— By Chris Roy —
The next level of tech experiences for retail and restaurant venues.
Before the pandemic, immersive entertainment was an emerging trend in the retail sector. After a year and a half of reduced experiences, consumers’ appetite for this type of entertainment is stronger than ever.
To slake this appetite, retail entertainment stakeholders are seeking increasingly tech-oriented features at their properties. In fact, there is a call for technology that enables all-encompassing immersion with more nuance. We live in an increasingly digital world, and people expect to see aspects of their tech experiences spill out into physical reality.
As a firm that designs, builds and maintains water features and themed environments for retail venues, we have been very active in the immersive entertainment industry and currently have projects underway that implement next-generation experiential technology. Here is how the firm sees immersive entertainment changing in the post-pandemic era.
Entertainment Will Merge With the Built Environment
As the demand for increasingly immersive entertainment rises, digital technology is enabling deeper and more subtle real-world immersion and guest experience. These new media are providing an opportunity for customers and visitors to escape the mundane and enter a world of wonder and awe.
For example, at Branson Boardwalk in Branson, Missouri, we have nearly completed ground-up construction on a show fountain that will anchor the developing entertainment complex. The dancing water show features a state-of-the-art control system which communicates with lighting, audio and projection systems across the property, allowing for site-wide shows visible from everywhere at the Boardwalk. By expanding the choreographic show beyond the edges of the fountain, guests become part of the action.
Branson Boardwalk’s first attraction, the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, a $55 million project focused on fish and fun, features an iconic 34-ton stainless steel octopus sculpture welcoming visitors. Fabricated by Demiurge, the sculpture is being incorporated into the fountain show. Made up of hundreds of polyhedral plates, and internally illuminated with color-changing LED lights, the octopus will become an extension of the fountain show with colored lighting displays coordinated between the two systems.
Immersive projects like this provide people with a unique opportunity, creating memorable experiences and building brand loyalty.
The Audience Will Be in Control
Ever-evolving technology in the retail entertainment realm is enabling people to orchestrate their own immersive experiences. Newly developed entertainment software allows guests to control and guide the technology rather than merely having it presented to them, providing unique and more interesting visits to entertainment venues.
We are at the forefront of this technology. We began by offering clients a training program that shows them what hardware and software they need in order to program and choreograph the company’s musical show fountains at their properties, and how to create amazing shows themselves (if so inclined). The training teaches them about DMX controls, how to create time-based show sequences, how to produce visualizations of the sequences they’re creating, and the theory behind the art of choreographic water design.
We are currently working on revolutionary technology that will allow interactivity with water features like never before. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are opening up great opportunities to create shows that will evolve on their own over time, morphing their displays in response to crowd reactions and interaction.
As entertainment technology continues to advance, guests will have greater orchestration over their own immersive experiences, which will increasingly attract them to venues that offer these options. Instead of fountain displays based purely on pre-produced shows, guests will have the opportunity to take control of fountain and lighting shows themselves, with the system reacting to their poses and motion in real time, like a conductor leading an orchestra. We have been investing heavily into development of an innovative system that does this and more, part of the continuing evolution of technology in our industry.
Tech Features Will Enhance Themed Environments in New Ways
Today’s themed environments are more immersive than ever as they seek to draw in first-time and repeat visitors. Technology is helping these venues create spectacular effects that enhance the theming in new ways.
At EpicCentral, a 172-acre park site located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in Grand Prairie, Texas, we are constructing a $3.5 million show fountain that will incorporate high-definition projection onto the fountain water jets. Unlike past projects featuring specialized water projection screens, technology and content creation being utilized at Epic Central will allow the projected content to interact directly with the moving water show. These multi-media shows will be enjoyed by guests at a number of new food and beverage facilities currently under construction next to the fountain.
Integration of technology into themed environments at retail entertainment venues is an excellent way to maximize the impact of that theming while delighting and drawing in visitors.
As retail entertainment regains momentum after the pandemic, owners and operators of these venues will seek new ways to satisfy consumers’ demand for increasingly immersive experiences. With demand for unique entertainment options continuing to grow, audiences gaining greater control over these experiences, and tech features enhancing themed environments in new ways, retail and restaurant stakeholders can move forward into new forms of immersive entertainment that will dazzle and delight guests for years to come.
— Chris Roy is director of creative design for Outside the Lines, Inc. (OTL), a design-build themed construction company that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind rockwork, water features and themed environments for office, retail entertainment, hospitality, gaming and golfing projects around the globe. More information is available at www.otl-inc.com.