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The majority of SeaWorld/Blackfish posts, along with a new series called SeaWorld Myths, are now available at The Mid-Cap Chronicles.

The Thea Award recipients are announced every year at the Themed Entertainment Association’s (TEA) booth at the IAAPA Attractions Expo.  Here’s how we covered the announcement at InPark Magazine from the floor of last year’s Expo on November 19 in Orlando:

TEA President Christine Kerr announces the 2014 Thea recipients.  Photo by InPark's Martin Palicki

TEA President Christine Kerr announces the 2014 Thea recipients. Photo by InPark’s Martin Palicki

Burbank, Calif. USA, Nov 19, 2013 – “The 20th annual Thea Awards, presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and sponsored by AECOM, honor creative excellence in theme parks, museums, heritage centers, botanical gardens, technological innovation, performance spectacle and more – showcasing the best of an industry that is now thoroughly international,” says TEA president Christine Kerr of BaAM Productions. “At 1,000 members strong, TEA and the industry it serves have expanded well beyond the Americas to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. We encourage the media, the industry and the public to learn more about the 13 honorees, and to make plans to join us at the Thea Awards Gala on April 5 in Anaheim. We’ll be having an extra-special celebration this year to mark two decades since the Theas were first presented in 1994.”

The prestigious Thea Award is considered one of the attraction industry’s greatest honors. The 20th Annual Thea Awards Gala, set for April 5, 2014, is a ticketed, black-tie dinner affair at the Disneyland Resort, Anaheim USA. Tickets are available to the general public as well as to the industry. Title sponsor of the 20th Thea Awards Gala is AECOM. The Gala producer is Patrick Roberge Productions. TEA events producer is Kathy Oliver. More information:

The Thea Awards Nominating Committee (listed at bottom) recommended the current slate of 13 Thea Award recipients, with final approval by the TEA International Board of Directors. 2014 THEA AWARDS RECIPIENTS (scroll down to see full descriptions)

Garner Holt

Garner Holt

The Buzz Price Thea Award – Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements:  Garner Holt of Garner Holt Productions “As a child, Garner Holt was so amazed by a Wonderful World of Disney episode of the Haunted Mansion, that he decided he would create animatronics for a living.”

Thea Classic: Enchanted Tiki Room Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, California USA “It launched a three-dimensional animation industry that influenced attractions created for practically every theme park in the world.”

Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement (AOA): 

  • Revolution Tru-trackless Ride System(Oceaneering) – “the show designer’s ultimate flexibility dream come true”

Marine Worlds Carousel

  • Marine Worlds Carousel, Les Machines de I’lle, Nantes, France – “In this fascinating structure dedicated to the three levels of the sea, guests will discover delightful, animated mechanical sculptures in all forms of sea life.”
  • Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland – “Amid the technical breakthroughs, the ride creators never lost their rigorous focus on the beautifully told story.”
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle, Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort (USA) – “What might have been a basic character meet-and-greet has been elevated to a charming, imaginative and immersive experience”
  • Polynesian Cultural Center Revitalization, Oahu, Hawaii – “very successfully bringing the 50 year old facility and guest experience into the 21st century”
  • De Vuurproef, Het Spoorwegmuseum (The Railway Museum), Utrecht, Netherlands – “successfully engages the public in a way not usually seen in museum attractions”
  • The Mind Museum, Taguig City, Philippines – “the Philippines’ first world-class science museum”
  • Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland – “a major part of Europe’s largest urban regeneration project”

Gardens by the Bay


  • Gardens by the Bay, Singapore – “a compelling, iconic and regionally unique experience on an audacious scale
  • Michael Jackson: ONE, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas – “reaches beyond the proscenium to immerse audiences visually, sonically and emotionally”
  • The Song of An Angel, Universal Studios Japan – “exceptional in the way mapping technology is integrated into fully-staged performance and emotional storytelling”

The Song of an Angel

About TEA The TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) is an international nonprofit alliance founded in 1991 and based in Burbank, Calif. Some 1,000 TEA members represent roughly 8,000 creative specialists, from architects to designers, technical specialists to master planners, scenic fabricators to artists, and builders to feasibility analysts working in 30 US states and 40 different countries. TEA presents the annual Thea Awards and the TEA Summit and hosts the annual SATE Conference (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, Experience). TEA also produces a variety of print and electronic publications, including the TEA/AECOM Theme Index, TEA Annual Directory and Thea Awards Program magazine.

About the Thea Awards The Thea Awards, sponsored by Economics at AECOM, were created by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) to help realize a key mission of the association: bringing recognition to achievement, talent and personal excellence within the themed entertainment industry. From a modest beginning in 1994, the Thea Awards have become internationally recognized as a symbol of excellence. The public is welcome to attend the black-tie 20th Annual Thea Awards Gala, which will be held April 5, 2014 at the Disneyland Hotel, Disneyland Resort, Anaheim Calif. USA. Tickets may be ordered online at The name of the award is a play on three words: the first is “Thea,” the Greek goddess from whom all light emanates. Thea was the mother of Helios (the sun), Eos (the dawn), and Selene (the moon). The second key word is “Theater,” a word derived from the goddess Thea. The third word, of course, is TEA, for the Association.

About Economics at AECOM (Thea Awards Gala title sponsor) Economics at AECOM (formerly ERA/Economics Research Associates) is an international consulting firm focused on economic analysis for the entertainment and leisure industry, real estate development, public-policy analysis, tourism, and economic development. Since its founding in 1958, Economics at AECOM has completed over 15,000 assignments yielding unmatched experience in land use economics. In the process, the firm has made important contributions to some of the world’s most innovative and successful development projects. Their projects span the globe and range from repositioning single land uses to New Towns planned over 30 years. In broad terms, Economics at AECOM assists private developers and public agencies in assessing the future economics and outcomes of real estate projects and economic development plans. Economics at AECOM offers a diverse array of economic analysis and tools to answer complex problems. Website:

PatrickRobergePhotoAbout Patrick Roberge Productions (Thea Awards Gala producer) PRP is an award winning consulting and full turnkey production company that produces creative shows and events. Our experienced team of entertainment professionals specializes in event planning and show production. From vision to reality, we work with you to achieve your goal and make your event memorable. Through our four divisions (Creative Sports, Creative Events, Corporate Productions, Creative Entertainment) we specialize in achieving objectives through innovative and creative entertainment. Visit

DESCRIPTIONS: 2014 Thea Award recipients from TEA’s Thea Awards Nominating Committee


The Buzz Price Thea Award – Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements   Garner Holt, Garner Holt Productions

As a child, Garner Holt was so amazed by a Wonderful World of Disney episode of the Haunted Mansion, that he decided he would create animatronics for a living. To make a long story short, he now makes amazing animatronics, parade floats, and other fantastic scenery and theming elements. Do you like the new Little Mermaid attraction at Disney California Adventure? Haunted Mansion Holiday? Did you like the floats for Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams for the 50th Anniversary? Do you like everything that moves when you hit it on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters? That’s Garner Holt.

Here’s the twist–Garner has never been an Imagineer. Nor has he ever been an official Disney Cast Member. He’s what you call an outside contractor. But as he so successful at producing work that meets Disney’s rigorous quality that he has become a key contractor for Disney, essentially part of the Disney team. And with that, he gets to do some of the most amazing and fun projects–not just for Disney but for many other parks, restaurants, and exhibits.

Of course that didn’t happen overnight. Let’s back up several decades to when Garner was 18. He applied to Disney’s MAPO division where all of the mechanical animation was then manufactured. His portfolio showed animated figures that he had been building since age 12, but was told “Disney has all the professional animation builders it needs.” Broken-hearted, Garner expanded his small operation over the years, building animations and shows for clients worldwide. Garner Holt Productions is now the world’s largest animation show manufacturing operation. And all this by a youngster who turned down his parents’ offer of free college tuition just so he could proceed with his own dream.

Whatever you want to do with your life, know that you can become so much better than the very best in your business that in time you become the very best in your business. Not easy, but it can be done. To that end, take Garner’s advice–put enough perseverance and focus on your dreams, and they will come true.

Thea Classic: Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort 


Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room celebrated its 50th anniversary in June 2013. To our knowledge, there is no longer running theatre show in the industry (it pre-dated Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean). A “theatre-in-the-round,” the Tiki Room stars 225 animated singing birds and flowers in an island-inspired musical revue. It has provided generations of guests with an immersive experience filled with entertaining characters, fun songs and innovative technology that brought the attraction’s story and characters to life in a whole new way. It was the world’s first Audio-Animatronics show – introducing a new technology that soon became one of the dominant tools used by designers and engineers in our industry.

The Orange County Register, in an article headlined “Disney’s Birds Stand the Test of Time,” put the show into clear perspective: “Although the attraction may seem quaint today, without it Abraham Lincoln may never have come to life, there’d be no sword-fighting swashbucklers on the Pirates of the Caribbean, and Lightning McQueen and Mater would just be a couple of old cars.” The Enchanted Tiki Room was the pioneer – the very first – show to introduce a brand-new creative and technical innovation called Audio-Animatronics. It also introduced the first original song created for a Disney park show: “In The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,” written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman a year before they won an Academy Award for Mary Poppins. It was also the forerunner for many story-tunes they wrote for Disney Park shows: “it’s a small world,” Carousel of Progress (“There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”), Epcot/Journey Into Imagination (“One Little Spark,” “Makin’ Memories,” “Magic Journeys”). The technology for The Enchanted Tiki Room had a unique beginning; it was based on a just de-classified military system used to fire the missiles on board the Polaris submarines. “The basement was as big as the Tiki Room, and was filled with all kinds of control cabinets, air valves and more,” the Register reported. “Now you could probably put all the audio and programming data on a laptop!” Walt Disney’s drive to “blend creative imagination with technical know-how” had its first complete show example in Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. It launched a three-dimensional animation industry that influenced attractions created for practically every theme park in the world.

Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) 

AOA – Breakthrough Technology: Revolution Tru-Trackless Ride System

IMG_9611 (1)

The 1966 Disneyland Voyage Thru Inner Space Omnimover was the first ride system that enabled show designers to direct guest viewing directly at scenes rather than be restricted by a fixed view of the preceding ride vehicle. This was enabled by a rotating and tilting seat arrangement supported on linear track guided vehicles. In 2012, Oceaneering Entertainment Systems developed what may be the ultimate show viewing ride system of all time – one that will provide show scene presentations completely unrestrained when compared to all previous ride systems.

Eliminating completely any fixed floor track installation, allowing an economical flat floor, and using free traveling, self-powered vehicles equipped with motion base passenger seating, the Revolution Tru-Trackless Ride System will give show designers unparalleled show design freedom. No longer will a show ride experience be confined to a linear path. Travel through a show environment can be complete variable as to travel path, speed, scene viewing, and load/unload configurations.

Ride vehicles can be dispatched as soon as guests are loaded, with no waiting for other vehicles to finish loading. Individual vehicles can take differing routes through an adventure – which can provide nearly unlimited guest experiences. Shows can take advantage of ride experience re-programming at any time so that guests will be able to enjoy entirely variable individual show experiences. The Tru-Trackless Ride System is the show designer’s ultimate flexibility dream come true.

The vehicles are battery powered, responding to central programming commands including vehicle-to-vehicle communication thru GPS positioning methods. Vehicles’ batteries are charged during load stops and do not need additional nightly charging requirements. Each vehicle is supported and propelled by fully-steered wheel assemblies. Seating sections can rotate and tilt in any direction independent of the vehicle motions.

As noted above, the developers of this system have created intelligent vehicles that can designate and navigate their own non-linear ridepaths, as well as interact with other vehicles in real time, creating ride scenarios that are different every time.

The Oceaneering Tru-Trackless Ride System is more than deserving of the Themed Entertainment Association Technical Breakthrough Thea Award since it will provide the entire themed entertainment industry with the ability create a new level of compelling experiences nearly unconstrained by existing ride systems.

AOA – Unique Art Installation: Marine Worlds Carousel, Les Machines de I’île, Nantes, France

Located on an island of the Loire River in Nantes, in an abandoned shipyard warehouse, one is delighted to find ” Les Machines de l’ïle.” A true experimental laboratory created by two artists, François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, it offers a fantasy world that mixes the imagination of Jules Verne with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci. An incredible collection of mechanical wonders such as the Great Elephant, which is a 50-passenger, walking mechanical elephant and the magnificent flying Heron tree, the pair have now created a stunning new addition: The Marine Worlds Carousel.

This giant, three-tiered carousel, 25m high and 22m in diameter, is incredible machinery that reawakens fairground art. In this fascinating structure dedicated to the three levels of the sea, guests will discover delightful, animated mechanical sculptures in all forms of sea life. From the giant crab and reverse propulsion squid of the seabed, the lantern fish and manta ray of the ocean depth to the jellyfish, flying fish and sailing ships on the surface of the 24 mechanical waves.

Beautiful sculptures of metal and steel, these sea creatures stand on their own as pieces of art. But, they go one step further than that! Guests can board the carousel and, seated inside, operate them to move their appendages, such as fins, tails and tentacles. Characteristics:

  • Diameter 22m
  • Height 25m
  • Number of elements 35
  • Number of seats 85
  • Max capacity 300 guests

The unique quality of the design, the incredible and audacious nature and scale of what would otherwise be a simple carousel, its interactive elements, and most of all its sculptural sophistication and artistic vision continued to grab the attention and make a strong impression on the entire Thea Awards nominating committee.

AOA – Attraction: Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland


Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland Park is a highly-themed, ride-through attraction combining extensive and ingenious projection mapping, Audio-Animatronics technology and other, one-of-a-kind, special effects to tell a charming, original story with state-of-the-art excellence.

Lord Henry’s compatriot, a mischievous monkey named Albert, opens a newly arrived music box reputed to possess strange powers. A magical melody (created by award winning composer Danny Elfman) escapes the box as a ribbon of mystical energy (known as Music Dust). Whatever the Music Dust touches – the object springs to life. Albert tries to recapture the drifting musical vapor, chasing it from room-to-room, getting deeper and deeper into trouble – and the guests follow throughout the Manor’s rare collection of artifacts, sharing in his adventure.

Guests get a front-row seat experience of the 40 visual effects created by different technologies and 36 projectors, including four ultra-high-definition (4k) projectors.

A wire-guided, trackless ride system choreographs the guest’s vehicle to follow the action with variable speeds, stopping, starting and turning to follow the action from room to room. The vehicles can be positioned in any direction at any moment. As a result, guests never know in which direction the story will take them next. And with the different perspectives of the four vehicles, this highly immersive adventure full of surprises, special effects and theatrical wonders is highly repeatable.

Mystic Manor signals a new generation of possibilities in the integration of projection mapping with ride technology, audio-animatronics and other special effects. Ride creators everywhere will be studying and borrowing technical ideas from this project. But Mystic Manor doesn’t just exemplify the highest standards of technical excellence. Amid the technical breakthroughs, the ride creators never lost their rigorous focus on the beautifully told story. Mystic Manor exemplifies the seamless integration of the latest technology with true state-of-the-art storytelling.

AOA – Participatory Character Greeting:  Enchanted Tales with Belle Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida USA


In this interactive story adventure in the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Fantasyland expansion, guests (especially children) are invited to act out the story of Beauty and the Beast, along with characters Belle, Madame de la Grande Bouche and Lumiere the candlestick.

Entering through the cottage home and workshop of Belle’s father Maurice, guests are transported though a magic mirror to the Beast’s Castle. Once there, guests participate in a role playing reenactment of the story that combines a deceptively simple, low-tech participatory theater format with sophisticated and technically impressive effects and animation. The Magic Mirror effect as well as the Audio-Animatronics figure of Lumiere, the candlestick, are in the highest tradition of groundbreaking Disney Imagineering.

At the conclusion of the story, each member of the “cast” as well as other audience members has the opportunity to pose for a personal photograph with Belle.

This is far more than the typical character greeting experience. Disney has reached back to its storytelling roots and created an experience that is intimate and personal in its connection to the guests ,while being slyly supported by truly state-of-the-art effects and animation wizardry. While it may have been tempting to focus on more contemporary theatrical media and technology to create this experience, the daring use of absolutely simple storytelling and playacting (with background of Imagineering wizardry) creates a much stronger and more personal connection than a more programmed experience.

The participatory nature of the retelling of the story is surprisingly impactful, allowing children (and even adults) to imagine themselves in the story. The interplay between incredibly simple costumes and props on the one hand, theatrical effects, animation and lighting, as well as a live interplay with “Belle” create a truly unique invitation to suspend disbelief which will create memories many kids will carry with them for a lifetime.

What might have been a basic meet-and-greet photo opportunity has been elevated to a charming, imaginative and immersive experience, both for the guest who plays a role in the story and the rest of the observing audience. It is a creative blend of excellent design, imaginative interactivity and technical wizardry.

AOA – 4D Simulator, Limited Budget: De Vuurproef, Het Spoorwegmuseum, Utrecht, Netherlands


Het Spoorwegmuseum (The Railway Museum) is a unique museum in the heart of Utrecht, Netherlands, that offers guests a multi-sensory experience through the history of the Dutch and European railway tradition. Fully themed exhibitions, stage shows and even rides are part of the museum’s inventive ways to engage and entertain guests during their stay. De Vuurproef (literal translation: “The Acid Test”) is a new 4D simulator attraction that offers guests a fully-themed, family-oriented experience.

Guests in the queue are divided into four groups that are linked to a number before entering a themed waiting room full of vintage railway artifacts. Each number corresponds to painted numbers on the floor in the pre-show. Based on these numbers each guest is assigned to a task that has to be fulfilled during the simulation. After seeing the instruction movie, guests continue into a dimly lit space, where they enter one of four richly themed Jules Verne-esque locomotives. In these motion-base locomotives, guests experience a high-speed journey through many different habitats and time periods. At certain moments during the simulation, participation by the guest, such as speeding up or slowing down the train, influences the simulation when a specific task is mentioned. The entire project was created on a limited budget.

This museum attraction demonstrates true excellence in design and execution. Highly detailed finishes and props, ambient lighting, special effects and media, make for a rich and visually very consistent experience. It successfully engages the public in a way not usually seen in museum attractions. The thrill and excitement experienced by fully engaging visitors is akin to a theme park experience, while also reinforcing the message of the railway museum at the same time. While entertained, visitors experience the responsibilities of being at the controls of a powerful locomotive.

AOA – Attraction Revitalization: Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu, Hawaii 


The Polynesian Cultural Center opened on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in September of 1963. Since opening, the PCC has hosted over 37 million guests, including international dignitaries, presidents, kings and ambassadors from around the globe. Recently, the PCC engaged in a comprehensive planning and development effort to create new guest experiences. To this end, two major renovations were recently completed. The Gateway is a 37,000 square foot facility that provides evening buffet meal service and has been re-imagined as a grand Hawaiian hall. The second project, “Hawaiian Journey” is a repurposing of an aging giant-screen theater.

The transformation of the buffet hall (the size of a football field) into Gateway included adding new entry canopies and doors, a new color scheme and dimensional Hawaiian symbols and graphics. The exterior lighting and landscaping were also redone and are more reflective of authentic Hawaii. The interior was completely renovated and includes the addition of stately Koa wood (GFRP) columns and flame effect sconces sculpted as giant clam shells. Beneath the woven, thatch-looking ceiling, a 20 foot high by 500 foot long mural encircles the entire space and depicts a Hawaiian King welcoming his royal Polynesian brothers and sisters to join in feast and fellowship. Renovations also included a new and more robust sound system and all-new interior lighting.

The second project, “Hawaiian Journey,” represents the repurposing of PCC’s giant-screen theater. The exterior, out-of-theme facility shell, was covered and recast with the look, feel, sounds and sensibilities of an ancient volcano. By incorporating extensive rock work, waterfalls, faux painting, “breathing” steam vents and lush landscaping, the facility was completely transformed. The entry into the theater is a lava tube, with flame-effect lighting and deep, rumbling sounds that lead guests into the interior volcanic chamber (theater). From a technical perspective, a state-of-the-art, high-definition, digital 4K projection system was installed, as well as a new sound system and a new 40′ x 74′ projection screen and a full-length, motorized screen curtain for added drama. A new show lighting package was also incorporated and includes black lights to highlight painted wall graphics. The 14-minute movie is an original production about Hawaiian culture that highlights spectacular natural settings throughout the Hawaiian islands. Additionally, the theater’s 252 seats have 4D effects incorporated that enhance the movie experience.

The renovation and resulting transformation of the dining hall and giant-screen theater represent PCC’s full embrace of the arts and sciences associated with Themed Entertainment. Relative to the theater, the entire facility started as a large building that had absolutely no thematic connection to the cultural center. The complete renovation of the facility has resulted in a significant and impactful improvement to the guest experience both visually and experientially. The transformation of the theater entry, seating and staging into a dramatic and immersive setting (with comfortable 4D seats!) fully engages guests. The original film production is true to the mission of the PCC in that it is a compelling story about Hawaiian culture and ancestry and illustrates how Hawaiian traditions live on through each generation. The Gateway also utilizes the best in Themed Entertainment technologies in ways that artfully represent the Hawaiian culture and traditions, thus furthering the guest’s connection with the mission of the PCC.

The PCC fully embraces the arts and sciences associated with Themed Entertainment in its renovation of key facility elements. They are very successfully bringing the 50 year old facility into the 21st century and the guest experience is vastly improved.

AOA – Science Museum: The Mind Museum, Taguig City, Philippines 

Human Brain

The Mind Museum is the Philippines’ first world-class science museum. The museum features 4,900 square meters of interactive science and technology exhibitions within five major galleries and outdoor spaces. With over 250 interactive “minds-on” and hands-on exhibits, the museum presents science in a creatively unique, entertaining, and engaging way.

Visitors are welcomed by thematic sculptural gardens and wide-open spaces prior to entering five expansive galleries. The Lobby, the Introductory Hall, the Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, and the Hall of Philippine Science all serve to initiate the visitors’ museum experience.

The five galleries are organized around five stories about the collective wondering and understanding of nature through art, technology and science. The galleries are connected by crucial links dubbed as Nature’s Webways. The beautiful rendered passageways feature a variety of specialty lighting, audio-visuals and artistic exhibits to help visitors make the transitions from one to another of the intricately woven stories of the galleries.

This museum demonstrates true excellence in design and execution. Working with a US firm to master plan the museum, well over 90% of the exhibits were designed and fabricated by Filipino designers, scientists and fabricators, making it uniquely theirs. Each gallery setting is creatively themed and masterfully represented. The thematic thread and artistic treatments throughout the museum is what makes this project extraordinary by any standards.

In bringing their stories to life, the Filipino designers and artists went the extra step in expanding science into a fully experiential world, creating unusual scale, playful details and interactivity throughout. This world-class design combined with sensory-rich experiences make The Mind Museum a truly outstanding achievement in the museum category.

AOA – Visitor Center: Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland


Titanic Belfast, the World’s Largest Titanic Visitor Experience, opened its doors to the world on 31 March 2012, marking 100 years since the completion of the world’s most famous ocean liner.

The unique and iconic structure was almost 10 years in the planning, and following its three-year construction period became Belfast’s most famous landmark. Standing at the height of the ship’s superstructure, Titanic Belfast represents a turning point in Northern Ireland’s history, and a reason to visit for people from all over the world. Titanic Belfast is a major part of Europe’s largest urban regeneration project.

Having welcomed over 500,000 visitors in just over 5 months from opening, 75,000 over the anticipated annual target, Titanic Belfast now stands at the heart of destination marketing for brand Belfast, brand Northern Ireland and brand Ireland. It is also a symbol of confidence, acting as a popular backdrop for both national and international product launches, events and conferences.

Titanic Belfast was designed as a multi-streamed business incorporating the following elements:

  • A nine gallery interpretative visitor experience
  • The Titanic Suites, dedicated conference and banqueting facilities
  • The Andrews Gallery, a dedicated Exhibition gallery Education facilities comprising an education/community room and the Ocean Exploration Centre
  • Bistro 401 and The Galley: themed, dedicated eateries

At the heart of Titanic Belfast is a fully immersive exhibition that explores Edwardian Belfast, the city that produced the famous ship, and charts the growth of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the story of the Titanic, the people who crafted her, the passengers who sailed on her and the scientists who found her. Titanic Belfast not only tells the story of the Titanic, giving visitors the opportunity to look behind the scenes and marvel at the scale of Belfast’s innovation and industry, but seeks to dispel some of the myths and legends about the tragedy. It is a must-see for anyone with an interest in this fascinating story – and a development that the city can be truly proud of.

The experience team undertook extensive research and consultation to ensure that the exhibition’s content is rooted firmly in fact, and has appeal for all audiences. Titanic Belfast uses a range of interpretative techniques to bring events to life, with oral testament, film, photographs, archival material and a range of media combined to create an engaging and thought provoking experience. Working with the architects, the Team ensured that the gallery spaces take advantage of the building’s scale and proportion. Throughout the exhibition visitors encounter individuals with stories to tell, many of them Belfast people.

The exhibition and experience combines nine galleries across five floors and includes a unique dark ride tour through the shipyard, a 3D ‘cave’ that allows visitors to walk through the ship, and unique HD footage of the Titanic taken by explorer Robert Ballard after he found the wreck in 1985.

If numbers could talk, they would surely say that Titanic Belfast has firmly established itself as an attraction and destination worthy of the phrases ‘successful’ and ‘sought after.’ Annual targets, as set out in the pre-opening plan have been exceeded in all key areas including

  • Retail annual revenue, met 123 days after opening
  • Visitor numbers, met 164 days after opening Conference and Banqueting delegate numbers, met 96 days after opening

“Not another Titanic attraction,” and “Hasn’t this story been done already?” seem to be common reactions to the project name. The response to the first comment is “No, this is not just another Titanic attraction, this is something quite different.” The answer to the latter question is “No, this story has not been told.”

This project starts at the very beginning of the Titanic’s journey and takes place in the shipyards where the ship was built. It is a story of the people who built her and the pride within the community her construction built. It is a beautiful project architecturally, thematically and experientially. It uses theatrical techniques when and where they are needed to immerse the visitor deeper into this part of the story and respects the larger story that unfolds after the ship sets sail and eventually sinks.

From the minute they see the building (that is the height of the superstructure of the actual Titanic), the visitor will subconsciously begin to feel the enormity of the undertaking of building a ship of this scale in the early 1900s.

The designs are thoughtful and do not rely on only one or two interpretive techniques, but rather a range of techniques from oral testaments, film, photographs, archival material and a range of media to engage the guests. Each space blends the technology, architecture and theming in a way that keeps the story and guest experience as a priority in the foreground.

This project embodies beautiful execution, attention to detail, sense of place and time (both in the present and in the past), visual impact, story-telling techniques and community significance.

AOA – Botanical Garden: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore 

Opened in 2012 in Singapore, Gardens by the Bay is an immense, 54-hectare, botanical experience on reclaimed land adjacent to the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. Hosting 1.7 million visitors in the first five months of operation, the two iconic conservatories—Cloud Forest and Flower Dome—can be seen from all around central Singapore. The attraction includes didactic exhibits, a uniquely configured projection gallery (featuring a screen that wraps from ceiling to wall and across the floor, encouraging people to sit on the projections) and more. Visitors can take the sky path over 130 feet in the air on a suspended/cantilevered “catwalk” through the Cloud Forest – giving visitors a unique perspective on the garden – visit regionally unique biomes, and see exotic and unusual floral specimens in the arid Flower Dome, take in the lush landscape outdoors by walking the elevated skyway across the eighteen spectacular 160 foot tall Supertrees (each a garden experience in itself), or relax in the tranquil café.

More than a mere botanical display, Gardens by the Bay is a compelling and iconic experience that brings education, entertainment, other worldly environments, regionally unique biomes and extraordinary perspectives to Singapore. Created as a gift to the people of Singapore, the project boasts audacious scale, a unique site plan, a focus on quality of the educational and interpretation experience, and, especially, excellence of design.

AOA – Event Spectacular: Michael Jackson: ONE, Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas 


This live entertainment spectacle represents an electrifying achievement for Cirque du Soleil, who have found a new creative recipe for today’s electic, media-centered audiences. In ONE they’ve fused Cirque’s traditional energy with the iconic power of the King of Pop. The two make a perfect marriage; Michael was a longtime fan of Cirque’s magic, and many of his musical themes lend themselves to eclectic spectacle.

Michael Jackson: ONE dazzles at every turn, alternating between multisensory overload and lingering poetry. The show’s creators have deconstructed Michael Jackson into his essential components, both physical and emotional. A single white glove… a fedora hat… a pair of sparkle-spatted shoes… each becomes a springboard to a segment of the show that grows from that single artifact into a mind-blowing series of images. Jackson’s eternal themes find physical expression as well: the healing of Love… the power of Belief… the glory of Unity… these grand ideas combine with Michael’s iconic visuals to remind us of his essential goodness and eternal optimism, even in the face of unspoken sorrows and a life lived in the camera’s glare.

Innovative? Yes. The show introduces a number of first-time performance technologies, including a crazy acrobatic performed on neon green elastic straps, and a manic number in which performers hurl themselves belly-first to the stage floor, then to spring high into the air like crickets. Mapped projection certainly isn’t new, but ONE kicks it into warp drive, wrapping the entire stage, proscenium and theater walls in a dizzying barrage of images that adroitly capture the essence of each song. And while Michael himself is present throughout the show via multiscreen projection and clever costume references, when the moment finally comes (as it must) for The Gloved One to appear in a holographic-style Pepper’s Ghost illusion, it’s done with such lyrical elegance and musical precision that Michael becomes a golden sparkling spirit, blessing the show’s dancers with his magic.

Michael Jackson: ONE qualifies as themed entertainment because despite the somewhat traditional stage format, it reaches beyond the proscenium to immerse audiences visually, sonically and emotionally. [Cirque has been honored with Thea Awards in the past - in 1998 for the “O” show, and again in 2005 for the stage technology of “Ka”.]

AOA – Live Show, Limited Budget: The Song of An Angel, Universal Studios Japan, Osaka 

In Universal Studios Japan’s recreation of Gramercy Park/New York City, a nightly, seasonal overlay blends local-cultural relevance with the magic of Christmas in the big city. Playing to an audience where Western holiday pageantry and religious significance are not inbred, “The Song of an Angel” works its magic by overlaying the Japanese reverence for young love and emotional aspects of marriage, onto the familiar western music, and themes of the Christmas holiday.

Projection mapping is deployed onto the Gramercy Park facades to produce an ever-changing romantic backdrop to frame the 25-minute spectacular. It begins with a Christmas Eve marriage proposal set in the snowy hustle and bustle of New York City. Then, the wintry setting is transformed into saturated stained glass, with color and Gothic motifs creating a massive formal environment for the wedding ceremony. In the final act, the newlyweds celebrate their union and the joy of the season in a riot of iconic Christmas symbols, enhanced by guest participation (electric candles), fireworks, an enormous Christmas tree (holding the Guinness record for the greatest number of lights), and above it all, masses of angels.

The story is enacted by a large cast of nearly 50 performers, appearing first as family and city dwellers, then as cathedral choirs, and finally as angels on high trumpeting the joy of the season and love for the start of a new family.

Many productions around the globe have made great use of projected mapping on architectural facades, but what makes The Song of an Angel exceptional is the way in which mapping technology is integrated into fully-staged performance and emotional storytelling. Adding to the projection on existing facades, temporary stages and projection surfaces have been built for the show to allow the large cast to perform at all levels and areas of the massive environment. This culminates in a finale where practical roof structures add to the multi-leveled performance stages, allowing angelic performers to preside over the festivities from far above.

The depth and height of the various stages conceals dimensional sets and theatrical lifts which add to the visuals at dramatic points in the program. For example, during the “stained glass wedding ceremony”, an overarching angel performs an operatic solo, while rising up from behind the bride and groom exchanging their vows.

Music, live performance, projections, sets, costumes and pyrotechnics work together to build an emotional arc that reaches out to a culturally unique audience. This spectacular display of western traditions and customs, frames a warm story of Japanese domestic relevance. With this show Universal has defined the term “Event Spectacular” and bridged a cultural divide. This is a live performance that is stunning and emotionally engaging for all.

20th Annual THEA Awards Nominating Committee 

Phil Hettema, Chair

Patti Drum, Vice-Chair

Rick Rothschild, Board Liaison

Karen McGee, Coordinator

Buzz Price Thea Award Recipients 

Marty Sklar (Buzz Price Thea Nomination Subcommittee Chair)

Monty Lunde (Technical Subcommittee Co-Chair)

Don Iwerks*

Bob Gurr (Technical Subcommittee Co-Chair)

Tony Baxter

Jon Jerde*

Barry Upson

Yves Pepin

Bob Rogers

Jack Rouse*

Bob Ward

Mark Fuller*

Kim Irvine

Joe Rohde

Frank Stanek

* Non-participating

Committee Members 

Patricia MacKay

Michel den Dulk

Craig Hanna

Brad Merriman

Lisa Passamonte-Green

Adam Bezark

John Robinett

KathyOliverWant to know what goes into the biggest evening in themed entertainment design?  Click here to hear PatrickRobergePhotoKathy Oliver (Sr. Producer of the 19th Annual Thea Awards) and Patrick Roberge (President & Creative Director of Patrick Roberge Productions) join Doug Barnes and Robert Coker to discuss their history in the themed entertainment industry as well as producing last year’s Thea Awards Ceremony.  Oliver and Roberge will be resuming their roles this year for the 20th Annual Thea Awards, April 5 at the Disneyland Resort.

For more or to register:

Remember that brief period of time between Matsushita and Vivendi when Universal was owned by Canadian wine cooler company Seagrams? Ever wanted to watch James Cameron plant a tree?  Then watch the video below.    I should thank Warren Riggs for bringing this to my attention, but I won’t.




On the shores of the Black Sea, on prime real estate next to the Olympic Ring of stadiums and arenas, sits an unopened theme park.  Sochi Park, master designed by Jack Rouse Associates (Ferrari World Abu Dhabi),  consists of five areas based on Russian history and heritage.  Plans were for the US$371 million theme park to be open for the Winter Olympics.  But, as things often go in Russia, the construction of the Olympic venues themselves fell behind schedule and work crews were reallocated to them from the park.  A very small section of the park with family rides opened for the Olympic games, with the still closed giant coasters looming over the city from within the majority of the park still closed.  Park operators estimated 5,000 people visited per day.  Currently, the park is scheduled to see a full opening this Summer.  But that’s the risk one takes when designing a theme park in an economy adapting to capitalism from Communism.



In China, it’s a matter of extremes.  PGAV Destinations (SeaWorld/Busch Gardens, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex) master planned Chimelong Ocean Kingdom on the island of Hangquin.  The park and resort is literally across a short bridge from Macau’s billion dollar Cotai Strip of casino resorts.  The US$2 billion resort pays homage to the deep sea, tropics, and arctic through live animal exhibits and thrill rides.

Running behind schedule for its 2013 opening, it was rushed to make a deadline for this year’s busy Chinese New Year Holiday.  In fact, it was so rushed that a number of major phase 1 rides, exhibits, and shows did not open with the rest of the park.  However, the quest to make that deadline did prove profitable as the park saw an estimated 300,000 visitors during its first week of operation. Phase 2 expansion of the park and resort is still in the works.


20120511_091054_daqing_web 2

Things aren’t always so cheerful in faraway lands.  For Daqing, on the Chinese mainland, Thinkwell Group (London’s smash hit Harry Potter and the Tramless Studio Tour) designed an indoor dinosaur theme park estimated at US$935 million called Jurassic Dream.  But news broke late last year that it was likely a scam.  According to Want China Times:

“The construction, which was scheduled to be completed on Sept. 30, 2013, was stopped long before this date. On a 50-hectare plot of land that was designated to house the planned theme park, only a few residential buildings were erected. A contractor told the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly that long before the end of 2012, the land had already been left to ruin.”

Apparently, this is a common scam in in this emerging capitalist economy where developers promise something new and exciting, take government funding, build a shell of a building, and then run  off with the funds.   But this bump in the road hasn’t deterred Thinkwell as the firm has bigger and better and much more legitimate projects in the works for China.



In Poland, Dutch design firm Jora Vision (Efteling) created the master plan for Adventure World Warsaw, a US$820 million theme park and resort.  When financing failed to appear, the lack of payment to the project’s key construction contractor resulted in that contractor’s parent, Dutch multi-billion dollar conglomerate Royal Imtech, seeing its stock value drop by half.  Jora confirmed to me that they had been paid in full on the project and were very pleased with their work.  But Adventure World eventually declared bankruptcy.


These are just some of the trials and tribulations from designing parks in these major countries emerging from Communism.  Already, another major theme park resort is planned for Poland, and with Universal Studios coming to Moscow and Beijing, expansions to Hong Kong’s Ocean Park and Disneyland, a new Disney resort in Shanghai, and a number of theme parks planned for China by Wanda Group, the owners of the American cinema chain AMC, others will want in on the game.  And those others will continue to go to the top theme park designers in the world.  What comes of those new master plans will depend on  how the game is played in the lands where comrades still live.

The city of St Petersberg, Russia, announced last month that it has allocated nine acres of land for the construction of a new oceanarium. Construction will begin in August, with the oceanarium opening around three years later.  The US$96 million project will feature an aquarium, two arenas for performing marine mammals, and six pools for swim with dolphin programs.  But will it open on time?

Marine Gardens Aquarium

Marine Gardens Aquarium

In Moscow, where a large aquarium already is open at the “Rio” shopping and entertainment center, two other oceanarium projects are trying to overcome hurdles.  The “Marine Gardens” Aquarium on Poklonnaya Hill halted construction in 2008 when the Kazakhstan bank financing the project went bankrupt.  According to Russian sources, when Marine Gardens’ owner was accused by Kazakhstan officials of cheating the bank and forcing it into insolvency, the  owner left the country.  Ownership of the construction site has since been taken over by the Russian national bank and it looks as if plans for an oceanarium on that site will be dropped in favor of one with sports and medical centers, including a curling stadium.

This is the other project, the massive Moscow Aquarium currently under construction at the All-Russian Exhibition Center, taken in February:


According to press releases:

The building of the aquarium will consist of underground and ground parts. Underground part, its total area will be 9.68 million square meters, will include the aquarium (about 9 thousand square meters) and the theater of pinnipeds (680 square meters). Dolphin Therapy Center (2 thousand square meters), technical facilities, cafes and restaurants will be located on the top floor. Auditoriums of the dolphinarium can host 2,500 people. Preparatory works have already been started.

Visitors of the largest aquarium in Europe, the aquarium with dolphins can not only entertain, but also get new knowledge and improve their health. Five special pools will also operate for children with special needs. In the educational and entertainment center one will see killer whales and beluga, South American sea lions, sharks, rays and many other species of fish. Visitors will be able to travel around the world and meet the aquatic flora and fauna of Russia, the Far East, China, Southeast Asia and America. Project is developed by a team of professionals, for example dolphins, caught in Japan, will be trained by the Japanese experts.

Moscow Aquarium at the All-Russian Exhibition Center (VVC)

Moscow Aquarium at the All-Russian Exhibition Center (VVC)

Its announced opening is May, 2014.  But will it make the deadline?

On the Eastern coast of Russia sits the city of Vladivostoc, and on an island off that city sits Primorsky Aquarium, a sprawling project of the Russian Academy of Sciences consisting of a research laboratory, oceanarium, and housing for over 200.


The project is currently two years past its scheduled opening date with an estimated cost of half a billion US dollars.  One source has told me the oceanarium will open later this year while another tells me its on indefinite hold.  Meanwhile, the oceanarium’s collection of animals, including seals, walruses, and dolphins have been living in an indoor storage facility, some for as long as two years. The facility’s belugas, two of which were traded to Japan last year for dolphins, have remained in outdoor sea pens for just as long.

In this Russian language news story filmed one year ago, you can see the belugas in the iced over bay.

One of the biggest attractions in Russia not to make its opening date was constructed in Sochi for the Olympic Games, but won’t see a full opening until Summer.  Tomorrow, we’ll explore that project and others like it as we take a look at the surprising experiences that leading themed entertainment design firms Jack Rouse Associates, PGAV Destinations, Thinkwell Group, and Jora Vision have had while master planning theme parks for the emerging economies of Russia, China, and Poland.

It's Pussy Riot. You have to end a story about Russian screw ups with Pussy Riot.

It’s Pussy Riot. You have to end a story about Russian screw ups with Pussy Riot.


First, let’s get something out of the way.  Here’s the ThemedReality policy on posting comments.  The comments section of this blog is moderated.  I allow just about all comments to see the light of day because I encourage discourse and believe in freedom of speech.  However, if you post a comment that insults or assigns derogatory titles to myself of another comment writer, not only will your comment not see the light of day, but neither will any other comments you make, and any comments of yours already approved will be removed.  I’m the only person allowed to call someone an idiot on this blog.  Because it’s my blog.  And I will never do that to someone writing a comment.  

Those are the rules.  Don’t like them? Tough. Live with it or go somewhere else.

And now to our regularly scheduled blog post already in progress:

Hey nerd! How’s it going? How’s your mom? Last time I talked to her, she said you were still living in her basement.  Anyway, remember how you said there was no way the new Robocop could be as good as the old Robocop?  Well, you were wrong.  And remember when you said I was sniffing glue for saying there was a Robocop ride?  You were wrong on that too.  The ride was a simulator film from Iwerks Entertainment that premiered in 1995 for its TurboRide and TurboTour simulator systems.

And remember how I wrote about all those awesome Star Trek attractions that have gone the way of the dinosaur and Ron Howard’s hair?  Well, the good news is that new Star Trek attractions are coming to North American cities near you – cities like Aqaba, Jordan and Kent, England and Murcia, Spain.  In fact, Star Trek’s owners have just released conceptual artwork of the Star Trek attractions headed to the Paramount Park in Murcia.  And now, get out the kleenex™ and lotion, as we present the first ThemedReality Nerd Porn Photo Spread, brought to you by Paramount Pictures, CBS, and AXE Body Wash.  All artwork are copyright one or more of those companies and used without permission.

First: The Starfleet Academy, motion simulator ride, and a retail store that wants to be the DS9 Promenade from Las Vegas, but seems to be stuck on a human-built space station.  If they do it right, it’s Epsilon IX and all the shoppers will be killed by V’Ger in a killer sound and light show.







And then, there’s a coaster! The Warp Speed Coaster, which will have an underground section through a wormhole.



Now throw those kleenex ™ out and take a quick shower.  You need to get to school and ask Josie Lopez to the prom!  Ah, who am I kidding? You’re a nerd!

5. Projection mapped stadium floor



4. Flying children

OC 10


3. Whales



2. TRON rollerbladers


Olympics: Opening Ceremony

1. Olympic icons that failed to participate




As we approach the 50th anniversary of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, let’s take a look back.

First, in this short film by Ray and Charles Eames, we take a look at the IBM pavilion designed by the famous husband/wife team.

Next is Ford’s Magic Skyway, designed by Walt Disney’s WED Enterprises.

Finally, Sinclair produced this short film for its franchisees about the Sinclair pavilion designed by Dave Cobb and Paul Redding of Thinkwell.  Yes, folks, they sold their souls to Satan and cannot age.



FlyOver Canada, a next-generation attraction simulating the sensation of flight, opened June 29, 2013 at Vancouver’s Canada Place.  Rick Rothschild of FAR Out! Creative Direction served as Creative Director on the project.  A former President of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and Senior VP – Executive Show Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, Rothschild previously had served as Show Director on Soarin’ Over California, a flagship attraction at Disney California Adventure park.

I spoke with Rick Rothschild for this piece which originally appeared on the InPark Magazine website June 30, 2013:

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (C) Disney

JK: FlyOver Canada is a next-generation flying/gliding, media-based motion attraction in the style of Soarin’. What are the key elements that make this experience distinct from earlier genres of motion theater such as represented by Star Tours and Back to the Future – The Ride?

RR: With rides like Star Tours, the idea is that you’re in a vehicle. You view the world through a window while moving through an environment. In contrast, FlyOver Canada gives you the opportunity to look around the world you are flying across, without the intermediary of a vehicle. The experience is much more like that of a bird flying forward and moving around as it flies – or like being Peter Pan – which was in fact much of the inspiration for me. Guests can move their head to view the world around them much like a bird while the sensation of surrounding motion is created by our camera, attached by a gyro mount to the helicopter.

Another important distinction is the live-action capture. With FlyOver Canada as with Soarin’, the action is all live action as compared to a large number of simulator experiences that are principally produced as CG fantasy based environments. FlyOver is about experiencing real places and extraordinary environments in a way not seen before. It ends up being a very personal experience.

Soarin' Over California (C) Disney

JK: In terms of technology and technical design, how would you compare  Soarin’ and FlyOver Canada?

RR: Here are some of the similarities. Guests view a dome-based experience while suspended in nine, open-air, flying vehicles. The orientation of the guest in relation to the dome screen, the idea of having image below you, to the side, in front of you, and somewhat truncated at the top are all quite similar.

Now for the important differences. What distinguishes FlyOver first is that the production is all-digital. Soarin’ was shot on film in the IMAX 15 perforation/70mm format; we filmed and projected at 48 frames per second (fps). FlyOver was captured and is presented digitally; shot and projected in 4K digital at 60 fps. With high resolution and higher frame rate, it’s like watching 3D without glasses. The closest objects we captured in FlyOver are probably 15-20 feet from you, but for the most part, everything’s beyond the surface of the screen, out beyond 30 feet in the actual shot, which is beyond the projection surface of the dome from the guest’s eye. Everything you look at feels natural and real with appropriate parallax. Being able to experience this attraction with no glasses also adds to the sense of reality, given we have added effects like mist and wind.

We filmed with a Phantom 65 digital camera with a Nikon spherical lens.  We are projecting with the first commercial installation of a Christie 4K 60 frame projector in the world, with a specially designed and manufactured lens from Schneider Optics. Given our principal capture was digital, it opened up the creative opportunity for us to do a number of unique transitions and effects in post production.

Finally, there’s the length of the attraction. At almost a full 8 minutes, its nearly double the length of Soarin’. Because of this, we were able to shoot in more locations. Conceptually, we wanted to create something that appropriately showcased the landscape and the diversity of the breadth of Canada. Not constrained by capacity and hourly numbers that theme parks demand, the longer experience also allowed us to have sequences that are a little bit longer than the individual sequences in Soarin’.

The Phantom 65 camera

JK: What were some other reasons you elected to shoot digitally with the Phantom? In the field, how did it compare to shooting Soarin’ in IMAX?

RR: In the dozen or so years that separated the Soarin’ production from FlyOver, technology provided us with a completely new set of opportunities to think about in regard to what we could do with production and how we could go about doing it.

Using the Phantom added tremendous flexibility. An IMAX camera can hold only a very  limited amount of film at one time, and when shooting in 48 fps it gets used up twice as fast as at the standard frame rate. With the largest IMAX film canister available, we were able to get a full 90 seconds shot before having to land the helicopter and reload the camera. So essentially, we were filming two 45-second sequences at a time while shooting Soarin’.

With FlyOver, even shooting at the higher rate of 60 frames per second, the digital magazine on the Phantom 65 camera still allowed us to shoot 11 minutes before we had to reload, and it was easy to carry extra magazines on the helicopter.  We were able to land, reload within a minute, and be in the air filming again without having to return to our base production camp. It was a very different approach from a production standpoint and it allowed us a lot more creative freedom and spontaneous opportunity.

There are a number of cameras that we evaluated before coming to our production decision. The thing that led us to the Phantom 65 was the belief that the chip being the largest chip physically in any 4K camera on the market would help us technically capture in our spherical format. Its physical chip size is equivalent to a 65mm film negative as compared to other digital cameras that are more the size of a 35mm film negative. Capturing the image spherically was found to be benefited by pushing it to a larger sensor. We also found the Phantom provided us appropriate creative options to capture at different speeds, both over-cranking and under-cranking.


JK: How is  FlyOver Canada owned and operated?

RR: FlyOver is a separately ticketed, standalone attraction in Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. Soaring Attractions is the Canadian entity that created and operates it. The two principals in this company are Stephen Geddes and Andrew Strang. They’re both Canadians and Vancouver residents.

Moment Factory at work on UPLIFT, the pre-show to FlyOver Canada

JK: How did you collaborate with pre-show producer Moment Factory and the dome show production team, Sherpas Cinema, to unify the themes of the pre-show and main show?

RR: The overarching idea of FlyOver was to feature the diversity of Canadians and the expansive Canada landscape. If the state of California was a big subject for Soarin’ to tackle, the country of Canada is even bigger. Our “pre-show” – Moment Factory’s UPLIFT experience, was actually looked upon from the beginning more as “Chapter One” of a two-chapter guest experience. UPLIFT lasts around seven-and-a-half minutes, nearly as long as the main show.

We were very happy to collaborate with a company having such a rich background. Moment Factory has worked on an acclaimed projection show on the Parliament building in Ottawa and did the Madonna Superbowl halftime show in 2012. They’re currently in the final stages of installing a unique large scale multimedia installation at LAX’s new international terminal.

We met with the Moment Factory team a number of times to discuss how their piece would connect with the dome show experientially, connecting both emotionally and conceptually. Our approach from the start was that their team and the dome show team (Sherpas Cinema) would work together with our core creative team to produce a guest experience that properly and appropriately connected the pre-show with the dome’s FlyOver ride, in particular with reference to locations across Canada. We made a few discoveries and a few changes as a result while we were filming, but nothing that drastically changed our conceptual view of the project.

We hired Sherpas out of Whistler, BC as our principal media capture team for the dome ride show. Dave Mossop was our director and was in conceptual discussions with us and with Moment Factory as the two “chapters” were developed. In part, it was these discussions between the two parties and us that made this whole concept succeed.

Andrea Wettstein with Six Degrees Music out of Calgary was our principal composer for the ride and Vincent Letellier, who works with Moment Factory, was the composer for the pre-show. Vincent was farther along when Andrea joined the process; however, when Andrea began her independent work composing the ride score, we were delighted to discover that the two scores had common musical themes, drawn from the Canadian cultural personality. As we were moving along, the two composers were encouraged to share with one another. So, in the end a bit of intended thematic bookending and connection exists, while the compositions themselves are very unique and appropriately different.

The pre-show we did for Soarin’ was much different. The story of flight in California is the subject of that pre-show, so setup context was there for the ride, and it helped place the show in the context of the California Adventure theme park as a whole. It’s done through photos on the walls and is more a queue line experience than a true pre-show, if you will.

Canada Place originally served as the home of the Canada pavilion during Vancouver's Expo 86.  The portion of the complex that once housed the world's first IMAX 3D theater is the new home to FlyOver Canada.

JK: With Soarin’ you had the luxury of new construction. What were some of the challenges and solutions of retrofitting the building at Canada Place to house FlyOver Canada? 

RR: Any challenge one faces, whether a blank piece of paper or a preexisting facility, comes with constraints that you begin to work with. In the case of FlyOver Canada, the constraints started with the facility. This was not just a preexisting facility, but a preexisting facility on a large harbor pier several floors above pilings that also support a full convention center that sits directly below the original theater space. So there were both spatial and structural challenges to integrating our dome and ride system.

The space dictated that we could only have a dome 19m (60ft) in diameter.  For comparison, each of the Soarin’ domes is around 84 ft in diameter, and the capacity of Soarin’ is 87 people. Due to the smaller dome, FlyOver‘s capacity is 61 people. There are nine vehicles (3 tiers, each with 3 vehicles) with both systems.

There are key differences between FlyOver and Soarin’  in how the dome is entered and the size of the vehicles. Soarin’ has single-level boarding, which is proprietary to that attraction. Everything at FlyOver is a bit smaller and our guests first take stairways to one of three levels outside the dome ride experience to board. The FlyOver ride support structure looks a lot like the old Hollywood Squares set, with each of the “squares” containing one of the ride vehicles.

The FlyOver building originally housed an IMAX theater. We removed the concrete floor and support structure of the theater, and drove several new columns below the convention center to support the ride.

The size of the building wasn’t the only constraint on the size of the dome. With current digital video projection technology, we would be unable to do a Soarin’ size ride without tiling multiple projectors. Practically speaking, our 60-ft dome is the maximum size for the state-of-the-art, single-projector  technology we have in place to operate efficiently.

Brogent ride system as seen at E-DA park in Taiwan.

JK: Tell us about the ride technology you selected.

RR: Brogent Technologies is the manufacturer of the ride vehicle.

They have an association with Vekoma, which allows them to leverage Vekoma’s substantial expertise in ride manufacturing as well as its sales and marketing resources. Brogent developed the vehicle on their own, and E-DA park in Southern Taiwan is the site of their first system installation. Brogent, which is also based in Taiwan, has a strong background in advanced flight simulator technology.

Each of our ride vehicles has a full six degrees of movement, with all the benefits of advances in engineering and technology since Soarin’ was first created to help us provide a step up in flying ride experiences.

FlyOver Canada from behind the dome screen

JK: Do you have any thoughts on FlyOver now occupying the space that once housed the world’s first IMAX 3D projector?

RR: I was actually involved in Disney’s participation with Telcom Canada as the executive creative producer when Disney agreed to create a special Circlevision experience for Telcom’s pavilion at Vancouver Expo 86. We developed and produced a film experience entitled Portraits of Canada, which featured 13 “stories” drawn from the diversity of Canada and its unique multicultural peoples.

For me to be able to come back to Canada a quarter-century later and take a tiny bit of what I learned about this country back then to help create something that is inspirational to Canadians and to visitors from around the world has been a wondrous and most pleasurable experience.

The way I see it is that one of the highlights of Expo 86 – the old IMAX theater – has ended up providing a great opportunity for Andrew and Stephen 26 years later – to bring a completely fresh but still equally special and unique entertainment venue to Vancouver. With their tenacity and vision, they’ve brought the next generation of Canadian entertainment and media technology to Canada Place. It’s been an honor and so exciting for me to be a part of their dream.

Rick Rothschild (R) directs Jeff Leyland, a Vancouver actor and sports reporter in the pre-flight briefing video., According to Rothschild, "It was fun doing that because our Pre-Launch video is very Canadian.  Canadian’s have a self-effacing type of humor which we put to good use."

JK: Did O Canada at Epcot have an influence on this attraction?

RR: It’s interesting how life plays out. Back in 1981-82, I was at Epcot during its “birth” – as an Imagineer in charge of show programming for a number of attractions, including The American Adventure, France and Canada. I spent a lot of time watching the Canadian Circlevision show O Canada come to life. Watching it during final installation in part led me to make the decision with several other Imagineers that when Epcot was finished, we needed to take a vacation and visit Canada. In the early summer of 1983, we drove a motor home up from California spending most of our 30-day trip in Western Canada – up into Alberta, through Calgary, up through the Rockies, and out across British Columbia and out onto the islands. I was hooked on Canada as a wondrous place from that trip.

So there’s been a personal journey for me – getting interested in Canada through Disney in the early 80’s, learning about Canada with Expo 86, finding it to be such an extraordinary place – and then to return and do FlyOver Canada. As a personal journey of one American, it’s been quite interesting and rewarding.




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