Thinkwellians Win Accolades

Thinkwell (a TAIT company) congratulates its team members Thomas Jakobson and Émilie F. Grenier, who have been recognized for their memorable contributions and transformative experiences to audiences worldwide. Their commitment, passion, and innovation for pushing the boundaries of immersive entertainment continue to inspire us all. We’re immensely proud of them and their accomplishments and look forward to their next steps as they continue to trail blaze and shape the landscape of our industry.

Cheers to Thomas and Émilie for their well-earned success!

Émilie F. Grenier

With over 20 years of diverse experience spanning film, performance, interactive storytelling, and extended reality environments, Thinkwell Principal Émilie F. Grenier’s proficiency in conceiving and executing creative visions for substantial cultural experiential installations transcends multiple platforms. Her award-winning projects Wildwoods: AGLOW at the Fernbank Museum and Currents: Niagara Power Transformed showcase her unique ability to create resonating, immersive experiences in both natural and architectural settings. She is a Phyllis Lambert – UNESCO Creative Cities fellow and her wide-ranging background as an artist, forward thinker, and immersive experience director has paved the way for countless cultural opportunities and impactful storytelling practices. Émilie has been selected as one of Blooloop’s Top 50 Immersive Influencers.

Thomas Jakobsen

Serving as Director of Production/Senior Producer at Thinkwell Media, Thomas Jakobsen has been at the forefront of pioneering media creation through multiple live experiences and groundbreaking activations. Thomas’ commitment to visual storytelling and cutting-edge immersive media experiences is evident throughout his work. Notably, in collaboration with Warner Bros. and Unify, he played a pivotal role in bringing the world of Harry Potter to life with the award-winning Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience. This extraordinary activation has captivated audiences with an immersive nighttime show that offers direct interaction with magical characters and spell-casting activations. Thomas continues to expand as a technical and creative innovator, spearheading projects that turn challenges into must-experience successes.

Becoming Dementia Friendly

In the world of museums and cultural spaces, conversations surrounding inclusive design, creative aging, and sensory awareness position us to consider an ever-growing audience segment – those with dementia and their caregivers.

Dementia Friendly is a term used by organizations educating and promoting awareness of people living with dementia. Dementia friendly communities are places “where more people understand dementia, there is less fear and avoidance, and people living with dementia are included and supported to live independently for longer.” As part of their communities, cultural and entertainment venues can actively support this goal. 

At Thinkwell Group, we recognize that thoughtful experience design can significantly impact health and well-being for a population segment that is frequently underserved, misunderstood, marginalized, and ever-growing. By ensuring that our Thinkwell community is Dementia Friendly by providing free training for all staff, we empower them to carry the work forward into their jobs, communities, and personal lives. 

“Dementia” is not a disease. It is a set of symptoms. The root cause may be a disease, including Lewy Body and Alzheimer’s, as well as temporary conditions such as medication imbalance, vascular issues, and even stress.

Dementia impacts one in nine (11%) people over the age of 65; and one-third (33%) of those over 85. 5.8 million people in the US currently live with some form of dementia.

This number is projected to double by 2045. It is estimated that 80% of those with dementia live in the community, as opposed to an assisted living facility. Up to 40% of those in the community live alone. Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading cause of dementia and is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

With this growing need, the work to make a community dementia friendly is needed and achievable. Local and regional Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) may provide training through partners such as Dementia Friends or Purple Angel. These classes support those in the community who encounter dementia patients daily, such as bank tellers, retail clerks, health care workers, and library and museum staff. The goal is to empower people across all facets of a community to support daily life for those with dementia in a safe and kind way.  

The training defines dementia and explores how it can present. There is a focus on empathic practice for individuals with dementia and caregivers, not diagnosis. Content also covers interactions, language use, and communication styles. A frequent expression of dementia is the loss or delay of language, in the same way that a person on the Autism spectrum might experience “losing their words.”

One aspect of the training that often surprises participants is the impact dementia can have on the senses. A loss of peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to discern color contrast can all be part of dementia. Understanding the holistic experience of dementia enhances empathy and provides opportunities to design safer, kinder, and more meaningful experiences for all audiences. 

As we move forward with this Dementia Friendly Initiative, we strengthen our commitment to live our values of intentionality, respect, and learning. This work allows us to bring Dementia Friendly perspectives to clients and partners, ensuring our audiences and their experiences are central to everything we do.

SATE 2022: From Zero to Hero

I’m delighted to be leading a session at this year’s SATE conference, focused on how to embed inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA) into the project pipeline beyond recruitment or creative work. This session itself is an act of co-creation, arising out of a conversation between myself and Nicola Rossini. We, and others, have spoken and written extensively about IDEA in our industry, but there’s still work to be done. What if, we wondered, we put on a show instead of once again trotting out a panel? What if we actually had fun with what’s usually an incredibly serious topic that people are scared to ‘get wrong’?


SATE 2022 will be the tongue-in-cheek world premiere staged reading of “From Zero to Hero”, a darkly comedic one-act play about how themed experience can better embed IDEA in the project pipeline, and how some simple but radical changes in approach can pay huge financial, emotional, and experiential dividends. In support of that, we’re sharing this post in advance of the session, complete with a link to download a PDF of our ‘working script’, so that anyone who would benefit from advance access has it.  Creating this has been an intense process of ‘yes-and’, of finding connections between our respective disciplines. We began by asking our co-conspirators what their biggest “I wish everyone understood X about my discipline” was.


The headshot of a white man with red hair and beard, who is wearing a light red button up shirt and looking directly into the camera with a black backdrop behind him.

 Jesse Cannady (he/him) (Thinkwell, a TAIT company) plays the role of Project Development. His take: “IDEA design starts in the Blue Sky phase. Doing IDEA work well in projects means it’s both a cap-ex and ops expense, it can’t be a check box in the RFP, and often it’s the first thing people want to VE out of a proposal or project budget and it should be the last.”


The headshot of a light skinned white female with an inviting smile. She stands strongly with her arms crossed. Her long and wavy dark brown hair cascades over her shoulders and grey blazer.


Wendy Heimann-Nunes (she/her) (Nolan Heimann LLP) plays everyone’s favorite role: the lawyer. She brings to the table the perspective that, “The contract is the outcome of building a relationship of trust and shared values, it’s not the starting point for a good relationship. So often we think about the short-term, but the reality is developing a project framework that embeds IDEA has a huge ROI past opening day.”


The headshot of a light-skinned Persian man with a toothy grin. He has a full beard, thick wavy dark brown hair and his right eye is closed. He wears a charcoal grey sports coat over a light blue button-down shirt. Sina Bahram (he/him; left/above) and Corey Timpson (he/him; right/below) (Prime Access Consulting) represent accessibility and inclusion subject matter experts, and have a number of resources available on their site. “Themed experience already has the pieces in place. It thrives on multi-modality, using what guests see, hear, feel, and do simultaneously to create immersion. It’s not a big step to also use those channels to increase and improve accessibility.” Sina notes.

The headshot of a light-skinned white man with black framed glasses. He smiles directly at us with a slight dimple, thinning hair, and a short goatee. He is dressed in a black v-neck t-shirt under a black sport coat.

Corey adds,“It’s important to understand that employing an inclusive design methodology yields far more outcomes than just accessibility – immersion, deeper and prolonged engagement, comfort, relevance, and people spending less time and energy trying to navigate an experience and more on actually doing the experience.”



The headshot of a light-skinned woman with green-framed glasses. They smile slightly at us with their head tilted to our right. Rose gold dyed bangs cover their forehead, complementing their dusty pink vest over a light tan blouse.

Erica McCay (she/they) (Valtech Themed Entertainment Studio) agrees strongly with a third point that Sina and Corey raise: people’s needs change and experiences must meet those changing needs. Her focus on interactives and playtesting leads to a snappy and memorable trio of guidelines. “When it comes to playtesting, do it early, do it often, and do it with as many people as possible.” Embedding increasing levels of complexity of playtesting into the entire span of the design process helps avoid going too far down a path that won’t work and informs the highly iterative process.


Photograph of a light-skinned white woman with blue cateye framed glasses. She half smiles directly at us with a slight dimple, short wavy hair, and large gold hoop earrings. She is dressed in a white button-down under a maroon vest, with jade beads and a headset on her shoulder. In the background, a large window shows outer space with a starfield, planets, and nebulae visible in the distance with a bank of six built-in monitors directly underneath the view.

Nicola Rossini (she/they) (Riding Chaos) represents the production and project management piece of the puzzle. Specifically thinking about access, “We need to shift to budgeting/scheduling to the needs of the project not just the ideals of the investors – and that must include resource & scheduling to include multiple options for fabrication, installation, & operationalization that also recognizes real humans with real needs are working on these things. What it costs to run a good, accessible, humane project cannot be a nice-to-have that is at risk of being value engineered.” Nicola strongly recommends Cary Gillett and Jay Sheehan’s book “The Production Manager’s Toolkit”. The second edition will be released in March of next year.


The headshot of a light-skinned, middle-aged woman with brown and grey curly hair and round, dark-blue glasses. She balances a stack of fake logs in one hand, to our right, and smiles and looks warily up at them. She is dressed in a pale ivory blazer over a dark grey shell blouse and wears a wood and silver acorn pendant necklace.

As for me, Cynthia Sharpe (she/her) (Thinkwell, a TAIT Company), I’m the hard-charging Project Executive who while incredibly successful in their career comes from a more traditional project approach background and has oh so much to learn from our esteemed panelists. And hopefully, in the process, I’ll make it feel less scary for others who see themselves in these projects and conversations to be more vulnerable and open to learning. I’ve found Art Equity’s “Finding the Keys” training to be incredibly helpful in reshaping recruitment, hiring, and retention – something we’re not explicitly hitting on in the session.


Our team is grateful to Dan Picard (he/him) (MDSX Creative) who initially was part of our team but cannot participate in the conference. Conversations with him deeply informed our approach. His absence helps us underscore a few points. Often, Creative is expected to do the lift of IDEA work, without it manifesting in other disciplines. But this work takes a team, and when one person cannot participate, it’s up to others to step up. And last, too often this work is expected of people from traditionally marginalized and oppressed groups, and we did not want to reinforce that or treat Dan like he’s hot-swappable. He’s not. People aren’t. And so his absence is an important element of our story. We are also thankful to Sam Lieberstein and Nicole Geletka for their assistance in herding us cats to the finish line. 


Once the TEA posts the video to their YouTube channel, we will add that link here as well.

Chuck Roberts: You Know, He’s Pretty Good

Chuck Roberts is a Senior Art Director with Thinkwell Group and was named one of Blooloop’s Top 50 Museum Influencers in 2021 for his multi-award-winning career that spans almost 40 years and includes work for theme parks, brand centers, museums, Presidential Libraries, World Expos, and much more. Chuck brings an extensive breadth of knowledge, experience, and understanding to his work in location-based entertainment, but he also reveals a disarming and sincere humility. He is quick to deflect praise and credit his colleagues and collaborators for their critical contributions to each and every project. His signature projects include Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Launch Experience, The Lincoln and Nixon Presidential Libraries, and the highly acclaimed USA Pavilion at this year’s Dubai Expo.

Chuck on site at the US Marshals Museum, with teammate Shengyu Zhang.

Chuck’s career path has been, like many in this industry, a long and often windy road, but each chapter along his journey brought new disciplines and skills that built upon the others to make his destination seem inevitable in hindsight. As a young child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Chuck’s Grandma Wilma would take him to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). They visited so often in fact, that he regarded it as an extension of his home. Each visit would bring “tingles” of awe and revelation, a sensation that continues to drive his work and has become for him a key objective for every guest experience.

As a youth, Chuck was intensely shy and admittedly a bit wild. During his middle and high school years, he attended a private school (“Because public schools likely couldn’t handle me,” Chuck remarks without a hint of irony). Chuck always loved to draw, and at the Overlake School in Redmond, Washington, he would draw wherever and whenever he could, often transforming his school desk into a canvas, leaving behind drawings that his schoolmates would eagerly seek out. “They weren’t good,” he insists in typical Chuck fashion, “And they would all be washed away at the end of the day…” but they were good enough to gain the approval of his peers and the attention of the faculty. This positive reinforcement fed Chuck’s spirit and boosted his confidence.

He volunteered to build sets for the school’s production of Our Town, and gained a foundational understanding of construction techniques and materials, and a personal revelation. “Our Town is a very minimalist show, ” said Roberts, “but with really simple parts we were able to shape a space. We suggested walls, doors, windows… a whole world for the cast, and I found that very powerful.” Drama teacher Myra Goetz was impressed by Chuck’s skills and went out of her way to introduce him to the show’s set designer, Craig Martin, who invited Chuck to develop his drafting skills. Martin was so impressed by Chuck that he recommended him to work at Beverly Travis Electrical Engineering after graduation.

Drafting taught Chuck how to communicate through drawing. He gained an appreciation for precision, an understanding of electrical systems, and a growing confidence in his abilities. “You know, I was pretty good,” Chuck notes, quickly adding, “I didn’t like the work, but they sure taught me a lot.” His job also earned him enough income to help pay for tuition at Cornish School of the Arts, and later ArtCenter in Los Angeles, where he explored the aesthetics of design. Throughout his professional career, he tackled real world challenges like intrusive support columns, ventilation ductwork, guest accessibility, egress paths, catwalks, and many others. He learned not to fight or ignore these necessary evils, but to gain an understanding and appreciation for them. “If you don’t deal with them eventually, someone else will,” he insists, “It’s important not to leave them in the hands of others. Take control of them early on and use them to the benefit of your design.”

Over the course of his career, he has seen enormous changes, of course. Advances in computing, digital art, the internet, and smartphones have helped streamline workflow and improve design capabilities and communication, but this, he cautions, is a double edged sword. “Constant email, text messages, and meetings can create the illusion of progress,” he warns, “but you still need time to unplug, dive in, and do the work.” He loves the work, and so prefers to focus on what’s ahead than to rest on his past successes. “There’s always a little disappointment when a project is finished. I miss getting my head down and solving problems, so I’m always looking forward to the next thing.”

Chuck starts new projects by asking lots of questions. “We are going to tell a story in this space,” he says, “so what do we know? Is there a topic? A key element? An IP? What is the box? Do we know? What is the budget? And then, what is the thing we can do in this space that is really special, magical, and amazing, and how can we achieve that?”

The tingle that sparked his imagination as a boy continues to be the driving force behind his work today. He passionately wears his guest’s shoes as he seeks out new ways to surprise, awe, and engage audiences. With ravenous curiosity, a collaborative spirit, and a wealth of design experience gained over a lifetime, he has transformed ordinary spaces into extraordinary experiences. Through Chuck’s magic, Presidential libraries come alive with intimate profiles of these all too human beings, guests are transported to a raging Civil War Battlefield or high into space inside a Space Shuttle cargo bay. Visitors from all over the world are inspired by America’s spirit of freedom and opportunity to explore their own role in shaping the future. In every experience, Chuck strives to touch the hearts and minds of visitors of all ages, backgrounds, and interests, driven by a desire to give them the same gee-whiz excitement he felt with Grandma Wilma back at OMSI. Whether you are a guest or a close collaborator, his work always brings a tingle.