Virtual reality, for all its hype and hope, has not exactly taken over the world of entertainment. Now, a new company wants to fulfill VR’s promise of transporting you virtually to another time and place, but without the awkward headphones, so you can have a shared, community experience.
The company, Illuminarium Experiences, promises to offer stunning film exhibits, with 4K video on giant screens, state-of-the-art space sound systems, haptic floors, interactive features (e.g., the “dust” you go through) and even , “Real smells” that will allow you to take a look at your virtual environment.
On July 1, Illuminarium (illuminarium.com) will open its first location in Atlanta, on the city’s BeltLine. The first “experience” that will be available to the public will be “Wild,” a virtual safari that will take you to Africa through film content shot by producer RadicalMedia. Tickets start at $ 35 per piece, which will give you about an hour to tour the experience in an 8,000-square-foot room (much like you’ll walk through a museum). For the $ 50 per person all-inclusive ticket, guests will receive a Wild Safari guide, a $ 10 voucher for Illuminarium coffee or a gift shop, and a flexible check-in time.
“We’re uniquely set up to take people to places they might never imagine being able to,” says Jon Kamen, CEO of RadicalMedia. His media company shot the performances of “Hamilton” which became the film released in 2020 at Disney Plus, in addition to numerous other television, film, digital and experiential productions.
Kamen has delved into virtual reality productions in the past. But as a spectator, he always found the technology annoying and the overall experience disappointing. With Illuminarium, he says: “I wanted to pursue something that was more of a community experience. It’s VR without goggles. “
To form Illuminarium Experiences, Kamen and RadicalMedia partnered with production designer and architect David Rockwell, the Tony winner who created sets for the 2021 Oscars, and his signature Rockwell group. They then connected with investor Alan Greenberg, who is co-founder of Avenues: The World School, Greenberg News Networks, Travel Holdings and former editor of Esquire magazine, to run the company as CEO.
Illuminarium partners have secured $ 100 million in initial funding, with a major investment from Eldridge, the holding company led by Todd Boehly. (Disclosure: Eldridge owns MRC, which last year formed a joint venture with PMC that brings together Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Vibe and Music Business Worldwide.)
The immersive content of Illuminarium will be original productions of RadicalMedia. According to Greenberg, the “wild” safari show cost about $ 10 million. The RadicalMedia crew used arrays of custom cameras that provide a native 240-degree field of view, shot on site to show animals in their native habitats in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania.
The following: “Spacewalk,” which the company advertised as “an amazing journey through our solar system,” which allows visitors to stroll around the Moon and Mars. A third experience contemplated by the partners would take visitors to the depths of the world’s oceans.
Greenberg, CEO of Illuminarium, rules out any comparison between its experience spaces and movie theaters.
“It’s not a movie,” he argues. “You can walk on the surface of the moon!”
Meanwhile, a core piece of the company’s business model is to promote their locations as nightlife destinations: Illuminarium After Dark, designed and developed by LAB at Rockwell Group, will be a bar setting like no other, Greenberg promises, which allows visitors to experience different scenarios, from a street in Tokyo city to fantastic dreamy landscapes. Illuminarium spaces will also be available for rent for private events, by Greenberg.
To service its commercial locations, the company’s operating partner is Legends, which manages operations at more than 150 sports venues, attractions, experiences and other locations around the world.
Illuminarium partners have aggressive plans to deploy their locations around the world. Following Atlanta, the company plans to open locations open in Las Vegas in AREA 15 in January 2022 and in Miami, Mana, Wynwood Arts District, in the spring of 2022. Other U.S. locations considered are New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles and Austin.
“As we expand internationally, we need to be aware of what is culturally translated,” Kamen notes.
In the Illuminarium experiences, visitors are completely surrounded by a massive canvas 350 feet long and 22 feet high. Some of the company’s technology vendors include Panasonic, the exclusive visual provider of 4K projectors, displays, and camera solutions; Holoplot, which provides its own technology for beam formation and wave field synthesis with the ability to locate and isolate sound throughout the Illuminarium so that visitors receive individualized sound experiences depending on where they are; Ouster, which provides its ultra-wide OS0 lidar sensor to respond to guest movements (e.g., if someone waves their hand or moves their foot); and Powersoft, which provides a haptic infrasound floor that produces realistic sensations for visitors, such as the shaking sensation of an elephant or the low frequency of a lion’s roar.
Kamen admits some concern as the opening of the Illuminarium in Atlanta approaches on July 1st. “If you build it, will they come?” he asks rhetorically.
The pandemic added a layer of complexity to the construction of the Illuminarium and travel locations. “But we may be incredibly lucky to have planned to open on July 1, 2021,” Kamen says with a laugh. “We could be benefiting people who die to go out and do something.”
Watch a virtual “flight” of the Atlanta Illuminarium (or at this link):