15 Sep 2019 Attractions Management Handbook

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Attractions Management Handbook - Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement

THEA Awards

Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement

The Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) were introduced during the third year of the awards ceremony to honour excellence found throughout the themed entertainment industry. The AOAs praise the entire achievement and everyone who worked on the achievement, rather than individuals. As there are no set categories in this section and the TEA is free to champion several achievements in the same category or skip categories altogether, the format of this aspect of the ceremony differs each and every year.

AQA awards

Mystic Manor

Hong Kong Disneyland Park

Award: Attraction

Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland Park is a highly themed, ride-through attraction that combines ingenious projection mapping, audio-animatronics technology and stunning, one-of-a-kind, special effects to tell a charming, original story with state-of-the-art excellence.

At the Manor, a mischievous monkey named Albert opens a newly arrived music box reputed to possess strange powers. A magical melody escapes the box as a vaporous ribbon of mystical energy gives life to whatever object it touches. The monkey chases the vapour from room to room, getting deeper and deeper into trouble.
A wire-guided, trackless ride system choreographs the guest’s vehicle with variable speeds, stopping, starting and turning to follow the action. Guests get a front-row seat experience of the 40 visual effects created by different technologies and 36 projectors to provide a highly repeatable guest experience: an immersive adventure full of surprises, special effects and theatrical wonders.

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 will be studying and borrowing technical ideas from this project, but amid the technical breakthroughs, and the seamless integration of the latest technology with true state-of-the-art storytelling, the ride creators never lost their rigorous focus on a beautifully told story.


Photo: © disney

A wire-guided, trackless ride system choreographs the guests’ vehicle at variable speeds
Revolution Tru-Trackless Ride System

Oceaneering Entertainment Systems

Award: Breakthrough Technology

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 travelling, self-powered vehicles equipped with motion base passenger seating, the Revolution Tru-Trackless Ride System gives 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 completely variable as to travel path, speed, scene viewing, and load/unload configurations.

This means no waiting, and 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. It is the show designer’s ultimate flexibility dream come true.
Battery powered and continually recharging, each vehicle is supported and propelled by fully steered wheel assemblies, responding to vehicle-to-vehicle GPS central programming commands including communication through positioning methods. Seating sections can rotate and tilt in any direction independent of a vehicle’s motion. In short, these intelligent vehicles know where they are going and can designate and navigate their own non-linear ride paths, as well as interact with other vehicles in real time, creating ride scenarios that are different every time.

The Revolution Tru-Trackless Ride System will provide the entire themed entertainment industry with the ability to create a new level of compelling experiences nearly unconstrained by existing ride systems. This makes it more than deserving of the TEA’s Technical Breakthrough Thea Award.


These intelligent vehicles know where they are going and can designate their own ride paths
Marine Worlds Carousel, Les Machines de I’île

Nantes, France

Award: Unique Art Installation

You are on an island in the Loire River, 50km from the Atlantic coast of France: a fantasy world that mixes the imagination of Jules Verne with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci. Two artists, François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, have transformed an abandoned shipyard warehouse into a true experimental laboratory. This is “Les Machines de I’île”.

It’s an astonishing collection of giant mechanical wonders such as the walking mechanical Great Elephant and a stunning new addition – the Marine Worlds Carousel. This giant, three-tiered carousel is a fascinating mechanised structure dedicated to the three levels of the sea. Up to 300 guests can ride and discover delightful, animated mechanical sea life sculptures – from the giant crab and reverse propulsion squid to the lantern fish and manta ray, to the jellyfish, flying fish and sailing ships that fly on the surface of the mechanical waves. These beautiful metal and steel sculptures stand on their own as pieces of art. Guests can board the carousel and, seated inside, operate them to move their fins, tails and tentacles.

The 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, have made the Marine Worlds Carousel a deserving recipient of the 2014 Thea Award for Unique Arts Installation.


The sculptural sophistication and scale of the carousel is both incredible and audacious
De Vuurproef, Het Spoorwegmuseum

Utrecht, the Netherlands

Award: 4D Simulator, Limited Budget

Het Spoorwegmuseum (The Railway Museum) is a unique museum in the heart of Utrecht that exemplifies the fact that a limited budget does not translate to limited guest experience. Fully themed exhibitions offer guests a multi-sensory journey through the history of the Dutch and European railway tradition; stage shows and even rides are part of the inventive ways to engage and entertain guests. De Vuurproef (The Fire 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 which are linked to a number before entering a themed waiting room full of vintage railway artefacts. Based on these numbers each guest is assigned to a task that has to be fulfilled during the experience that follows. After an instructional film, guests continue into a dimly lit space, where they enter one of four richly themed Jules Verne-esque locomotives. From there, 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.

This 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.


Guests experience a high-speed journey through many different habitats and time periods on board De Vuurproef
Enchanted Tales with Belle

Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, Orlando, Florida, USA

Award: Participatory Character Greeting

Theme park guests love character meet-and-greets, especially when they are taken to “the next level”. The Magic Kingdom Fantasyland expansion truly does that, and 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.

Entering through Belle’s father’s cottage and workshop, guests are transported though a magic mirror to the Beast’s Castle where they participate in a role-playing re-enactment of the story that combines a deceptively simple, low-tech participatory theatre format with sophisticated and technically impressive effects and animation. The audio-animatronics figure of Lumiere is in the highest tradition of groundbreaking Imagineering. At the conclusion, each member of the “cast” and other audience members can pose for a personal photograph with Belle. The participatory nature is surprisingly impactful, allowing guests to imagine themselves in the story. The combination of simple costumes and props, theatrical effects, animation and lighting, and live interplay with Belle, create a truly unique invitation to suspend disbelief, creating memories that many children will remember for a lifetime.

Far more than the typical character-greeting experience, Enchanted Tales with Belle has allowed Disney to reach back to its storytelling roots and create a show that’s intimately and personally connected to the guests, while being slyly supported by state-of-the-art effects and animation wizardry. While it may have been tempting to focus on more contemporary theatrical media and technology, the daring use of simple storytelling and playacting (with a background of Imagineering wizardry) creates a much stronger and deeper personal experience.


Photo: © disney

Beauty and the Beast is an intimate and personal show that successfully involves guests in re-enacting the story alongside the Disney characters
The Mind Museum

Taguig City, Philippines

Award: Science Museum

Science museums around the world often highlight the inquisitive and aspirational nature of the human species. At The Mind Museum, five interconnected stories unify to tell this story, involving visitors in a unique, entertaining and engaging way. These galleries – Atom, Earth, Life, Universe and Technology – give visitors a sense of the tremendous scope and reach of this unique education destination. Featuring 4,900sq m (52,740sq ft) of interactive science and technology exhibitions, with more than 250 interactive “minds-on” and hands-on exhibits, The Mind Museum is the Philippines’ first world-class science museum.

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

The five galleries are organised around stories about the collective wondering and understanding of nature through art, technology and science. Beautifully rendered passageways – “Nature’s Webways” – link the galleries and 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.

Collaboration with a US firm helped create the museum’s master plan, but well over 90 per cent of the exhibits were designed and built 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 make this project extraordinary by any standard. In bringing their stories to life, the Filipino designers 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, makes The Mind Museum a truly outstanding achievement worthy of recognition in the AOA Science Museum category.


Galleries are organised around stories about the collective understanding of nature through art

Galleries are organised around stories about the collective understanding of nature through art
Polynesian Cultural Center

Oahu, Hawaii

Award: Attraction Revitalization

Since opening on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 1963, more than 37 million guests from around the globe have visited the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC).

On and beyond its 42-acre property, the PCC offers guests breathtaking and memorable shows and experiences that tell the story of Hawaiian culture and ancestry. Recently, they revitalised the centre to include The Gateway – a grand Hawaiian hall re-imagined as a 37,000sq ft (3,437sq m) facility providing an evening buffet meal service – and a second project called Hawaiian Journey, which repurposes an aging giant-screen theatre. The Gateway revitalisation included new canopies and doors, a new colour scheme, exterior lighting and landscaping, as well as a 20-foot high by 500-foot long mural encircling the entire space and depicting a Hawaiian King welcoming his royal Polynesian brothers and sisters to join in feast and fellowship.

Hawaiian Journey represents the repurposing of PCC’s giant-screen theatre. Recast with the look, feel, sounds and sensibilities of an ancient volcano, the facility takes on a whole new character. Extensive rock work, waterfalls, faux painting, “breathing” steam vents and lush landscaping greet visitors. The entry is a lava tube with flame-effect lighting and rumbling sounds that lead guests into the interior volcanic chamber (theatre). An HD digital 4K projection system delivers images to the projection screen, while black lights highlight dramatic painted wall graphics. The new original film production highlights the cultural and natural settings of the islands, enhanced by the 4D effects.

Staying true to its mission, and extending it, the transformation has added to the compelling story of Hawaiian culture and ancestry, and the traditions that live on.


Visitors can dine in the grand Hawaiian-styled hall, called The Gateway
Gardens by the Bay


Award: Botanical Garden

Its vista looks like a scene from a sci-fi motion picture. Immense Supertrees dominate the diorama, and guests walk a sky path through the Cloud Forest ten storeys above the ground. More than a mere botanical display, Gardens by the Bay is a compelling and iconic experience that showcases education, entertainment, other-worldly environments, regionally unique biomes and extraordinary perspectives.
Opened in 2012, the immense, 54-hectare botanical experience on reclaimed land next to the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel hosted 1.7 million visitors in its first five months. The two conservatories, Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, can be seen from all around central Singapore.

The attraction includes interpretative and educational 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 traverse the sky path more than 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. They can take in the lush landscape outdoors by walking the 72-foot high elevated skyway, which is connected by two of the Garden’s spectacular Supertrees. The 18 unique Supertrees range from 82 to 164 feet high.

Created as a gift to the people of Singapore, the project boasts an audacious scale, a unique site plan, a focus on quality of the educational and interpretation experience, and, especially, excellence of design. It is truly a glimpse of the future of the botanical garden.


The immense garden experience provides a glimpse of future botanical design

The Cloud Forest and Flower Dome can be seen from central Singapore
The Song of an Angel Universal Studios Japan

Osaka, Japan

Award: Live Show, Limited Budget

Playing to an audience where Western holiday pageantry and religious significance are not ingrained, The Song of an Angel works its magic by overlaying the Japanese reverence for young love and marriage onto the familiar Western music and themes of the Christmas holiday.

In Universal Studios’ recreation of the cityscape of Gramercy Park, New York City, this nightly, seasonal theming overlay blends local cultural relevance with the magic of Christmas in the big city. Projections on the Gramercy Park facade 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 colour 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 cast of nearly 50 performers, appearing as family and city dwellers, then as cathedral choirs, and finally as angels trumpeting seasonal joy and love for the start of a new family.

What makes The Song of an Angel exceptional is the way in which mapping technology is integrated into a fully staged performance and emotional storytelling. Temporary stages and projection surfaces allow the cast to perform at all levels within the huge environment. This culminates in a finale where practical roof structures add to the multi-levelled performance stages, allowing angelic performers to preside over the festivities from far above.

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


Mapping technology is successfully integrated into a fully staged and emotional performance
Titanic Belfast

Belfast, Northern Ireland

The “World’s Largest Titanic Visitor Centre” dispels some of the myths about the tragedy

It was called “The Ship of Dreams” and its story, its triumph and tragedy, will live forever. Titanic Belfast, billed the “World’s Largest Titanic Visitor Experience”, deserves to be called “the building of dreams”. It is an iconic architectural marvel that embodies beautiful execution, compelling storytelling, attention to detail, sense of place and time (present and past), visual impact and community significance. When it opened its doors on 31 March 2012, Titanic Belfast marked 100 years since the completion of the world’s most famous ocean liner.

At the heart of Titanic Belfast is a fully immersive exhibition that explores Edwardian Belfast and the story of the Titanic – the people who crafted her, the passengers who sailed on her and the scientists who found her. The visitor’s centre not only gives guests the opportunity to look behind the scenes and marvel at the scale of Belfast’s innovation and industry, but also seeks to dispel some of the myths and legends about the tragedy.

The experience team has used 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. The exhibition and experience combines nine galleries across five floors and includes a unique dark ride tour through the shipyard, a 3D walk-through “cave” of the ship, and unique HD footage of the Titanic.

Overall, it is a beautiful project architecturally, thematically and experientially. It uses theatrical techniques to immerse the visitor deeper into details of the story, and respects the larger story that unfolds after the ship sets sail and eventually sinks. At night, the exterior of the building has provided a textured architectural canvas for spectacular projection and firework shows.

There are many attractions around the planet dedicated to telling the story of the Titanic. Is this “just another Titanic attraction”? No, this is something quite different. This is one that truly brings to life the spirit behind “The Ship of Dreams”.


The “World’s Largest Titanic Visitor Centre” dispels some of the myths about the tragedy
Michael Jackson: ONE

Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Award: Event Spectacular

Cirque has been honoured with Thea Awards in the past – in 1998 for the “O” show, and again in 2005 for the stage technology of “Ka”. In ONE they have fused Cirque’s traditional energy with the iconic power of the King of Pop. The two make a perfect marriage; Jackson was a long-time fan of Cirque’s magic, and many of his musical themes lend themselves to eclectic spectacle. The show represents an electrifying achievement for Cirque du Soleil – a new creative recipe for today’s diverse, media-centered audiences.

Michael Jackson: ONE dazzles at every turn, alternating between multi-sensory overload and poetic theatricality. It is a creative deconstruction of Michael Jackson’s 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 artefact into a mind-blowing series of images. Eternal themes emerge – the healing of Love... the power of Belief... the glory of Unity – and these grand ideas combine with Jackson’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.

The show introduces a number of innovative performance technologies, including dynamic acrobatic routines performed on neon green elastic straps, and a frenetic number in which performers hurl themselves belly-first to the stage floor, and then spring high into the air like crickets. ONE takes mapped projection to a whole new level, wrapping the entire stage, proscenium and theatre walls in a dizzying barrage of images that skilfully capture the essence of each song. And while the King of Pop himself is present throughout the show via multi-screen 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 Jackson becomes a golden sparkling spirit, blessing the show’s dancers with his magic. The show reaches beyond the proscenium to immerse audiences visually, sonically and emotionally.

All of this makes Michael Jackson: ONE an apt choice for this year’s Thea AOA for Event Spectacular.


Photo: © Aaron Felske

The show immerses audiences visually, sonically and emotionally

ONE alternates between multi-sensory overload and poetic theatricality

Matt Kerr, principal of KerrCreative and a TEA member, is an educator, writer, editor and director based in Toronto.

[email protected]

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2014 edition

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