As the founder and CEO of Themespace, Erik Neergaard has a long history in developing innovative and award-winning experiences across the globe for everything from theme parks and museums, to cultural attractions and more. His firm provides creative design and consultation for the diverse world of visitor experiences and the entertainment industry, and Neergaard and his team have worked with Dreamworks, Paramount, Sony, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers, to name a few.
“We’re a very unique and forward-leaning experience design firm and our focus is on things that are guest-centric, where you want people to experience or learn something,” said Neergaard. “That may be through storytelling, it may be through an activation or exhibits, it may be taking visitors through an environmental immersive space—there are a wide range of ways to implement the strategy and there are a lot of different industries that you can do it within. If you want to do something that is world-class, hasn’t been done before, and you want to push the boundaries, then we can help.”
The company was founded in 2004 by Neergaard, who originally started out working as a freelancer for Paramount and Universal. He got his start as a show set designer on the original Spiderman attraction, which opened the door to other projects with GameWorks, The Beatles Yellow Submarine Adventure with Sony and more.
Last June, Neergaard moved Themespace from its former location in Old Pasadena to South Pasadena, and located on the other side of the firm’s new building is Vet Villa Animal Hospital, which is Neergaard’s wife’s veterinary practice. In addition to creative design and consultation, Themespace also offers other services such as project management, story and character development, show production, installation supervision, master planning and more.
Some of the firm’s notable projects include the Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios, Rango’s West and the Enchanted Forest at Paramount Theme Park Murcia in Spain, Wanda Wuhan Movie Park in China, London Paramount Entertainment Resort Kent (set to open in 2021) and many others.
Themespace recently completed a concept retail layout for Hasbro called “Baby Alive” for a line of dolls that help teach young boys and girls what it means to raise a child. Another project the firm worked on was the Kung Fu Panda attraction, which opened last May at Universal Studios. Neergaard was the creative director on that project, and he and his team worked on the graphic design and the show set design—which refers to anything guests can see or touch that is not directly built by the facility.
“We often get people asking us if we are a roller coaster company,” Neergaard explained. “While we aren’t the engineers for the actual rides, we do create stories and concepts around roller coasters and rides. We also work closely with architects, and we’ve become specialists in cultural architecture and period styles. We want guests to walk into a space that heightens the experience and lays it out in such a way that makes it active and fun.”
Themespace also does a lot of international projects, so Neergaard has worked across multiple continents, traveling to Japan, China, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. The firm also has a satellite office in the United Kingdom, which makes it easier for Neergaard and his team to work with international clients. Neergaard’s team includes a vice president of design, creative producers, and a series of show set designers, illustrators, graphic designers and 3D artists.
“We have a fantastic team here,” Neergaard pointed out. “We also work with talented artists and designers across the globe on various projects as well.”
Themespace has also done some virtual reality work and advised groups such as Nomad, a reality gaming center.
“We advised them on layout, how to activate their space and how to bring their guests through the experience,” said Neergaard. “We’ll often times build things in virtual reality, so that we can visualize certain things for our clients. We still do mock-ups and full-scale physical things, because you just don’t perceive everything in the same way as you would in real life. Every day is fascinating and a challenge, because every project is different than the last. We’re constantly educating ourselves on multiple topics, whether it’s retail trends, entertainment, sports teams, and so forth. We always need to be aware of the audience in order to make sure that what we are creating appeals to them. If we’re working on a cultural project, we make bring in a cultural expert so that we make sure we are being sensitive to the region we are working in. Part of being a good designer is always being active and observing life, people and trends, so you cultivate this natural absorption of what’s happening around you. You’re always building your knowledge and actively paying attention to what people like and don’t like.”
Themespace continues to work on a diverse array of projects, as well as deliver groundbreaking attractions for the different clients it works with. Neergaard remains dedicated to overseeing the company’s growth while ensuring that he personally provides proactive leadership and direction on all projects.
“I love that I get to be a creative problem solver on lots of different levels,” Neergaard said. “My team and I are always trying to figure out new ways to connect families together, create enjoyable experiences for guests, and bring smiles to people’s faces. And how do we do it in such a way that it will last and keep people coming back for decades? That’s a challenge every day. To me that’s pretty fascinating and it never gets boring.”
Themespace is located at 2140 Huntington Dr. in South Pasadena. For more information, visit www.themespace.com.
Themespace Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 3.1.19. Support Local Business.