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Comic Con 2015: FX Networks Fearless Arena Markets Family Fun

An interactive twenty-foot tall snow globe promoting the new season of “Fargo” was a highlight at the 2015 Comic Con International Convention. Photo credit: FX Networks

A thick blanket of blinding snow bridges the one-off seasons of FX Networks’ “Fargo.” When brainstorming ways of connecting the theme of the hit’s second incarnation into a FX Fearless Arena experience at the 2015 Comic Con International Convention, Kenya Hardaway, Vice President, Integrated Promotions and her team found a fun way to turn a snowy environment into a fan experience.

“Snow was a crucial element in season one and it’s equally important to the new season, so we were focusing on snow related concepts,” said Hardaway. “I love snow globes. We created a 20 foot snow globe folks can step into.”

A sly tip-of-the-hat to the original film’s DVD packaging that included a snow globe that placed Marge (Frances McDormand) in one of two major scenes, the Comic Con installation depicted “The Waffle Hut” – a location crucial to the upcoming season. Visitors were invited to step into the globe as snow – white and silver confetti – showered upon them from above. Despite a presumably dead figure splayed out at visitors’ feet, the glistening atmosphere created a winter wonderland parents and kids could enjoy. A dedicated photographer snapped a photo as they frolicked, preserving the moment. “Fargo” was amongst three FX Networks tent pole shows – “American Horror Story: Hotel”, “The Strain” and “The Bastard Executioner” – that received special installations. The FX Fearless Arena also contained a massive LED screen featuring clips of FX Networks shows, a “The Simspons” Squishy truck, an “Archer” themed water wall (complete with Dolphin water fountains), an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” sunscreen station and numerous collectables and give-aways passed to patient fans throughout the four-day convention. Set on the same location as last year’s FX Network’s “The Simpsons” installation, the FX Fearless Arena was the largest installation at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con.

Hardaway and her team begin preparing for the Comic Con exhibits six months in advance. Preferring to create exhibitions that highlight FX Networks content featured in Comic Con panels, the final panel run-down isn’t available until two – three weeks prior to the convention’s start date. The team is therefore forced to make educated guesses as to what content will be featured. They brainstorm ideas for clever, interactive installations around these educated guesses. They focus on creating a strong experience for current and new fans that directly relates to themes and story lines within each show. In addition to the “Fargo” snow globe, the team settled on a replica of the reception desk featured in “American Horror Story: Hotel”, a two and a half-minute, original content virtual reality experience related to Season Two of “The Strain” and an “Escape the Forest” dual game that pit fans against each other while illustrating the medieval environment of “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter’s upcoming series “The Bastard Executioner.”

Reteaming with vendors including Digital Kitchen, who brought last year’s giant dome-shaped as Homer Simpson’s head to fruition, the FX Networks team went through months of trial and error creating functioning installations that could be successfully manned, constructed of durable material that could retain a strong aesthetic while enduring (and engaging) hundreds of thousands of visitors and extreme weather conditions. The snow globe, for instance, required months of researching the best type of plastic that could retain the 20 foot high shape, hold internal air pressure under the intense heat of bright, direct sunlight and hot San Diego weather, and present a comfortable atmosphere for those entering it.

Two weeks prior to the convention, Hardaway and her team arrived to work with the crews setting up the arena. The arena staff endured intensive training to handle all aspects of successful operations and visitor safety throughout each portion of the exhibit. At any given moment, twelve staff members were present in “The Strain’s” VR facility (created to resemble a warehouse facility that will play into this year’s story line.) They placed the Samsung Gear VR – powered by Galaxy Note 4 – headset and earphones on each visitor to ensure they received the best experience, and were on hand throughout the presentation of the original content to assist any viewer who experienced discomfort or needed help of any kind. The staff inside the snow globe handled the opening and closing of all doors to maintain proper air pressure ensuring the globe’s shape was maintained, and assisted visitors as they climbed up and down stairs to avoid injury of any kind.

“It was great working with the staff, they really ensured the fans had the type of amazing experience we hoped for,” said Hardaway. “Each exhibit gave the fans the opportunity to engage with their favorite franchise. Watching the fans enjoy themselves was so gratifying.”

An additional aspect important to the FX Networks team involved in creating the Fearless Arena was providing a family friendly environment despite the R-rated nature of their tent pole exhibits. For the “American Horror Story: Hotel” exhibit, fans of the series were treated to Easter Eggs buried amongst the installation’s design that related to the plot without presenting any gory details. An innocent “Money Grab” game – where multiple visitors tried to amass the greatest amount of fake dollars in an attempt to win a $100 gift card – allowed all ages to participate in the setting without upsetting those too innocent for mature content. “The Bastard Executioner” presented a game that allowed visitors to engage in a friendly duel while enjoying the medieval environment without dwelling on the more graphic themes of Kurt Sutter’s new series.

“We’re aware many families come to Comic Con, and we want parents to feel like they are involved with their favorite shows while still enjoying time with their children,” said Hardaway. “We’ve focused on creating an environment everyone can have fun with.”

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