ConneCT Series - Immersive Environments and Creating Shared Experiences

  • Live Events, Systems Integration
13 March, 2023
Expert Panel Discussion hosted by Creative Technology

What is immersion and why is it so present in our design methodology right now?  Immersion can mean many different things, but as a rule, it generally deals with one’s deep mental involvement into something they become a part of.  An immersive experience describes the perception of being surrounded by a different environment than the normal day-to-day.

In the world of experience design for live events and installations, this involves the creative use of content and technology to evoke an emotional response that engages the observer.  This can be facilitated with technology like virtual reality goggles or more commonly a physical environment like a visitor experience centre or an attraction where audio visual content is presented to immerse the subject in all spatial dimensions.

Exploring Immersion and Shared Experiences

Recently, Creative Technology brought together a group of industry leaders for a round table discussion titled ‘Exploring Immersion and Shared Experiences’.  As expected, the conversation was both educational and aspirational, as the emphasis moved from helping to define what it takes to create “immersive” experiences, to how the workflow contributes to success, and finally onto a discussion about the future of storytelling.

Panellists included Kate Dawkins, celebrated content designer of Kate Dawkins Studio; Natalia Szczepanczyk, immersive designer at HOLOPLOT; Simon Kentish, CTO from Frameless; and Dermot Kerrigan; Director from Active Training Team; and Anette Moreno, Virtual Production Co-Ordinator at the ARRI X CT Stage in London.  Moderated by Will Case, Director of Innovation at Creative Technology UK, the panel shared some interesting insights on current projects, what they believe are the true benefits of immersive design and how the success of immersion can be measured. They also explored what is missing in the world of immersion and how it could be taken to new levels in the future.


For the art installation Frameless, artistic works of art are skillfully displayed surrounding the viewer. It provides an ‘escape to the artist’ where within the first few moments of being painted in digital pixels all generations gasp in awe at the multitude of colours and textures, where the crossover between real and surreal has no clear separation. What the team at Frameless has managed to provide are spaces that are technically brilliant without the technology being at the forefront of people’s focus – instead, allowing them to place themselves at the heart of the artist.

Simon Kentish explained how creating connection with varied audiences is the most interesting and challenging element: “That moment to see a child walk in there and just stop what they were doing for a moment and start laughing, or a grandparent walking in there and seeing that emotion, if you get that right, those visuals are the sign for me of an immersive experience. How long can you keep them engaged? That’s the real test of immersion”.

Personnel Training

The alternative to this comes in the guise of the immersion-based experience that Dermot Kerrigan delivers through Active Training Team. In the world of billion-pound construction and thousands of delivery personnel, the matter of health and safety is paramount and it is interesting to see how immersive experiences have been embraced to improve the training in this area. With a fusion of live actors, pre-recorded footage, physical environments and immersive technologies, Active Training creates a space where analogue and digital go hand in hand to deliver a fully interactive learning experience.

Dermot shared, “What we have in our favour is that people are expecting a boring presentation and suddenly they’re thrown into this full day experience…hitting people on an emotional level. I’m trying to get people to think about their role in keeping themselves and each other safe by thinking about their behaviour under pressure. The idea being that if those skills worked in that simulation, the odds are they’ll work out in the real world, the key is how long does this emotional punch in the solar plexus last outside of the space…”.

The Experience

Obviously the scripting, content, and technology workflow all contribute to success, but what’s the underlying factor of delivering an effective immersive experience?

Kate Dawkins offered, “It’s about creating that emotion but it’s also about what somebody is taking away, something that they didn’t come with. We try and create memories that last but also provide a sharing element through the content. Whether for Olympic ceremonies, remembrance pieces or artworks, hopefully the people who came didn’t know a lot about them. So, they’ve taken those moments of being placed somewhere different and that’s what’s so wonderful about being taken away to a new space. It’s taking people on a journey and keeping that unexpected nature up. The interplay with the storytelling, creating emotions, surprise and delight.”

Focusing specifically on the use of audio in immersive environments, Natalia Szczepanczyk, commented, “I think in some ways it is about returning to the natural way of experiencing the world, to step away from what’s reproduced in front of us on a 2D screen, that’s not how we experience sound in the real world. Therefore, when you think about immersion it’s by bringing all these extra dimensions to the experience that you create for people. Being able to have visual content matched with sound is a natural next step and we’re travelling in that direction. There’s a lot to be said about not seeing the technology, instead hiding it and making it transparent and allowing people to just be immersed in space. We want them to experience the content, the story, what will they get out of that experience. It’s not about the tech, it’s the experience.

The group agreed that one commonality for immersive spaces is that they are shared experiences.  The emotional connection created should be clear and what we are finding is that we are now able to significantly influence the emotions and thought processes of people in a positive, long-term manner using these storytelling skills.

When observing emotion within the virtual production environment, Anette Moreno commented that, “Providing a virtual space that can be seen and believed to perform against helps create an emotional attachment. Immersion in film production is successful when the viewer can’t separate the real and the make believe. A space that makes sense, feels familiar and safe.”

Looking Forward

As for the future of immersive experiences, the panel agreed that collaboration is key to successfully implementing new tools and methods to aid the storytelling process. Directing sound waves as they might occur in the natural world, moving away from artistic images to more photorealistic content and blending real physical world elements and people with pre-recorded scenes are just a few of the paths available to us going forward.

All of this to help heighten the emotion and elicit physical reactions from people in a shared experience that continues to blur the lines of technology and reality. There may be no single path to creating impactful immersive environments. But it is clear to this group of pioneers that creativity and collaboration will continue to drive the development of the successful immersive environments and shared experiences of the future.

Immersion roundtable panellists