Once the design is complete, the final layer is the performers. But Vaughan notes that at Punchdrunk, the environment is an important character in itself. “Lighting, sound, set design, performance—they all have equal weight.”

While production companies like Punchdrunk design previously unknown environments, those in the theme park and advertising industries have a trickier task. Companies seeking to augment beloved brands like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Blade Runner, and Game of Thrones must design worlds with which millions of fans already have a personal connection.

MyCoToo makes a business out of this challenge, and collaborates widely to produce marketing experiences for well-known brands. Last year, they teamed up with Giant Spoon to create a Game of Thrones interactive experience for HBO at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. The year prior they did the same with Westworld.

“Look at Game of Thrones. This is a show that everybody felt that they had ownership of because they spent ten years with it,” says David Wally, the company’s Chief Creative Officer. “When you have a situation like that you’re sort of doomed to know that you’re not going to be able to please everybody.”

When the Westworld experience debuted in an existing ghost-town outside Austin, they certainly pleased many. Guests explored a recreation of Sweetwater, the fictional Western town that plays prominently in the show, discovering clues and easter eggs about the show’s next season. The production lasted three days and saw around 4,000 visitors.

While Westworld itself was well suited to a brand-based experience—it’s about a highly immersive theme park, after all—the production designers took pains to make the world as accurate to the brand as possible.

“We’re allowing them to be inside the thing that they love,” says Wally. So consistency is paramount.

Building such extensive immersive experiences isn’t easy—and it certainly isn’t cheap. But for companies like these, it’s paying off. Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More brought in nearly $5 million in 2017 [paywall] and will soon be tenants in a new creative district in London. The Museum of Ice Cream—an Instagrammer’s paradise that creates “beautiful and shareable environments that foster IRL interaction and URL connections”—earned an estimated $20 million in three years. And immersive art creators Meow Wolf—hailed by some as the Disney of the future—is rapidly expanding from its Santa Fe home base, breaking ground on a $60 million project in Denver, and preparing for installations in Washington and Las Vegas.

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