24 Nov 2020 Attractions Management Handbook

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Attractions Management Handbook - Thea Awards 2015


Thea Awards 2015
Matt Kerr, KerrCreative
Thea Awards 2015

TEA – the Themed Entertainment Association – recently presented its latest awards to the creators and developers of compelling educational, cultural and entertaining places that exemplify the value of globally engaging themed entertainment and experience design. Guest editor and TEA member Matt Kerr summarises the event, tributes and award-winning entries at the 21st annual Thea Awards held in March at the Disneyland Resort in California. (Recipient profiles have been prepared with files from the 2015 Thea Awards Nominating Committee.)

Ron Miziker

Recognising a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements

With a career in entertainment and broadcasting spanning over four decades, Ron Miziker of Ron Miziker Productions could safely be described as one of the world’s foremost showmen. He has created and produced an impressive array of shows, spectaculars, attractions and events worldwide.

Miziker joined Disney in 1968, becoming Director of Entertainment and Show Development where he was responsible for planning and producing shows for the opening of Walt Disney World and all future Disney parks. Miziker created original shows and parades – including the immensely popular Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade – plus revues, dinner theatre shows, celebrity headliner specials, character and animal shows, fireworks and laser extravaganzas. At Disney Studios, he developed shows for many years, which led to his role as VP of Original Programs and Productions for the Disney Channel.

Miziker founded his own production company in 1984 and his clients have included television networks, leading corporations, Presidents and Royalty, the Olympics, the World Cup and Super Bowl, attraction and hotel developers, Disney, Universal Studios, Radio City Music Hall, European parks and attractions, and most recently, a major casino in Macao. His new book, Miziker’s Complete Event Planner’s Handbook, gives guided access to the practical world of events.


Ron Miziker

Pat MacKay
AWARD: TEA Distinguished Service


Pat MacKay

This award is presented in recognition of a TEA member’s outstanding contributions “above and beyond the call of duty” to the TEA. Theatre designer Richard Pilbrow calls her “fun, determined, provocative” and TEA president Steve Birket says that she “has done much to promote awareness of the industry, with passion, humor, intelligence and style”.

Pat has been a strong advocate for TEA, recognising the synergies between her interests and the rich storytelling at the core of TEA member projects. She has organised TEA events and served almost continuously on the Thea Awards Committee for 20+ years. TEA founder Monte Lundy said, “From TEA’s early years to now, Pat has championed our organization through her editorials, involvement on committees and her amazing passion for the world TEA members create. I can think of no one more deserving of this prestigious recognition”.

Walt Disney’s “it’s a small world”

Disneyland, Anaheim, CA, USA
AWARD: Classic

The Thea Classic Award honours a project that has stood the test of time. A team of Disney Imagineers, several of whom have since been named “Disney Legends,” helped create this famous attraction.

Originally conceived for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney’s team created an exhibit that would benefit UNICEF and was dedicated to the welfare of children globally. After two hit seasons at the fair, where it entertained more than 10 million visitors, “it’s a small world” moved to Disneyland. The ride was to grow substantially, yet it would retain the doll designs, detailed costumes and playful scenes that showcased children and cultures from around the world.

For the past 50 years, arguably one of the most memorable and cherished parts of the attraction is its signature theme song, “It’s a Small World (After All),” written by Robert M. and Richard B. Sherman. They created a single song that could be arranged and orchestrated with instruments from all over the world and lyrics that could be sung in different languages. This multicultural approach not only provided accents to each scene, but created a harmonious experience that underscored the show’s theme of unity.

Over the years, new scenes and countries have been added. The current Disneyland version contains over 300 Audio-Animatronics® figures representing children around the world and more than 250 toys and 80 animated props. The attraction also appears in Magic Kingdom in Florida, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. How something so seemingly simple has continued to entertain guests five decades after its debut is testament to the beauty and child-like charm of this attraction.


photo: © DISNEY

Audio-Animatronics® figures represent children from around the world

Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement
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 year.
Bistrot Chez Rémy, Walt Disney Studios Park

Disneyland Paris, Paris, France
Award: AOA, Themed Restaurant

Bistrot Chez Rémy, inspired by the scenes and recipes of the Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille, is a 370-person table-service restaurant that greets guests as they exit the ride, Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy.

Chrissy Allen of Disney Imagineering and Amy Young of Amy Young Design spoke of the unique inspiration for the attraction. Normally, a queue would serve as a pre-show for a ride. In this case, the tables are turned – the ride becomes a pre-dining experience. Ratatouille director Brad Bird’s main input on the look and feel of the restaurant décor was that “it needed to be good enough to eat”.

The family restaurant, which serves French bistro-style farm-to-table cuisine, has been built by the lovable rat Remy and his friends. Of course, this means that the guests are rat-sized when they dine. It is a truly charming and thematically thorough dining experience, where oversized objects are reused in every possible way to create tables, chairs and props. Based on renderings and schematics, scale models were built to ensure that the storytelling and illusion elements of the experience would be successful.

The backstory is conveyed through newspaper articles and old photos displayed in the waiting area. Guests are then led through a “compression moment” where they transition to the size of rats. On entering the dining room, the shrinking illusion is fully realised. The design is clever, consistent and full of wry jokes. Guests see giant versions of miniature cocktail umbrellas and huge bistro plates as dividers between seating areas. Everything is very well conceived and delivered to create an illusion that is both convincing and coyly self-aware.


The restaurant’s over-sized design immerses diners in the world of Remy the rat
Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

Zhuhai, China
Award: AOA, Theme Park

China’s explosion of attractions has a radiant new standard-bearer. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is a world-class marine life theme park located on Hengqin Island – a verdant paradise just a short bridge away from the buzzing casinos of Macau.

Chimelong raises the bar for other Chinese park developers and demonstrates how much can be achieved with a combination of Western design and Chinese execution. The park’s themed areas represent ocean environments from around the globe. Stunning in execution and staggering in scale, Ocean Kingdom impresses through sheer audacity and astounding entertainment value.

Guests enter the park’s Ocean Main Street under a huge, arching LED video display simulating an underwater environment. A circuit of themed areas and attractions await, such as Amazing Amazon, which includes a B&M coaster and a manatee exhibit; Dolphin Cove, which features 20 animals on exhibit above and below; Polar Horizon, which incorporates a thrilling water ride and has 20 Beluga whales and over 250 penguins.

The iconic Ocean Beauty – a 200-ft-tall whale shark – rises above Ocean Wonders, the world’s biggest aquarium. Beyond the five whale sharks and giant manta rays which soar through the aquatic environment, and the world’s largest collection of fish that share this “artificial sea”, the aquarium boasts many new Guinness World Record superlatives: the world’s biggest aquarium, largest underwater viewing dome, largest aquarium tank, largest aquarium window and largest acrylic panel. All of this makes for a stunning undersea experience.

Since entering the theme park business in 1997, Chimelong Group has increased the scale and polish of its offerings at a dramatic pace. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is the fifth theme park to open under the Chimelong banner. Each park has been significantly more polished than the one before. It is deserving of the award because of its scale, ambition and formidable plans for future growth.


Whale sharks soar overhead at the world’s largest underwater dome
The StoryGarden

AmorePacific Beauty Campus, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Award: AOA,
Corporate Brand-Land

Cosmetics company AmorePacific accommodates StoryGarden at their corporate headquarters in South Korea.

This immersive brand experience begins in a beautiful botanical garden that features plants used in the preparation of their products. From there, guests enter StoryGarden. Part company history museum, part branding centre, StoryGarden is total experiential immersion in the essence of the brand in a striking, high-design aesthetic environment “on model” with the company’s look and feel. Christian Lachel of the BRC Imagination Arts design team spoke of creating an experience that was “a factory tour that felt more like a high-end art gallery” to showcase the company’s heritage through stories that underscore its key values: openness, innovation, proximity, creativity and challenge.

The immersive experience begins in a magically transforming art gallery that evolves into the factory tour itself. From there visitors move into an interactive space where they can design and star in their own ad. An original song, “Beauty We Create”, provides the score for the multi-screen media show that concludes the experience. Visitors exit into a unique gift shop that features a personalised gift: a lipstick with their own name on it plus the printed ad they created earlier.

The StoryGarden transforms the concept of a factory tour, elevating the experience of a brand visitor centre to the highest artistic and emotional standard. StoryGarden delivers on the essence of the brand while also delivering a distinctive experience.


Visitors can design and star in their own advertisement

The aesthetic environment is striking
Wilderness Explorers, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL, USA
Award: AOA, Interactive Park Attraction on a Limited Budget

Wilderness Explorers is a technology-free, hands-on interactive experience within Disney’s Animal Kingdom that follows in the footsteps of Russell and his faithful dog, Dug, from Disney-Pixar’s film Up!

It combines personal guides, active guest engagement, collectible rewards, and extended learning about the animals and habitats throughout the park. Staci Schofield, lead designer at Disney Imagineering, said they wanted guests to be “immersed in the subject matter” and to “give them a hands-on experience of what conservation experts are doing.”

The experience begins at Wilderness Explorer Headquarters or any Leader Troop location within the park. There, guests pick up a Wilderness Explorer’s manual, practice the Wilderness Explorer’s call-to-action (Caw! Caw! Roar!), and set out on a series of fact-finding challenges. Every challenge is unique and allows participating guests to collect badges for their field guide and to learn key skills about exploring, culture and conservation, such as helping to diagnose a sea turtle’s health to earn the Veterinary Badge. Each interaction is designed to enrich the park experience in a personal way for individuals or groups.

This interactive adventure stands apart in the smart, low-tech nature of its execution (guide, pencil, stickers) that matches authentically with the unique experience of the park. Disney has incorporated storytelling and gaming to create an experience that is intimate and personal in its connection to the guests, yet wisely recognises that technology would be a distraction and remove guests from nature. Guests are given a role in the story (becoming a Wilderness Explorer) that is a poignant, aspirational story of a core, identifiable character from the Pixar film. This intersection point between film-story world and live animals and habitats is a huge part of why this attraction is effective.

Wilderness Explorers gets kids excited about playing in nature and involves parents in compelling ways. What might have been another technology-driven interactive overlay, instead is crafted to be more deeply immersive. The Thea Award honours the attraction for its craft, authenticity, and cleverness of implementation within a unique park environment.


By becoming Wilderness Explorers, guests are fully immersed in the experience
Nature Lab

Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Award: AOA, Museum Exhibit on a Limited Budget

Nature Lab is a permanent, fun, interactive exhibit where visitors discover how truly wild LA can be. It allows visitors to learn and be surprised by the unique biodiversity, fulfilling its mission to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for the natural and cultural worlds.

Dr Karen Wise, NHM VP of Education, said that the exhibit’s goal is to connect visitors with nature and natural science: “You close your senses off in a big city – this is an opportunity to put your nature eyes on, to turn on your senses and experience LA’s nature in real time”.

Visitors can engage in the scientific exploration of LA as a biodiversity hotspot through interactions with volunteers sorting insect material from the museum’s BIOSCAN project, demonstrations by museum curators, and hands-on interactives. With an inviting and socially inclusive atmosphere – “more like a family kitchen than a sterile lab” – Nature Lab engages the local community in becoming “citizen scientists”.

Within a limited budget, the NHM designed compelling stories around local plants and animals, then employed themed entertainment elements and hands-on interactive displays to immerse the visitor in discovery. Real-time social media allows visitors to upload their discoveries to be featured in the gallery. Live animals and plants add a layer of real science. This layered experience has played well to children and adults alike. It is about outreach beyond education.
“We hope that we are empowering people to determine the LA they want for the future,” adds Wise.


The atmosphere at Nature Lab is inviting and socially inclusive
The Grand Hall Experience at Saint Louis Union Station

Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
Award: AOA, Live Show on a Limited Budget

A large, permanently installed, indoor immersive projection-mapping experience now occurs in the historical Grand Hall of Union Station in St Louis. Once the train station of the city known as “Gateway to the West”, this location is now a hotel and entertainment destination.

The goal was to drive visitation to the new properties while maintaining the historical character of the architecture. Robert O’Loughlin, CEO of Lodging Hospitality Management, said their goal was to create a “tie in with St Louis that people would get excited about”.

Though the production relies on complex technology for its execution, the root attraction is the space itself. In the interplay between the architecture and the immersive art experience, creative director John Miceli of Technomedia said that, above all, “We wanted to honour the space”.

Projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-ft-tall barrel-vaulted ceilings and across the entire space, the immersive show comprises 30 vignettes that take guests on a fantastic journey from the depths of the sea to the Sistine Chapel to Busch Stadium. The show is a combination of projection, inspiring music, audio and LED lighting, all used to elevate the space and immerse the audience. Ten distinct programmed variations means that it differs with every hourly evening performance, so visitors want to visit time and time again.

The project has not only rejuvenated a national historic landmark, but it is an engaging dynamic space that allows the audience to see the architecture in a whole new way. The Grand Hall Experience is a well-thought-out show that uses trains as a historical reference for time passing. The various vignettes are gorgeously rendered, uniquely stylised and fully developed moments in time and place. It is an attraction that inspires wonder.


Projection, music, audio and lighting combine to elevate the space
Gråtassland (“The Land of the Little Grey Tractor”)

Kongeparken, Stavanger, Norway
Award: AOA, New Park Land on a Limited Budget

Gråtassland (“The Land of the Little Grey Tractor”) is a new attraction based on the famed Massey Ferguson tractor. CEO Haakon Lund accepted the award on behalf of his team, saying that it was challenging to create an attraction in an investment model where “2+2 must equal 5”. Nonetheless, in spite of a limited budget and prevailing thought that “being a farmer is not very cool”, they created a popular attraction that “has made a lot of parents proud of what they are doing”.

In the 1990s, “Little Grey Fergie” became a well-established character in a world of stories and activities for younger children. Several tv series, two feature films, ten music albums, live shows and over 15 books have been based on the character and in 2013 it became a charming attraction aimed at young children.

The ride was built using modern Massey Ferguson tractors on an industry standard ride platform. The “Little Grey Fergie” storyline is woven throughout the experience. The new area begins with a “meet and greet” show where guests meet the animatronic Gratass (Little Grey Tractor) and his farmer/host sidekick, who interact with them throughout the day. Guests can explore an agricultural-themed play area, interact with animals in the petting farm, and visit a themed retail store. Once in the ride, guests board a modern tractor and “Little Grey Fergie” tells them their main task is to test a new GPS system that Goggen (a crazy inventor) has built, before going outdoors into a farm where they interact with animals and encounter farm equipment. Simulated malfunctions cause some wrong turns and lead to several encounters with scrap yard villains, but “Little Grey Fergie” ends up saving the day.

This charming new land is an ideal mix of real environments and imaginative play. It celebrates the historic and the fantastic, all with the goal of entertaining and teaching about animals, farming and the environment. Using a unique IP that is truly beloved by all Norwegians, this fully integrated guest experience is a deserving recipient of this recognition.


An ideal mix of real environments and imaginative play

A farmer interacts with the visitors
The Time Machine

Parc du Futuroscope, Poitiers, France
Award: Attraction Rehab on a Limited Budget

The Time Machine utilises a popular cast of characters known as the “Lapin Cretins” – the Raving Rabbids, of the Ubisoft video game and children’s TV fame. This crazed and maniacal attraction skewers all manner of milestones, warping history with the Cretin’s demented and yet playful sense of humor.

The Cretin invasion of Futuroscope has caused mayhem, and the attraction’s queue foretells a sense of what’s going on as it weaves visitors through a museum of defaced masterpieces, all greatly “improved” by Cretin artists.

Just before guests board 15-seat Time-Trains, an attraction host mentions that there might be enough time to visit the restroom before the journey begins. Each group is escorted into a washroom, “taking their seat” on toilet shaped “thrones”. For visitors not aware of Cretin fondness for bathroom humor, this moment could be quite disconcerting.

Once visitors are seated and provided with 3D glasses, the train leaves and the audience revisits four historic scenes: Pre-historic age, Greek Olympic games, American Indians of the West, and the Conquest of Space, along with a massive dose of the Raving Rabbids irreverent humor. On-board effects include a vibrating floor, dynamic seating, leg ticklers and an air blast. Multi-sensory media-based scenes create the illusion of motion and the train is animated with special atmospheric effects and moving scenic backdrops, creating a 4D experience.

In response to changing demographics and the need for more “fun” in Parc du Futuroscope, a partnership was formed with Ubisoft, creators of the popular Lapin Cretins franchise. It took a lot of audacity to welcome the demented world of the Cretins into a park with set goals like Futuroscope. The park sensed that this outlandish franchise might give them an opportunity to overcome the low expectations normally reserved for a repurposed facility and an existing ride system. It might even deliver something that felt entirely new.

This extremely clever ride-show experience dares to defy convention and includes the audience in an audacious look at human history told through the lens of the Lapin Cretins.


photo: © Futuroscope_AC2I/Lapins Crétins TM

Parc du Futuroscope, Poitiers, France Award: Attraction Rehab on a Limited Budget
National September 11 Memorial Museum

New York City, USA
Award: AOA, Extraordinary Cultural Achievement

Creation of a Memorial Museum that would appropriately preserve the story of 9/11, reverently honour all who were touched by that day, and maintain the almost sacred nature of the physical site itself, has made it at once one of the most important and sensitive experiential projects ever undertaken. The realization and treatment of this highly sensitive and complex story is a cultural achievement of eloquence and emotional power.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum is emotionally powerful, thought-provoking and intellectually challenging throughout. It thoroughly integrates the site of the event itself into the experience, displays artefacts of every scale in compelling ways, and provides detailed context and historical record in juxtaposition with emotional witness and testimony of the stories’ events. The audiovisual media and interactives are powerfully dynamic but sensitively engaging, giving visitors many alternate ways to connect to the story. The space also provides eloquent moments of honour and tribute, and meditative spaces that memorialise, in very personal and profound ways, those who perished on that day.

Documenting and preserving the story of 9/11 has been an incredibly complex and challenging effort. Survivor families, witnesses, historians and government agencies were all involved. Every detail was rigorously examined and discussed by stakeholders and designers to determine the appropriate experience the Memorial Museum would present. Due to the passion and perseverance of the stakeholders and the designers, this museum fulfills its mission, conveying its important story with eloquence and emotional power while allowing for thoughtful reflection, learning and tribute by every visitor. It is an inspiring achievement, and is an apt choice for Thea recognition this year.


The space provides eloquent moments of honour and tribute
Wings of Time

Sentosa Island, Singapore
Award: AOA, Event Spectacular

“Wings of Time”, a nightly spectacular at Sentosa Island’s beach, is a multimedia show that combines lights, fountains, pyrotechnics, projection mapping, water projection and an original musical score and script to tell the story of a young couple and the magical bird that takes them around the world.

The project presented many challenges, as the existing infrastructure had to be re-used to save costs; the compelling content, interactivity and originality had to be built to withstand harsh seaside elements; and it had to be built within a six-week window, while the existing show was in operation. In other words: no down time. The production team from ECA2 met the challenge and created a unique event exceeding expectations.

At the beginning of the 20-minute show, the “set”, which is constructed just off the sandy beach and amphitheatre where the audience watches the show, appears to be a simple and elegant construction of geometric forms. During the show, the setting comes to life and continually changes and morphs into an endless array of compelling animated and kinetic visual sequences, spanning a wide arc of energy and emotion as the story unfolds.

The entertainment technologies for the show (water and mapped projection, fountains and pyrotechnics) are familiar tools for major event designers. In fact, a similar show, “Songs of the Sea”, was previously located in the same spot (and received a Thea Award seven years ago). What is different in this incarnation is the way the elements have been used. The show creators displayed a sophisticated understanding of each element in their toolbox, and have stretched them to achieve maximum impact from each. Moreover, they’ve used that understanding to artfully blur the transitions between each of the techniques employed to create a sense of magic. It’s often impossible to understand where the water screens stop and the mapped projection begins, and when that happens, the audience suspension of disbelief expands dramatically.

The result is a show that continues to offer visual surprises far beyond what the audience expects to see. It is visual and theatrical experience on a very high level.


Wings of Time is a visual and theatrical experience on a very high level

Wings of Time is a visual and theatrical experience on a very high level
NEW AWARD - The Paragon Award – for the “Best of the Best”

Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley
Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA
Award: AOA, Paragon Award

When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade opened in 2010 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the superlatives that were bestowed upon the project – retail, food & beverage experiences, attraction and technology – were legion. Nothing like it had been seen before and no one could imagine that it could be topped. Four years later, Universal Studios Florida opened the audacious Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. Keeping true to J.K. Rowling’s original work, and the vision of the films, the project team created richly authentic environments, ever more immersive experiences, and a unique park-to-park transition that is seamless and builds upon the Hogsmeade experience in a surprising and astounding way.

Thanks to the creativity, storytelling and technical prowess of Universal Creative, the brilliant production design of Stuart Craig and the strong collaboration with Warner Bros., Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley showcases the team’s outstanding work. Quite simply, it is even bigger, richer and more detailed than Hogsmeade. From the Muggle world environs of London and King’s Cross all the way to the day-for-night environments of Knockturn Alley, the craftsmanship, attention to detail, delights and surprises that amaze around every corner indicate that Universal has “raised its game”.

The dining, food & beverage and retail experiences are richer, more varied and more immersive. Muggles can visit the Leaky Cauldron, taste Earl Grey and Lavender or (of course!) Butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. The world is so complete that even the mundane task of getting water from what would typically be a street cart or vending machine has been turned into a storytelling opportunity. Ollivander’s Wand Shop has been expanded, and there are new retail environments to discover, including the dark Borgin and Burkes for all guests’ Death Eater outfitting needs. Even transactions have been transformed for the experience as guests can trade their Muggle money into Gringotts bank notes, while interacting with an animatronic goblin teller.

Hogwarts Express
Audaciousness, authenticity and innovation: these are the buzzwords that come to mind when considering the Hogwarts Express experience. What could have been a mere transportation mechanism to commute visitors from one park to the next within the two worlds of Harry Potter, the Hogwarts Express is a near-perfect recreation of the experience Harry, Ron and Hermione have while riding from Platform Nine and 3/4 to Hogsmeade. This experience delivers on the uncanny sense that guests have travelled somewhere else. And, of course, they have. Recreating the authentic signage, stations, compartments and even the views out of the window with an all-media countryside and cityscape full of magic turn transportation into yet again another innovation in seamless storytelling.

The Thea Committee created a new award category – the Paragon Award – for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. The entire land, integrated retail and food & beverage, in addition to the Hogwarts Express, represents “the best of the best” this year in terms of innovative storytelling and truly compelling experience creation.


The craftmanship, delights and surprises amaze around every corner

A near-perfect recreation of the film’s train journey
Interactive Wands – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA
Award: AOA, Technical Excellence

Within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Ollivander’s Wand Shop – Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. This is the starting point for a delightful and surprising array of innovative, interactive wand experiences. If visitors get it right – say the spell correctly and gesture their wand a specific way – the results are miraculously triggered in display windows, on the streets of Diagon Alley, in magical illusions and throughout the environment.

Experience designers focused on creating a gesture tracking system that didn’t “feel too much like technology” but rather gave a sense of authenticity to an important aspect of the narrative within the space. The uniquely devised, and ingeniously applied, proprietary wand technology allows guests to spell symbols, start and stop spells, and fully interact with the environment. The end result is an “invisible” technology that engages guests and activates the land in a whole new way. Through this “gamification” of the immersive story environment, the Thea Nominating Committee found the wand experience to be an impressive technology, impressively used.


Guests can create magical illusions with their wand

A delightful array of wand experiences
Harry Potter & The Escape From Gringotts

Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA
Award: AOA, Attraction

The excellence of guest experience and placemaking in Universal Studios Florida’s new Harry Potter themed areas continues with the innovative Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

It begins with a highly elaborate, deeply immersive queue experience featuring a visit to the Gringotts Bank where animatronic goblin tellers ‘work’ in an imposing space and interact with guests. An elevator ride and filmed characters have been taken to a new level of believability in the lead-up to this incredible ride.

Chris Oliver, Senior Director of Engineering and Safety, said that the ride needed “to tell a compelling story for those riding the coaster, yet make the experience much more than a coaster”. It performs as a coaster, omnimover, dark ride and complex simulator. All of this dynamic action is so well synchronised with the multi-dimensional media, and so well integrated into the environments, that removing the 3D glasses is the only way to tell what is or is not constructed.

The Escape From Gringotts uses what are arguably the largest screen images ever employed in a ride-through attraction. This, combined with extremely sharp-filmed imagery, delivers the convincing illusion of absolute reality.

While the ride experience is a spectacle of the highest degree, the initial storytelling is engagingly understated: guests are merely at Gringotts at the same time as Harry and friends are in the vaults – seen during the last film of the series. A synchronised soundtrack, with signature melodies from the films, is a key part of making this adventure emotionally engaging as well. The final notes as the ride concludes are strong enough to get some riders welled-up with emotion – having just experienced something extraordinary. In the themed entertainment industry, this attraction seems clearly to be the new yardstick by which all will be measured.


The new yardstick by which all will be measured

Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, the Netherlands
Award: AOA, Museum Exhibit

Wonderkamers (Wonder Rooms) is a role-playing game/interactive art exhibit for children, teens and the young at heart. Located in the basement of Gemeentemuseum, it was created with the aim of bringing the broad spectrum of art to the attention of young visitors.

Guests role play as museum curators and learn about a wide spectrum of art forms with the end goal of creating their own art exhibit. Head of Collections Vera Carasso said, “Connecting with your audience is what every curator wants. And you need some help.” So far, the multi-layered game aspect of the experience has created an intended addictive effect. “Kids don’t want to leave,” adds Carasso.

The art adventure starts off by getting a tablet-like device that instructs the guest on what to do and where to go. After a short introductory clip on a video wall, guests go inside the exhibit – an outer ring of themed rooms (the actual Wonder Rooms) where points can be earned. Each room showcases a form of art, like painting or music. Small, strategically placed barcodes correspond with the tablet and start the various games in each room.

Guests then virtually collect art pieces of their liking from a seemingly endless display onto their tablet for the last part of the experience – a giant cabinet filled with over 1,000 miniature art pieces. Here guests can upload the collected art pieces from the tablet and create their own miniature art exhibit. The experience concludes when the guest sees an animated version of themselves opening the exhibit by cutting the rope, accompanied with applause and colourful confetti.

The combination of art, storytelling, themed environments and a gaming aspect makes Wonder Rooms unique within the world of art museums. The creators did a great job in blending all these elements into one experience. The various spaces the guest can explore and the media components are well designed and executed. Another notable aspect is the flexibility of the experience. The game is set up to accommodate the possible time constraints of the guest. Guests fully control the duration of the game without ever having to miss the personalised conclusion. Therefore, the playtime of the Wonder Rooms experience can vary from just a few minutes to many hours of educational and inspirational fun.

Art museums all over the world face the same challenge: how to make kids and teens aware of and interested in art? The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague dared to step out of its normal comfort zone with the creation of the Wonder Rooms and has truly delivered a meaningful, but fun experience that answers this challenge.


Each room showcases a form of art that can be downloaded to the visitor’s tablet

Visitors get to see themselves cutting the rope to an art exhibition they created

About the guest editor:
Matt Kerr, principal of KerrCreative and a TEA member, is an educator, writer, editor and director based in Toronto. www.TEAConnect.org

[email protected]

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2015 edition

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