InPark Magazine Issue #42 (August 2012)

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2012 #42 volume 8, issue 3


Steve’s Back His company’s tools revolutionized mainstream 3D movie production. Now 3ality Technica CEO Steve Schklair is re-entering the world of special venue cinema.



Back to the ‘80s!

W 2012 #42 • volume 8, issue 3


creative optimist


media matters


inventing themed entertainment

George Wiktor’s positive approach to design • by Judith Rubin

special venue and mainstream cinema • by George Walker

SimEx-Iwerks & the legacy of Iwerks Entertainment • by Judith Rubin


what’s next?


repeatability & content

roundtable discussion on the future of media based attractions

4D for the regional park • by Brent Young


cross pollination


much ado about gamification

Steve Schklair returns to special venue • by Judith Rubin

interactivity in experience design • by Dave Cobb

Cover: Steve Schklair poses with insets of 3ality Technica equipment, in use and on display. In the bottom inset, Steve earns his stripes in the 1980’s behind a “vintage” camera.

hile planning this issue, co-editor Judith Rubin commented that our foray into media based attractions was turning into a retrospective on the 1980’s. It’s true that so much of the current technology popular in parks and attractions really had its roots in innovations developed some 25 years ago. While I was just losing my baby teeth in the 80’s, others were cutting their professional teeth on new camera rigs, projection systems, ride films and new methods for storytelling. The work they did, borne out of the big movie studios, and nurtured by popular global expositions, laid the very foundation for the modern media-based attraction.

staff & contributors

CO-EDITOR judith rubin CONTRIBUTING EDITORS mitch rily kim rily DESIGN mcp, llc

CONTRIBUTORS dave cobb george walker brent young SALES martin palicki

InPark Magazine (ISSN 1553-1767) is published five times a year by Martin Chronicles Publishing, LLC. 2349 E Ohio Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207. Shipping address: 2349 E Ohio Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207. Phone: 262-412-7107. Fax: 414-377-0769. Printing by MagCloud and Direct Impact. Contents © 2012 InPark Magazine. All rights reserved. Nothing in the magazine may be reproduced or used in any manner without the prior written permission of the magazine. InPark Magazine is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts, photographs or illustrations. Such material must be accompanied by a self-adressed and stamped envelope to be returned. Postmaster: Send address changes to InPark Magazine 2349 E Ohio Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207. Subscriptions are available annually for $30 per year ($40 international). Opinions expressed in editorial matter are not necessarily those of InPark Magazine or its publishers, Martin Chronicles Publishing, LLC.

Co-Editor Judith

As we discovered, one Rubin, in 1987 cannot talk about the latest trends and technologies in this field without discussing this shared past, which comes up repeatedly in this issue. It also informs the future of our industry, and at the very least provides a signpost directing the way to go. The most successful in our industry have taken those historical lessons to heart and are charting a path forward to more exciting and innovative experiences. In fact, we are in a new “80s” period in themed entertainment now, in terms of the digital revolution and the tools therein. We are standing on the brink of a creative explosion that will be facilitated by that technology, and our industry creatives are only just beginning to realize its potential.

Photo editing courtesy of Stefan Lawrence,

EDITOR martin palicki

Editor Martin Palicki, in 1986

-Martin Palicki Editor

creative optimist When designing and producing visitor attractions, George Wiktor of The GW Group has a knack for being at the creative epicenter, with a positive attitude exclusive IPM interview by Judith Rubin


t’s the mid-1980s. Fresh off a TV production gig, George Wiktor (now head of the GW Group) has taken a job with Bob Rogers and Company (now BRC Imagination Arts) and finds himself engrossed in Vancouver Expo 86. There, George learns to bring together architecture, technology and media in a way we take for granted today. These genesis projects of the themed entertainment industry rewired George Wiktor’s brain and prepared him for the next quartercentury of his career, during which he continued to find himself somewhere on the bleeding edge of experiential storytelling, mostly for world expos, museums and corporate visitor centers. He is a past president of the Themed Entertainment Association. George Wiktor is a born storyteller with a profound gift for speaking - a man with the power to captivate a room with words. Not surprising, then, that he is also adept at captivating audiences with media. His award winning projects include: Barnas Brannstasjon [Children’s Fire Station] at

Kongeparken, Norway (2012 Thea Award); “Beyond All Boundaries,” National World War II Museum, New Orleans (Thea Award, 2010); Volkswagen Glaserne Manufaktur, Dresden (Thea Award, 2002); and “World Song” for the USA Pavilion at Seville Expo 92. What were the great revelations for you working on pavilions at Vancouver Expo 86? There are several basics of Experience Design I learned while working with Bob Rogers at Expo 86, especially on the GM Pavilion [Spirit Lodge]. First, I learned we needed to control the show systems as well as the media. That meant we needed to control the architecture too. This upended the traditional mindset for everyone on the creative team: designer, producer, technical designers and architect. Second, the narrative must drive the visitor experience, and the message has to be clear, concise and to the point. Third, you must have the right team with the right combination of skills to turn the conceptual design into a successful story experience for audiences!

The guests or visitors are the end users and we need to control all aspects of their experience, which meant we had to have a strongly developed story first, then design the attraction around it and have the right team in place to execute the project. These are the creative principles I’ve carried with me to the GW Group. You worked on the 4D museum experience Beyond All Boundaries for the National WWII Museum in New Orleans - a recent project quickly hailed as a new industry benchmark. Did BAB bring something new to the sensibility of 4D? Yes. Theater. BAB was done with The Hettema Group, and Phil Hettema really understands how to employ media in the service of theater and placemaking. He takes a complex approach to storytelling, weaving together many different elements of theater, architecture and design to create the environment and the experience. What have been some other milestone projects for you? The Volkswagen Gläserne visitors center was one. The concept included interactive touchscreens, and a projection dome that would deliver news updates. To pull it off in the mid-1990s was nearimpossible. The software didn’t exist. We found a company that aggregated news, and created a custom program.

Barnas Brannstasjon (Children’s Fire Station) at Kongeparken, Norway. Photo courtesy of George Wiktor

Postcards, produced for the Korean Airlines Pavilion (KAL) at Taejon Expo 93, was another milestone: a 360 degree immersive media experience using an Iwerks nine-projector system. Nowadays you’d just render it out and stitch it together with some off-the-shelf

software, right? But CGI was then a much more complex and expensive process. We had no budget for that or traditional cel techniques - so we got introduced to the Macintosh computer, got a bunch of them, put people on them and said, “Animate!” And because we had a good team, we figured it out. Sophisticated media tools and a storytelling approach are adopted by museums partly with the goal of connecting with young audiences. Is it working? Keeping in step with modern modes of communication is only partly about technology.

Is your “participation” reference akin to “gamification”? It is no longer solely the job of authors and creators and professionals to create the story experience. In the participation culture, you have the power to shape and change things yourself, exercising options to affect the way others experience the story. It’s a culture of empowerment, facilitated by the tools of empowerment. With gamification you’re still playing someone else’s game, by someone else’s rules. What’s your view on transmedia, a popular buzzword these days? Theme parks have always known that attractions based on IPs can generate substantial revenue. Movie companies are just now waking up to this and thinking about how to package and distribute their content across more platforms. Transmedia is not new; what’s new is the ability to get it out to more people in cheaper, easier ways. What most excites me about transmedia is the idea of creating a richer, more pervasive experience that incorporates multiple media platforms with placemaking to create a very textured story environment. What are you up to right now?

We need to also look at the message itself, and convey that message in a participatory way. All too often, the story we are telling the young boils down to something like this: “The world we are handing you is really messed up, not as good as the one your parents and grandparents grew up in, and you’d better learn some science and technology so you can fix it all, or perish trying.” That’s a bit dismal for a young person looking forward to the future. Every generation is different. The generational changes of the last 10-15 years are huge, and I want to send a positive message about these youths of today. These kids are quite connected to the world, and they think it’s a pretty amazing place, even with its challenges. Their self-image is one of optimism and challenge and interest, and they deserve to be addressed with hope and optimism.

I’m an explorer. I love new frontiers. Lately, I’ve been venturing into the world of the digital dome - I was invited to give a presentation for IMERSA, which led to a couple of new projects that I can’t talk about yet. The “fulldome” medium has great potential for immersive storytelling within planetariums and a multitude of other venues in what is a remarkable international community. Continuing to delve into the participation culture, I believe it will revolutionize how we design and define the guest experience. I’m exploring a variety of teaching and speaking opportunities, and will be a wrapup presenter at the TEA SATE conference this September at Disneyland Paris. Of course, my core interest remains: to continue to create awesome guest experiences in the realm of places that tell stories. • • •


media matters how special venue is reacting to advancing mainstream cinema by George Walker


risp, vivid images jump off the screen in 3-dimensional space that reaches the very tip of your nose as your body is bounced, shaken, poked, and even tickled in perfect unison with what you see. The action is further matched by well-timed spritzes of water and an amalgamation of aromas – all serving to completely immerse you into the story of the theme park attraction you are enjoying . . . or is it a theme park attraction?

costs, for example. This opened the door to cinemas.” This cost savings, Rick points out, is a sliding scale that benefits everyone down the line. “This reduces the cost for theme parks as well, which creates the opportunity to add projection where it might not have been costeffective before. A thrill can be affordably created virtually that would otherwise be impossible to build. We are just at the beginning of what virtual rides can become.”

Experiences like this were once the exclusive domain of world-class theme parks, but now you find them colonizing outside of the ticket booths, working their way into our neighborhood theaters, and even our living rooms. The question is: What can theme parks do to keep ahead of the curve?

But as costs drop, will Hollywood stop at 3D? Can 4D effects simply be added to a typical feature film without consideration of the effect it will have on the storytelling? Themed attractions that use 4D effects are carefully and painstakingly crafted by teams of experts who execute their integration from the very beginning of the process ensuring a union between the story, content, visuals, and 4D elements. To retroactively add-on this technology may have a jarring and distracting impact that leaves audiences unsatisfied.

The recent Avengers movie had 3D, a fast story tempo, and special effects that left you feeling much as though you had been on a feature-length theme park ride. As Rick Heineman, Senior VP at RealD, global licensor of stereoscopic technologies to motion picture exhibitors, sees it, “this is a new era for 3D technology. The difference from just the last ten years is staggering. There are so many products that didn’t even exist before. Single-projector technology eliminates substantial maintenance

Moving Right Along A recent LA Times article discussed one company’s efforts to implement a 4D system into theater chains, focusing on the introduction of motion-based seats. The article explained how the programmer, “studied the ‘point of view’ of [a crashing] alien ship when deciding how best to

insert effects, raising the question, ‘should the seats rock side to side or sway back and forth to simulate the ship’s fall?’” This is the kind of question that exemplifies the challenge of 4D outside the world of themed attractions. As an audience member, why am I feeling a physical sensation related to what I’m seeing on the screen? Am I on the ship that’s crashing? Am I on the ground outside? Or am I just a guy in a theater watching these images on a screen – in which case, why is my chair moving at all? 4D effects of this nature obtrusively force the viewer into a role within the movie that the original filmmaker likely never intended. This unintentionally puts an incredible amount of storytelling power into the hands of the 4D programmer, possibly to the detriment of the story itself. It’s complicated. Some companies, like MediaMation, a leader in interactive attraction technologies, are embracing these opportunities outside the theme park gates, and don’t delve much into the issue of who controls the storytelling. CEO Alison Jamele believes there is still plenty of room in the media market for a wide range of experiences. They are installing a line of interactive theater seats in over 30 countries and have a spectrum of “bells and whistles” to offer. “The immersive experience is going to be happening everywhere, from home to theaters to theme parks. But there is a vast difference between how each experience is executed. You don’t want a short theme park experience translated into a 2-hour feature film, for example. A theme park attraction can be much more dramatic because you are subjected to it for a shorter period of time.”

Content is Key

Electrosonic, Super 78 Studios and Huss Park Attractions collaborated to create the media-rich “Flight of the Dragon” attraction for Happy Valley and Window on the World parks in China. Photo courtesy of Electrosonic

According to Janine Baker, senior VP at nWave Pictures, a world leader in 3D cinema content production, differentiating the theme park experience from its competition lies in the quality offered. “The first rule is you must keep up with the technology in the local cineplex - the quality must be better than what you can get locally,” says Janine. “Next, your film quality, in terms of content, has to be at a high level. The projector can only be as good as the content being projected.” Janine also points out the higher standard that video “gamers” have come to demand. “If you’ve seen the games,

the graphics are so visually amazing, they are hypnotizing. If you don’t keep to that quality, you are going to lose the audience.” Though home-based and local media venues continue to evolve, they are hampered by limitations that theme parks do not face. Some kinds of media applications are not likely to lend themselves to theaters in the home or neighborhood cinema entertainment any time soon, but you never know when a door might slam shut. Theme designers must seize available opportunities to push media-based attractions to their full potential. Although media is sometimes used to prop up an attraction suffering from an abbreviated budget or creative shortfall, our industry boasts plenty of innovators on all sides. Daren Ulmer, founder of Mousetrappe, a leading producer of media for themed attractions, contributed to the Cinderella Castle projection mapping at Disneyland that was honored with a Thea Award earlier this year. He sees ample room for creative growth. “We are constantly finding new ways to surprise the audience through clever, new applications of the original media content in combination with the everadvancing technological capabilities. Theme park operators are realizing that the technology is there to use the entire environment around the guests without being limited to flat screens inside rides and shows. This creates a whole new canvas for the content and the projection alike.”

Subtle is Sexy Dina Benadon, CEO of Super 78 Studios, a storytelling, design and animation company, is former Vice Chair of the Producers Guild New Media Council. She believes there are fewer obstacles to new ideas than ever before. “It’s a very exciting time because we are pushing forward into a digital age that can keep up with the creativity that’s driving it. Our capabilities have come a long way from early attractions like Star Tours and Back to the Future. Their success helped catapult media to the forefront where it has become the cornerstone to some of the most successful recent attractions.” Dina points out, however, that, “the key is to bring in the right producers who truly understand the technology - as early as possible.” Perhaps there is no more logical application of 3D to an attraction than the refreshed Star Tours - The Adventures Continue at Disney parks, also honored with a Thea Award this year. Here, 3D is used to give depth where depth was always

meant to be. Thanks to this technology, no longer are audiences asked to suspend their disbelief and accept that the flat, 2D image on the screen at the front of the cabin is, in fact, a window to the outside. This is a perfect example of how, rather than simply relying on 3D as a gimmick, the attraction subtly uses it to coalesce the overall story. Bryan Hinckley, Entertainment Development Manager at Electrosonic, a prominent AV systems integration company, recognizes the threats that theme parks face. “We are in competition with all forms of entertainment. The spread of 3D, [and now 4D] to homes and theaters is just another competitive element alongside mobile devices and social media.” But the advantage that theme parks have, Bryan explains, is that they can “take every experience to an extreme level by completely immersing visitors into the story.” Theme park budgets are unique in that they have the capability to push design aspects such as image and projection quality, screen size, and the integration with themed environments. “Technology has progressed so far in recent years that images can now be projected on almost any surface, of any size and shape. Advanced speaker design and audio processing allow sound to be controlled and focused to create complex and unique audio soundscapes. We constantly push the technology to meet the imagination of the designers. With a strong story, a unique environment, and creative use of technology, theme parks create experiences that you just cannot get locally or in your living room.” Of future media-centric attractions, one thing is clear: The days of media for media’s sake are behind us. Designers must delve as deeply into their technological toolboxes as they do their creative minds to concoct new recipes for experiences in which media is just one of many key ingredients. • • • George Walker (story.builder@ is a creative consultant, show writer, and in-field art director who aims to strike a balance between innovative ideas and realistic build-ability. In addition to his writing for other projects, George was thrilled to have the unique opportunity to work this past year as a rock carver on Cars Land. George also sits on the Education Committee for the Themed Entertainment Association.

inventing themed entertainment SimEx-Iwerks and the legacy of Iwerks Entertainment

Michael Needham

by Judith Rubin “The creative atmosphere was created mostly by Stan when discussing venues, new shows, new ideas to entertain. My contributions were more along the line of how we might accomplish these new ideas from a technical point of view. Stan and I both encouraged ideas and solutions from our employees.” -- Don Iwerks I’m so happy for the years that I spent. I have only the warmest thoughts and respect for Don. I couldn’t have had a better partner.” -- Stan Kinsey “The turning point for SimEx was the merger with Iwerks.” -- Michael Needham Iwerks Entertainment, co-founded in 1985 by Don Iwerks and Stan Kinsey, left a legacy still visible and influential in today’s themed entertainment industry. Many significant trends, technologies, attraction genres and business models trace roots back to the company. Iwerks and Kinsey assembled and inspired a boldly inventive team, and an impressive number of Iwerks alumni have become creative leaders in the industry. “A vitality seemed to be in the water, running through the company,” said Eddie Newquist, now EVP/CCO of Global Experience Specialists. “There wasn’t anything we didn’t think we could figure out or invent or put together.” “Don Iwerks pioneered a lot of the technologies other people have taken forward, and that have become the basis for the digital revolution,” says Bob Rogers of BRC Imagination Arts, which partnered on numerous projects with Iwerks in the 1980s and 1990s. Don Iwerks’s industry accolades include an Academy Award (The Gordon E. Sawyer Award, aka the Sci-Tech Oscar, in 1998), the

Don Iwerks

Stan Kinsey Lifetime Achievement Thea Award from the Themed Entertainment Association (1997) and official Disney Legend honors (2009). Long before his name was put on the door at Iwerks Entertainment, Don had iconic status from his 35 years at Disney Studios, which included 20 years as head of the Disney Studio Machine Shop developing special cameras and projectors for Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland. Don’s father, Ub Iwerks was likewise a unique, legendary Disney artist, animator and innovator whose contributions are chronicled in “The Hand Behind the Mouse” documentary and book by Don’s daughter Leslie, herself an accomplished filmmaker/author. Neither Don Iwerks nor Stan Kinsey is part of the company today, although both are still active in their fields. But the rich legacy is upheld in the successes of the present company, SimExIwerks.

The merger

In 2000, Michael Needham joined the resources of his firm, SimEx, to the assets of Iwerks Entertainment. Iwerks was by that time debtridden after a turbulent, downward business trajectory following a blockbuster IPO in 1993. Company resources had been drained by a long, competitive battle with Imax Corp. for a share of the 1570 giant-screen projection market.

“It was relatively simple what happened,” says Needham. “It cost Iwerks a lot to come up with their alternative product and take it to market, and then the two companies fought to the death for 7 years.” The company had many viable products and had continued its innovations, but couldn’t offset its losses. Needham, a former venture capitalist, got hooked on the business when he invested in SimEx (then Interactive Entertainment Inc.) to build Tour of the Universe, a flagship motion theater attraction at Toronto’s CN Tower in 1980. The film was produced by Douglas Trumbull. Conceived as a one-off, the 40,000 square foot attraction influenced the template of motion theaters to come. “We spent way too much money building Tour of the Universe,” says Needham, “but it was one of the few investments that my company, Helix, had made that I felt a real affection for. I was interested in the ideas, the people and the creativity and I sensed a new sort of niche in the attractions marketplace.” He bought SimEx in 1990. Ten years later, he acquired Iwerks Entertainment, returned it to private ownership and eventually to stability and profitability. Today, SimEx-Iwerks does most of its business in content licensing & distribution, 4D attraction

Brands in the SimEx-Iwerks library include Yogi Bear, Dora & Diego, Looney Tunes, Ice Age and more. Posters courtesy of SimEx-Iwerks.

development, and co-ventures with zoos and aquariums. “The company leaders are good businesspeople who recognized our true market niche,”says Scott Shepley, Vice President, Film PostProduction, who started at Iwerks Entertainment more than 20 years ago and has remained with the company through all its transitions. SimEx-Iwerks has its corporate headquarters and manufacturing in the Toronto area, with a base in Southern California, another in Baltimore and satellite offices overseas. Company revenues are about $30 M (USD), growing at the rate of 8%10% a year for the past 5 years.

Content creation

Iwerks Entertainment did pioneering work in digital and video systems for special venue applications. “They were making things accessible to smaller parks and museums - a tradition that has continued with SimEx-Iwerks,” says former Iwerks-ian Cecil Magpuri, now CCO of Falcon’s Treehouse. The film division led by Eddie Newquist and Jon Corfino (now of Attraction Media & Entertainment) produced breakthrough content. Their library included original animations from Chris Wedge and his then fledgling Blue Sky Productions, and influential, custom music videos (think Peter Gabriel’s “Kiss that Frog” for Pepsi, as well as videos starring Clint Black, Willie Nelson and Duran Duran). “We were some of the first to make music available in this way,” says Corfino. Iwerks also led the way in attraction films based on licensed big-name IPs - early examples were Aliens and Robocop. Today, SimEx-Iwerks Senior VP of Licensing & Distribution Mike Frueh works with studios and IP owners to develop new shows and adapt existing

content for the company’s global network of 4D and motion theaters. Like Scott Shepley, he’s been with the company some 20 years. Current titles include “Ice Age 4D” (Fox); “Yogi Bear 4D” and “Roadrunner 4D” (Warner Bros.); “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora & Diego” (Nickelodeon) and “Planet Earth” and “Frozen Planet” (BBC). A seasonal favorite is “Polar Express 4D” (WB).

TurboRide to 4D

Les Hill, presently a system sales engineer at Electrosonic, was instrumental in developing the original Turbo Tour Theaters (later re-dubbed TurboRide) - and Craig Hanna, now CCO of Thinkwell Group, was in charge of developing the marketing for same. “We were doing something that the market wanted - seats that were articulated with a film, to add a different dimension to a short motion picture,” said David Snyder, former Iwerks VP of Engineering. “We could now provide them as an independent product, a new entertainment experience and open up smaller specialty theaters - first in places like Pier 39 [San Francisco] then with a series of touring theaters at air shows [the “Blue Angels” motion film]. We built 5 of these big tractortrailer rigs, and the theaters had little computer controlled systems, both film and video.” Iwerks TurboRide motion seats were key to turning the company around after the merger. “The TurboRide seat was a terrific product,” says Needham. “It complemented our platform simulators really well. TurboRide seats sold themselves all over the world; they ran out of steam eventually and were taken over by 4D seats, but by 2004 we had between 100-150 TurboRide theaters in 40 countries. That was probably one of the most successful product lines ever produced in specialty attractions.”

Legacy: World Expos

A landmark custom project was the Lucky Goldstar (now LG) Pavilion at Taejon Expo 93. “It was a hit,” recalls Eric Rodli, who started at Iwerks in 1988 and rose to company president (currently an investor in entertainment technology businesses). “Our joint venture with Ride & Show Engineering produced a 3-axis motion theater for which Iwerks provided projection and audio. We had Dave Barnett doing R & D.” (Among the engineers with whom Dave Snyder and Don Iwerks interacted as Disney colleagues, were Eduard Feuer and William Watkins, co-founders of Ride & Show.) The Lucky Goldstar film was “Journey to Technopia,” produced by Charlotte Huggins, then with Boss Film Studio - Huggins (now with Rhythm & Hues) reported that the show was still playing in the original theater on the original site when she visited a few years ago. Project manager was Iwerks veteran Tisa Poe, currently senior director, design services, Universal Parks and Recreation. For the Spanish National Pavilion at the 1992 world expo in Seville, Iwerks furnished 80 Turbo-Ride motion bases, each seating two guests. The film “Vientos de España” produced by Summerhays Films using Iwerks 870 cameras, took audiences on a grand tour of Spain. The show was one of the most popular attractions at the fair and presaged by many years something just now starting to happen in mainstream cinemas - the addition of animated seats to accompany full-length movies. The Venezuela Pavilion at Seville 92 had no TurboRide seats, but was equipped with an Iwerks 870 projection system showing “Tierra de Gracia,” produced by Summerhays with Iwerks 870 cameras. (Iwerks 70mm cameras and rigs are still popular rentals, especially for Hollywood studios shooting 3D movies.)

Legacy: Cinetropolis

Key to the Iwerks business plan as the IPO launched in 1993 was Cinetropolis: a highconcept, mixed-use development integrating the whole family of Iwerks media-based attractions with retail, dining and other elements. Two opened: at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and in Chiryu, Japan. It provoked a slew of similar concepts from other developers and operators. The less successful included Sega Gameworks, Sony Metreon, Blockbuster Block Party, Mills “shoppertainment“ malls and DisneyQuest. More successful descendants include Universal CityWalk and Downtown Disney and integrated resorts such as Resorts World Sentosa and Macau’s City of Dreams. There were many unique Iwerks film and video systems. A 360 Dance Club venue was a component of Cinetropolis, for which Iwerks developed a video-based, 9-screen version to deliver 360 degree imagery to envelop and immerse dancers in a hip atmosphere. This system descended from the original 9-camera Circlevision that Don and Ub Iwerks developed and perfected at Disney Studios. Iwerks Entertainment also worked with famed Swiss filmmaker, Ernst Heiniger to further develop his single-camera, single-lens, 360 degree system “Swissorama”; it was renamed “Imagine 360” and the camera leased to BRC Imagination Arts to produce “Mi Pais Vasco” for the Basque Pavilion at Seville Expo 92. In conjunction with Iwerks, a custom designed 70mm,10-perf projector was designed and built by Ballantyne of Omaha and connected to a newly Iwerks designed 70mm film loop cabinet allowing for continuous operation without rewinding the film. Reflecting back on his days as co-founder and original CEO of Iwerks Entertainment, Stan Kinsey remarks, “I now realize the LBE [location-based entertainment] complex is a very difficult financial model to execute.” (Kinsey currently invests in select startups.) “Cinetropolis was the big dream. We raised $50 million and had real estate partners verbally committed. We had great designs for locations in Chicago and Seattle and we went a long way in talks with Taubman but then markets changed, the financing model changed and the developers balked. Our vision may have been too aggressive to get the attendance and per caps. But 15 years later there’s still a part of me that says it would be fun to do it.” “As Stan Kinsey frequently said, ‘Pioneers get a lot of arrows in the back.’ Iwerks bet on Cinetropolis and eventually the marketplace voted against that concept,” says Vito Sanzone, former director of marketing for Iwerks Entertainment. “But Iwerks will always have the credit for coalescing the LBE mega-entertainment destination.”

SimEx-Iwerks 4D seats are based on an Iwerks prototype acquired in the merger. “The 4D seats that are at the basis of our business now were how we got our teeth into the marketplace,” says Needham. “Iwerks was well ahead of us already into digital projection, and deeply into 3D. There was a whole series of things they’d been working on.” This included Cinetropolis and Virtual Adventures, both ahead-of-their time concepts that didn’t succeed for Iwerks but were forerunners of things flourishing today. “Cinetropolis was basically the idea of grouping attractions,” comments Needham. “They’re doing that in Asia right now. We recently pitched something that looks a lot like Cinetropolis.”

Early to Asia

Iwerks Entertainment’s primacy in the Asian market also proved hugely valuable. “They had been very early into Asia,” says Needham. “Because of that, SimEx-Iwerks was well positioned in what has been the most buoyant marketplace of the last 10 years.” Mike Frueh cited former Iwerks employee Don Savant (now head of Asia-Pacific theater development for Imax Corp.) for his groundwork in Asia. “If a recession hits, nothing is going to rescue you other than a marketplace where there is not a recession. Asia has been that for us,” adds Needham. Iwerks TurboRide Theater markets in Asia included Taiwan, Indonesia and mainland China (an anecdote about one installation has former operations manager Doron Golan hastily arranging with a local tablecloth factory to replace a torn screen).

SimEx-Iwerks as operator

SimEx-Iwerks has kept up the tradition of creative partnership and market expansion. In addition to building theaters and producing licensed content, the company is co-investor on some 36 attractions, placing specialty theaters into zoos, aquariums and other facilities in North America. Mark Cornell, a business development dynamo seasoned in attraction operation and motion simulation, came to SimEx-Iwerks about 10 years ago from the former Imax Ridefilm division and is the primary actor for the co-ventures, working from the company’s Baltimore office where he leads a team of six. Clients include Shedd Aquarium, San Diego Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo and the National Aquarium. The company’s handson approach to partnerships includes assistance with feasibility studies, sales training, marketing and educational guides. What’s next? Michael Needham looks ahead, and he looks back. He maintains a friendship with Don Iwerks. He gives the company, its founders and the many innovators who have been part of it unhesitating credit for the achievements that fortified the combination. “The turning point for SimEx was the merger with Iwerks,” he says. Needham forecasts “very exciting and buoyant opportunities ahead for SimEx-Iwerks. “We started off selling our theaters and licensing films; we moved into revenue share arrangements that have been successful. The natural extension of that is to move into owned-and-operated. We’re not going to be the next Merlin, but in our world of specialty attractions there is room for us to grow in new and interesting ways.” • • •

Legacy: Virtual Adventures

Virtual Adventures was a 1993 collaboration between Iwerks and Evans & Sutherland to create real-time, multi-user simulation. The windows of the ride vehicle were computer monitors that displayed the real-time results of the vehicle’s navigation through digital databases loaded onto multiple E&S image generators. The cost of such technology was much higher than it is today and was one of the factors that kept VA from progressing beyond the first few installations. It won eight awards, including the first ‘Best Virtual Reality’ award from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. “There’s a lot of Virtual Adventures in today’s platform games,” comments Newquist, “- in how they are designed, and the concept of what gameplay is. We decided, with VA, to have some stopping points with canned media to help fill in the story and provide closure - and that is a standard for all multiplayer games.” Michael Dulion (former VP of Operations with Iwerks Entertainment; now a business consultant) remarked, “VA was without a doubt the most advanced technology that Iwerks developed. Stan was in charge of the concept and I led the team developing the technology, which included Eddie and Kirsten Newquist, Celia Pearce and Mike Hamison for Iwerks and a team led by Mike Ryder at E&S. Together the two companies probably spent between $7 M and $10 M on the development.” An Iwerks-Minolta collaboration that helped advance planetarium projection was the 12k 70mm fisheye film system. This 870, 12,000-watt, partial-dome film projection system could share space with a starball projector. According to Bob Chambers (former project engineer at Iwerks): “It often had to be positioned downstage or upstage because of the starball, making lens distances tricky.” The projector rose into position via elevator. Chambers caught the entrepreneurial spirit at Iwerks; he founded his special effects company, It’s Alive in 1995 and with Edward Marks recently set up a new business, The Producers Group, which boasts Don Iwerks on its advisory board.


what’s next?

InPark assembled a group of experts and asked them what trends, especially those oversees, are influencing the next generation of media-based attractions.

the future of media based attractions Darrias Baker Design, art direction, and production for themed entertainment and environments The Asian clients I work with are impressed by the high-tech media and ride systems they see in the Spider-Man or Harry Potter attractions, but they are still daunted by the huge upfront costs and the constant maintenance these types of attractions require. Currently, in Asia I think you are going to see more dark or thrill rides developed with large amounts of scenery and perhaps even performers. Costeffective media and special effects will be strategically placed to enhance the immersive environments of these attractions. In the West, performers are expensive and technology is considered cheaper. Lately it seems that two out of three new show-intensive attractions in the West are a version of a 4D theater. With a small footprint, minimal scenery, few or no performers, this “movie in a box” type of attraction is very attractive to Western management. However, in Asia my team and I work with clients to develop innovative attractions we very seldom see in the West. In China I can get huge amounts of scenery built to theme the inside and outside of an attraction for about one tenth the cost in the USA. We then might add several performers to an attraction even though that show may repeat several times each hour. The cost of live performers is low enough that we can hire as many performers as we need to play the same role, keeping the performance fresh. Sywa Sung Concept design & illustration for attractions, exhibits, live shows, spectaculars, branding, and sets. I believe the potential for new gaming based attractions beyond the traditional sources of movies, television, is ripe with possibilities - especially in markets outside the US. The entities that run theme parks abroad are in some ways more diverse, whereas in the US the players are fewer and there’s a tendency to rely primarily on their own proprietary libraries. The new Angry Birds attraction is perhaps the first video game-based attraction to skip the

intermediate step of film or TV adaptation and jump straight to an attraction instead. I could see the same thing happening to other properties like Halo, Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Spyro, etc.

where the price of the content and hardware is dropping and the quality is rising. The price of other aspects of attraction production (scenic production and ride systems) are relatively flat compared to media.

Gamers are already part of the prime theme park going attraction age demographic, and many of these games enjoy very wide and extremely loyal fan bases. All these games have richly established worlds with myriads of characters, easily adaptable to attractions. As an entertainment option, it is said some gamers don’t have much interest in movies or TV and use video games as their primary daily source of entertainment recreation, and there is at least one, possibly two generations that have grown up like this, so the industry would be smart to pay serious attention to the trend.

We will also see faster updating to media based attractions. With the success of the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, once again Universal Orlando has demonstrated how an existing media based attraction can be transformed into a completely new guest experience: Take the existing hardware and facility, rebrand it, re-skin it and swap out the content. This black box concept is the future of media based attractions. Gary Goddard The Goddard Group - design, production & operations For the most part I have been fortunate to work with clients in China and Macau who, while impressed with what Disney and Universal have done, would rather work to create new and original attractions. Media-based attractions are highly desired in China. However, a number of the owners and operators are beginning to realize that quality does cost more, and in the end, quality leads to long term success. We are working with several such clients in China now. So for us at least, I believe the Asian themed entertainment market is heading into an exciting time and expect that within the next few years we will begin to see even greater levels of originality and creativity there - I think that within five years we may even see some China parks setting new trends in innovative attractions at a level that meets or exceeds the Disney and Universal standard. Dina Benadon Super 78 - media producer Looking ahead, media will make up a larger part of any new attraction. This is the one aspect of attraction development


We will also see more branded attractions based on a range of animated and live action IP’s, and we can expect more interactivity between the guest and media. Jeremy Railton Entertainment Design Co. Asian clients all want media integrated into attractions. That’s a given. But it’s being applied in some interesting ways that I think we’ll see more of in future. Think big spectacle! Media just keeps getting more flexible and powerful, for instance with the advances in LED technology, lighting instruments and show control. This affords an option for advertising as well as the means to freshen up an attraction after a few years. I have become a realist: if advertising can be incorporated, it can encourage more investment into attractions. Downward pressure on budgets coupled with insistence on quality is something we’ll continue to see, and that leads to creative international partnerships. Creating media in Mainland China costs about half as much as anywhere else, so we find it better to work hand in hand with local media artists to produce cutting edge media at a lower price point. Check out expanded commentary from each participant at

repeatability & content the rebirth of 4D at the regional theme park by Brent Young, Super 78


ver the course of the last two decades, branded media based attractions have made the headlines as groundbreaking creative and technological wonders. Examples such as Spider-Man, Harry Potter and Transformers (Universal Studios parks) and Star Tours - the Adventures Continue (Disney parks) indicate that media based attractions are pushing toward delivering the true immersive experience. With the overwhelming financial and guest satisfaction success of these attractions at major destination parks, we would like to see smaller park operators following suit and are surprised it hasn’t happened more, especially in the US. Asian parks appear to have embraced the idea of media based attractions as a part of nearly every new master plan, even at smaller parks. Integrated media attractions are part of the equation. We’d like to encourage that media based attractions be discussed more at capital expenditure meetings in the US regional market. Why?

Good price points

The cost of upgrading a theater to the latest in digital 3D is a fraction of the price of a new roller coaster. Even a new theater with a custom branded film would cost far less than most of the steel going into parks.

Good throughput potential

The basic media based attraction – 4D theaters - have a scale-able capacity. Based on the amount of theaters, seats and the film length the 4D theater can be configured to fulfill any capacity need.


This is a concern for owners and operators. After a guest sees a 4D show or another linear media based attraction, will they line up to see it again? The newest generation of 4D experiences is being designed with this in mind from the beginning. The basics of a fun and unique story are great characters, great action and great humor - in addition, the guest should have opportunities to feel he or she is part of the action, rather than just an observer. More specific and sophisticated methods are being developed for the current and next generation of attraction media to create more repeatable, interactive, immersive experiences.

•Different versions - Many park fans will ride a favorite attraction over and over again. The ability to create media that provides a new variation on the experience each time, through different scenes randomly selected, incorporating audience members’ likenesses or avatars, or other digital options now available, enhances and rewards this repeat visitation. The recent refresh of Disney’s classic Star Tours attraction is a great example. •A penchant for detail and trivia - The richer and more dense the world and action therein, the more repeatable the attraction becomes, as fans are drawn deeper into the layers of the experience. Fans will look for and share special hidden details - this activity has exploded over social networks - as a way to convey their familiarity and knowledge of the experience. TurtleTrek at SeaWorld includes background details, like a plane flying overhead, and party-ers in a house in the distance that one may not see on the first viewing, but starts to become apparent on subsequent visits. •Mobile apps – Making use of guests’ smartphone’is another way to supplement the experience and make it engaging. Apps can present an extended experience unique to the attraction so guests can essentially take it home with them; they can also be used to spark interactions between guests and reinforce the shared experience that is one of the defining factors of out-of-home entertainment. •Seasonal and custom content packages – Seasonal overlays include media developed for specific holiday and seasonal programs. Disney’s the Magic, the Memories and You! shows all are updated regularly for each season, and digital media has made this kind of customization simpler than ever. Customization can similarly be applied for special events and corporate presentations.

Quality content - now more within reach than ever

Some regional parks have concerns that the variety of content doesn’t match their theme


or offer enough choice. Original content can be expensive to create, and challenging to market. Branded content can be a complex world of rights, territorial exclusivities and finances. These factors have created a perceived barrier to entry by the regional parks. However, the expansion of the branded media market has opened doors to bring quality content within the reach of regional parks. Deals are coming together with such major content suppliers as Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, Fox, and Warner Brothers actively pursuing the theme park and recreation markets. Supply and choice of premium content are now able to meet the demand. Seasoned distributors that can bridge the mainstream and specialty markets, such as SimEx-Iwerks, nWave Pictures and Attraction Media & Entertainment have a range of products to meet the demand of different creative market categories and demographics. Producers and distributors of all stripes are seeing the advantage of packaging their content for a wider range of media platforms, facilitated by digital tools. And we’re also seeing a number of mainstream producers and directors take a direct interest in creating shows for special venue media, further enriching the library of available quality content. Luc Besson’s “Arthur 4D” attraction for Futuroscope Park is one example.

Investment and upkeep

As pricing for technology drops and branded content becomes more readily available, smaller parks have an opportunity to improve and diversify their offerings with new media based attractions. But it’s important to keep in mind that a media attraction requires a particular kind of upkeep, different from a traditional coaster or hard ride. It is an investment that needs to be maintained through updating, promotions and even re-branding. A media based attraction may only remain popular for 5-10 years before it needs refreshing - or it may go longer, depends on the staying power of the brand it is attached to. With active marketing, an integration of the repeatability factors mentioned and a keen eye for “what’s next” in the branding market, a media based attraction can be a popular and profitable investment for a regional park. • • •

cross pollination Steve Schklair is back in the realm of special venue, and he’s got the 3ality Technica 3D toolkit behind him exclusive IPM interview by Judith Rubin Feature Story


t the Themed Entertainment Association Summit last March, I was pleasantly surprised to run into Steve Schklair, well-known as the CEO of 3ality Technica, developer of sophisticated technology behind the 3D boom in television and feature films. Steve’s roots are in special venue cinema, and when I first knew him in the late 1980s he was running Infinity Filmworks with director Keith Melton, producing innovative media pieces such as Sensorium for the Baltimore Power Plant. (Keith still runs Infinity, and the two are still good friends.) Steve moved on to work in visual effects, video game production and more, always positioned at the point where creativity and new technology converge and always, through his vision and contributions, moving that crossroads forward. His company 3ality Technica is a reflection of that - about half of its 100 employees are engineers and half are creatives.

Steve popped up at the creative/tech junction of 3D filmmaking in the 1990s, when the format was re-emerging via the giant screen industry. He introduced a new 3D camera rig that enabled capture in HD and offered a viable, lightweight alternative to shooting with 70mm cameras and rigs which were (and are) both cumbersome and limited in supply. Not long after that he formed 3ality Digital (now 3ality Technica) and went on to develop the continuously evolving and expanding array of 3D filmmaking tools that have largely fueled the international 3D mainstream explosion, facilitating content creation by making it more streamlined, efficient and affordable. 3ality Technica tools are instrumental in the production of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit (both features), Prometheus and even Step Up Revolution and in sports events worldwide for leagues including the NFL, FIFA, and the Indian Premiere League. BSkyB, the most successful 3D television network to date,

has built its broadcast capture infrastructure on 3ality Technica technologies and methodologies. The company has deep relationships with major studios, top directors and gear manufacturers and a thorough knowledge of production culture and practices. So what was Steve doing at the TEA Summit? Why does a film industry CEO decide to take the temperature of the attractions industry? Because he’s never lost his attachment to special venue production and its unique creative challenges. Steve Schklair is back to shake things up, ladies and gentlemen, and he’s bringing the 3ality Technica 3D toolkit with him, plus a wealth of relationships and other resources, and creative fire in the belly. -- J.R. What do you like best about special venue production? Do you want to get behind the camera again? New challenges, creative satisfaction and some creative control: special venue offers the opportunity for all of those. I was born a cameraman. I shot Sensorium and all those early projects with Infinity Filmworks. I wouldn’t mind getting behind the camera again, but I get the same kind of creative satisfaction from solving the technical and logistical problems of unique productions. I want to find a good project and take it on. Hopefully it will be something very new and cool that’s never been done before. I love the work we do supporting features such as The Hobbit, but it’s not our movie; we play an advisory role. In special venue, you get to participate more in the filmmaking process, and then you get to go work on the install, too - to design components for the theater that do new and cool things. It’s where my heart is and it is always innovative and fun - it’s great to tell a story in a 12- to 14-minute format.

Steve Schklair in 1984 working on Sensorium . Courtesy of 3ality Technica.


Give us some specifics of what you now bring to enrich 3D special venue production. I’m bringing the tools and expertise used for 3D features and broadcast production. There’s nothing more demanding than live TV: you have only one shot to get it right and no opportunity to fix it later. Since we are fairly camera agnostic, we can switch up a broadcast camera for a movie camera and the 3D tools are the same, although aspects of the workflow are different. Is the special venue production community using these tools now? For the most part, they are not- which is why you primarily see animated 3D in special venues. The special venue sector hasn’t been deeply involved in the discussion in the feature film and television world, and it’s only in the last few years that the tools have existed to this level. 3ality Technica developed this technology so that 3D feature films could be made on 2D schedules and close to 2D budgets. And that has worked out: the latest Spider-Man was planned in 2D up to a few weeks before production began; it switched to 3D with no change in schedule and finished on time. It’s the same with the other

3D features we’ve been involved on - for none of those has the director had to wait for the 3D cameras to be tweaked before every shot. The tools we’re using today have zero to do with the tools we used to use when I was in the special venue business in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Live action 3D is no longer among the dark arts. What are the key tools? The 3D rigs and the Stereoscopic Image Processor™ (SIP) are the crucial ones. The new 3D rigs shoot very, very high resolution and can be hand-held, or run on a Steadicam or the end of a jib arm. They can go anywhere and are 10 times more capable than those big old hunks of metal we used to rely on for live action 3D shooting. For special venue nowadays you’d go with RED Epic cameras that shoot 5K; the rigs and cameras are wireless so the Steadicam operator can run free and move fast. They also have more motors and axes of motion than the old ones, which is important because you can align them remotely. In the past, camera alignment and weight have been the biggest problems for special venue 3D shooting.

It used to be that when you shot 3D, you’d put the cameras on the rig and then spend a couple hours aligning every shot. The new image processor is a real-time image analysis device that is constantly monitoring alignment frame by frame. If it sees anything off by even a half pixel, it sends a signal to the camera to automatically readjust. That not only saves a huge amount of time on location, it also eliminates most of the need to fix in post and is how we are able to do 3D live broadcast. The image processor also monitors color match and focus match. This is all stuff we invented at 3ality Technica. These tools are needed now in special venue, where you always want to apply the latest and greatest to keep making new things, and differentiate leisure offerings from the neighborhood movie theater. Regular movie theaters are now starting to add 4D effects, so it’s time to come up with even more new stuff. Is there a place in special venue for live 3D TV as well? Yes. In fact, there is 3D broadcast now of every major sporting event, including the 2012 Olympic Games and the World Cup. Theme

Charlize Theron on a behind the scenes break in “Prometheus” flanked by 3ality Technica 3D camer/rig systems with RED Epics © WBC | ZoomWerks, Los Angeles


Ridley Scott with 3ality Technica 3D camera/rig systems with RED Epics on the set of “Prometheus” ©WBC | ZoomWerks, Los Angeles parks could, for example, simulcast or play back live shows in 3D, especially if they have brought in major musical talent. Speaking of major musical talent, tell us about the U23D movie, produced by 3ality Technica. U23D was the first live-action 3D film shot digitally and put into theaters. I would say it was more of an art project than anything else, along with a proof of concept. I had theories that audiences could be comfortable watching 3D for 2 hours, not just 12 minutes, and it was a chance to put those theories into practice. We used effects that nobody had ever before done in 3D, and it was a huge breakthrough. 3ality Technica is represented by ICM. Will that be utilized in pairing your company with special venue projects? It will support the endeavor. If we need access to talent, to top directors, we can reach out through ICM, as well as through our own established relationships. In conversations with features directors, I find that most of them are interested in special venue. It appeals to them because of the shorter length and as an opportunity to do something different.

Access to top Hollywood talent is certainly one of the things we bring to the table, along with an understanding of what a major feature or visual effects director expects in a work environment. What about the projection end of things? Projection should be digital. At this point, I think special venue producers need to look at digital laser projection for lots of reasons, including brightness and cost savings, but also because these projectors don’t need to be housed in a big booth. You can hang them right in the theater, and their flexibility and small size open up a new world of creative possibility for 4D experiences. What are some of your favorite past projects in special venue? Sensorium, first of all. It was such a challenge, and my first 3D project. The budget was ridiculously low, and we had to solve so many technical problems. But we were just out of film school, so of course we said yes. What we were trying to achieve would have been easy in today’s digital world, but this was analog, crazy, impossible. The show included smells. We were syncing smells to the movie using a timecode hack because it was playing from a 35mm projector. It was a 15minute tour of period America, based on Phineas


Fogg, the centerpiece character of the Baltimore Power Plant. For a budget so far below $1 million that I don’t want to mention it, we shot a 3D film that required location shooting all across the US, with synchronized smells added in post. I was the DP: I co-produced and drove the truck. We’d shoot all day and stay up all night and produce. Keith Melton was director and co-producer. This was in the mid-1980s, an amazingly fertile period for themed entertainment. Our work on Sensorium led to being hired for another huge and rewarding challenge in the 1980s - recreating the shots for a series of attraction films in which the 3D wasn’t working for Warner Brothers Movie World in Australia. They needed to replace about half the footage, and it had to be an exact match in terms of the location, lighting and color. That was one tough assignment! More recently, we shot the film for the 4D theater at the Newseum in Washington DC, working with Cortina Productions. That project was the very first with our new 3D digital rig. We brought in Peter Anderson as DP. My background is cinematography, film producing, special effects, 3D and digital technology: that’s kind of perfect for the special

venue world. My favorite projects are where I get to solve problems and do things that have never been done before, and with 50 engineers on staff, I have the resources now that can build anything, manufacture anything, and write the code. Where can we expect to find you at industry trade events? I’ll definitely be at IAAPA this November in Orlando to speak with potential partners. I’m ready to meet with designers, park operators and distributors. We have merged production and technology as no one else has done, and this is one of the reasons mainstream 3D took off - because of this dialog happening right where it needs to happen. I have encouraged that. 3ality Technica engineers get to go to movie sets, see how tools get used, talk to filmmakers and find out how the tools can be made even friendlier, even faster. The possibilities for special venue are very exciting and I can’t wait to get started. • • •

Steve Schklair from the 1980’s Photo courtesy of 3ality Technica

visit 3ality Technica on the web at

The Experience Design Conference 19-21 Sept. at Disneyland Paris http://www.teaconnect. org/sate-conference

building on the past creating the future

Yves Pépin & Joe Rohde co-chair Story based attractions Relevant experiences Innovative concepts


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much ado about gamification the myth, the mystery and the money behind social media marketing by David C Cobb, Senior Creative Director, Thinkwell Group


amification is seeping into all areas of design, particularly in social networking and online media. For those unfamiliar with the term, I suggest picking up Game-Based Marketing by Gabe Zichermann & Joselin Linder, or the seminal Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal to add to your reading pile; both offer a unique insight as to how gamification is profoundly changing the rules of consumer engagement. Put simply, it means using the tools of game design – competition, leaderboards, rankings and rewards – in other forms of user interaction. I recently attended and spoke at the yearly

Gamification Summit (, and learned how game logic is being added to many things that are decidedly not games – project management software, for instance, that uses leaderboards & badges to track project milestones and encourage efficient team performance. The persuasive, provocative mantra of the summit seemed to be that in ten years it wouldn’t be called “gamification” anymore; it would just be called “good design.” As a lifelong gamer – I’ve owned every homevideo game system since my beloved Atari 2600 in 1978 – I am excited how video games have

fundamentally altered their audiences. It’s clear that a massive generational shift in audience expectation has been rippling through every facet of consumer design for the past few decades, yet in themed entertainment & location-based design, gamification seems to still be in its infancy. That’s mainly due to momentum – our brickand-mortar products take a while to get to market, so adopting new technologies and philosophies can be a slow and meticulous process. However, location-based attractions offer a unique combination of social activity, spectacle & environment that you can’t get from a game console, tablet or smart phone. Our projects are unique walled gardens, where group interaction and engagement is already part of the experience – creating a massive opportunity for our industry to experiment and innovate with gamification techniques. In many ways, “gamification” is this decade’s term for “interactivity” – something that attractions have been adding in small doses for quite some time now. Theme parks took early steps into gamified experiences with “shoot-em-up” videogame-style rides like Universal Orlando’s Men in Black: Alien Attack, Disney’s Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters & Toy Story Midway Mania, and Sally Corporation’s many interactive dark rides at smaller parks around the world. The simple addition of accumulating a score while you ride made these experiences extremely repeatable, and the simple “shooting-gallery” game mechanic made it accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike. But shooting galleries are only one kind of game, and it’s only the beginning for where themed entertainment is headed. Two recent projects from Thinkwell are good examples of how gamified techniques can be used within location-based environments.

The interactive fountain developed by Thinkwell and Carnegie-Mellon at Atlantic City pier Courtesy of Thinkwell


Challenged by the Atlantic City Pier to create a fountain attraction that would draw people to a “dead zone,” a terminus point in their retail development, Thinkwell partnered with Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology

NatureQuest at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. Courtesy of Thinkwell Center to develop a combination of hardware and software unique to the fountain industry: in addition to hourly, pre-programmed shows, the fountain plays interactive games with the audience. Guests discover these games simply by walking up to the fountain; using multiple imaging and sensing technologies, it responds to guest movements and slowly rewards them with different games as crowds start to gather, from simple “follow me” games with single viewers, to massively multiplayer “color wars” and group dance competitions. While any fountain show would have offered a certain level of attraction, Thinkwell created something that constantly engaged guests in different ways, creating repeatability & word-of-mouth, and raising the value of the retail tenant spaces in the process. Gamification played a role in the Thinkwelldesigned and -produced NatureQuest at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, an exhibit recently honored with a Thea Award by the Themed Entertainment Association. The challenge was to engage urban kids of all ages and reading levels with the ecosystems of the US Southeast, inspiring them to get out and explore Atlanta’s amazing urban forests, some of the most diverse and vital in the nation. Rather than typical didactic museum exhibits, NatureQuest’s content is embedded everywhere through a combination of high technology and tried-and-true analog play environments and theatrical techniques, engaging the senses of sound, touch, and sight to immerse visitors in a dynamic, nature-inspired environment. A river of projected fish responds to every step; animal habitats are integrated seamlessly into scenic environments; augmented-reality night-vision goggles reveal unseen nighttime animal activity in the actual environment; RFID-enabled acorns,

shells, eggs and fossils reveal what they’ll grow into when placed in front of a magic mirror. And everything designed into the environment is species-accurate to the region, down to the last leaf on every tree. It’s not all about technology, either; instead of the traditional printed descriptions, Thinkwell created scavenger-huntstyle “challenge cards” for many areas of the exhibit. The cards promote active conversations between parent and child as they discover the environment together. While low-tech in nature, these cards can be said to make the entire space “gamified” by virtue of their being infinitely “reprogrammable” to suit such parameters as the visitor’s age or grade level, or the time of day or the season. Gamification has taken hold in other traditional forms of location-based entertainment, as well. UK-based theater production company Punchdrunk has gained accolades and notoriety (most recently off-Broadway in New York City) with its hit show Sleep No More, an immersive retelling of Macbeth mashed-up with a 1930s film-noir Hitchcockian setting. The audience doesn’t watch from afar – they are literally thrust into the experience, following a cast of 20 through five floors and over a hundred rooms, blurring the line between space, performer & spectator. The action is overlapping, non-verbal, and non-linear; the audience members follow the action & characters at their own discretion, wearing masks that give them social permission to be completely silent, identity-less voyeurs. In effect, Punchdrunk has gamified Shakespeare into a participatory piece of choreography where no two viewers ever have the same experience, and it’s up to the audience to piece together the emotional narrative.


Starting this year, Disney is establishing a whole new kind of theme park experience with the first phases of its “NextGen Initiative,” which embeds interactive, gamified technologies into their existing park experiences. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a new story-based alternatereality game overlaid on the world’s most popular theme park. At embedded play points throughout the park, visitors use collectible cards to play interactive games, resulting in magical illusions and media moments that unlock a story that pits guests against Disney villains determined to use the forces of evil to take over the Kingdom. Fast Pass Plus will also take Disney’s existing line-reservation up a notch through RFID technology and the ability for guests to pre-book all of their attractions ahead of time. This digital ticket media also functions as room key, resort-wide charge card, and may even trigger gamified surprises throughout the park – a character or attraction that knows your child’s name and birthday, for instance. All of these cutting-edge experiences suggest that gamification is a potent new tool of engagement and storytelling in the locationbased entertainment designer’s toolbox. The psychology of gamification helps us remove boundaries, creating real-world experiences with layers of content that adapt to guests as they play, or are personalized to their preferences or demographics. Gamification also offers defeatable challenges, often as smaller steps leading to a major achievement, letting us build experiences and stories according to player engagement levels – enticing guest word-ofmouth, collaboration, and repeat business. As gamification evolves, we can use it to enhance the emotional power of our storytelling in physical places and create lasting, meaningful, repeatable experiences for guests. • • •

David C. Cobb is Senior Creative Director at Los Angeles-based experience design firm Thinkwell (www. thinkwellgroup. com, Twitter @ ThinkwellGroup); you can follow him on Twitter @ davecobb.

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