An outdoor audio experience that sparks Christmas joy

Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey

A car driving through the Elf on the Shelf Magical Holiday Journey experience. On the side of the road is are oversized Christmas decorations

In 2020, Elf Attractions approached us to support their annual Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey. This was during the COVID-19 pandemic so rather than creating their usual outdoor treasure hunt, this experience was a socially distanced drive-through where visitors became part of a story to save Christmas. Featuring everything from live acting and acrobatics to theatrical sets with dynamic lighting design, it was a breathtaking tour.

At the time, there were two other well-known driving events running in the Los Angeles area. To stand out and create a more immersive outdoor experience, we were brought in to use our creativity and technological knowledge to push the boundaries. 

We created a magical mobile app that automatically triggered audio to car speakers as visitors drove around the set, bringing the story from outside into the car and straight to delighted young audiences.

A mother and young son are sitting inside a car at the Elf on the Shelf Magical Holiday Journey. There is a phone in a hands-free holder showing the Elf Attractions' location-aware UI

Challenge

Conscious that this experience might be one of the first times people had been to an event in some time, we had to make it special, and far beyond anything they could experience in their own home. But, due to COVID-19, visitors would have to stay safely in their cars and away from the action. How would we bring the incredible story from outside, inside, and as if by magic? 

It was also key to the success of this project that the technology gave the Elf Attractions team a full picture of how the driving tour was running at any given moment.

A mother and young son are sitting inside a car at the Elf on the Shelf Magical Holiday Journey. There is a phone in a hands-free holder showing the Elf Attractions' location-aware UI and the mother is pointing to the Christmas displays outside
Screenshot of the loading screen for the Elf on the Shelf location-aware mobile application
Screenshot of the welcome screen for the Elf on the Shelf location-aware mobile application
Screenshot of the beginning screen for the Elf on the Shelf location-aware mobile application
Screenshot of the audio player screen for the Elf on the Shelf location-aware mobile application

Approach

At the heart of our technological approach was location awareness which enabled us to magically play out sounds and audio within the cars as visitors drove around the incredible set and met the actors. 

Drafted in with just a month until the experience was due to open, we determined the best approach, fast. We got to work partnering with all the teams involved to identify how to bring each element of the outdoor location to life in a way that would wow young audiences. 

During a COVID-safe visit to the Fairplex event site, we scoped out all the details we would need to take into consideration when developing both the experience and the back-end system – hills, trees, lakes and so on. We drove around the site numerous times with a camera on the car hood to create a video that would help us work out how to trigger the right elements at the right time, even when there were a lot of cars driving through. With all this in place, we could test out the route remotely from the safety of our own homes for much of the rest of the project.

 


Solution

We created a location-aware mobile app to deliver the story’s music and narration using bluetooth in people’s cars. On the driving tour, there were nine zones, each with their own stop. Once a car entered the next area, new unexpected audio triggered. Story content – such as an elf explaining what was happening, sleigh bells and hooves – played through visitors’ stereo systems as if by magic, in perfect sync with the live performers and set pieces.

We created a mobile web browser which offered a very similar experience for anyone who couldn’t download an app.

A really clear back-end system provided the Elf Attractions team with visuals of how cars were flowing through the site and if any real-time adjustments needed to be made to how the event was running – were there traffic hold ups or other issues that they needed to address?

Mother and young son sitting in their car at night during the Elf on the Shelf Magical Holiday Journey. Their faces show wonder and are surrounded by Christmas lights