Thinkwell Group Congratulates U.S. Department of State On the Successful Opening of The USA Pavilion At Expo 2020 Dubai

Global experience design firm Thinkwell Group was selected by the U.S. Department of State to deliver a turnkey design and produce the USA Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai. The Pavilion, which debuted October 1st, 2021, presents visitors with the story of innovation in the United States. The Pavilion will be open to the public until March 31st, 2022, at the first world expo to be hosted in the Middle East.

Thinkwell collaborated with the U.S. Department of State to create the central theme for the Pavilion and its exhibits, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Future.” The pavilion spans over 4,000 square meters (43,000 sq. ft) and takes visitors on a journey celebrating the past, present, and future of American innovation through seven exhibits featuring national artifacts such as Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran, a scaled replica of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, a touchable lunar sample, and a model of the Mars Opportunity Rover. A full-scale replica of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands 137 feet (42 meters) tall just outside the pavilion. A light show projected on the exterior of the rocket allows the rocket to dramatically document the story of America’s space exploration to “blast off” each night.

The USA Pavilion features multiple innovations, including a first-of-its-kind moving sidewalk that transports visitors of all ages and abilities on a winding journey through the first three exhibits. A signature multimedia presentation titled “The Sky Is No Longer the Limit” is the first production of its kind to use Black 3.0, the world’s most light-absorbent black acrylic paint. This presentation explores futuristic topics such as quantum computing and the democratization of space, and takes place 39 feet (12 meters) above visitor’s heads using 15 projectors that project dimensional scenes on elements suspended in the ceiling that glide into the room, including astronauts, spacecraft, and a 16 foot (5 meter) sphere that when lit up becomes the moon, Mars, and more. While the projectors paint the room in an array of colors, 70 QSC speakers and 3 QSC subwoofers–each independently controlled by a spatial sound system–deliver three-dimensional sound.

Additional presentations in the pavilion include a 59 foot (18 meters) long curving bas relief mural mapped with projected video that highlights American inventions that have conveyed to the world many modern conveniences including communications, electrification, and transportation. Another presentation features several towers of stacked, rotating media cubes that introduce diverse voices and faces from several of today’s up-and-coming American companies and innovators who are working to broaden their outreach to communities lacking access to today’s services around the world.

“After a year’s delay from a global pandemic, there has never been a more important time for the world to come together for a World Expo to explore the possibilities of what our collective future could look like,” said Thinkwell’s Chief Creative Officer Craig Hanna. “Thinkwell is honored to work with the U.S. Department of State and our many partners and collaborators in telling this next chapter of the story of the future for the United States with this innovative pavilion.” 

Thinkwell provided show, exhibit, media, and interactive design, along with production and installation services as part of the firm’s turnkey services throughout the pavilion, incorporating skills and talents of Thinkwell Studio Montréal and Thinkwell Media. As a part of the full team of global collaborators, Thinkwell is proud to have developed a unique, engaging experience for the millions of visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai.

Thinkwell Group Promotes Jason McManus to Principal

McManus to be promoted from Senior Art Director to a strategic leadership role with expanded responsibilities.

January 10, 2022 (Los Angeles, CA): Thinkwell’s leadership team announced today the promotion of Jason McManus to the title of Principal. With nearly 20 years of experience in the themed entertainment industry and more than five years at Thinkwell, Jason has both led and collaborated on some of the world’s most premier entertainment projects in his prior role as Senior Creative and Art Director. 

As one of Thinkwell’s Principals, Jason will serve in a key leadership role for the company’s production teams, acting across three areas to guide creative and production leadership, strengthen company culture, and build strategic relationships for the global organization. 

The designation of Principal is reserved for Thinkwell’s leaders who are industry professionals that have built a robust career within the company and the industry, and who have shown exceptional leadership qualities, subject matter expertise, and superior client rapport. 

“Jason’s creative drive, proactive client focus, and collaborative innovation is apparent in his work, and his industry expertise is recognized by peers and clients alike,” says Craig Hanna, Chief Creative Officer and one of the owners of Thinkwell. Jason was voted one of 2020’s Blooloop Top 50 Theme Park Influencers, and he has led the development of recent global and award-winning projects including: Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration nighttime spectacular and its Marathon of Mayhem show extensions at Universal Studios Florida; the Manchester City Stadium Tour in Manchester, England; SEVEN Entertainment Developments within the KSA, and numerous other international and domestic projects.

“Jason’s dedication to Thinkwell’s projects and internal team development has only grown during the pandemic, and his commitment to Thinkwell’s values and goals has made him a valued company leader,” notes Tyler Rinehart, VP of Production for Thinkwell. “The passion he shares within his project teams and his strategic approach to finding and nurturing new business partnerships has helped push us forward. We are excited to have Jason in this new role as his influence in future projects and collaboration with our clients continues to evolve.”

Prior to working for Thinkwell, Jason worked in creative leadership roles within Walt Disney Imagineering and other experiential design firms and currently teaches themed entertainment design at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Cynthia Sharpe to Co-Host IAAPA 2021’s ‘Emerging Trends in Immersive Design’ Presentation

Cynthia SharpeCynthia Sharpe, Thinkwell Group’s Principal, Cultural Attractions & Research will appear live and in-person at IAAPA 2021 after last year’s conference went virtual due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. Cynthia will once again partner with JRA Vice President Shawn McCoy to offer their insights on “Emerging Trends in Immersive Design,” which will take place Monday, November 15th, 2021. “It’s been such a roller coaster – no pun intended – since we were all last together for IAAPA Expo in Orlando. Pulling together this year’s session has been an opportunity for Shawn and me to really look back over the past decade and see some of the trends, innovations, and attitudinal changes in our industry really take root. The projects this year not only address the challenges of quarantine, social distancing, and isolation but also the profound role that location-based experiences play in community and culture. We’ve got 45 minutes so show up early to get a seat and buckle up.”

The past 18 months have brought unprecedented changes that have affected and altered how we all think, feel, and interact with each other and the world. This presentation will also highlight some key projects that showcase how new systems, techniques, and technologies are being developed to create exceptional guest experiences in our new reality.

Disability Access: In It for the Long Haul

In May 2021, Thinkwell and RUH Global began a series on Accessibility for all. Part one is available to read here.

2021 has hardly been a level pathway. Taking two steps forward with the rollout of vaccines and with them the resumption of many social activities, and one step backward with the arrival of the contagious Delta variant and continued vaccine hesitancy, the world has nevertheless been slowly stumbling forward into its new normal… even if it’s a normal marked by continual uncertainties.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve already witnessed just how adaptive people can be in the face of extreme uncertainty, creating all-new modalities of working and playing within months if not weeks. Many of the changes we saw during COVID were modifications and accommodations that had been previously dismissed as too hard, unwieldy, or expensive when asked for in the context of a disability, yet as soon as they became issues impacting the majority, they were implemented.

As more forms of work and leisure return to familiar in-person social settings, many people recognize that we’re currently presented with a generational opportunity to evolve those physical settings in order to address long-standing inequities. However, that requires a great deal of intentionality to avoid not only sliding back into a pre-COVID status quo of exclusion and inequity but also to push the envelope of disability access even further. As we noted previously, the ADA is a bare legal minimum, not a gold standard for equitable and just experiences. This will be especially pertinent as our understanding of both disability and public safety evolves in the wake of COVID-19.

There are many ways in which the game has changed. Working or learning from home via telecommuting—once oft dismissed by employers or educators as impractical, unproductive, or too expensive—suddenly became required of everyone. While digital access is a huge equity issue that the pandemic exacerbated, this shift to digital came with benefits for some. Many people got to experience a newfound sense of belonging among their peers, whether it removed the burden of having to navigate an old office or school environment; being able to hide a visible disability from those who might otherwise underestimate them; being able to use advances in live captioning technology in video meetings, or simply opening opportunities for them to socialize with others as equals around the new “virtual” forms of watercoolers or student lounges. Even within the public realm, touchless, voice-command, gesture-based, and automated technologies such as buttons and doors designed for hands-free contact opened new opportunities for people with many different kinds of disabilities beyond simply reducing the risk of contagion.

Leisure spaces present their own unique challenges for accessibility. While not as vital to people’s daily lives as the places where they live, learn, or work, making these spaces fully accessible and equitable can have profound impacts on mental health and one’s sense of belonging within society at large. Theme parks or cultural attractions are already places designed to inspire strong emotions in guests, so catering to different levels of emotional comfort should not be overlooked in addition to guests’ physical comfort. Attractions that segregate guests based on ability, even if an equivalent option is offered elsewhere, can still trigger a sense of exclusion and alienation. This is a big reason why attractions should always make the effort to integrate universal design from early in the design process.

Still, inclusivity of physical needs should always be considered the bare minimum when designing for location-based attractions. COVID laid bare the fact that we can’t always predict what will be required to make our leisure spaces safe and inclusive for everyone. Just as in schools and workplaces when they were permitted to reopen, attraction operators showed a tremendous ability to spontaneously transform their experiences to accommodate new protocols… an ability that should not go to waste when considering what safety and inclusivity look like for the future. Designing with intentionality for flexible accommodations, whether it’s in response to a hypothetical future health epidemic or a new understanding of best practices around existing disability rights, is always the goal in a world full of uncertainties.

Even the current pandemic is far from settled, nor are its effects going away anytime soon. While there have been challenges in developing and running rigorous research programs quickly and inclusively, early data and studies have shown the impacts of what’s known as “long-haul COVID,” where symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or mental fog persist for months or potentially even years after initially contracting the disease. The full scope of how many people are affected and just how long these conditions may last is still not fully known, but we know that the mental health impacts around the promise of enjoying life again, and the fear and anxiety of ‘not being able’ to go to the places and spaces we’ve loved, are profound.

It’s important that people struggling to return to a sense of normalcy, whether from long-haul COVID or another issue, know that their favorite museums or theme parks are able to accommodate their new and changing needs, such as providing ample seating, offering quiet spaces, or other means to quickly and easily step away from sensory overloads or distributing first aid throughout the attraction so they don’t have to walk far to a central location. It’s relatively easy to see how little accommodation and access has been designed into both leisure and workplace spaces and practices. As we look at the looming crisis of not just long-haul COVID but also long-term health impacts on those who have recovered, it’s clear that this could serve as an inflection point for radical change in how disability accommodation is considered, designed for, and operationalized. Whether it’s policy changes around sick time and job sharing, inclusive uniform or costume design, design standards for deaf inclusion in shows and spectaculars to remove the burden from the guest to ask for it weeks in advance, or a wholesale change to master planning standards to increase facilities, change is long overdue at every level. This isn’t just a themed experience problem: every industry should be taking a long, hard look at how they can improve. 

But location-based entertainment prides itself on making incredible experiences, memories that last a lifetime. The flip side of that is that there’s the potential for memories that haunt and hurt – when friends get to go on the ride but the powerchair user can’t when the museum is just too exhausting but there’s nowhere to sit when needing to go to the bathroom means having to backtrack across two lands to find the one restroom that can accommodate. One bad experience is enough to turn a guest off of an experience forever. As an industry, the COVID recovery reflects a unique opportunity to live up to our promise for every one of our guests and employees.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Tale of Three Projects

Over the pandemic, when so much of the travel and entertainment industry had gone dormant, Thinkwell Studio Montréal was working overtime. 

In the span of only 18 months, and under strict pandemic protocols and border closures, Thinkwell Studio Montréal brought to life three unique projects in three different cities across North America: Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed, 1600°C Trial by Fire, and Parc Omega all with opening dates within 80 days of one another.

While all three projects shared a heavy use of innovative technologies, each project had their own unique set of goals and parameters. But Thinkwell Studio Montréal was up for the challenge. Through pandemic lockdowns, social distancing measures, and border closures, Thinkwell Studio Montréal conceived, developed, and integrated all three projects with great success. 

At the Forges-du-Saint-Maurice National Historic Site, Thinkwell designed and installed 1600°C Trial by Fire, an interactive multimedia experience which invites guests to take on the role of a blacksmith at the Forges-du-Saint-Maurice National Historic Site. Standing in front of the screen and guided by the instructions of the Master Blacksmith, guests see their avatar recreate their gestures in real time through user tracking and artificial intelligence. 

Prior to opening, playtesting was required to not only test the interactive’s functionality, but also train the AI. Thinkwell set up a prototype and a mockup of the experience in-house ahead of install in order to allow the AI to learn guest movement. 

Meanwhile, 800 km. away at Niagara Falls, Thinkwell was working on another interactive experience utilizing real-time guest tracking, but this time, replacing fire with water. Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed is an epic sight and sound nighttime multimedia show which follows the spectacular transformation of water to electricity. Similar to 1600°C Trial by Fire, Currents also utilized reactive technologies that track guest movement with interactive floor projections through custom autocalibration and tracking software solutions.

In order to accomplish the interactive floor projections, Thinkwell had to create a scale mockup and invite live playtesters to test the custom autocalibration software. During integration, more advanced testing had to be run in order to test under the real conditions of the century-old power station, using 100-year-old artifacts as show props.

The conditions around Parc Omega provided a different hurdle. While 1600 and Currents both took place in an indoor venue, Parc Omega was an outdoor forest experience. In order to survive a winter in Quebec, the technology would have to withstand all of nature’s elements, including rain, snow, and even animals. The boxes containing the technical hardware had to be exceptionally sturdy — yet virtually invisible — so not even rain, sleet, or snow could penetrate and affect the wiring.

While all three projects provided a different set of hurdles, the one commonality they shared was an approximate opening date. 1600°C Trial by Fire opened to the public on June 16, 2021 with Parc Omega opening a mere eight days later on June 24th. Currents opened shortly after on September 3, 2021. Despite the short timelines, overlapping dates, and a global pandemic, Thinkwell Studio Montréal pulled together to deliver each of the three experiences with the utmost care and lots of testing. 

Trend Report Deep Dive: Taming the Algorithm

The “Algorithm.”

As a colloquial term for the recommendation engines responsible for customizing many of our online search results and social media feeds, the ‘Algorithm’ has, perhaps surprisingly, emerged as one of the more controversial forms of artificial intelligence (A.I) technologies within public discourse.

Developed as a tool to help people find what they’re looking for faster and discover new things matched to their interests, the ‘Algorithm’ has also been criticized for the way it can lead to self-reinforcing consumption habits, particularly within social media, which could partially explain trends for political polarization and extremist ideologies. Despite these misgivings, most people still use (and even enjoy) at least some forms of the ‘Algorithm’ as part of their daily online experiences, and the technology is even becoming more integrated into many physical location-based experiences as well, a trend that is unlikely to reverse.

Thinkwell’s 6th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report was an opportunity to predict and envision new ways we expect to see A.I. technologies (such as recommendation algorithms) become incorporated into theme parks, museums, and resorts. Yet, more importantly, it was also a chance to reflect and listen to what our guests actually want from these technologies and experiences.

As part of the trend report survey of over 1,300 people, participants were given hypothetical concepts of A.I. technologies applied to theme parks, museums, and resorts, and were asked to rate their favorite and least favorite aspects of the experience. Among these concepts were several that incorporated recommendation algorithms as part of the guest experience: 

  • A theme park could eliminate queues with virtual queuing and A.I. recommended scheduling.
  • A museum could create a personalized digital tour based on the visitor’s interests.
  • A resort during a busy holiday could automatically schedule reservations and activities that guests might like when they become available.

Participants rated all these concepts positively overall, each with its own particular reasons for why they liked it. Yet when asked about potential concerns with these concepts, one consistent trend emerged across all the data:

Guests want control over their experiences.

For all of these three concepts, the most disliked aspect was the technology’s proposed ability to structure the guest experience and make plans for them, which was perceived to reduce guests’ sense of personal agency and spontaneity. These concerns were shared by between 41% to 51% of participants in each category.

Interestingly, this concern was separate from the participant’s confidence in a recommendation algorithm’s ability to accurately make good recommendations. For the resort concept, 50% of respondents said they wanted more control over their plans, while only 33% reported that they didn’t trust the algorithm to make good recommendations. This may suggest there’s a subset of people who expect to enjoy what the system recommends but will still dislike the fact that they weren’t given the freedom to choose it for themselves. A further 37% of participants specifically called out the ability to discover new activities as a top reason in favor of the concept.

Indeed, when separated from the mandatory planning aspects, participants responded quite positively to the technology’s ability to suggest recommendations based on their interests. While 48% of respondents to the museum concept were concerned about their ability to freely wander (the most common concern), 53% of participants still selected “I’ll see unique exhibits more related to my interests” as a positive reaction. This feature gained the single highest positive response rate out of any of the multiple museum concepts in the survey. While visitor attractions always strive to offer guests as much choice as possible, with increasing demand for quality guest experiences, it has become necessary for capacity management systems such as virtual queues and pre-planned booking to limit guests’ options.

Online tickets for museums often mean committing to a specific date; popular resort activities require advanced reservations; and virtual queues for attractions often assign limited return windows. Recommendation algorithms can help these systems offer guests better choices when faced with limited options, but it can also turn guests against the recommendations entirely if they come to associate it with the technology that is limiting their ability to engage the way they want.

Recommendation technologies applied to location-based experiences should always be used to empower guests. For the near-future, it’s important to give guests a reason to trust the ‘Algorithm’ as a way to discover better experiences that are already available to them. If restrictions are necessary, do so in a transparent way that allows guests to retain as much control over their experience as possible, without asking any more from guests than what is absolutely needed.

Looking further ahead, it’s possible that A.I. technology will become sufficiently advanced so these recommendations and restrictions can become effectively invisible to guests. Imagine, with detailed probabilistic forecasting, an A.I. system could figure out for each guest the most likely paths they’ll take and decisions they’ll make, and hold several ‘phantom’ reservations for their most likely desired options. These invisible digital reservations could be in a state of constant reassignment by the system as demand fluctuates and the algorithm updates its recommended forecast with new real-time data. A ‘phantom’ reservation would only become tangible and activated the moment the guest arrives at the restaurant, attraction, or special exhibit… just as if it had been the guest’s spontaneous choice all along.

Obviously, there are many logistical and technological challenges to overcome in order to make this vision a reality. But the development of A.I. technologies won’t be slowing down. As experience designers, it’s essential to do our own forecasting of future possibilities, and that includes understanding what our guests actually want. It’s clear that artificial intelligence can’t become a substitute for human decision-making. As humans, we all want to be treated with respect for the choices we make by our own free agency. Sometimes, that also means relying on a trusted recommendation.

Niagara Parks Power Station Opens ‘Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed’

THINKWELL GROUP CONGRATULATES NIAGARA PARKS POWER STATION ON THE OPENING OF A NEW MULTIMEDIA EXPERIENCE CURRENTS: NIAGARA’S POWER TRANSFORMED

Thinkwell Studio Montréal designed and produced the all-new immersive experience at Niagara Parks Power Station, working in close collaboration with the Niagara Parks Commission.

Montréal, Quebec, Canada (9/3/2021): Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed, presented by Thinkwell, is an epic sight and sound nighttime show situated in the heart of a century-old hydroelectric power plant, which follows the spectacular transformation of water to electricity. Featuring immersive, interactive storytelling techniques, Currents offers an incredible multisensory experience amongst the massive decommissioned generators housed within the first major power plant on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Thinkwell Studio Montréal designed and produced the all-new immersive experience at Niagara Parks Power Station, working in close collaboration with the Niagara Parks Commission.

Spanning a 61,000 sq. ft., 115-year-old industrial space, Thinkwell created over 40 minutes of projection-mapped content and lighting design for the nighttime show. In lieu of using off-the-shelf solutions, Thinkwell created fully custom tools for the project, utilizing a network of 23 projectors, 35 speakers, and full-fledged proprietary projector autocalibration and interactive tracking systems in order to bring the power plant to life.

While the intent of the project originally began as a traditional, seated multimedia show, Thinkwell’s team saw even more promise in the beautifully dormant power plant, envisioning a fully interactive and immersive experience—one that audiences won’t just watch, but can experience all around them, as the nighttime light and sound show fills the building’s generator room.  

Since operations ceased in 2005 and the plant decommissioned from active service, the power station has been reopened as a historic visitor experience and now transformed into a spectacular immersive and interactive light and sound show through projection mapping, a breathtaking original score, and reactive technologies that Thinkwell Studio Montréal designed and developed custom for the project. Visitors of all ages are invited into the show’s story of following water’s transformation into electricity, beginning as one tiny drop of water in the Horseshoe Falls, moving through the turbines, and transforming into a spark of electricity. 

“It’s not a show just for adults. It’s inspired by children and their wanderlust. Their desire to explore these really unique places and to look under and all around. We introduce children as characters very early on in the show, so that hopefully they inspire people to stay connected to that playfulness and this desire to explore” states Émilie F. Grenier, Thinkwell Studio Montréal Creative Director.

Providing design recommendations, creative concepts, projection technologies, and execution of the project, Thinkwell Studio Montréal is proud to introduce a unique and immersive experience for the global visitors of the Niagara Parks Power Station. 

Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed will run four shows per night throughout the next year, opening on September 3, 2021.

 

Media Contact

Jake Williams

Marketing Project Specialist

[email protected] 

Sesame Street Presents: The Body- Taking the Street on the Road Part Two

In part one of this series, we discuss the creation of one of Thinkwell’s very first projects, Sesame Street Presents: The Body. Now, we’re exploring what it took to take the street on the road and the successes and challenges that came along the way as it toured the nation for a decade. Created in partnership with the Sesame Workshop, The Body was a touring exhibit for science museums that delivered a playful, learning experience for a young audience of emerging readers.

Sesame Street Presents: The Body went from concept to creation in just nine months, with every element designed as separate modules that could ship easily and fit into a variety of spaces at the various museums it would tour. Each of the exhibits had to be made durable enough to withstand the onslaught of the young target audience, of course, but the pieces were also built to maximize the efficiency of set up, strike, and transportation to the next venue. 

In spite of the careful planning, testing, and adjusting, life on tour was always full of unexpected surprises, but the nimble road team of Thinkwellians Jen Miller, Courtney Kleinman, Gene Rogers, and Amy Raymond (among others) were up to the task, facing each new challenge with ingenuity and humor, and making sure Sesame Street Presents: The Body would arrive safely at its next destination. 

Each venue on the tour had its own unique quirks, and loading in and out of each often posed a new challenge. In many cases, the team’s quick thinking resulted in simple modifications and workarounds that made the subsequent moves more efficient. Amy Raymond joined the road team early in the run, replacing the original Technical Director Gene Rogers. During Amy’s initial training, Gene pointed to a tiny hatch on one kiosk. “One of us has to climb in there to plug in the lighting, way back there…” Rogers said to Amy. “Have fun!” After a few minutes squeezed inside the kiosk, Amy got the lights working. Once she managed to back her way out of the box, she devised a more practical way to make the connection… from the outside, a solution she put into action at the very next stop.  

All of the museums the exhibition toured provided some support staff during load-in, but their skill set wasn’t always predictable. At some venues the crew was part of the museum staff, at others they were local high school students volunteering for service credits, and in still others, they were parolees on work release programs. 

In Seattle, Amy heard the overeager crew counting down to three and turned just in time to see them all shove the comparatively tall “Your Legs and Feet” unit through a set of double doors… and right through the gallery’s drop ceiling.  “In hindsight, not a great way to go,” the crew lead told her.  Still, after that incident, Amy modified the kiosk so that it could break down into two parts, making it far easier to move, thus preventing any similar occurrences in the future. Thankfully, the Museum Director was enormously understanding of the gouge in the ceiling. “It’s not world peace,” she said to Raymond, a phrase she has since adopted as her own.  

At the Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York, the old freight elevator was slightly too small to accommodate the signature Sesame Street “123” building facade.  The on-site Technical Director, Tom Fortado (who was also a skilled finish carpenter,) insisted that he could disassemble the facade and then rebuild it in the final location with no lingering damage. This iconic element functioned as the main entrance to the exhibit and Amy and Project Manager Jen Miller knew that leaving it on the truck was not an option, so they reluctantly agreed. The facade, with its heavy corbels and moulding, was also a particularly top-heavy and difficult piece to set up, but as Fortado reassembled the facade, he made those elements detachable by adding new hardware. Not only did it fit into the elevator and onto the show floor, it was also far easier to strike, move, and set up for the rest of the tour. 

Meanwhile, in Calgary, Amy received a call that young visitors had pried open the cases and made off with some of the props. The Hooper’s Store exhibit featured a display filled with realistic faux “sometimes” foods: pastries, cakes, cookies, and doughnuts.  “Canada consumes more doughnuts than any other country in the world,” Amy Raymond explained, and while the pastry pilfering occurred more than once during the tour, it was only the doughnuts that went missing, and only at stops in Canada. Whether they were consumed or simply kept as souvenirs still remains a mystery. 

Canada had another surprise for Amy as the tour was making its way back to the US for its next stop. She was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from a Homeland Security official at the border. “Can you explain to me what ‘The Brain’ is?” the officer asked. “It’s giving off a fairly high level of radioactivity.” The Brain exhibit had been created with midcentury surplus military and aerospace switches from a salvage yard in Los Angeles — switches that, unbeknownst to the design team at the time, contained traces of radioactive radium. Eventually, the TSA team wrapped the device in caution tape and allowed it across the border for its final stop on the tour before it was pulled from future shows. 

Over the years, the team braved rain and snow and dark of night, ever vigilant in their task of bringing Sesame Street to a new and eager audience. A snowfall in Buffalo was so severe that the high school student volunteers had to return home. In Omaha, tornadoes forced the team to shelter in place in the museum hall. In Columbus, Hurricane Ike shut the venue (and, in fact, the whole city) down for days. 

Still, nature cannot match the destructive force of a five-year-old child. The team witnessed one young guest methodically tipping the “Use Your Head” exhibit back and forth until it finally pulled free of its base. Another spun a military-grade, steel submarine valve wheel in Oscar’s Digestion exhibit so hard that it too broke free, while another lever snapped off so often that it was ultimately replaced with an industrial-grade button. At the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, the specially-invited preview audience numbered in the thousands, and the sight of the chaotic crowd of delighted learners converging on the exhibit drove Gene straight out of the venue. “They were having fun, I just couldn’t watch the destruction!” he said.

Not every unexpected surprise was unpleasant, however. It was assumed, for example,  that Hooper’s store and its color-coded produce section would require a lot of end-of-day clean-up, but more often than not, the young make-believe shopkeepers neatly sorted all of the fruits and vegetables as part of their pretend play. Nearby, Elmo’s World included cozy bean bag chairs where kids could rest and recharge, but they became popular spots for caregivers as well, who would often sit with their child, reading stories and relaxing together. Most delightful of all was that older siblings, who might have regarded Sesame Street as “too young” for them, explored the exhibits with the same joyful abandon as the younger target audience. 

The Clay Center’s Avampato Discovery Museum in Charleston, West Virginia, was a surprise all its own. “I have never seen a scrappier, more nimble institution,” Cynthia Sharpe said. “They went above and beyond to raise funds, working with Federal agencies, the local PBS station, and Sesame Workshop to bring the exhibit to their venue. Their sponsors were so numerous, their marketing materials looked like a Nascar team.” Their tenacity and creativity have remained a benchmark for how smaller market facilities can succeed. 

Ultimately, the five-year run continued for twice as long, and came to an end after ten years on the road, having reached over two million visitors. Amy Raymond was so intrigued by watching visitors learn through play, in fact, that she went on to earn her Masters in Arts and Education at Harvard. 

Sesame Street Presents: The Body gave emerging readers a chance to learn all about themselves, but it also provided an invaluable education to every member of Thinkwell’s project team.  The exhibit not only brought families together through playful collaboration, it also forged familial bonds between the project team, connected Thinkwell with the broader museum community, established new friendships, and initiated collaborative client relationships that continue to this day.  

 

Come and play! Everything’s a-okay!

Thinkwell Group Congratulates Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood on Its Latest Tour Expansion & Reopening

Los Angeles, CA (August 19): In an ongoing collaboration with Warner Bros. Studio Tours,
Thinkwell designed and produced the all-new Welcome Center experiences at Warner Bros.
Studio Tour Hollywood, which opened in June. Part of an entirely new building that expands the
Tour with retail, parking, and more, celebrates the Studio’s cinematic history and key franchises,
including new immersive interactive and media-focused experiences for the two largest Warner
Bros. properties, Harry Potter’s Wizarding World and DC Comics.

Visitors begin in an introductory exhibition space that showcases the history and innovation of
Warner Bros. and Burbank studios. Guests encounter a satellite view of the studio lot covering
the floor, displaying the scale of the Warner Bros. lot and featuring a 14 ft (4.3 m) replica of the
iconic WB water tower. Surrounding media exhibits give an introduction to the Studio’s storied
history. Guests then enjoy the tour’s new preshow film in a state-of-the-art theater before
heading out to discover the secrets of the lot on the tour. Upon return, guests enter into a new
immersive finale attraction that brings the blockbuster movies guests love to life, featuring DC
Superheroes & Villains and Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts.

The DC Universe area includes opportunities to bring Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso to life
and scan a surveillance system inside Batman’s Batcave for villains lurking around Gotham.
Custom interactives with unique photo ops bring the heroes of DC Comics to life alongside
never-before-displayed film artifacts.

Within the new Harry Potter spaces, guests explore a variety of interactive and photo-ready
magical encounters. Visitors can link their Wizarding World accounts and be sorted into their
house with the Sorting Hat, test their potion-making skills with interactive cauldrons, or pull “live”
mandrakes out of pots in the Herbology room. A room dedicated to Fantastic Beasts lets guests
connect with a variety of magical creatures through fun photo ops and interactive state-of-the-art
media surprises. Guests conclude their time with a “Celebration of Warner Bros.” finale
experience with a rotating collection of awards and mementos from the studio archives where
guests can pose with an Oscar statuette.

“Thinkwell is proud to have played a vital role in the creation, design, and development of these
new experiences at Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood,” says Craig Hanna, Chief Creative
Officer at Thinkwell Group. “We are fortunate to have great partners at Warner Bros. who
helped continue to push the project to completion last year during the pandemic, and we’re
excited to see guests welcomed back to the reopened Tour with these new experiences.””
The Welcome Center expansion creates an entirely new introduction and finale attraction to the
Tour with interactive and engaging moments celebrating the Warner Bros. legacy and library.
Thinkwell conceived, designed, and produced all media and interactives throughout the new
spaces in conjunction with Thinkwell Media and Thinkwell Studio Montréal for the new Welcome
Center and finale.

About Thinkwell Group

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.

Thinkwell Media is a full service creative production agency that specializes in immersive media
experiences.

Thinkwell Studio Montréal develops and delivers cutting edge interactive experiences that
seamlessly blend content and technology.

For more information visit: www.thinkwellgroup.com.