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How to Build an Immersive World on a Budget

Updated: 2 days ago

Today we’re going to get practical and learn how to build an evocative setting for an immersive event, on a budget.

We’ve talked about how immersive events are so much more fun than normal events -- and just a quick review, when I say immersive event I mean any activity that’s meant to make the participants feel as if they’ve traveled to another time and place, like an Alice in Wonderland tea party, or a night at Hogwarts. You can watch lots of examples of how to plan specific themed parties on this playlist. But today let’s talk about the basics -- how can you plan an immersive experience based on ANY fandom?

NOTE: If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on YouTube, please CLICK HERE

The key to creating any really engaging immersive event is worldbuilding. Some of you may have heard this term in relation to writing, but I’m using it in a slightly different way. Worldbuilding in this context means replicating the most evocative elements of a fictional world, so that the participants in the event can recognize where they are. You’ve heard the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief”, right? Well, the first step in helping the guests in your fictional world block out reality is to surround them with visual connections to the fantasy world, almost like little magical talismans that take center stage, and force the items from the real world out of focus.

In any fictional world, there are iconic items that everyone recognizes. For example, lightsabers from Star Wars, or the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter. If you were to walk into an otherwise empty room and see the Sorting Hat on a pedestal, you’d know immediately that there’s a Harry Potter experience waiting for you.

Beyond this kind of specific symbol, we can also use more generic items to suggest certain worlds. For example, a medieval type of space would include a lot of candles in it, and crude wooden bowls and primitive metalwork. None of these are specific to any particular fandom, but they immediately suggest a feudal or gothic timeframe, in which guests can lose themselves. In contrast, a Victorian era space could also include candles, bowls and metal, but the candles would be tall and thin in candelabras instead of short and chunky, and the bowls would be made of patterned china and filled with sugared fruits instead of porridge or stew, and the metalwork would be filigreed gold or silver, not simple iron. You can really identify a specific time and place by grouping together just a few iconic items that visually tell your story. And it’s amazing how your brain doesn’t need a whole space filled top to bottom with cues to feel immersed in another world … all it needs is a few meaningful items, and your imagination fills in the rest!