Breaking Boundaries with creative design studio, Imagineerium
7 min read
One of Bristol’s newest creative design studios, Imagineerium, is on the road to success, attracting the attention of world-renowned brands and creating show stopping designs. This month, we catch up with co-founder and creative director Natasha Mortimer to find out more…
Formula 1. Netflix. VICE. Red Bull. Cadbury. Scroll through the website of Bristol-based creative design studio, Imagineerium, and you will see an impressive portfolio of internationally renowned brands with testimonials to match. Founders and designers Natasha Mortimer and Channon Wallace are the creative forces behind the 18-month-old company that was set up in the midst of the pandemic. “In March 2020, everyone in the events industry lost their work,” Natasha reflects. “As a freelancer, mine all got cancelled within the space of a few days. Then you had the government saying the arts aren’t viable and everyone should retrain. We all thought no way – it fuelled my fire.”
Within the space of three months, the co-creators set out their vision for their new company: a specialised design studio that brings physical spaces to life for brands, festivals and interiors. Ultimately, their goal was to “create amazing spaces that inspire people to do amazing things”. Now based in the heart of Stokes Croft, Imagineerium has been busy doing just that. Bounding from strength to strength ever since its inception, the months-old start-up managed to secure Formula 1 as its very first client. “Our first job was to design the F1 Fan Zone in Saudi Arabia,” Natasha explains. “There were loads of activities to do: e-gaming, have your picture taken on the podium. It was pretty crazy to be involved with Formula 1.”
Since then, the team have worked with the likes of Netflix on a Money Heist Experience, which ran for nine months in London. Members of the public were invited to live out the first ever international robbery in person, sleuthing their way through a building in search of a highly secret vault full of raw gold. Inspired by the original series, actors blurred the boundaries between fiction and reality, making for a truly immersive experience.
VICE Media Group was also interested in Natasha and Channon’s work. Although the project must still be kept under wraps due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) – as is the way with so many projects – VICE’s testimonial spoke volumes: “It wasn’t an easy brief by any means but they quickly understood the objective and what we were trying to achieve, were very creative and always offered smart solutions, were super committed, and an absolute joy to work with,” it read.
“We were working with experienced teams in New York, the Middle East and Europe,” Natasha adds. “It was pretty amazing to be on a project where one team is always working over a 24-hour period.
As millions were either introduced or further immersed into the world of virtual reality during the pandemic, the team at Imagineerium have noticed a rise in interest in experiential events, and therefore a demand from brands to incorporate interactive experiences into their builds. “There was this whole boom of virtual reality while we were in lockdown and there was a real question about whether it was going to stick around but look at the number of festivals that sold out this summer, people are desperate to experience live music first-hand and experience something that is interactive. What’s more, all of the technology that became easily accessible during the pandemic is now being included within designs to give people a 4D experience. As shops come off the high street as well, brands are now having to wow even more at live events to get people interested. There is a need to create Instagram moments – all of their content for social media is now coming from live events.”
Over the past 18 months, The Beacon at Boomtown Fair, Vice City at El Dorado Festival and The Public Spirit at Imbibe have also been added to the company’s CV. It’s important to stress that, although the company may be young, the team behind it is vastly experienced. Natasha trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School – one of the top MA Theatre Design courses in the country – after obtaining an undergraduate degree in Architecture. Within four years of graduating from her MA, she had worked on Punchdrunk “the pioneers of immersive theatre”, Boomtown Fair “the largest interactive, story-led, fully immersive theatrical show in the world” and Glastonbury “the most famous festival in the UK”. As well as being a creative design and build manager for various festivals, Natasha also worked as a designer for brands such as Okuru Events in Bristol and AB InBev “the largest beer company in the world”.
It was at Okuru that Natasha and Channon first met. Channon – a graphic designer who has worked with big names including Paco Rabanne Global, Clarks at Paris Fashion Week, Becks, Budweiser, Corona, Brewdog, Cream Egg, the list goes on – is no stranger to the corporate world. Together they make a formidable team.
“We’ve also got a production manager now, JP Jammaers, who fills in the gap of being our absolute lighting and tech guru,” Natasha explains. “We are currently a team of five but we’re only going to get bigger and better.”
A moment in history For Natasha, arguably one of her biggest projects came this summer in the shape of the Totem stage at The Common at Glastonbury. The 50th anniversary of the festival offered an opportunity to make history and she committed to organising a 100 per cent female build crew.
Explaining her decision, she says: “At times, it’s been very obvious that the events industry is male-dominated, especially when it comes to production – carpentry, rigging etc. During my first year at Boomtown, one of my teams was all-male apart from myself. The number of times that I was questioned or not trusted was astounding, it was quite a learning process. That same year on another team, myself and the build manager were the first female duo management to ever run a build at Boomtown.
“Diversity is a much bigger issue across the events industry but I think a lot of people think we’ve almost got there with gender equality and we are so far from it, even still. It was because of these various moments that I thought it would be amazing to do an all-female build. Having done lots before, I knew lots of talented women and I knew I could pull a team together.”
Further to Natasha’s commitment, the producers at The Common decided to also hire all-female security and venue crew, making it a female-led site. “Seeing it at the end was incredible.”
As for future builds: “We’ll certainly go ahead with an all-female crew when it makes sense. For example, we had a brief from Victoria’s Secret to do a build, so it would obviously make sense there but, ultimately, when we are hiring crews, I will always think of talented women.”
Why Bristol? For what seems like millennia, Bristol has been known as an established centre of creative innovation. With Forwards Festival, Wake The Tiger, Propyard and Lost Horizon recently popping up in the city – all of which Imagineerium played a helping hand in creating – Bristol is seemingly the place to be for design studios. “We boast about the fact that we are Bristol-based because the city has got such a bold attitude – it is not afraid to challenge the status quo or stand up for what it thinks is right. Channon and myself are from the North and we have gravitated towards Bristol, I think very much because it’s a creative city and it fits with our life ethos.
“The new ventures are very much a testament to a lot of the creatives in Bristol. There is so much talent here and it was so nice to see at the end of the pandemic where people were so unhappy but they actually pulled through it in more amazing ways then they could have imagined.
Winning awards To add to the string of good news pouring out of Imagineerium, Natasha, along with 30 live event professionals, won the Access All Areas 30underThirty 2021 competition. The initiative was designed to recognise and reward excellence among the younger generation in the industry’s workforce.
“It felt like all the work I’ve been doing was actually validated, it definitely made me feel proud,” says Natasha. “Part of the competition was talking about the challenges within the events industry that you want to address and tackle. The main issue within the industry is sustainability, loads of events are so wasteful. The second one for me is gender equality and thirdly, diversity.
“We’ve been doing roundtable discussions talking about how to tackle sustainability and the problems new starters are facing. It’s really interesting to talk about the main issues with the people that can actually make a difference in their own companies and in the industry.”
Imagineerium, along with its founders, are absolutely destined for great things. Despite being unable to reveal what’s next in the pipeline due to a whole slew of NDAs, the message was clear: watch this space.
Before Natasha and I parted ways, she concluded with some great advice for the next generation: “Talk to everyone and anyone about what you enjoy doing – you never know who knows who. Show enthusiasm in your work and try to put yourself in the right places – opportunities will come forward. Above all, be confident and trust in your own abilities.”