Archive for December, 2009

Ease on down the road…

In honor of 2009 as it comes to a close, I thought I’d ease on down memory lane, way way back to January, when I took part in the ultimate New Year’s Day experience:  The Rose Parade.

As a California girl, and one who had grandparents who lived in Pasadena, I’m a bit embarassed to say that I had never actually been to a Rose Parade, or even seen the floats in person before.   But all of that changed one year ago, when I took on a few freelance projects with Ron Miziker of Miziker Entertainment Group

Ron is one of the greats in the development of experience design.  It was he who co-conceptualized and produced the The Main Street Electrical Parade for Disneyland when he was working as a project director at The Walt Disney Company in the early 70’s.  Then in 1980, Disney actually “loaned” Ron out to Ronald Reagan, for whom he produced Reagan’s two inaugural celebrations and other presidential events.  And in 1984, he produced the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, complete with memorable elements like audience flash cards and a jet pack – oh yes, a jet pack.  Ron Miziker is experience design royalty, as far as I’m concerned – just for that Electrical Parade theme music alone!

So what with my admiration for Ron, and with a major So-Cal “to do” (the Rose Parade) still on my life list, I was like a kid on Christmas when I found out that I would be helping him with a float for the 2009 Rose Parade.

The Client:  Jack in the Box
The Theme:  Jack-o-licious!  Celebrating the disco era…dy-no-mite!

As you can tell from their commercials, Jack (Mr. Box to you) loves his humor, and the float would be a showcase for the company’s brand and its sense of fun, with Jack being the star attraction.  They hired award-winning float designer AES (aka Festival Artists) to design the float, and AES in turn brought Ron on board to co-conceptualize the float and turn it into a true experience for parade-goers.   With music director Tim Hosman, Ron created a classic disco mix and incorporated dancers, horn players and a disco-ball juggler to transform the float into a seventies spectacle.

Among other things, my job was to wrangle the performers (many of whom were students), so I suppose it was logical that I would then be asked to escort the performers along the parade route.  This meant that, for my first Rose Parade, not only would I be attending, and not only would I be working behind the scenes, but I would actually be walking in the parade…all 5.5 miles of it.  Thankfully I was spared from wearing the disco dance pants.

The day before the parade, we all met at AES to have the float judged by the official Tournament of Roses team.  This was alongside several other floats produced by AES.   I had been working on the float for weeks by this point, and felt a little bit lackluster about the look of the float as it stood there with the assorted performers placed on and around it.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great float – the craftsmanship and design were really amazing, and the floral elements were spot on – but it didn’t seem all that “spectacular”.  That is, until the music started. 

Once the disco track played, the horn players started to play – swinging from side to side – and the dancers started to dance and the juggler …juggled,  and it all just came to life.  Jack was even doing his best John Travolta.  It was like the whole float actually lit up and sparkled.  All of the people in attendance had a big smiles on their faces, and I just burst out laughing.  It was totally charming.

Can you feel it?

Immediately after judging, the team headed to a nearby parking lot to practice for the big day, and especially to prepare for the dreaded “turn” at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado where all of the television cameras line up.  My friend Joanna Chong came by to help out with sound.  I told her we needed someone to handle music in the float (meaning she’d be taking the 5.5 mile trip with me, but inside the float), and being the cool chic that she is, she took up the challenge.  After a couple of hours of rehearsal, we all went home and off to bed early.

The next morning, we met the performers at a special lot and bussed together to our pre-determined waiting area on a street off of Orange Grove.  We arrived in the dark – before 6am – and I had time to take a little walk to check out some of the other floats. 

As it neared showtime, the buzz on the street (literally) was that the float had won a big award.  As it turned out, it was the recipient of the Extraordinaire Award – the award for the most spectacular float in the parade!  Jack was very happy.

Then it was time for the parade to begin.   As we slowly made our way to the official start of the route, spectators on the street were happily waving and dancing with the music and cheering on the performers.  It was a very cool vibe, and so much fun to be on the street-side looking back at the crowd. 

Slowly, we were creeping up to the top of the route, where the media outlets and the grandstands were set up, and where there were thousands of lights and people and cheers and tournament officials.  It was crazy!  It was a crazy, oh, two minutes.  And then, as we rounded the corner and moved away from the television crews, I looked into the face of the true parade:  five miles of nothing but street and sideline spectators.  I could feel my feet hurting already.

As we rolled down the road, the crowds loved the float.  The activity on the float, mixed with the music and the ever-familiar Mr. Box, led to a lot of smiles and spontaneous dancing, not to mention hundreds of people shouting “JACK!”  This definitely wasn’t the run of the mill float – it was a true experience that interacted with its audience to create emotion (happiness, laughter, surprise) and ultimately create lasting memories for those who experienced it.

And Al Roker Loved It!…

After 5.5 miles of walking (and running!) through streets filled with silly string and tortillas (?!) and horse “presents”, I hurt in places I didn’t really know I could hurt.  But I was left with an adventure that not many people have, and for that I am truly grateful.

So in honor of 2009, I salute the Rose Parade, and Ron Miziker, and Jack.  And to ring in 2010, I encourage you to tune in to the parade this year, when Ron and AES will once again team up with Jack to present a Carnivale-themed float.  Let’s see if they can be the most spectacular float two years in a row.

Happy New Year!

Next Article:  A Tale of Two Events:  It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences…


Read Full Post »

My name is DeAnne, and I’m a Lost-oholic

So, I might as well admit this to you now…

I’m addicted to Lost.

Judge me if you must, but I’m proud to be a card-carrying Lostie.

What, do you ask, has this to do with experience design?  Well, everything, of course!  Sit down and let me explain.

When Lost first premiered, I watched the first season and was intrigued. But life got in the way, I missed a few episodes, and decided that I missed way too much to keep up, so I dropped the show for a while.  That is, until mid-season two.  I happened upon a recap episode when I heard that there was a guy in a hatch, a computer with a button, and a tail section – WHAT?!  Well, let’s just say my mind was blown.  I love a good mystery, and Lost was turning out to be right up my alley.

Now, all of this intrigue had me jonesing for more information, so where could I turn but the good ol’ internets?   After doing a search for “Lost” and “theories”, I came upon a forum, one of many, where people just as befuddled as I could gather to try to make sense of this perlexing show.  A little oasis in a desert of confusion that became my little Lostie home away from home.

ok, ok, I’m getting to the point…

So, after that second season, some rather interesting developments cropped up in the form of unusual advertisements and Lost-related websites that drove Losties like me to search for more information.  It was the start of Lost’s first ARG – an “alternate reality game” designed by the show’s creators to expand the storyline of the show and to bring worldwide fans together in an online experience.  By the end of this first ARG, those who followed along were treated not only to an expanded backstory and plum information about the Dharma Initiative and the Valenzetti Equation (you can look it up…), but – more importantly – were treated to an experience with fellow Losties that required them to pool their efforts and help one another to piece together the clues that ultimately led them to their mythological treasure.

Since that first ARG, Lost has offered up similar experiences, usually kicked off at Comic-Con and running during each hiatus.  Some ARG’s have been more successful than others , but each time the bond between ultimate fans and the show gets stronger and stronger.  How’s that for marketing in the new age?

And now I come to the true purpose of this article, Lost’s latest ARG:  The Lost Underground Art Project (also known as Damon, Carlton and a Polar Bear).  Again, kicking off at Comic-Con this summer, the creators, with comedian Paul Scheer, set off a chain of events that would lead clue-hungry Losties to the ultimate scavenger hunt.  Beginning in August, the first clue led Losties to a club in LA with a show by the late DJ AM, and a special appearance by Sterling Beaumon (young Ben Linus), who revealed the purpose of this ARG:  A Lost fan appreciation event whereby 16 limited-edition Lost-inspired prints by some of today’s most collectible artists would be released over the next four months. It would again require the efforts of the group to follow the clues to each print, which were revealed at small events from LA to NY and Tokyo to Glasgow.

So from August to December, Lost fans were treated to a little adventure that helped pass the long – and I mean long – hiatus leading up to the final season of the show.  Being that I live in Lost, I mean Los, Angeles, I was lucky enough to be able to attend several of the clue-finding missions, including a trip to my local Crumbs bakery to find a clue on the backs of the staffs’ uniforms, and another jaunt to Ron Herman to pick up a nifty canvas bag containing another clue.  Along the way, I always headed back to my collection of online forums where Losties like me would gather together to discuss the clues, share information, await the next poster release, and generally shoot the…you know.

As the campaign drew to a close, the final clue led to a culminating experience that would prove to be the peanut butter on the Dharma crackers…er, cherry on the cake.  The final reveal would be a gallery show at Gallery1988, the brains (along with the Lost team) behind the ARG operation.  Luckily enough, the gallery is minutes from my home.  I win again.

After weeks and weeks of what had been a fun, though sometimes maddening, adventure, this final event was a must-see experience for any Lostie who could break away from the normal course of events and head to LA on December 15th.  People from all over the country flew in, and some even camped out overnight, to be first in line to walk into the gallery and see what was in store.  True to the Lost M.O., even waiting in line proved to be an experience filled with jubilation, drama and mystery, where those lining up on the street were treated to everything from pizza deliveries from the President of ABC, to another clue hunt from the gallery owner, to a special gift drop-off for the overnighters from the two Lost show runners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.  As the line grew, along with the anticipation, Losties took pictures, tweeted and even took streaming video as it all happened to share with those who couldn’t attend, allowing the collective experience to continue.

At 7:00pm, the doors opened to the gallery and revealed not only a full set of the 16 limited-addition posters that had been revealed throughout the ARG, but an amazing collection of original art and other memorabilia provided by more artists, many of whom were in attendance alongside Lost’s writers and producers.   Each person who walked through the door recieved a lithograph of the final poster, which was revealed at the show, and had the opportunity to have it signed by Lindelof and Cuse, who returned shortly after the doors opened.

I will say that it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a while.   But while clue-hunting and poster reveals were a unique way to pass the time, it was the partnership with the online community to help solve the clues, come up with solutions and pool efforts that made the experience so memorable.  I really will never forget it.  And lucky for all of us, LostARGs.com documented the whole thing, so we can relive it whenever our little Lostie hearts desire.

So, in addition to my undying love for Lost as a show, it is the commitment of the show’s creators to design these extra credit experiences for the fans that make it a fitting first article for this blog about Experience Design.  Now on to Season 6!

Here’s a peachy recap for your viewing pleasure:


Next Article: A Tale of Two Events:  It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences…

Read Full Post »

Since I was a little girl, I loved hearing a good story, going to the theater, decorating for a party and using my imagination.  When I grew up, I became an event producer so that I could do what I love to do everyday: create experiences.

This blog explores anything and everything in the world of “experience design”:  Theater, exhibitions, large scale live experiences, alternate reality games, retail environments, and attractions.   Any constructed experience that uses story, atmosphere and emotion to draw in its audience and create a collective sensation.

I intend for this to be an interactive blog, where we can have a shared adventure.   I hope you’ll enjoy the ride!

DeAnne Millais

Read Full Post »