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Entertaining Installations

The Themed Entertainment Association celebrates the 16th annual THEA awards in a few weeks

Entertaining Installations

Feb 17, 2010 12:00 PM,
By Cynthia Wisehart

The Themed Entertainment Association celebrates the 16th annual THEA awards in a few weeks. These awards honor location-based attractions worldwide and intentionally honor a range of budgets and venues from the modest to the spectacular. A look at the honorees affirms just how important AV technology has become to guest experiences at all budget levels, locations, and venue types.

In the decade I’ve been attending the awards technology has always factored, but often it was mechanical technology—engineering of the sort that makes robots sing, panels slide away, vehicles move, and dry ice curl into fog or smoke.

As ingenious as many of these mechanical inventions still are, AV technology has brought a dimension to guest experiences that harnesses the power of movies, concerts, video games, and the Internet.

Years ago, only the most expensive of installations could deploy spectacular AV (and in those days, it was often film not video creating the illusions). Gradually video and HD have become more accessible, so even as the large-scale attractions become ever more high resolution and eye-popping, designers with even very small-scale budgets tap into the power of AV-driven illusion and experience.

One of my favorite affirmations of this trend is this year’s THEA honoree “Disaster,” a retrofit of the classic (and decidedly mechanical) “Earthquake—The Ride,” with a mind-boggling demonstration of video resolution and prowess in support of increasingly sophisticated storytelling. How “spectacular” has changed.

In this issue, we also look up close at another of this year’s THEA winners, one of the most elaborate examples of integrated AV technology, the Dragon’s Treasure show at Macau’s 360-degree Bubble Theatre. In this venue, lighting, projection, audio, show design, sculpture, and projected art overlapped many artistic disciplines and AV technologies. The awards are formally presented March 6, 2010, at the 16th Annual Thea Awards Gala at Universal Studios Hollywood and sponsored by Economics at AECOM. It’s a formal black-tie dinner event and is open to the public. For tickets and more information, visit

It’s also fitting that this issue we look at content creation for digital signage. Digital signage is often compared to “signage”—as in still images, posters, and billboards. But digital signage is also a “show” and a guest experience—or it must be if it is to compete with all the media that surrounds us.

A final note: Last month I promised an interview with Stephan Villet and Alan Anderson, founders of Smart Monkeys; after I talked to them, I felt I needed more space than this column affords. Please see next month’s issue for an expanded article on this innovative show-control/programming company and the implications for AV/IT.

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