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
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: www.teaconnect.org.
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)
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, 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, 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”
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. Visitwww.teaconnect.org.
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 teaconnect.org. 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: www.aecom.com.
About 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 www.prpconnect.com.
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
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
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)
Bob Gurr (Technical Subcommittee Co-Chair)
Michel den Dulk