The immersive experience must go on
The immersive experience must go on5 minutes
Around the middle of the 2010s, when millennials were emerging as a major economic player, companies quickly learned that it wasn’t possessions many of these young adults were looking to purchase - they wanted experiences. Taylor Smith, CEO of Blueboard, which bills itself as a modern employee rewards platform that provides “experiences,” said that millennials weren’t prioritizing homes, cars and TVs the way previous generations had. He told CNBC in 2016, “[Millennials are] renting scooters and touring Vietnam, rocking out at music festivals, or hiking Machu Picchu.” As recently as October 2019, Quartz was reporting that the experience economy could be worth $12 billion by 2023.
But just a few months later, everything changed.
Plans get complex
Corey Ross’ team began planning an exhibit to highlight the works of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, combining new projection technology with music to create a wholly immersive experience for visitors. The exhibit was created specifically to occupy the former printing pressroom of the Toronto Star and, using projection mapping technology, Ross and his team were able to combine images from 53 Panasonic PT-RZ770 laser projectors into one seamless visual experience that transforms the industrial space.
“The exhibit is purpose-built specifically for the space. Van Gogh’s works are projected right on the floors, pillars, walls, brickwork and masonry,” said Ross, a producer and co-founder of Lighthouse Immersive, who produced The Art of Banksy in Toronto in Miami.
“Throughout the space, brick and metal work are transformed into wild sunflowers of warm yellows and oranges and skies of deep blues,” he added. “It’s unique in many ways because a lot of exhibits put up screens and project onto those; in this case, the industrial room becomes part of the art.”
After years of hard work and planning, the Van Gogh exhibit was preparing to open its doors to the public in May of 2020. Unfortunately, circumstances changed.
Van Gogh, at the drive-in
As the coronavirus spread across North America, it quickly became clear that it would be unsafe to open the exhibit as it was originally conceived. The solution was a concept the company called “Gogh by Car,” which would allow ticket holders to actually drive into the exhibit and experience the artwork from the safety - and isolation - of their car. It was the perfect solution for an exhibit hosted in a wide-open industrial space.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple: Tickets for the exhibit had already been sold to people who expected to experience it on foot. Purchasers were given the option to either switch to a “Gogh by Car” ticket or to wait until July, when Phase 2 of Toronto’s reopening was set to begin.
Then, the Ontario government issued new guidelines for the second phase of reopening. They stated that both drive-in and walk-in art exhibits would be able to open in Phase 2. This was the first explicit mention of “drive-in art exhibits,” which the team had assumed could open in Phase 1.
Instead of pushing the drive-in event back and, by extension, asking the walk-through ticket holders to wait even longer, the group decided to develop a second exhibit that could be exclusively devoted to patrons who would prefer to drive-through the experience. This involved enlisting another set of projectors for the second location, in the same building, and opening both experiences simultaneously as Toronto entered Phase 2 of its reopening.
“Our team had to build the original exhibit in 30 days as opposed to 60 days [because of Covid-19], and then they had another two weeks to build the whole thing again,” Ross said. “It’s been incredible.”
Ross is hoping these solutions can provide a roadmap for how experiential events can move forward in uncertain times. What’s most encouraging is the way it’s rooted in a trend that was already emerging before the impact of coronavirus.
Recognizing a space
For the last 25 years, Ross’ main business was producing touring musical theater and other traveling attractions. Roughly four years ago, Ross and his company started noticing a shift toward experiential events in Europe that had not yet made its way to North America.
“It was fascinating to me that, in Europe, which has a highly developed museum and art gallery culture, there was a space for commercial folks to create experiences and exhibits,” Ross said. “I thought, if it’s working there, then there’s a huge opportunity in North America because these types of experiences have been confined to museums.”
In a time when other businesses and industries are facing uncertainty as a result of Covid-19, Ross sees the Van Gogh exhibit in Toronto as a model for how people can safely engage with art and entertainment outside of their homes. Because the spaces for these experiences are so large - and the art itself so all-encompassing - people are able to move around and fully immerse themselves into the experience while maintaining a safe distance.
The walk-through experience of the Van Gogh exhibit occupies an 11,000 square feet of floor space and displays images that are 26 feet high and up to 170 feet wide across the building’s walls and columns, as opposed to traditional paintings on a museum wall.
“As long as socially distancing is on the agenda, then this really is the kind of content the public is thirsty for,” Ross said.
Ross is quick to acknowledge the role projection technology has played in making this emerging trend possible. The availability of projectors that are both powerful enough to project these images clearly, yet versatile enough to have each projected image blended together to create a seamless collage, such as the one created in Toronto, is central to making these experiences truly immersive.
“The artists who created this experience,” Ross said, “started 30 years ago using film and slide projectors.”
He said the potential for groups to create immersive experiences will continue to grow as both projection technology and computer processing power evolve. To learn more about how Panasonic’s projectors help make visionary ideas into immersive experiences, read our case study on Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions.