Illuminarium Photo

A stroll through the African savanna with elephants and leopards. A walk on the moon. A late-night cocktail at a Tokyo market. At Illuminarium, would-be adventurers can do it all—sans the jet lag or pricey plane ticket. Combining traditional film production and cutting-edge interactive technology, the Atlanta venue promises to replicate—in hyper-realistic detail—the experiences of visiting spots around the world (and beyond, with an upcoming solar system exhibit).

The concept of tech-based experiential entertainment isn’t earth-shatteringly new, with the debut of digital art venues like Les Bassins de Lumières in France and teamLab Borderless in Tokyo. But the leaders behind the US$30 million Illuminarium project think they have a distinct edge: offering a highly technical production that doesn’t feel techy at all. CEO Alan Greenberg describes it as “VR without the glasses”—and meant to be enjoyed as a communal experience.

Much of the action takes place in an 8,000-square-foot (743-square-meter) space that houses the main exhibit, while a restaurant and bar serve up their own experiences.

To create the space, the team collaborated with a slew of partners: working with Panasonic on the 4K laser projectors, displays and cameras responsible for the lifelike visuals—presented on walls that span 350 feet wide (107 meters wide) and 22 feet tall (7 meters tall). To further set the mood, technology from audio manufacturer Holoplot localizes sound effects across the space depending on where a visitor is standing. And lidar sensors from Ouster and haptic infrasound flooring from Powersoft help tailor the experience to the users’ movements—like when their footsteps appear to kick up moon dust or they feel the stomp of an elephant.

For its first exhibit, the team created a 50-minute adventure that lets visitors take in the sights, sounds and even smells of an African safari: the rumble of an approaching elephant or the faint scent of the grasslands. To shoot the production, the Illuminarium team tapped RadicalMedia, the filmmaker that brought Hamilton to Disney Plus. The team used custom camera arrays to capture wildlife in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania in a 240-degree native field of view (wider than the human field of vision). 

Before opening the flagship location on 1 July, the company secured US$100 million in initial funding and is now planning to debut two more venues next year. To keep the innovation flowing, the team is also building an R&D and post-production lab nearby to create, test and scale its ideas. Meanwhile, the next Illuminarium experience is already in production: Spacewalk will soon launch audiences to the surface of the moon and Mars—space dust and all.

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