Immersive Sensory Story Telling: What the Best of the Best do!

Published by: Jeff Day

Last week we had an incredible experience here in little ‘ol Michigan! We celebrated the University of Michigan’s bicentennial event in a landmark projection mapping experience called HAILStorm! “HAIL” is the University’s one word that everyone gets. Hail to the victors, if you are a sports fan, but it’s much more than that to the school and it’s alumni. I’m a son of southeast Michigan and our family has deep Ann Arbor roots, which made it even more special. And while I’m a proud Spartan too, this was a special event for Ann Arbor, the school, and for Michigan.

Along with our content genius partners at Maxin10sity, and our teammates at KBO Productions, we jointly helped realize a vision and story the U of M team imagined several years earlier. Every detail was considered. But the added element of crisp, cool fall air with a hint of sideways rain throughout the evening really added to the experience. I know what you're thinking: sounds cold and miserable. If you are from this area, that feeling is one of our defining and truly endearing unique Michigan attributes.

This type of emotion happens in our world every day. Immersing ourselves in stories that come to life is truly one of the aspects of our industry and movement I love most! I pinch myself daily as a reminder that this is what I do. And HAILStorm lived up every bit to the bill. Complete with plunging temperatures and rain, the event rocked. The story was told in a way that carried emotion both physically and spiritually through you.

Stories like these succeed when people come together for the story and passionately bring it to a stage. Let me highlight all the senses.

Sound – the Maxin10sity team starts with a musical score. This deeply creative process instills the proper emotion and build of the story. It’s impossible to tell a 200-year-old story in one song. But music is moving and takes you on a journey. Our teams took this creative element and created an immersive audio corridor through Ingalls Mall, achieving deep, rich sub-60Hz bass through strategically placed subwoofers created precisely placed bone rattling moments. Audio highs mimicking Burton’s Memorial tower created the believable illusion that the tower was chiming real-time with the story!


Sight – eye candy, eye candy, eye candy. The Maxin10sity team takes the music and creates the visual story second. The musical score aligns perfectly with the visuals. Creating content before the musical and audio experience are decided may trip up the storytelling. Don’t confuse them. Projecting not only with 30K projectors but also in true 4K resolution brings that next element to life. And don’t forget, projection mapping is about using existing physical structures as the canvas, not strategically placed giant screens. Factors like warping and color have to be considered to make this fly in a persuasive way.

Smell – had this not been a beautiful damp, cool, fall Michigan evening, I’m not sure the story would have landed the right way. Mother nature, thanks for that! Those kinds of smells trigger memories. These are the same memories that inspired my wife and I to move back to Michigan in 2002. Anyone reading this who is from Michigan now living elsewhere may understand, or also agree that’s the reason they left. For me, it’s a powerful and positive trigger.


Touch – what’s great about projection mapping experiences is that they are designed mostly (not exclusively) to be felt outdoors. Standing with your friends, or fellow 20,000+ classmates, it’s the cool fall feelings. Shaking hands with friends and feeling their cold grips. Kisses on the cheek, breath on the edge of being visible. With those elements, the story's memorability rises. The best of the best consider all the factors when telling stories. When you do it right, this is where major amplification can occur.

Taste – I struggled initially to think about the taste aspect of this experience, but eventually it came into full view. Ann Arbor is such a rich culinary town! As a team we grabbed a quick round of small plates and drinks at Sava’s. The food and drink were great. But the conversations and group were even better. Taste, to me, has as much to do with the art of conversation as it does food. Experiences like these are meant to be shared.


HAILStorm was a spectacular reminder of the rise of integrated experiences on an epic scale. Groups like the University of Michigan remind me of the power that arises from full sensory, immersive story telling. As an industry, our days ahead are flush with triggered movement, amplified. When telling your big stories, don’t forget the full sensory experience.

What do you think? Let us know!


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