2018 SEGD Insight Award: Merlin Entertainments
The SEGD Insight Award recognizes entities that consistently commission environmental graphic design programs that significantly enhance or promote opportunities for the field and experiential graphic design education and demonstrate a long-standing commitment to recognize the field. Recipients of the award are the visionary design clients behind years of outstanding museum exhibits, innovative hospital wayfinding systems and rewarding partnerships between architects, developers and designers. Past winners include M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Taubman, Portsmouth City Council, TATE, Apple, Amtrak, Herman Miller and the National Park Service.
Merlin Entertainments is the largest European entertainments company operating in Europe and the second largest entertainments company globally. Merlin runs 124 attractions in 25 countries across four continents, including 32 in North America. Their portfolio of attractions includes the world-famous Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND® Parks, LEGOLAND® Discovery Centers, SEALIFE Aquariums and The San Francisco Dungeon. Their aim is to deliver unique, memorable and rewarding experiences to millions of visitors.
We chatted with Kael Elliott, creative producer for Merlin Magic Making—the creative heart of the business—about the company and its ties to the experiential graphic design field and SEGD.
Tell us a little about Merlin Entertainments, and what differentiates it in the market.
Interactions with all forms of entertainment are becoming increasingly focused on social media and online experiences with less face-to-face interaction; we take on the challenging task of creating compelling attractions and entertainment that encourage families and friends to laugh, scream, get up close and personal and experience worlds—in person.
Our goal is to take our guests on memorable journeys to places from their wildest imaginations and our passion is putting smiles (or screams) on their faces. Ultimately, we do it all for the LOVE of FUN!
What role do you play there and what role does experiential graphic design play at Merlin Entertainments?
At Merlin Magic Making, we have a team of exceptionally creative designers, production artists, innovators, thinkers and dreamers that develop world-class attractions for Merlin. In my role as Creative Producer Lead, I oversee the design development, theme book creation, content creation and all other aspects of experience development from the design phase to project completion for new experiences within our North America attractions.
Experiential graphic design is fundamental throughout all phases of developing an experience. We use graphics in our spaces to tell stories, guide our guests on extraordinary journeys, create interactive spaces where they become the star of the show and take people to places they couldn’t experience anywhere else.
Experiential graphics allow us limitless possibilities to speak to guests and give us the ability to transport guests to worlds of the wildest imaginations.
What experiential projects have been pivotal for Merlin Entertainments?
One of the most recent interactive and immersive experiences we’ve developed is the Turtle Rescue Center at SEALIFE in Grapevine, Texas. In the Turtle Rescue Center, guests are invited to collect a toy sea turtle at the start of the journey and take it through the rescue and rehabilitation process.
Guests collect a turtle from the collection beach, where they then take it through a series of interactive stations: naming and weighing their turtle, finding out what ailment the turtle is challenged with, sending it through an X-ray station and administering treatments, rehydrating and feeding the turtle back to health and finally releasing it back to the wild on the release beach at the end of the journey.
Each interactive station is a digital touch-screen experience that teaches guests about the challenging yet rewarding rehabilitation and release process.
Alongside the interactive stations, there is also a live creature tank featuring a few sea turtles that have been rescued from the wild. Also, within the experience is the Turtle Rescue Hospital, which is a state of Texas-certified sea turtle rescue hospital where guests can see aquarists working to rehabilitate animals. As a whole, this experience really embodies what SEALIFE is all about.
This project was a pivotal one for Merlin in many ways. It allows our visitors to become an active part of the experience, rather than just a passive observer. Also, the project highlights Merlin’s commitment to the foundational pillars of SEALIFE, an organization that works incredibly hard to rescue and protect many creatures across the globe.
How did your relationship with SEGD begin?
The relationship with SEGD and one of its members started in a partnership with OpenEye Global, an interactive and digital design partner we’ve used to help create and deliver amazing experiences within our attractions. The team at OpenEye has developed A/V content as well as complex interactive and immersive digital experiences for our Madame Tussauds, SEALIFE and LEGOLAND® Discovery Center attractions.
>>> More about Merlin Entertainments
Congratulations to the 2018 SEGD Achievement Award winners!