&I Council has overseen and analyzed our first Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging survey, using our LA Studio team as the prototype, and the team is now in the process of defining, staffing, and empowering specific efforts to address some of the issues and opportunities that came out of that survey.
  • We have launched our Studio Team program, again with the LA Studio as the prototype. Studio Teams bring together small groups of Thinkwellians across disciplines for professional development, career guidance, and workplace culture initiatives.
  • We have worked with our HR software provider to expand terminology in our forms and documentation, to be more inclusive and welcoming.
  • We have partnered with an external organization to provide all of our Los Angeles staff with unconscious bias training.

These and other efforts touch every facet of Thinkwell, including content on Thinkwell’s blog and social media channels. Working with our D&I Council, we’re planning a year of content that leverages our platform, as leaders in the industry, to support education and awareness around the role, impact, and responsibility of experience design in diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. Rather than confine these posts to affinity months, we’re planning on addressing these subjects year-round. It’s also important to have a wide range of voices at all times, elevating them for their expertise and unique viewpoints, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we have to share over the coming months.


Lessons From Lockdown

As designers and developers of location-based experiences, we have the privilege and opportunity to connect with our audiences in unique and unexpected ways. Whether we have crafted a museum exhibit, a Family Entertainment Center, or the most ambitious theme park ever created, our greatest reward is the memories our guests share, forging lifelong bonds and personal connections to our work and each other. Ironically, in normal times, we tirelessly toil through the days and sleepless nights, fussing and fretting over every design detail and budget hiccup, not stopping until the hammering is done and the ribbon is cut. And then it’s on to the next. We are kept so busy crafting the next big thing that we often fail to capture the smaller moments ourselves.


Obviously, these are far from normal times. 2020 has been the Black Swan of Black Swans. In the beforedays, our industry flourished in times of crisis as people sought a bit of escapism from the troubling world, but this global pandemic has been a gut-punch to all of our preconceived notions. A year ago, it was inconceivable to think that our homes would become our fortresses of solitude. That cinemas, museums, attractions, and theme parks (never mind bars and restaurants) would shut their doors for a single day, let alone months. We all had a rather vacant stare as it dawned on us that our gates would shutter, our offices would close, our projects would pause, our lives would go on hold. The whole world had suddenly and forever changed.

And yet, we’ve adapted and adopted new tools and ways of working. So much has already been written about the surprising productivity of working from home (with or without pants), the comparatively painless transition to online conferencing and collaboration, the explosion of streaming entertainment, social media platforms, and a creator economy in which anyone and everyone, anywhere in the world can find a voice, a following, and an audience all their own.  

We push forward and speculate, plot, and blogpost about how social-distancing and a contactless world will alter our approach to visitor engagements. We closely follow the theme parks that have begun to reopen to see how new safety guidelines affect attendance and guest satisfaction. We share the challenges and successes of museum exhibits and theatrical performances as they reinvent themselves in the digital realm, and debate what elements might outlast this pandemic to shape experiences to come.  We quietly delight in the renaissance of the drive-in, which has become the venue not only for movies, but for concerts, weddings, graduations, worship services, election rallies, and victory celebrations.  Our cars have become their own semi-autonomous, trackless ride vehicles that lead us through the nearest Halloween haunt or holiday lights spectacle.  We follow the trends of an audience whose entertainment options have been severely limited resulting in the soaring popularity of outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and even golf, and we consider how all of this will play out in our future projects.  

When we shift the topic of our lockdown experiences away from work-related things, however, the conversation takes a revealing turn. When asked what happy surprises our suddenly homebound existences have revealed after these many months, our answers are notably intimate and personal.  Many of us take great satisfaction in finally checking off items on our much ignored to do lists, ignored not so much because we’ve been busy, but because we had so many ready distractions to blame for our procrastination. My colleagues have fixed that leaky faucet, renovated a room, completed unfinished writing projects, honed new skills, created the artwork, crafted instruments, miniatures, sweaters, scarves, and quilts. Others have tended their gardens, harvested their crops, and prepared their meals… and spent time with each other. 

And that’s the heart of the matter. In spite of the challenges of this “lockdown lifestyle,” it has ironically drawn us closer to one another.  We’ve bonded with our pets, who seem deeply puzzled as to why we’re around so much these days. Through Zoom calls, we’ve reconnected with friends and family, separated by time and space. We’ve treasured walks and bike rides with our partners, siblings, children, and grandchildren. We’ve watched the drama of nature unfold outside our windows, gazing at the night sky, or rooting for birds as they battle for territory in the trees. This Halloween, my block arranged a special costume parade for the little ones on the street followed by a socially distanced outdoor movie on the driveway. Neighbors who opted into the festivities gathered on their lawns, and made it one of the most memorable community bonding events we’ve ever had, and a tradition we hope to repeat next year. 

The almost unbearable challenge of distance learning has given us a renewed appreciation for educators, but also the gift of precious time with our sons and daughters. My colleague Cynthia and I each have a teen-ager named Sean, both of whom are seniors in high school. Thankfully, they both remain active and engaged, but it crushes us to think they are missing social events, dances, live shows, sports, and, sigh… graduation ceremonies, all milestones in this grand finale to their schooldays. The silver lining is that we get to share this ever-dwindling time together as they prepare to fly, cooking meals together, playing foosball, ping-pong, board games, guiding them through homework, rehearsing the virtual musical in the next room, streaming Netflix on the same couch at the same time. My Sean cannot play organized ice hockey with his team, so he has to settle for beer league pick-up games with friends and, ugh, his dad.  I make sure I tell him over and over how much I treasure these moments, and I am confident that one day, he will too.

It seems that even the gee-wizards of location-based entertainment, the purveyors of pomp and pyrotechnics, the first adopters, first-in-liners, and fiercest critics of the latest and greatest immersive any-and-everything are living through a crash course in the power of moments. 

So as this crisis fades and our cultural ship begins to right itself and lists forward into the new sea of reality, as we begin to rev our engines once again to plan, plot, draw and design the next big, immersive, 5D, multimedia, autonomous, AR, VR, AI, gob-smacking glockenspiel of awesomeness, let’s not forget the power of the small moment. Let’s not forget that the greatest reward for all our efforts is connecting with our guests; creating personal moments of awe, wonder, joy, revelation, or familial intimacy. We are gifted with the opportunity to create memories that transcend the commonplace. These “emotional souvenirs” are treasures that our guests will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, as we emerge from this lunacy of lockdowns, we can also remember to savor those small moments in our own lives, too. 


#WeMakeEvents – A Red Alert Initiative

Creatives in the event industry have a deep-seated need to entertain people. It’s what feeds the soul, making the world a better place one concert, play, and smile at a time. With a perfect storm of this year with a pandemic and economic crisis hitting all at once, this period of time has been compared to the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression. However, large gatherings were encouraged during the Spanish Flu to boost morale during World War I, and despite the Great Depression, people still had just enough money to still pay for the occasional evening of entertainment. 

Today, entertainment venues of all sizes are shuttered—and have been for months. For decades, the sheer magnitude of the impact of entertainment and events on our global economy hasn’t garnered the kind of public and governmental support it should have, and now the lack of significant economic aid to this sector threatens to ravage both it and the people who work in it long term. Gary White, a British producer, colleague, and good friend of Thinkwell, has dedicated himself to amplifying this issue and increasing visibility of how the pandemic is affecting so many in the live events industry.


A show and technical director, producer of large-scale events having worked on projects ranging from the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia to the Lumiere London and beyond, Gary’s knowledge of a great show knows no bounds. Once COVID hit the world and the events industry immediately was put on hold, Gary saw the need to bring people emotionally together. He spearheaded a campaign to pay it forward to National Healthcare Service employees by getting as many venues, icons, and locales to #LightItBlue every Thursday night at 8:00 pm. It represented the entertainment industry’s way of engaging the public and thanking the front-line employees for their work during the pandemic. After #LightItBlue and #MakeItBlue took off, Gary shepherded the event through the spring, joining forces with Thinkwell to expand the reach to the United States and beyond. This gave Gary time to step back and focus on what was about to come next…

In mid-July, Gary was approached by colleagues at the Professional Light and Sound Association (PLASA) to be the lead producer for the #WeMakeEvents campaign. A natural progression from his previous endeavors, where the events industry paid respect to the healthcare industry, this new campaign focuses on the needs of the hundreds of thousands of professionals and companies in events and entertainment themselves. #WeMakeEvents strives to bring awareness and understanding of the threats the COVID crisis poses to the industry by broadcasting an iconic ‘red alert’ cry for help. With thousands of people who make their living creating, organizing, and implementing events at a variety of scales out of work, the industry urgently needs aid and public support. Gary set out to raise awareness of the struggles his colleagues and the industry at large have faced since March. 

Gary once again leveraged his vast international network, utilizing his expertise to spearhead this new campaign. As an industry that was the first to close and will be one of the last to open leaving millions out of work, the livelihood of every stagehand, producer, and technician became the utmost importance in this awareness campaign. Gary’s focus on creating a megascale, streamed event that was highly visible, safe, and leveraged the skills and talents of events professionals was the natural way to fulfill PLASA’s intent and garner attention worldwide.

The inaugural event was on August 11, 2020: more than five thousand professionals gathered over 20 cities across the UK, such as Manchester, Edinburgh, and Cardiff, with the core of the event taking place on London’s South Bank. The fully live-streamed event featured an event crew dressed in red while holding up red lights into the sky, signifying a ‘red alert’ asking for financial support for the families impacted by the months-long shutdown of events and performances. 

#WeMakeEvents#WeMakeEvents has now gone global, reaching 28 countries, and is continuing its efforts to raise money and lobby governments to provide assistance for millions of event professionals out of work for the foreseeable future. Gary and his volunteers have successfully created a wide array of ongoing events both digitally and socially distanced – all completely pro-bono. Artists around the world have stepped up to host “Survival Sessions” – their take on live-streamed jam sessions. Additionally, the #WeMakeEvents website hosts a “Speakeasy” room featuring a variety of options including skills workshops, live stream open sessions, and quiz nights for event professionals to sharpen their skills and network with peers. 

On December 18-19, #WeMakeEvents’ final event of the year is one of silence. For one night only across the United Kingdom, thousands of people will ‘sleep out’ where they live or traditionally work (pending local restrictions) as an effort to raise awareness of the nearly three million people who have fallen through the cracks of government support during the pandemic. 

What 2021 will bring for everyone is still a guess. For Gary, his focus is simple: taking it a day at a time to help the industry. He noted: “This is about fundamentally being a good person and caring for everyone. It’s something I live and breathe for every day.” It’s a good standard to hold ourselves to as we do our part in enduring this pandemic, waiting for that red light to turn to green. We eagerly await the day when thousands of talented individuals finally able to return to doing what they do best: bringing people together and creating happiness through breathtaking events. 

Please join us at Thinkwell this year as we support #WeMakeEvents in this truly important initiative. You can donate directly or get involved at  www.wemakeevents.com


A Different View: The 2020 TEA Summit Digital Case Study


10 years in the making. A veritable army of people had been a part of creating it. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi has been a part of Thinkwell, in one form or another, for half of the company’s history. We were thrilled to celebrate its recognition with a Thea for Outstanding Achievement – Theme Park and eagerly honed our presentation to share at Case Study day at the TEA Summit 2020 with friends, peers, colleagues, and collaborators from around the world.

Needless to say, 2020 had other plans. We are eternally grateful to the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) for figuring out a way to bring the case studies online, but as we prepared, it was natural to worry that it would feel more remote, that it would lose the collegiality that being in the room brings. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi creative director and former Thinkwellian Dave Cobb and Miral’s Glenn Davidson led a candid discussion about the park, highlighted by videos narrated by Craig Hanna, Thinkwell co-founder and Chief Creative Officer. The online platform made the Q&A more vibrant and participatory – strangely akin to a Netflix watch party with distant friends. Separate, in our homes and offices, we all got to eavesdrop as Glenn and Dave nattered with the four WDI presenters for Galaxy’s Edge and Smuggler’s Run, a masterclass in what goes into these megascale projects.TEA Summit 2020 Dave Cobb

This banter reinforced that no matter the disparate nature of our projects, we all do ridiculous, incredible things in the service of making amazing experiences for people. Typically, when presenting at case studies, you cannot see the audience reaction – here, we were all hanging out in a virtual family room, reveling in the oohs and ahhs of peers and colleagues, watching them geek out, have their minds blown, talk about what they loved about this massive undertaking we’d labored on for so long. It was an unexpected bright spot for so many of us who’d been involved in this amazing project.

We don’t know what Summit will look like next year, if the promising vaccines in development will make it possible for us to be together in Anaheim in the spring, or if the case studies will be virtual again. Whatever form it takes, we’re excited to share our latest project to be honored with a 2020 Thea Award: Midnight Ride at Lionsgate Entertainment World.