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Amy Lord and Bek Whitney discuss creating immersive experiences for brands like Netflix’s Stranger Things, Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars.
Guys, it’s great to connect. To kick us off, what brought you together?
Likewise, thanks for the chat! So we met at University back in 2003 and bonded over a love of the Mighty Boosh, racing mechanical cats and being the biggest kids in the room. We didn’t start working together until our last week of university but as soon as we did we knew we were on to something special. The feeling we got creating work together was like playing the best game as a kid – time vanished, and we didn’t want it to end.
After uni, we wanted to keep this up so kept meeting and creating these weird sets, mainly in our student basements – to the delight of our housemates! Often they had no meaning or reason for existing, but occasionally they made backdrops or installations for friends’ bands.
And these creative collaborations led you to launch your own studio?
We officially started Lord Whitney in 2010. What started as us wanting to make play our jobs has since evolved into what’s now our creative studio, where we work with teams of designers, set builders, producers, writers, musicians, you name it! Whatever we create or produce has its feet firmly rooted in creativity, play, and wonder.
How would you sum up your approach to crafting immersive experiences?
At Lord Whitney, we aim to create work that sparks wonder and provides space for people to connect with themselves. We believe that immersing audiences in new worlds and providing a moment of escapism can inspire them to see new possibilities. We use a blend of research, psychology and detailed immersive design to build multi-sensory worlds that tell a story and engage people of all ages and backgrounds.
One thing that’s often noted about our work is the high level of detail involved. We love to deep dive into whatever project, brand or story we’re working on, pulling out the tiniest details. We believe those details make those experiences feel so real and therefore immersive.
What kicks off your creative process? How deep do you dive into the brands you’re working with?
It’s been said before, but no two projects are the same. That said, we often start with a big piece of paper, a cup of tea and a good natter. We do a lot of research and as mentioned, we love to go deep with it. For us, it’s key to the process if you want to create something immersive.
It’s about finding the core story, theme or small details that make a world engaging and believable. We do this to get under the skin of a brand/project/show as if it’s something born from our brains.
From there – depending on the project – we’ll look at mapping the experience and audience journey, defining the story and, importantly, the visual design. But as we say, every project has its own needs. We scale up and down our process depending on the requirements.
Netflix called you “a force to be reckoned with”. Can you talk us through your collaboration with them?
Our biggest passion in life has always been creating worlds, so transforming Netflix shows into real-life experiences was a really exciting challenge. This was a one-day, pop-up promo event that took place in Manchester’s Arndale Centre. We welcomed a thousand members of the public to step out of real life for a moment and into the worlds of Stranger Things, Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars – three of Netflix’s hit shows.
It was part immersive experience, part giant photo booth, with audiences being led on a journey through a space. Each set was created to reflect a key moment in each series. For Stranger Things, this was a scene where the main characters are biking through the woods at night on their iconic BMXs. We created a realistic set of the woods, using real birch trees, bark and fencing, sourced vintage BMXs, props and costumes all ready for friends to pose.
For Riverdale, the set was a take on their classic American high school corridor featuring lockers, football flags and notices, shot in epic slow-motion. For Pretty Little Liars, it was a mugshot, set in the police headquarters of the fictional town of Rosewood.
The event was designed to give the overall feeling of entering an exclusive ‘behind the scenes’ area on a TV set – this connected the sets and experiences together.
You also helped bring the world of Netflix’s Arcane to life for fans of the show. Did adapting an animated property into a live experience bring a different set of challenges?
Not really! It’s a similar process, deep diving into the world, taking note of the smaller finer details as well as the obvious… Things that the fandom may only notice.
There was an awful lot of pausing of the show, but that was super interesting to see the sheer level of detail that went into the animation. To create these successful shows you have to build the entire world – from the food people eat, to how they interact. Learning the rules of the world helps to bring it to life.
It was then great collaborating with prop makers and designers, sourcing real-life items to bring it all to life. Dressing and helping to bring together the world of Zaun was brilliant; the client trusted our process and so we were able to add lots of finer details and include easter egg items for the super fans to spot. Though these did require some serious pausing and freeze framing to see… In our opinion, if one person sees it, it’s worthwhile!
Agreed! Looking ahead to future brand collaborations, do you see entertainment properties as the focus? Or are there opportunities to create compelling propositions for IP in areas like the heritage sector?
Entertainment IP properties obviously lend themselves to immersive and we’d love to work more in these areas, but all brands have stories to tell and people who are interested in hearing them. You could argue there are no low-interest sectors. We just need to find the right audience and story to inform a compelling immersive proposition. That sort of challenge excites us.
We’ve worked in the heritage sector previously for a Yorkshire-based stately home, Harewood House. ‘Seeds of Hope’ explored the role the house played in WWI and the experience took place in the Bothy and walled gardens – working with the grounds team and gardeners was a whole new thing for us.
‘Upon a Christmas Wish’ saw us work with a poet, Toby Thompson, to tell a story about the house coming to life. The challenge was to be inspired by the property and uncover the unknown stories from its history to create magical or thought-provoking work, allowing visitors to engage in new and exciting ways.
There are opportunities everywhere – that’s what is so exciting about working with IP and immersive. Whether it’s in food and drink, or something completely different, the nature of immersive work allows consumers to build a deeper connection with a brand rooted in their own experience.
Before we wrap up, one last question – what fuels your creativity?
Everything! Getting outdoors seeing the world, seeing things, talking and sharing thoughts and ideas with peers and creatives. Looking outside of ourselves. It’s very hard to feel inspired when you have your head down in a computer. And sometimes that’s the challenge of running a creative business, balancing the need to run things with the need to be inspired.
I don’t think I’ve ever had one good idea from looking online. It’s always in the quiet moments after talking or seeing something, once you’ve had some space to process that ideas come.
Also, collaboration is vital to us. We have this strange connection… We sometimes say we share a brain or mind’s eye, so it’s always great bouncing ideas around as the other always has interesting thoughts to add. No ideas are stupid here at Lord Whitney – everyone involved in the team, or the collaborators we work with, are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. Sometimes it’s in the agreement or the conflict of ideas that magic happens.
Absolutely. Guys, a huge thanks again for making time. Let’s tie-in again soon.
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