Location-based Entertainment in a Post-COVID-19 World

As people consider what the future of location-based entertainment in a post-coronavirus world looks like, owners and operators of theme parks, entertainment venues, and family entertainment centers consider how they will run their businesses in whatever version of the “new normal” we will have.

This white paper was written in collaboration with Cynthia Sharpe, Principal Cultural Attractions, and Dave Cobb, Principal Creative Development.

Please note: This list is not exhaustive. It doesn’t take into consideration what is needed from an employee/cast member/staff standpoint (such as ensuring employees are virus-free before entering the workplace). It does not consider an obvious primary option for operators in a post-COVID-19 world, what we call, “pass to play.” In this (very short) version of this white paper, all visitors would be required to show they had been vaccinated for COVID-19. How this verification would be done so it would be clearly legitimate, easy to view for the park employee, and easy to provide for the guest remains to be seen. (In China, residents there use an app with a QR code that is scanned at the door to verify identity and travel of the individual at most shops, restaurants, and office buildings.)  

Here are seven areas for owners/operators to consider when reopening their parks and projects. This is what it’ll take to get open again–for now, not forever–and it’ll require more staff with fewer guests, a proposition that may be hard to swallow. 


1. Ticketing, Entry, Security & Park Capacity

Park capacity will be a huge concern in a post-coronavirus world. Crowds on a scale typically seen in the mega parks on both coasts and internationally will need to be adjusted to allow for social distancing. While many theme parks and some larger museums have had success at shifting guests to ticketing in advance via an app or website, many smaller institutions have online ticketing rates at under 10% of all tickets sold.

Not only must physical ticketing, including changing protocols and equipment to support the health and safety of front-line staff, be addressed, but venues will also need to evaluate and potentially redesign their online ticketing experience and platforms to reduce friction and encourage uptake.

In addition to the typical “mag and bag” security (running personal items through a scanner and people through another), security might also need instant forehead temperature scanners to ensure guests are healthy. Guests may need to also wear face masks throughout their visit. Parkwide and abundant hand sanitizer stations–similar to those seen on cruise ships but even more plentiful and obvious–will be necessary.


2. Queues

Near-continuous and visually obvious cleaning of queue railings will be necessary regardless of what methodology is used for attraction queues. With pulsed queues, guests would be given a specific time to return, whether that’s via an app, staggered entry paper ticket, or text message.

When the guest arrives at the attraction they are let in and then they make their way to the load area (either bypassing the queue theming and show areas altogether or allowing for guests to “explore” show-heavy queues).


3. Rides & Attractions

Social distancing will need to happen in rides as well. Ride vehicles may need to be loaded with empty vehicles between guests, while coaster trains will need to consider empty rows and seats between riders, and all vehicles will need extra time to have seats and touchable surfaces sanitized before boarding. These factors alone will greatly reduce the THRC of rides and attractions, which will have a ripple effect up to the original consideration of the overall park capacity.


4. Interactives

In a post-COVID-19 world, a heavy reliance on touch-based interactive screens is a thing of the past. There simply aren’t enough staffers to constantly be wiping down touchscreens between uses, so these interactives will need to be removed, covered, or modified. (Thinkwell Studio Montréal is developing two initiatives to deal with this issue. The first is a gesture-based retrofit that allows guests to interact with touchscreen-based digital displays, eliminating the need for touching a surface at all. The second initiative is called interactive mirroring. It puts the interactive on a guests’ mobile device, allowing them to touch their own device to input to the interactive. Both of these solutions are retrofits to many interactive stations in museums, theme parks, and other applications.)

Beyond touch screens, this is a real opportunity to consider more holistic, universal-design based approaches to interactivity, from how they can more meaningfully leverage machine learning, gesture-based inputs, and voice commands to the material choices themselves. Interactivity isn’t done for, but we’ll see the next big push forward in its design and use.


5. VR Goggles & 3D Glasses

Will people want a device, like a virtual reality goggle set and headgear at all so close to their eyes, noses, and mouths after the world goes back to some form of normal? Even with obvious cleaning, that puts the technology and the multi-use headgear and goggles uncomfortably close to the guests’ faces. What will happen with VR in public spaces?

The same holds true for 3D glasses. With as many attractions installed around the world that rely on 3D, operators need to consider single-use wrapped 3D glasses as expendables. If more than one 3D attraction exists at a park or complex, selling or giving guests a single pair of reusable glasses at the front gate that visitors keep with them would be ideal.


6. Parades, Spectaculars, & Shows

As some parks consider canceling parades, shows, and fireworks spectaculars due to the density of guests for such presentations, there might be ways to allow these things to continue. First, the peak daily in-park capacity comes into consideration again. Group sizes for these entertainments will be different than they used to be, so that will be one element to reduce some concern. Still, what is to keep people apart?

Just look to Japan for one possible solution. When visitors to theme parks in Japan want to see a parade and hold their place in line they put down a towel or blanket they brought with them, then run off to go on a ride or grab a bite to eat (more on eating in the next category). These spots are respected by all guests. Imagine if park staff taped off areas for groups—each appropriately distanced—to create spaces for guests to view parades or nighttime spectaculars. It would require guests to respect those partitions, but it would allow for the parade or spectacular to continue.

For live shows where seating is provided, social distancing is easier by simply putting a cover over seats, closing entire rows, and asking guests to put 2-4 seats between them and the next group. Loading times will need to be extended in order to ensure proper compliance with the plan. Using shows as a way to manage crowds and provide a “pressure valve” remains important. 


7. Dining & Shopping

The capacity of shops and restaurants will need to be regulated to ensure social distancing. Marking tables as “out of service” will be required, or simply removing tables and chairs to open up space between diners could be considered as well. Self-service dining (buffets, salad bars, and “fixin’s” stations) will need to be shut for now. Order in advance systems, like those already found in some Disney parks, would help both with reducing time in lines as well as allowing spacing between guests.

Throughout parks, from the main gate to shops and restaurants, a touchless payment solution—like Apple/Google Pay, contactless chips in credit cards that are the standard in many countries outside of the U.S.—will need to be installed and adapted to avoid keypads, card-swiping/insertion, or signing receipts. 

With all the considerations to employee and guest safety needed to make a park or entertainment complex safe (both physically and in the minds of the paying public), a lot will need to be done to prepare for reopening in a post-coronavirus world.

Of course, all of these suggestions require the guest to be an active participant in the plans and to willingly comply with these modified operational expectations. Even with all of these challenges and hurdles, we know that location-based social entertainment is going to be more important than ever for our own wellbeing and to help heal our communities. It’s become clear in the past several weeks how beloved these places are and how much we crave social experience.

If you would like to contact Thinkwell to help in your post COVID-19 plans, please contact us.

Cynthia Sharpe’s Tips for Telecommuting

During these uncertain times of quick adjustments and change, we’re all working on flexibility as we adjust to a temporary new normal while still getting our work done. Thankfully, Thinkwellian Cynthia Sharpe has some fantastic insight and tips for telecommuting. After all, she’s been doing it at Thinkwell for the past 16 years!

Be sure to read through the slides of her top 10 hints, share with a colleague who may need some additional encouragement or support, and most importantly: wash your hands. 



Thinkwell Group to Design and Produce U.S.A. Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Los Angeles, CA (March 9, 2020): The U.S. Department of State announced on January 15, 2020, its participation in Expo 2020 Dubai and appointed Thinkwell Group as the turnkey designer and producer for the U.S.A. Pavilion.

Thinkwell is extremely honored to be able to deliver an experience that will welcome guests and take them on a journey into The American Spirit. Inside, they will discover a pavilion that celebrates and explores the exciting future made possible by American innovation, vision, and enterprise during the six month duration of Expo 2020 Dubai, kicking off from October this year. Thinkwell is committed to delivering one of the great pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai. Thinkwell will also be working closely with Global Ties U.S., which will recruit youth ambassadors to serve as guides in the pavilion and program cultural performances that reflect the geographic and cultural richness of America.

“As an American/Lebanese dual citizen working in the U.A.E., it is incredibly exciting to be a part of the United States’ participation that is made possible thanks to Thinkwell’s local presence and global footprint,” says Amin Rashmani, Managing Director of Thinkwell, EMEA, who is leading the project collaboration between Thinkwell’s Abu Dhabi Office and its Los Angeles Headquarters & Studio. “Our teams look forward to sharing the innovation and vision of the United States through the design and development of the U.S.A. Pavilion at this global event.”

About Thinkwell Group

Thinkwell Group is a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Montréal, and Riyadh. For nearly 20 years, our multi-disciplinary team has created compelling experiences for a wide range of clients and brands around the world. Thinkwell’s creative, collaborative team brings extensive experience in the strategy, planning, design, and production of theme parks, destination resorts, major branded and intellectual property attractions, events & spectaculars, museums & exhibits, expos, and live shows. The award-winning company has become a leader in experiential design by bringing a unique holistic approach to every engagement. Thinkwell most recently delivered Lionsgate Entertainment World and the award-winning Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest indoor theme park.

For more information visit: www.thinkwellgroup.com.

About Global Ties U.S.

Global Ties U.S. is a nonprofit organization that coordinates exchange programs that bring current and future leaders from around the world to communities across the United States.   

Theme Parks Have A Lot To Teach Healthcare Systems About Patient Experience

This article was originally written by Dave Muoio on Mobihealthnews.com

Using the best practices in design and operational planning, with inspiration from high-impact areas such as museums and theme parks, Thinkwell Health aspires to help improve guest experiences in healthcare facilities and communities. Read more below on our perspective into designing positive visitor experiences with Thinkwellian Cynthia Sharpe and Thinkwell Health SME Steven Merahn, MD.


There’s no shortage of logistical crossovers between these industries, but so far museums, zoos and other amusements have had much more success when designing positive consumer experiences. Patient satisfaction is a laudable goal for any healthcare provider, but winning high quality ratings and patients’ trust goes well beyond courteous staff and warm bedside manners. Consistent record keeping, robust contingency plans, well-supported staff and strong end-to-end engagement all play a role in crafting the ideal patient experience — and each of these components become harder and harder to handle with the greater size of a system’s operations.

Tackling these challenges requires a kind of strategic thinking that, frankly, many healthcare providers have only just begun dipping their toes into, says Dr. Steven Merahn, chief medical officer at Centria Healthcare. Fortunately, there are other industries further along that road which could offer a model for healthcare systems to follow.

“I went out into the world to find somebody to help me with this stuff, … and I could not, as the CMO of a large national practice at the time, find in healthcare the competencies that I needed to succeed. Nobody could come to me and say ‘Yes, we’ve taken on these challenges before,’” Merahn said.

“So I went searching, and I found that interestingly enough, theme parks have many of the same challenges that healthcare has. Themed entertainment, resorts, destination retail — all of these situations try to create ‘immersive transformative experiences,’ … and I can’t think of anything more immersive and transformative than an episode of healthcare.”

At this year’s HIMSS20 show, Merahn and Cynthia Sharpe, principal of cultural attractions and research at experience design agency Thinkwell Group, will highlight the parallels between these separate industries. Both, as Sharpe explains, are required to handle large quantities of people, coordinate a diverse body of staff with various levels of educational background, and — importantly — build trust among consumers so that they may earn repeat business while imparting valuable knowledge.

“Healthcare, like a museum, zoo or aquarium, is in the game of informal education, because we’re trying to get patients, their families, their caregivers, their communities to learn and integrate some really challenging content,” Sharpe said. “If I’m a parent and I’m terrified in a doctor’s office with my two-year-old who’s not breathing well, and the doctor tells me ‘Your kid has asthma,’ we’re expecting that parent to suddenly learn and assimilate and act on really complicated information.”

Perhaps the single most important takeaway Sharpe has for healthcare is that effective patient experience design need to be holistic. On the one hand, that means thinking about the patient encounter from “the first sneeze” to well after they’ve been discharged. But more broadly, it also need to be focused on four major components of a large scale operation that a patient might encounter: the people, the platform, the places and the processes.

“We look at experience design incredibly holistically … [and] it’s as much as thinking through the operation, the back-of-house facilities [customers] never see,” Sharpe said. “Front and back of house has to work together really solidly to make sure that the experience is 360, and is designed so that you can cope when a curveball is thrown your way, whether that’s the Frozen ride breaking down if you’re at Walt Disney World, or a patient suddenly having a medical device, or a problem with a medical facility. True experience design, as we use that phrase, accounts for those things.”

These concepts are just as applicable to the day-to-day operations of a facility as those emergency breakdown situations. For Sharpe, it’s the personal experience of having a child with severe food allergies — a major theme park like Disney has systems in place where her child is prevented from buying these offending foods, but in a healthcare setting it isn’t out of the ordinary for nurses to casually offer children a potentially dangerous snack (despite that information already being well documented in the EHR). Merahn, meanwhile, recounted the unexpected responsibilities many healthcare workers face when trying to take a breather.

“You’re stepping away from the ICU for a minute and you’re running numbers through your head, because that’s what nurses do,” he explained. “You’re in the elevator, and someone walks in and says ‘excuse me, where’s the gift shop?’ What does that do to the moment that your in as a professional? You have to shut down the work you’re doing in your head, and you’re obligated due to patient satisfaction programs to take that person to the gift shop and make small talk.

“If we designed hospitals with a back-of-house component, then that break would happen ‘on stage.’ Every hotel has a back elevator you never see where they wheel the room service and laundry carts out. Yet in hospitals we co-mingle those things, and that contributes significantly to burnout.”

Using these and other interdisciplinary case studies, Merahn and Sharpe will be sharing their takeaways for healthcare patient experience design at HIMSS20 in a session titled “What Can Healthcare Learn from Theme Parks and Museums?” It is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11 from 2:30-3:30p.m. in room W308A.

5th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report

Did you know that 46% of fans surveyed would be willing to spend up to $1,000 for a fan experience?  And that willingness to travel to such an experience is even higher, with 71% of fans reporting they would travel up to 500 miles for a fan activation, experience, or event? These surprising findings and more can be found in Thinkwell’s 5th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report, which explores guest motivations, success factors, and must-haves when it comes to fan conventions, festivals, meet-ups, and events.

Studios, IP holders, and other enterprises are seizing the opportunity to reach targeted groups of die-hard fans and brand evangelists across a variety of global experiential events, and the demand for fan fests and spaces where people with common interests can meet and mingle is climbing every year.  With this continued growth of fan events around the world — from San Diego Comic Con fan activations to Pokémon GoFest and the Harry Potter Wizard’s Unite Festival — the team at Thinkwell dug into this trend to understand what is driving people to these events and how to make these experiences appealing and unique for fans.  

To find out what’s behind these trends and what makes these gatherings meaningful, fun, and worth the cost, read the full report here.

Inside Gringotts Wizarding Bank: bringing the magic of Harry Potter to life

Earlier this year, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter unveiled the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. This is the attraction’s biggest expansion to date.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank opened to the public on the 6th of April 2019. Visitors to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter can now walk through the iconic wizarding bank. The experience includes the Lestrange vault, a gallery of goblins, destroyed Gringotts and much more. The expansion is a collaboration between the Tour and the Harry Potter filmmakers.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is a must for Harry Potter fans. Built at the location where most of the films were shot, the tour includes sets such as the Great Hall, Platform 9 ¾, Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest. There are also several sets from within Hogwarts, as well as the latest addition, Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

The tour features iconic props and costumes from the movies. There is a chance to take part in a green screen scene, Butterbeer is available to taste, and merchandise is on sale.

Sarah Roots, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Tours, Warner Bros. spoke to Blooloop about the new expansion.

A background in hotels and visitor attractions
Roots has always been drawn to the attractions sector.

“One of the most informative things I did was to take an office job for six months,” she says. “What came out of that was a clear understanding that I did not ever want to work in an office again. So, I started my career largely in hotels and catering. I loved it, but was always intrigued by visitor attractions.”

Roots grew up in Kent. As a child, she often visited Sissinghurst Castle Gardens with her family.

“I was as interested in the people and the set up of the beautiful garden. I remember saying that I’d love to go and work somewhere like Sissinghurst, one day, and I did actually go and work for the National Trust later on.”

Tourism and heritage
Roots moved from hotels and catering to what was then the Tussauds group and Chessington World of Adventures.

“I had a great start there,” says Roots. “Following that, I moved towards the heritage side. I worked for the National Trust and two different stints at the National Maritime Museum.”

It was from the Maritime Museum that Roots joined Warner Bros. “I came from the cultural sector to the commercial one,” she says. “Often, it tends to work the other way.”

“An interesting fact about my career is that I’ve had lots of particularly lovely offices. At Chessington, I was in a fairy princess tower. At the National Trust, I had a meeting room where the Queen Mother spent her honeymoon. Then, at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (Maritime Museum) I had a Wren designed office – the only Wren designed building aside from St Paul’s in London. And now, I sit within the fire-breathing distance of a full-size Ukranian Ironbelly dragon!”

The Making of Harry Potter
Speaking about The Making of Harry Potter, Roots says: “It was a brilliant time to come on board. To be part of the setup of an experience which has become so immensely successful.

“We were in a very privileged position to have these incredible, original handmade film assets. And also, to be working with Harry Potter, which has a global fan base.”

“We were able to create this experience from scratch. There’s a science behind delivering the best possible visitor experience. We were able to plan around that in consultation with the Thinkwell Group.

“Emotionally, the visitor takes a journey that begins with an amazing ‘wow’ moment in the Great Hall. This is when you’re welcomed to Hogwarts at the start. You go right through all the authentic sets and then to the model at the end, which is a very emotional space. We’ve had wedding proposals there, and fans in tears.”

Features and events
“The starting point is a fantastically good, high-quality experience,” says Roots. “It is well designed with a global IP. But the longevity and the excitement of the success is all down to the execution. It is because of our amazing staff and how they bring the films and the sets and props and costumes to life.”

The tours are kept fresh by ensuring there is always something new. The features programme means several events run through the year.

“We usually have something where the filmmakers will come in, perhaps introducing the art department or a behind-the-scenes event, or the talent who actually worked on the film offering an authentic experience of that film making process.”

For the Halloween season from the 27th September to the 10th November, there is Dark Arts. Christmas sees Hogwarts in the Snow.

The expansions, such as Gringotts Wizarding Bank are also a major highlight.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank
“The expansions have really helped to put us on the map, to grow our audience from a PR and awareness point of view. They also give something new for our returning visitors.”

The first, in 2015, was Platform 9 ¾, from which the Hogwarts Express famously departs. In 2017 it was the Forbidden Forest.

The most recent expansion is Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which opened in April. “It is absolutely breath-taking. It’s beautiful,” says Roots.

The sets were restored by many of the film franchise’s original crew using the techniques used in production. The filmmaking talent oversaw the process including Oscar and BAFTA-winning production designer Stuart Craig, construction manager Paul Hayes and head prop-maker Pierre Bohanna. The 16,500 square foot expansion comprises Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the Lestrange vault and destroyed Gringotts.

The Gringotts banking hall features tall marble columns. It is finished with brass leaf and decorated with three enormous crystal chandeliers.

The goblin tellers’ desks are heaped with ledgers, quills and inkwells. They also hold the sickles, knuts and galleons that are the currency of the wizarding world. The costumes and prosthetics of the goblin bankers are also featured.

The Lestrange vault holds the treasures of Bellatrix Lestrange. Here, visitors can find the Sword of Gryffindor as well as a Horcrux – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup.

A world-class attraction
“We were reaching a point where we were being restricted by the space,” says Roots. “We are very conscious of our customer experience. So, it gave us an opportunity. Not just to add Gringotts bank but also to expand some of our core facilities for our customers.”

The expansion features an all-new lobby, housing the information desk, digital guides and toilets. Owls and Hogwarts acceptance letters decorate the walls.

“It really feels as if you’re arriving at a top-end, world-class attraction.”

The Studio Tour Hub also offers many prime Instagram opportunities. “We’ve got an amazing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon hanging from the foyer ceiling. It’s stunning; we’re thrilled with it. Our customers hang out there, taking selfies. The filmmakers are immensely proud of it.

“Stuart Craig, the production designer, looked at the early picture of a dragon hanging in the space. He said: no, it needs to look like it did in Gringotts bank; as if it’s trying to escape, and the dragon is too big for the space. It’s a big space, so the dragon is really very special.”

The dragon in the 2011 film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (II) was created with CGI. This sculpture has a wingspan of over 64 feet and dominates the space.

Magical food and beverage options
“We have expanded and refreshed our F&B,” says Roots. “We introduced our Chocolate Frog Café, where we’ve got some exciting treat products. This includes unique ice cream flavours and a really magical hot chocolate.”

The Chocolate Frog Café is themed around the iconic confectionary. Mirrors recreate the moving witch and wizard cards contained in the original chocolate frog packaging.

A worldwide fanbase
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997, and the first film came out in 2001. Since that point, the popularity of the wizarding world has continued to grow.

“Harry Potter fans are so engaged and passionate,” says Roots. “They’re an amazing audience, and also very tech-savvy. So, we can engage with them through our social media channels.

“Harry Potter is more popular than ever. The development of the wizarding world and the introduction of Fantastic Beasts has continued to build the brand. There has been so much activity in the franchise, and we are part of that wizarding world.”

“In the UK, we are the key touchpoint, the physical place where the fans can come and celebrate all things Harry Potter.”

According to research done by Warner Bros., people who grew up with the books and films are now introducing their own children to them.

“Many of those original fans are coming back to celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries and so on at our special events. For example, coming to the Great Hall, perhaps, for a dinner.

“The fans are very engaged, genuine people, and it is a genuine brand. Everything we have is authentic to the films, and to that magical world. I think that’s why the model is so emotional: we’ve had people kiss the floor in the Great Hall.”

The magical world of Gringotts Wizarding Bank
The Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion is the biggest that Warner Bros. Studio Tour London has done, to date. Roots says it has already proved phenomenally popular:

“The set, with the marble columns, props and hand-applied brass leaf, is stunning.”

“We also have a Destroyed Gringotts, so visitors can compare the sets. It includes digital technology where the dragon thrashes about like it did in the film. This particular entry into the digital world was a new development for us.

“The Wizarding World is continuing to grow. For example, with the filming of Fantastic Beasts at the adjoining studio. This will definitely provide further opportunities. We will continue to develop new features and to think about how we can expand the attractions as the magical world grows.”


For the original article, please click here.

A Light Safari in Wine Country

Public light spectacles by artists like Bruce Munro herald a movement that infuses culture in valleys of viticulture (and blazes new trails in cities, too).

PASO ROBLES, Calif. — This state is rife with roadside attractions, from the colossal drive-through redwood trees off Route 101 to the historic Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in San Bernardino.

But there is nothing quite like the mind-bending spectacle now on display at dusk in the hills of Paso Robles here, a popular wine destination. That is the witching hour when thousands of solar-powered glass orbs on stems, created by the artist Bruce Munro, enfold visitors in an earthbound aurora borealis of shifting hues.

Since it opened in May, “Field of Light at Sensorio” — the 60-year-old British artist’s largest such installation to date — has drawn thousands of tourists and become an Instagram phenomenon. The subtly changing patterns of this light safari, activated by a nebula of fiber-optic cables attached to hidden projectors, seem to inspire a cathedral-like awe among ticket-holders, who pay $19 to $30 for an evening stroll along 15 acres of illuminated walkways. (A V.I.P. dinner on a terrace with killer views will set you back $95.)

“It’s like Pandora in ‘Avatar,’” said Marc J. Zilversmit, a criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco, referring to the lush alien world with bioluminescent species in the James Cameron film. “It’s a beautiful CinemaScope of an alternative universe.”

The arrival of “Field of Light” in “Paso,” as Paso Robles is commonly called, is perhaps fitting. A four-hour drive from San Francisco and Los Angeles, the area has morphed from a folksy cowboy outpost with cattle drives to a grape mecca with some 300 vineyards and perfect rows of lavender spilling down hillsides. Mr. Munro’s work, on view through Jan. 5, is only the first phase of Sensorio — an ambitious, 386-acre attraction on a former turkey ranch owned by Kenneth Hunter III, a real estate developer and founder of an oil and gas company, and his wife, Bobbi. Plans for Sensorio include themed interactive exhibits, a 4,000-square-foot wine center and a resort hotel with a conference center.

With its time-sequence ticketing and Sensorio-branded hoodies for sale, “Field of Light” joins a coterie of art entertainments at wineries and related establishments seeking to infuse culture into viticulture — what has been called the Vine Art Movement. Some, like the Donum Estate in Sonoma, already have serious permanent collections.

It also heralds a global wave of experiential light displays — such as Leo Villareal’s “Illuminated River,” which lit up four bridges across the River Thames in London, and “Vivid Sydney,” an annual extravaganza in which multimedia light projections, sculptures and other installations reimagine the city’s architecture.

Mr. Munro, who works out of a 16th-century barn in Wiltshire, England, has become the Christo and Jeanne-Claude of fiber-optic light environments. He created his first “Field of Light” in 2004, when he “planted” 15,000 stems in the field adjoining his studio. The otherworldly display prompted a Royal Air Force helicopter to circle around to get a better look, at which point the waggish artist turned the “E.T.”-like installation off.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Munro worked in the illuminated sign business, steeping himself in manufacturing and production processes. “I put aside all my artistic aspirations and learned how things got made,” he said. “That’s an important lesson for any young artist.”

Mr. Munro committed himself to light as an artistic medium after his father died in 1999. To commemorate their relationship, he created “CD Sea” in 2010, a shimmering inland ocean of 600,000 discarded CDs. At Salisbury Cathedral the same year, he animated the nave with a “Light Shower” of teardrop shaped prisms that appeared to float in space; it was accompanied by a series of lit “Water-Towers” in synchronized colors crafted from recycled plastic bottles and other materials.

“I’m not trying to make art that’s complex to understand,” Mr. Munro said in a Skype interview. “I want to express what it means to be alive in a genuine way.”

His installations have appeared at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Jegu Light Art Festival in South Korea and elsewhere. “There is a pleasing handmade quality and playfulness to his work,” said Alexander Sturgis, the director of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, which commissioned “Impression: Time Crossing Culture,” a digitally animated sculpture inspired by a clock dial.

Mr. Munro conceived of his best-known scheme in 1992 while camping near Uluru, a sandstone monolith in Australia also known as Ayers Rock, which is sacred to Aboriginal people. He envisioned a dreamlike work that might bloom at night — like dormant desert seeds responding to rain. “It felt like there was energy in the ground,” he recalled. “Your body picks up on these things.”

Twenty-four years later, “The Field of Light Uluru” opened at the Aboriginal-owed Ayers Rock Resort. The feverish reaction has led to camel tours and “Field of Light by Heli” tours. (The site is open until December 2020.)

Mr. Munro’s installations are temporary, underscoring their ethereal, magic-mushroom quality. Their ephemeral nature “allows the landscape to be itself and recover and hopefully inspire other artists,” Mr. Munro said. His goal is to connect people with nature — a bond he compares to “the root systems of trees talking to each other,” though he is quick to add that he doesn’t want to sound like a flake.

Mr. and Mrs. Hunter had planned to build a golf course on the property, but shifted focus after encountering Mr. Munro’s art in Australia. “I was attracted like a bug in a candle,” Mr. Hunter recalled.

For Mr. Munro, the site offered the opportunity to “light a valley,” as he put it. The existing landscape was redesigned to block views of industrial buildings. During a recent visit, waves of light cast the gnarled branches of blue oak trees into relief. Visitors strolled the trails with hushed voices. “I like how the lights gently go up,” Allison Dufty, a museum audio tour writer in Oakland, observed. “It’s big enough to feel you can get lost in it.”

The stillness is apt to be short lived. The coming Sensorio project is being designed by Thinkwell Group, a Los Angeles-based firm known for immersive attractions like Ski Abu Dhabi, an indoor ski resort, and expansions to “The Making of Harry Potter” Warner Bros. Studio Tour near London. It will include five digital and analog garden zones, tree houses with rope bridges and a light-controlled underground tunnel. Although Sensorio is not a vineyard or a tasting room, it hopes to tap into the region’s wine tourism industry. Some 1.8 million pleasure-seekers visit San Luis Obispo County; Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, is just up the coast.

The melding of wine and art is a hallmark of venerable European institutions like Chateau Mouton Rothschild near Bordeaux, France, which pioneered the artist-designed label craze in the 1940s by commissioning Chagall, Miro and Braque.

Since 2015, the Donum Estate in Sonoma has placed large-scale sculptures in the landscape, including works by Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Keith Haring and Yue Minjun, whose bronze “Contemporary Terra Cotta Warriors” commune with grapevines. Allan Warburg, the Danish businessman who owns Donum with his wife, Mei, lives in Hong Kong and works closely with the artists.

“The placement has been quite an obsession,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know how to make wine or art so it’s the only contribution I can make.”

Mr. Warburg added, “Walking around the landscape with a couple of glasses of wine, objects become more beautiful.”

The Hess Collection, on the steep slopes of Mount Veeder in the Napa Valley, was assembled by the Swiss wine producer and businessman Donald M. Hess. It has a museum director and includes works by Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Goldsworthy, among other artists.

“Art is a calling card,” said Tom Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator. “Can it be commercialized? Yes. But so can museums.”

Some are dubious of the so-called Vine Art Movement. “Equating wine with art flatters the people who buy wine into thinking they’re participating in something larger than they are,” said James Conaway, the author of “Napa at Last Light.” And there have been some spectacular busts: Copia, an ambitious museum dedicated to wine, food and the arts, opened to much fanfare in 2001 then closed in 2008.

But as public light spectacles flourish at places like the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago — where some 183,000 people braved subzero temperatures last winter to experience an interactive light show by the design firm Lightswitch — they cast their spell wide.

Images on social media have difficulty conveying the works’ subtle, hypnotic spells. People assume that “light is about brightness,” Mr. Munro, the wizard of Wiltshire, said. “You just need a whisper of light.”


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Thinkwell Appoints Hugues Sweeney to President of Thinkwell Studio Montréal

The hiring will further expand Thinkwell’s interactive, technical, and media practices in Montréal under Hugues’ strategic leadership and creative expertise.

Montréal / Los Angeles (September 10): Thinkwell Group, a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Montréal, announced today the hiring of Montréal-based creative executive Hugues Sweeney as President of Thinkwell Studio Montréal. The appointment reaffirms the organization’s commitment to Montréal, Québec, and Canada for long-term growth and continues Thinkwell’s focus in the development of cutting-edge creative technologies for brands and businesses around the world.

“Our global projects demand the highest level of both creative execution and technology-driven design and development, and we believe that Montréal is a strong differentiator for Thinkwell in these pursuits,” said François Bergeron, Chief Operating & Financial Officer, Thinkwell Group. “Bringing Hugues into the organization will allow the company to strategically implement our long-term vision in Montréal.”

In this role, Hugues will bring in new creative projects for museums, attractions, corporate brand experiences, and hospitality clients through Thinkwell Studio Montréal.  He will also oversee the research & development initiatives of Réalisations-Montréal, which was acquired by Thinkwell Group in early 2019. Réalisations will continue its commitment to the conception and development of new projects using technologies like artificial intelligence, real-time generative projection technologies, and big data integration systems under Hugues’ leadership. 

“This appointment signals the next chapter for Réalisations,” said Roger Parent, founder of Réalisations-Montréal. “Hugues’ creative leadership and expertise will build upon our existing foundation as a boutique creative technology firm.”

Last month, the team in Montréal delivered the interactive and captivating nighttime nature experience at the Parc Omega safari park in Montebello, Quebec, Canada (pictured above), which follows the team’s significant role in the design and execution of the award-winning Jacques-Cartier Bridge illumination project in 2017.  Thinkwell and Réalisations also collaborated on the Warner Bros. Cinema Spectacular, which introduced a patented auto-calibration projection system for the world’s-first 360-degree immersive indoor plaza show at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi in 2018.

Thinkwell Studio Montreal President

Hugues Sweeney is an award-winning digital media executive who has produced trailblazing interactive experiences for more than 20 years. Formerly head of Bande à part (CBC’s digital native music platform) and a founding member of National Film Board (NFB) digital studio, his experience connecting large audiences through new media platforms and interactivity has led to the development of multiple projects and partnerships across Europe, North America, and South America. His productions have received more than 150 global awards and distinctions, including SXSW, Webby, Japan Media Arts, Creative Review, and NUMIX. As an active member of the arts and culture community, Hugues serves as vice-president of Montréal Arts Council (CAM) Board of Trustees and co-president of Culture Montréal’s Digital Committee. He also advises the Montréal Symphonic Orchestra (OSM), XN Québec and La Piscine and is an active member of the Acquisition Committee of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC).

“I am honored to contribute to the new life of a studio that has been a pioneer in crafting interactive environments,” said Hugues. “Thinkwell’s presence in Montréal will play a key role in redefining collective experiences around the world through the creative application of technology, and I am excited to lead the Montréal teams into this next chapter.”


About Thinkwell Studio Montréal:

Thinkwell Studio Montréal is Thinkwell Group’s newest Quebec-based creative studio that is focused on expanding and integrating creative technologies at the earliest stages of design for guest experiences around the world. From creative content development to the design of integrated technical solutions, the capabilities of Thinkwell Studio Montréal will build upon the research & development initiatives of Réalisations-Montréal.

Réalisations-Montréal operates and collaborates with Thinkwell Studio Montréal to develop and deliver cutting edge interactive experiences that seamlessly blend art and technology. Founded in 2000 by Roger Parent, Réalisations conceives, invents, and perfects new technologies, including big data, artificial intelligence, real-time generative projection technologies, recognition systems, and more.  

Lionsgate Entertainment World opens, unveiling high-tech rides and attractions

Lionsgate Entertainment World has officially opened, and shared photos from opening day as it welcomed visitors. The vertical theme park boasts high-tech attractions.

Lionsgate Entertainment World, one of China’s most technologically advanced theme parks, uses cutting-edge technology, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in its rides and attractions.

The interactive and immersive theme park, which has more than 50 key attractions, is one of the key features at Lai Sun Group’s Novotown Hengqin on Hengqin Island in Zhuhai, China.

Virtual reality and augmented reality rides

lionsgate entertainment world

Village Roadshow is the operator for Lionsgate Entertainment World, and the theme park was designed by global design and production agency Thinkwell Group.

Visitors will get the chance to experience some of Lionsgate’s film franchises, including Escape Plan, Gods of Egypt, Now You See Me, The Divergent Series, The Hunger Games and The Twilight Saga.

As well as rides, there are various dining experiences on offer, including the Hunger Games Capital Club, Peeta’s Bakery, and the Now You See Me-inspired Oculus Lounge.

Experience Twilight, The Hunger Games, and more

lionsgate entertainment world

As for retail, guests can get glam at Capitol Couture, where they can have their hair and nails done too. There’s also Capitol Confectionary, Dauntless Ink, Iong’s Magic Shop, Treasures of the Nile, and Zaya’s Palace of Beauty.

The main rides include The Twilight Saga – Midnight Ride, The Twilight Saga – Bella’s Journey, Divergent – Fear Simulator, Divergent – The Chasm Challenge Course, Gods of Egypt – Battle For Eternity, Hunger Games – Mockingjay Flight Rebel Escape, and The Escape Plan – Prison Break.

Gods of Egypt – Battle for Eternity is the world’s first purpose-built indoor VR roller coaster, while Hunger Games – Mockingjay Flight Rebel Escape is a state-of-the-art multiple motion-based cabin simulator.

VR coasters and multimedia dark rides

lionsgate entertainment world

The Twilight Saga – Midnight Ride is an interactive VR simulator experience, and Bella’s Journey is a multimedia dark ride.

Divergent – Fear Simulator is a VR walk-through attraction, while The Chasm Challenge Course is a huge climbing course. The Escape Plan – Prison Break is an escape room with immersive theatre.

Images: Lionsgate Entertainment World


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