The Best Activations at San Diego Comic-Con 2018

With so much happening outside of the convention center, we roundup our favorite sights of SDCC 2018.

San Diego Comic-Con 2018 is officially one for the history books! And while we’re sorry to see it go, we’re also happy to simply be breathing after all the excitement. Between the release of our annual SDCC special edition magazine, and all the amazing news, trailers, and reports breaking, there was a lot to take in at SDCC this year. However, it would be an oversight to overlook some of the most fan-friendly events at the Con: activations.

An increasingly popular way to connect fandom to the properties they most adore, activations allow studios to build ephemeral monuments that place genre enthusiasts inside the fantasy. Ever wanted to go Harley Quinn-styled nuts on Arkham Asylum? How about ever pull back the curtain of Room 237 from The Shining’s Overlook Hotel? Or even simply assume the captain’s responsibilities from Star Trek: Discovery? Read below about the fun there was to be had at SDCC without ever stepping foot on the showroom floor!

DC Universe 

Almost by default, DC (and Warner Bros.) won Comic-Con. With the spotlight on the DC properties, they pulled off one of the coolest activations in recent memory and it wasn’t just because of the liquid nitrogen frozen popcorn you receive in the Doom Patrol area when you walk in. In promotion of the upcoming DC Universe streaming service, fans were able to test a beta of the new platform and enter experiences that brought the DC Universe to life. For the fans who spent hours waiting in line, they found stress relief inside Arkham Asylum. In the Harley Quinn area, fans were given the proper safety attire then were set loose in a jail cell with a a baseball bat and some breakable items. They even got to take home the grainy security cam footage to show their friends and family on Facebook how they lost their minds at Comic-Con. There was also a Titans escape room set in Dick Grayson’s apartment, an immersive Swamp Thing walkthrough where you received a GIF opp with the classic DC creature, and a Court of Owls maze with some surprise guests that still has me shook! Let’s hope DC can bring some or all of these experiences to New York Comic Con. 

– Chris Longo 

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The Purge TV Series – “Purge City” 

Last year, USA Network put together one of the more elaborate activations by sending Mr. Robot fans on a clue-based game throughout the city. While Robot was absence from SDCC 2018, the network opened up shop with “Purge City,” a nod to Party City, to help fans properly celebrate the 28th amendment. The detail-oriented activation had plenty of goodies – from t-shirts that read “Live, Laugh, Purge,” to branded stain remover and pro-Purge bumper stickers – and demos for those looking to “celebrate,” protect themselves, or clean up after that fateful night of government-sanctioned anarchy. Worldbuilding is not a term you usually use for an activation, but USA Network traded branding for full immersion, including all the helpful (and sort of creepy) Purge City staff members, and it paid off. After four movies, all we really want to know about this world is what life is like outside of Purge night. It was the perfect teaser for a show that aims to flesh out this universe on the small screen. 

– Chris Longo 

Nickelodeon’s Ninja Turtles VR 

It wasn’t open to the public, but we’re compelled to include Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VR experience as one of our favorite Comic-Con highlights. Nick gave press the opportunity to interview voice actors Brandon Mychal Smith (Mikey) and Josh Brener (Donnie) from the new TMNT series in virtual reality. Yes, I literally entered the world of the Turtles to speak to Michelangelo and Donatello. 

How does that work? I donned the headset in a three-sided green screen booth. Behind a curtain on the other side of the room, the actors did real-time voice-over for the VR while a team of graphic artists matched the movements and facial expressions based on our conversation. I was able to chat with the Turtles about Comic-Con, fighting a baddie voiced by John Cena, and, of course, pizza. It all took place in a vibrant, colorful NYC setting, one we’re looking forward to seeing more of when this franchise returns in September. We’re excited for the new TMNT series, but I’m also hopeful that we’ll get to experience more Turtles VR in the future!

– Chris Longo

History’s Project Blue Book

The Blue Book activation by the History Channel was cool. The setup from the outside was deceiving. There were three nicely painted and branded shipping containers, an Army Jeep, and something mysterious under a tarp on the roof of the containers that looked like a UFO. I didn’t think there would be much inside, but I was pleasantly surprised.Once you entered, there were three sections. In the first, everyone is seated with a staff person that gives some information about Project Blue Book. If you are not aware, Project Blue Book was the third and last official U.S. Air Force investigation into UFOs, which ran from 1952 to 1969. Although the Air Force claimed there was nothing of interest in the files, as the Blue Book activation staffer describes, there were hundreds of unsolved cases. These cases are the focus of the upcoming TV show.The staffer then asked if we have had a UFO sighting of our own. It turns out I had. So he took the details and told me a sketch would be made of my sighting after my tour. The next section began with a debriefing and pretend security check by a man in a military suit. This section included an AV presentation with graphics of notes and images related to three UFO sightings from the Blue Book files and audio from the show. Finally, we were taken to some computers and what looked like radar screens. Here we were able to write a message that will actually be sent into space. We could also see three people at desks in 50’s outfits sketching our reports. This activation was well done and got me excited to see the program.

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– Alejandro Rojas

Deadpool 2: Dream Suite Activation

Leave it to Wade Wilson and his begrudging roomie Blind Al to turn an otherwise beautiful space into a dump that only the Merc with a Mouth can love. On the top floor of the luxurious San Diego Hard Rock Hotel, the reportedly most expensive room in the joint received the “Dream Suite” treatment. By that we mean, the windows were blacked out and it was wall-to-wall ratchet.

Above the sink, Deadpool’s doodles cover a wall, including a sobbing Wolverine stuck in prison and a statement of intent: “We Don’t Need a Third Act.” Plus, plenty of unicorns and bad goons for Wade to shoot dead. The rest of the space includes a dusty old couch that exists by the adage of “better out than in,” in regards to its stuffing, plus an old 1970s television on the fritz. Luckily, the TV did have a VHS player and two cassettes to choose from: Deadpool and the Hugh Jackman-led romantic comedy from 2001, Someone Like You… Given that a stuffed animal Wolverine is also hanging from a lamp in the back, it’s easy to surmise that Wade doesn’t know how to quit Logan.

Also on Deadpool’s reading library: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and George W. Bush’s Decision Points. Wade, you cheeky bastard. One lucky fan who won a contest even got to stay in the suite on Saturday night. We hope they liked unicorns.

 – David Crow

Ready Player One Activation

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, luckily the Ready Player One activation at San Diego Comic-Con was all play. After introducing Comic-Con revelers to the familiar glass hallway that also marks the entrance to the virtual nightclub in the OASIS, this activation for this Steven Spielberg film took on a more spoiler-y, delicious bent. Because once you go through a certain door, suddenly you are on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining!

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Just as Spielberg recreated choice sets from that horror classic, so too does the Ready Player One activation rebuild a hallway with the bleak floor-carpeting of Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel, and an old-fashioned elevator that luckily does not spew a river of blood onto whoever opens it. And yet, the end of the hall does feature the dreaded Room 237, and once inside, things get downright eerie, as the bathroom in which Jack Nicholson is seduced by a shapeshifting ghost is recreated in all its green, garish decadence. Complete with a bathtub with a half-open curtain given a ghostly spotlight. Amusingly, the activation and Spielberg’s movie are keeping the legend alive for the next generation, as one cosplaying 10-year-old helpfully told his mother that this is where “that zombie attacks Aech.” ‘Zombie’ is one word for it.

Finally, there was an old school arcade room for lovers of ‘80s geek chic, including Pac-Man, the superior Mrs. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Tetris, and more, plus foosball and air hockey also being on the menu. A hall of mirrors on the way out—next to actual costumes from the film and a life-size replica of the Iron Giant—is just a chance to reflect on the fun within.

 – David Crow

Star Trek Discovery – “Mirror Universe”

We stopped by the Star Trek Mirror Universe Exhibit where they had costumes, props and the captain’s throne from the ACTUAL set. Costumes on display were Michael Burham, Emperor Georgiou, Captain Gabriel and Paul Stamets.  They even offered “Trek” goers the option to take picture on the infamous throne. We did. 

– Bevin 

Syfy Harry Potter Fan Dance Party

While not technically an activation, certainly one of the premiere fan events of all SDCC 2018 was Syfy’s glorious ode to Harry Potter (and really the fans who have grown up with the Boy Who Lived) at the New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego. Allowing aspiring Gryffindor applicants and VIPs alike to mingle in a vast space, Syfy threw an event complete with Harry Potter themed prizes, English styled chips in newspaper cones, and a cover band specializing in the most beloved of ‘90s tunes. While not everyone born in the ‘90s grew up with the Harry Potter, almost all adult Harry Potter fans likely grew up appreciating the need to rock out to Green Day and the Spice Girls. Thus doing so while in Hogwarts uniforms is just magical.

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 – David Crow