Mikkel Sonne

It all has to start somewhere. For me, it started sweeping floors at the local wax museum after school. Hooked on the world of make-believe, I moved onto working full time with wax figures and display mannequins and studied visual communication at the Danish School of Design before opening my own studio. Those early days were occupied with designs for art exhibitions, attractions and retail spaces.

This lead to jobs as a senior designer and project manager at the Dutch design and production company Jora Vision, primarily working for the Chinese market, and a position as Head of Design and Development at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Some of my many accomplishments in my years at this national treasure was supervising the design of the Tivoli Hotel, design for Halloween and Christmas and the opening of a new, themed playground.

These days I work from Amsterdam, designing for everyone from high-profile attractions to the local greengrocer. My delight is mixing amusement-park storytelling techniques with fresh, relevant design solutions.

How to Display an Acid Trip

How to display an acid tripThe Danish town of Roskilde, approximately 30 minutes from Copenhagen, is home to the Roskilde Festival, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe drawing 130,000 people every summer for a week of camping, partying, music, drinking and cultural activities.

How to display an acid tripIt is now also home to ‘Ragnarock’, a museum of rock, pop and youth culture.

Opened in April, the attraction focuses on the evolution of music merged with youth culture from the 50’s to present day, and is housed in a building that suggests that this place is indeed like no other.

The giant, golden, almost cathedral-like structure with a dramatic overhang and the dark red interior of the lobby certainly give a profound sense of arrival. The spectacular building was designed by Danish COBE and Dutch MVRDV.

But, how do you display and communicate intangible stuff like ‘music’ and ‘youth culture’?

I spoke with Sebastian Gyrst-Longsig Christensen of White Noise Agency, the creative force behind the museum’s concept and design.

How to display an acid trip

“Early on, we decided not to tell the story in a traditional, linear form. Instead, we focused on key aspects of the story and ended up with 11 themes such as fan culture, the concert experience, the recording studio, etc. The order of the themes is random, allowing us to take out themes and replace them with new in the future.”

“Each of these themes then features what we call a ‘time carousel’, where we take a deeper look at the theme in 3 different decades. In the ‘dance room’, we explore the phenomena of dance by dipping into rock’n’roll, hip hop and rave.”

How to display an acid tripThe exhibits feature lengthy video interviews with people who were part of the scene and artefacts such as posters and clothing. For many visitors, however, the main attraction may be the dance floor, where you get to try to dance with a kinetic figure (top image) and see how good you are at throwing your hands up in the air at a rave party.

Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll

Another theme deals with more controversial issues such as politics, sexuality and integration.

How to display an acid trip“Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll didn’t come from nothing,” Sebastian says. “The music scene has always reflected new trends in society, be it gay rights, sadomasochistic sex or political views.”

In this room, visitors get to see Anne Linnet’s stage costumes, which caused quite a stir in Danish society when she launched her band Marquis de Sade and started to sing about sadomasochistic relationships, complete with whips and leather corsets 80s style. A video features a recent interview with Linnet who also addresses what happened when she came out as a lesbian after the Marquis de Sade period.

Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid tripIn the ‘light room’ visitors get to test lighting equipment, from 60s-style psychedelic liquid light shows to today’s video mapping. You can also put your head through a hole and view what an acid trip could look like.

An Unorthodox Museum Experience

“Basically, we wanted this to be an unorthodox museum experience. We have a lot of artefacts displayed in traditional, climate-controlled display cases, but the emphasis has been on giving people the overwhelming feeling of being part of music by using aggressive graphics, strong colours, interactive features and, of course, lots and lots of music,” Sebastian explains.Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid trip

“Each room has a giant, feature item, such as a massive mirror ball in the dance room or a huge cassette tape in the demo room, giving a clear sense of the theme.”

Unusual in the museum industry, the Ragnarock attraction was designed without the help of an architect.

“The majority of the design was done by graphic designer, Robert Nagy from Heavy TM, simply using Sketch Up, an inexpensive 3D modelling software. We had help with our interactive features by Jesper Harding and No Parking, who designed the attractions according to our brief.”

The museum gives the visitor a feeling of leaving without having seen everything there is to see – with good reason.

“If you hear every sound clip and see every video there is on display you’ll spend more than 24 hours in the museum,” says Sebastian.

Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid tripThe museum, aiming to attract 50-60,000 visitors a year, admittedly features mostly Danish musicians.

“Yes, our focus is Danish, but rock music has no borders,” says Sebastian. “It’s impossible to talk about youth culture without mentioning The Beatles or The Rolling Stones but the majority of the exhibits are Danish.”

Which, in some cases, takes the Danish visitor on a sweet trip down memory lane. All text is in Danish and English however, and the museum will give the visitor to Denmark a unique  insight into modern Danish culture.

Ragnarock How to display an acid tripAnd, just like youth culture itself, the museum aims at being in constant development.

“We have many new things in the pipe line,” Sebastian says. “One of the things we are looking at is making the toilets a part of the attraction by letting each toilet represent a different music venue. We are also planning a smaller, pop-up version of the museum to travel to the music festivals this summer.”

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Fur farm Marketing deal with Tivoli provokes Social Media Backlash

mink fur farm tivoli gardens theme park marketing own goal

During the festive Christmas event will dress some members of staff in their furry products and will re-decorate rooms at Tivoli’s Nimb hotel with cushions, throws and blankets made of fur. Fur products will also be on sale in Tivoli.

mikkel sonne themed design theme pork tivoliBy Mikkel Sonne

Related: Chic, Contemporary Christmas – The Champs-Élysées’ Christmas illuminations / The Wax Museum After Dark / Themed Design: The Attraction of Scent

The sponsorship has caused a stir in local media. According to Thorbjørn Sciønning from Anima, a local animal rights organisation, some Danish fur producers were revealed neglecting basic animal welfare laws in a 2009 TV documentary. Member of the board and chairman of Kopenhagen Fur for 17 years Erik Hansen was found guilty of animal abuse in 2011.

Anima states that while Denmark is the world’s largest producer of fur with some 14-15 million minks being produced every year, a 2009 survey revealed that the majority of Danes think the production should be banned, as it already is in England, Austria and other countries.

The announcement of the sponsorship deal has evoked strong feelings among users on Tivoli’s Facebook site. Many people threat to boycott the park. One user writes "I am shocked to learn about Tivoli’s deal with Kopenhagen Fur. I personally feel it is a shame to put money above animal rights. I will never visit Tivoli again." Other users post pictures of bleeding animals from Kopenhagen Fur’s farms, asking if this is what they should expect to experience this Christmas in Tivoli.

Mink image:  via qmnonic via Flickr Creative Commons

Chic, Contemporary Christmas – The Champs-Élysées’ Christmas illuminations

Champs-Élysées' Christmas illuminations Paris France

Related: The Wax Museum After Dark / Themed Design: The Attraction of Scent

By Mikkel Sonne

The design consists of three lighting rings encircling each tree on the avenue, but without touching it. The outside of the ring is an LED strip, giving a glow of light, while the inside LED strip lights up the tree itself and mirror discs hanging on the branches of the tree will reflect the light rays in all directions as they move freely in the wind.

The installation will change color, intensity and rhythm and will have a special colour scheme for the days of, before and after Christmas. For New Years Eve a special light show will be programmed, with the twelve strokes of midnight being visualised all along the Champs-Élysées.

The concept is designed by Koert Vermeulen and Marcos Viñals Bassols, from Belgian ACT lighting design, who has experience of show lighting (among their many projects – Le Rêve at the Wynn in Las Vegas and the Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010), themed attractions (Futuroscope, Tivoli, Center Parcs, Parc Asterix) and countless outdoor lighting projects.

And now ACT is combining their experience from these diverse projects into what seems to be a very contemporary street theatre show. Principal designer Koert Vermeulen states that they wanted to break away from the traditional Christmas lighting designs and create something with a strong identity. And a green one, too. The new lighting scheme will have a 51% energy consumption compared to last year.

Champs-Élysées’ new Christmas illuminations will be inaugurated November 23rd and will be on show every Christmas till 2014.

Champs-Élysées' Christmas illuminations Paris France

Photo credit: ACT lighting design

The Wax Museum After Dark

By Mikkel Sonne

Related: Themed Design: The Attraction of Scent / Mikkel Sonne launches Hello! Concept Design For All Types of Themed Experiences / Merlin Entertainments confirms Madame Tussauds to Open in Sydney in May 2012

Musée Grévin, owned by Compagnie des Alpes, recently announced the opening of their first museum outside of France. A new Grévin will open in Montreal in 2013 – with more attractions to come. Ripley Entertainment seems to be running a successful enterprise with their Louis Tussaud’s Wax Museum brand, and Hollywood Wax Museum will open their 3rd museum in 2012.

What’s going on here? Not since the 1960′s, where wax museums of dubious quality popped up everywhere, especially in the US, have the world witnessed such an intense interest in wax museums.

The content of the museums has changed dramatically. Whereas many museums before were based on historical events or religion, offering visitors a somewhat educational experience, the modern wax museum is a full blown entertainment venue focusing on contemporary celebrities with highly immersive themed environments. Think less suits and more sex appeal. The velvet ropes and panes of glass protecting the fragile and costly figures are long gone. Visitors are no longer passive spectators looking at static tableaux, like you would look at a store window display.

Look for example at Madame Tussauds in Hollywood – this is not a museum, this is a cathedral of celebrity where we are invited, and encouraged, to step into the scenery and participate in the party. Wrap your arms around Lady Gaga and have your picture taken with Brad Pitt. Fun for the camera (and Facebook), tough on the maintenance budget.

Most portraits in wax start with a sitting where the sculptor takes more than 200 measurements of the celebrity. Hair is sampled and colours are mixed to match the skin tone. The exact colour of the eyes are found by comparing to glass eyes. Often the celebrity donates clothing or props for authenticity. The entire figure is then sculpted in clay; a plaster mould is made from which the head and hands are cast in wax. The body is usually cast in fibreglass. Creating lifelike figures can be a tedious job. Often each strand of hair is inserted directly into the wax head, which takes up to four weeks. Glass eyes are inserted and the head, hands and other exposed body parts are then coloured with oil paint, layer upon layer to re-create a slightly transparent look. All in all, a wax figure takes a team of highly skilled specialists about 3 months to create.

According to the encyclopaedia a wax museum is "a collection of wax sculptures representing famous people", and the art of sculpting lifelike portraits in wax goes back to the ancient Egyptians. The 18th century saw wax museums as we now know them opening up in Europe. Before photography and TV, these museums served as a place where the public could see what the king actually looked like – a need we certainly don’t have today. There seems to be another timeless fascination with these lifelike figures, transcending the celebrity of the month.

Let’s face it, wax museums can be scary places. Having worked at several wax museums myself I know that a common question is: “What is it like at night?” Or my favourite: “How do you DARE to be there all alone?” These galleries of wax dummies seem to have a strange and eerie appeal to people.  I sometimes wonder if people enjoy them because of the possibility of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, or because of the tiny little thrill of coming into a room and not knowing who is alive and who is not.

Wax museums have a very special status in the themed entertainment industry. How many types of attractions can trace the very core of their business back to the ancient Egyptians and to this day still satisfy the fundamental human curiosity of wondering if that thing in the corner is alive? Or not? So go visit your local wax museum and think about what you would do if the lights suddenly turned off.

Image: Mikkel Sonne,  Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas

Themed Design: The Attraction of Scent

mikkel sonne designer theme parkBy  Mikkel Sonne

Related: Mikkel Sonne launches Hello! Concept Design For All Types of Themed Experiences / The Foundation of Attraction Success is a Four-Legged Stool

Samsung and Bloomingdales have introduced scent marketing in some of their stores. Even companies like Burger King and Vodafone have signature brand colognes, and chances are that your local petrol station may have its own signature scent. But in the attractions industry, an industry rooted in storytelling and emotion, it’s surprising that the use of scents often is overlooked.

The science is all there. The part of the brain that processes scent is the same part that processes memory and emotion—they are physically connected. The smell of clove suddenly reminds me of Christmas and the smell of patchouli of my mother. It’s not oversentimentality, it’s science

As designers we pay careful attention to each detail—the colors, the layout, the graphics, the font on safety signage. We tweak each line. We carefully curate the soundtrack. Yet smell, the sense that scientifically takes us straight to emotion, is generally not top of mind.

I perceive scents as colors—invisible colors if you will—that act in the same way as painting a room in swirly red and white stripes. Wouldn’t adding the smell of peppermint or cotton candy take it to the next level? It transports you into the story and embeds the experience in your memory. It transforms the room from being merely a room into an experience. An experience to remember.

I can cite the research that carefully incorporating scent has been shown to increase consumer spending (it really is out there). But the fact remains that scent is intangible, it’s invisible and sadly, often ignored.

It’s also a powerful tool. It’s a shortcut to connect in the brain to a positive experience. It surpasses all other brain processes and goes straight to emotion. That is how scent can embed memories and experiences. Remember that damp smell when entering The Haunted Mansion or the subtle smell of chlorine water in Pirates of the Caribbean? Scent transforms you to another dimension of the story telling.

It’s also how, for the remainder of that day, every time I caught a whiff of my cologne it wasn’t the smell of cedar or vetiver that caught my attention—it was the recollection of the good-smelling accident that morning.

Image: Mikkel Sonne