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Enhancing guest immersion using audio storytelling

Soundwave audio storytelling

Foley and sound design have been used in tv/movies since their inception, in order to bring scenes to life with authenticity, audible movement and excitement.

by Josh Cohen, Immersive Arts

With greater accessibility to technology and advancements in production capability, audio storytelling spread quickly to other highly visual sectors including video games, and digital advertising.

Like all art forms, foley and sound design are only truly defined by what our imaginations can dream of. If done well, the creation of a whole world is possible, as vivid as any piece of media. All without any visual accompaniment.

Sound mixer

When combined properly with other forms of sensory immersion, a static environment can truly become alive, and quite organic.

Audio storytelling

The story is the core of everything we do in the attraction and experience industry. The challenge (or in my case, passion) becomes how to tell a compelling story utilizing all of the design facets that make up themed environments and visitor destinations.

There are many disciplines that contribute to a cohesive immersive space. But for the sake of this article, we will solely be focusing on audio, specifically foley and sound design.

Audio is one of the components of immersive design that can truly enhance the guest experience

Audio is one of the components of immersive design that can truly enhance the guest experience and improve storytelling without requiring a significant amount of valuable floor space. In saying that, if integrated poorly, audio can actually contribute to a negative guest experience, and become a distraction, rather than a benefit (more on this topic below).

Immersive audio

When we discuss audio and how it applies to immersion, we are not talking about a visitor a destination that uses a playlist of music to set a specific mood.

While there is nothing wrong with doing this if it fits the goals of the entertainment offering, there are much more valuable ways to use custom-designed audio for storytelling, immersing guests in a world that is unique to the attraction.

blue soundwave audio storytelling

The foundation of any immersive audio environment begins with the technology, and its seamless integration into the thematic landscape. Advancements in network systems, audio playback technology and speaker systems have made high-quality surround sound relatively affordable, and able to be automated without much, if any, daily work, required from the operations team.

We could go very in-depth on how audio systems should be integrated into a themed environment. And all the techniques to make sure the audio is blended seamlessly. However, in this article, I will simply mention an important guideline to start all development discussions.

Hidden equipment

Playback equipment, speakers, and other audio technology products that do not visually contribute to the attraction or experience’s immersive environment and storytelling should always be fully hidden. Yet they should also maintain accessibility access points for technicians.

With ever-evolving fabrication and construction processes, there are many creative ways to hide equipment within highly realistic thematic environments. Therefore, it is important to give this significant consideration while planning speaker placement. Operators should think about how to achieve the highest quality sound output within a space.


Once the technical requirements of the audio integration are determined, the focus then becomes on creating the foley, sound design, or music compositions that are to be integrated into the themed environment.

There are quite a few crucial yet common mistakes. If you are an avid fan of attractions and experiences, you’ve likely heard them in the past.

An often seen audio error, with regards to immersion and storytelling, occurs in the use of simple, short-length clips. This means that repetition during looping playback is obvious.

Proper composition of audio storytelling projects is key

Another common audio error is when the sound design does not match the playback environment. For example, the mixing of the foley sounds coming out of the speakers within an environment may be too dry and static. They should have more reverb and movement along the 3D audio plane. This better captures how sound would interact with a space in a “real-life” setting.

Proper composition of audio storytelling projects is key. This is important from the beginning – it is not an after-thought. By doing this, the end result blends seamlessly with the environment.

Audio storytelling and shifting environments

Foley and sound design can also extend far beyond creating an immersive, realistic setting for a ride or an experience.

Foley and sound can organically change and shift throughout the course of a day or week. Audio can adjust to changes in fabricated environmental/architectural landscapes, changes in lighting conditions and even changes in on-ride events.

Attractions and experiences can achieve another dimension of storytelling with audio

Taking it a step further, it is possible to programme foley and sound design experientially and interactively. They can change and modulate as guests interact with the ride, experience, or environment.

These are only a couple of ways that attractions and experiences can achieve another dimension of storytelling with audio. One that will keep guests on-site longer and offer a higher degree of realism and variation than ever previously possible.

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Josh Cohen

Immersive Arts is an Orlando-area based design firm that specializes in creating highly realistic, multi-sensory attractions and visitor experiences. We provide a range of custom services which includes microtheming, illusioneering, ride design, atmospheric design, music composition, sound design and 360 audio

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