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Themed AV

How the role of pro AV in location-based entertainment is changing. 2/09/2012 7:29 AM Eastern

Themed AV

Feb 9, 2012 12:29 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

How the role of pro AV in location-based entertainment is changing.


Next month, the Themed Entertainment Association marks its 20th anniversary and its 18th annual Thea awards—celebrated with a gala on March 17 at the Disneyland Hotel. The day before, at the THEA Summit, members of each of the winning project teams will present a case study, detailing the design and installation for a wide range of attractions (and budgets) including a spectacular live show in Singapore that combines enormous animatronics with digital screens, a 4D film in France directed by renowned filmmaker Luc Besson, and a cruise ship restaurant that allows diners to watch their placemat doodles come to life and interact with Disney characters onscreen.

The majority of the Thea award-winning projects incorporate AV systems—some like Disneyland’s Star Tours retrofit and the Crane Dance at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore represent AV at its most elaborate. It’s a culture of one “upsmanship” that is as old as theme parks themselves. Digital technology has allowed designers at the high end to offer immersive and spectacular experiences. But there is a dual trend in digital technology: on the one hand dramatic edge-blended 3D extravaganzas, on the other, smaller scale and interactive digital technologies, including those that tap into visitors’ personal devices. This personal trend affects AV for projects across the budget spectrum, reflecting our digital-savvy culture at large.

The challenge for integrators, says Gene Jeffers, executive director of the TEA, is to understand the many overlapping threads of digital content and experience that make up the modern guest experience—in the themed environment and before and after the visit. It’s an increasingly complex web of digital communication that challenges design teams and technical teams to work together to discover what is possible. This is something that themed entertainment professionals have always excelled at—themed environments are by definition one-of-a-kind, and the dialogue between art and technology has always taken place just over the horizon of what has been done before.

“AV has been relevant to themed entertainment from the beginning, since the first 36-projector slideshow,” says Jeffers, who was past VP of public affairs and communication for the National Association of Broadcasters and has led the TEA for the past 10 years. He has seen the analog-to-digital revolution play out both in the world of media and of location-based entertainment. He says now the next frontier is mobile.

“Mobile devices are allowing venues or projects to engage with their guest long before they come to the park or the museum, while they’re in the park or at the museum, and then after they go home,” he says. “That ability to connect with the audience makes the total AV package, from big projectors down to what’s being presented on a mobile device, increasingly relevant.


Themed AV

Feb 9, 2012 12:29 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

How the role of pro AV in location-based entertainment is changing.


“A challenge for everyone within this working environment [is] finding ways to integrate that very personal portable device with the big show on site,” Jeffers continues. “The most important part for integrators is to really recognize the opportunity and help clients and designers understand how what’s being projected on the big screens in the venue can also be implemented on the small screen.”

That could mean understanding compression, software, mobile apps, HTML5, and other distribution technologies that can be used to prepare content for multiple platforms and/or move it across those platforms. Jeffers also points out that increasingly guests expect to use their personal electronics to interact with the location-based experience. “We live in an age when on your phone, you can reset your home security device and tell your cable hookup to record a show—people are expecting that kind of ability when they come to a special place or experience,” he says. “If that isn’t there, it isn’t going to feel as rich as their day-to-day life—and that’s our challenge: How do we make out-of-home experiences richer.”

For Jeffers, examples readily come to mind: cities that use phone apps to guide visitors around their downtown and the ambitious attraction at the Shanghai World’s Fair that allowed guest to interact with what was happening on the screen via mobile device. “In that case, it was a dedicated device,” Jeffers says, “but before long, it will be people’s own device that they bring with them into the environment. “Disney did a test with their Kim Possible property where people used their mobile phones to track down clues throughout the whole park. So the designers were using the existing park infrastructure and then layering over a whole games scenario that people were engaged with through their phones.”

For the release of the film Tron: Legacy, he says an entire social media web started engaging people while they were still at home. They were building clues into their phones wherever they were in the world so that when they went to Comic Con where the film was screening, they could follow the rest of the trail. “Eventually,” Jeffers says, “this group of adventurers with smart phones all converged on the same place—an amazing replica of the bar scene from the movie.”

So, he says, a good integrator will be aware of what’s possible and what they need to do to make that possible, hunting out partners who are doing that kind of work and bringing them to the table.

“That’s where an opportunity exists, if the integrator becomes a resource or an access to other resources for folks who are working in that arena,” he says. “Even if you can’t bring that expertise in house, at least now how to access it quickly and accurately. And understand the equipment and software that exists to allow you to expand the reach of content to multiple screens and platforms. Understand how people are creating the content, how the guest should experience it, and how that experience will be delivered.”

Jeffers says this requires a mindset that asks, “What is being presented to the audience?” rather than what is being hung on the walls.

In the past, he says equipment was costly, and in some cases, it still is. “But increasingly what clients are buying is not the equipment; what they’re buying is the integrator’s experience and capability in putting it together properly,” he says. “It’s much more about how they can help solve the problem that the client has in terms of reaching the audience.” And as experiences become less dependent on big costly equipment, interactivity and multi-screen experiences become expected in projects across the range of budgets, including those with the lowest budgets.

“If you ignore where the industry is going and where technology can take us, you do so at your peril,” he says. “We don’t do 36-projector slideshows anymore. We could, but we don’t.

“People are expecting more in the room—better visuals, better sound—and they’re expecting more interactivity. You have to hit them with more than they can get at home, which today means making it personal and individual.”


Themed AV

Feb 9, 2012 12:29 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

How the role of pro AV in location-based entertainment is changing.


Crane Dance at Resorts World Sentosa (Show Spectacular)

The two cranes that rise offshore every night are the largest animatronic creatures in the world; each hydraulically powered crane weighs 80 tons and towers 50ft. over the bay. Through the use of sophisticated computer and motion controls, similar to those used on Japanese bullet trains, the cranes are able to move in six axes, their movement patterned after the mating rituals of real cranes.

Renowned, Emmy-award-winning designer Jeremy Railton of Entertainment Design Corporation had a very clear vision for this remarkable illusion, says Electrosonic’s Steve Coe, who specified the AV as part of the initial technical design team that also included McLaren Engineering and Mark Thomas of On Track Themes.

“Jeremy was very specific about what he wanted—the movement he wanted was very traditional, very iconic to the people of that region and it needed to be right,” Coe says. “He wanted the music and audio system to have that left/right directionality, to have one crane talk to another.” Coe says that as the design team began to understand the scale of what Railton envisioned, it was both exciting and a little improbable. Coe’s AV design called for LED screens—originally two each for the cranes’ bodies—driven by media servers for layered content and an onshore audio and show control system, as well as intercom and local controllers on the cranes’ island home.

“McLaren Engineering had the hardest job, working out issues with the weight of it, the wind load—you’re essentially putting up a big sail,” Coe says. “They had to figure out structurally how to incorporate the AV, lighting, and fountains for something that goes from being completely flat and essentially invisible to being 50ft. tall. Even the salt water had to be considered because that environment is very hard on everything.”

As the original technical design team turned over their work some three years ago, and the project moved on, it was natural to wonder if Railton’s extraordinary idea would really get built—technical designers often see projects reduce in scope when reality sets in. “It was going to take tens of millions of dollars to complete,” Coe recalls, saying that from what he’s seen the attraction stayed very close to the original ambitious design. “It’s awesome that they really built it.”

House of Dancing Waters

The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams, Macau

The combination of Franco Dragone (Cirque du Soleil) and cutting-edge technology bring to life a classic Chinese tale of love triumphant over evil with the assistance of 80 performers and 120 support staff. House of Dancing Water is a live show on steroids: Spectacular scenes and storms, audiovisuals and special effects are set against the backdrop of dramatically innovative water-based staging. As they take their seats, the 2,000 guests are unaware they are suspended on cantilevered seating over the largest commercial swimming pool in the world—3.7 million gallons and five times larger than an Olympic pool. During the show, eight principal lifts and three secondary lifts convert the performance area from a 26ft. deep pool to a solid-floor, dry stage in less than 60 seconds. Overhead, 40 winches and an assortment of other flying gear enables acrobatic aerial displays.

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

This nomination recognizes the complete reimagining of Star Tours, the first simulator experience installed in a themed environment. The original attraction had been in operation since 1987; new technologies were available that could enhance the experience. The challenge was to remain true to Star Wars while making use of new technical tools and guest interactive capabilities.

The refreshed attraction has succeeded both operationally and with the extremely loyal Star Wars fan base. For the guests, the most compelling feature is the variable content that affords multiple storylines, locations, and characters. This element of surprise is driving multi-generational audiences to return again and again to get a shot at exploring different vistas into many realms of the Star Wars Galaxy.

Arthur, L’Aventure 4D at Futuroscope

This year Futuroscope celebrates its 25th anniversary and its growth as one of the most popular themed destinations in Europe. Rising out of the vast flat French countryside in Chasseneuil du Poitou, near Potiers, Futuroscope boasts a large, eccentric collection of large-format cinema attractions including the exotic IMAX Solido 3D dome, the IMAX Magic Carpet (in which the screen is in front of you and under your feet), and an array of other film and digital attractions.

The Thea Award honors Futuroscope’s Arthur, L’Aventure 4D, created by cinema director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Taken). The stunning sets cover all surfaces of the queue area—walls, floors, and ceilings, creating an organic, underground world of soil, tunnels, roots, and creatures. Inside, a 4D animated sensory experience aboard a 25-seat, insect-shaped motion base vehicle, mimics the flight of a ladybug through the tiny world of the mythical Minimoys. The 9,700ft. IMAX 3D dome, combined with the tactile effects, create among other things the feeling of flying through the threads of a cobweb, being brushed by a frog’s wet tongue, or colliding with an angry bee.

The 2012 Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement

Space Fantasy The Ride, Universal Studios Japan (Attraction)

Barnas Brannstasjon (Children’s Fire Station), Kongeparken, Norway (Attraction on a Limited Budget)

Arthur, L’Adventure 4D, Futuroscope France (Attraction)

Star Tours—The Adventures Continue, Disneyland and Walt Disney World (Attraction Refresh)

NatureQuest, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta (Museum Exhibit)

YOU! The Experience, Museum of Natural History, Chicago (Museum Exhibit)

The Changing Climate Show, Science North, Ontario, Canada (Science Center Attraction on a Limited Budget)

Ghost of the Castle, Louisiana Old State Capitol (Cultural Heritage Attraction on a Limited Budget)

Crane Dance, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore (Show Spectacular)

The Magic, The Memories, and You, Walt Disney World, (Show Spectacular)

You Mexico, Celebration of the Century of the Mexican Revolution, Mexico City (Live Show Event Spectacular)

The House of Dancing Water, City of Dreams, Macau (Live Show Spectacular)

FoodLoop at Europa Park (Themed Restaurant Experience)

Animation Magic, Animator’s Palate Restaurant, Disney Cruise Line (Ingenious Use of Technology)

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