30 Sep 2023 Attractions Management Handbook

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Attractions Management Handbook - Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement


Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement

Thea Awards 2016

Christine Kerr, BaAM Productions
Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement

Introduced during the third year of the awards ceremony to honour excellence found throughout the themed entertainment industry, the Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement (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.

Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden

Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden, Dallas, TX, USA
AOA Science / Discovery Garden

The Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is a museum without walls. This imaginative and interactive experience for children is designed to align with state and national education standards in life, earth and environmental sciences. Each of its 17 galleries or “learning rooms” has a specific theme, to teach and demonstrate science concepts. Themes include Science and Natural Phenomena, Botany and Agriculture, Nature and the Biosphere, Astronomy and Space, and Energy. Spanning eight acres (three hectares), with more than 150 interactive exhibits covering a wide spectrum of science, play and imagination, its sheer scale sets it apart.

Storytelling and engagement are everywhere: in the design of the exhibits and via interaction with docents and staff. Physical activities like mazes, climbing structures and observation towers are found throughout the site. The Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden is based on an extremely sophisticated and well thought out master plan, offering multiple levels of play, and beautifully designed and fabricated exhibits all seamlessly integrated into an elegant park environment. While all exhibits directly target specific demographic age groups and learning levels, there is a sense of play and whimsy that makes the learning fun. It’s an irresistible banquet of exciting play and discovery, with exciting surprises around every corner on a scale that must be seen to be believed.


There is sense of play and whimsy that makes learning fun
Inspector Training Course
Discovery Cube Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Award: AOA Science / Discovery Experience, Limited Budget

One of the flagship exhibits at Discovery Cube, the Inspector Training Course gives young guests a new understanding of safety and environmental protection in the home. It is based in a charming California Craftsman-style bungalow, with interactive elements and activities woven throughout the bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and backyard.

Young visitors (and their parents) become “home inspectors”; each receives a special digital tablet that senses their precise location in the home and offers up a personalised series of challenges and puzzles. The activities are a mix of digital questions, physical and visual tests, and integrated media throughout the space.

If home inspectors solve enough challenges correctly, they achieve “super inspector” status: the tablet takes their photo and displays it on a “champions” wall in front of the exhibit.

The tablet is part teacher, part scorekeeper, and part guide. The tracking technology allows the game engine to know the exact location of each player within 12 inches (30.5cm), and uses the information to guide visitors through the exhibit and provide location-specific content and challenges.

The Inspector Training Course hides a whole lot of learning behind a whole lot of fun. This high-tech scavenger hunt teaches kids about conservation, sustainability and environmental stewardship, furthering the museum’s overall STEM education goals. It seamlessly integrates the physical space and objects with the individual tablet experience. The secret is to use technology, but make it tactile, real and fun. This is a game that encourages experimentation and social interaction. It uses high-tech tools, and then makes those tools disappear into the authenticity of the experience.


The secret of this exhibit is to use technology while making it look tactile, real and fun
Integrated Environmental Media System
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), CA, USA

Award: AOA Environmental Media Experience

The Integrated Environmental Media System (IEMS) in the new international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is an unprecedented passenger experience and a new source of non-aeronautical revenues for the facility. The IEMS includes seven media features, including Welcome and Bon Voyage Walls, a four-sided Time Tower and portals that shepherd passengers to their departure gates. The IEMS is supported by an intelligent show control system that enables mapping content onto unique, very large-scale, multi-dimensional media surfaces.

Arriving and departing passengers are mesmerised by the beautiful content floating throughout this massive canvas. The content captures the culture of LA and, depending on the destinations of upcoming departures, will periodically change to reflect those destinations.

Since its opening, the project has received global attention as the most provocative example of a fully integrated, intelligent media environment. It is a space where immersive media and ambient storytelling don’t demand attention – but do reward it. It is the perfect “hello” and “goodbye” to travellers from all over the world.

The concept is now being used to develop a similar experience for other airports, museums and themed attractions worldwide. The idea is not new, but IEMS at LAX has been executed with such creative and technical excellence that it has redefined the field, and is fast becoming a widely admired and replicated achievement. It has also improved the airport visitor experience: studies show that travellers tend to arrive early at the terminal to enjoy the show.


Passengers are mesmerised by the beautiful content floating throughout this massive canvas
Manufacturing Innovation Ford Rouge Factory Tour, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI, USA

Award: AOA Brand Experience, Limited Budget

Manufacturing Innovation is a multimedia experience located at the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, part of The Henry Ford attraction in Dearborn.

The 10-minute show combines multiple screens with projection mapping and factory automation robots to create an impressive and dimensional story that follows the creation of an F150 truck from initial design through manufacturing and on to testing and finally customer delivery.

The show utilises seven screens that wrap around the audience with a lift at the front of the theatre to surprise guests: a white form F150 truck that rises up and is subsequently “built”, “welded” and “painted” by combining mapped projections in synchronisation with industrial robot arms that appear to be affecting the white form of the truck.
It is a clever and excellent way to use the mapped projection technique within a brand experience story of manufacturing.

The exceptional combination of custom-produced media, synchronised and choreographed across multiple screens with the technique of mapped projection integrated with industrial robots turns a corporate presentation into a multimedia spectacular that gets guests excited about manufacturing innovation.

With great music, theatrical lighting, carefully choreographed projection and robotics, guests get an up-close view as a pickup truck seemingly is built right before their very eyes.


The show utilises seven screens that wrap around the audience with a lift at the front of the theatre to surprise guests

Manufacturing Innovation is located at the Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Gantom Torch Technology Valencia, CA, USA

Award: AOA Technology, Limited Budget

The Gantom Torch is a fully controllable flashlight capable of receiving input from small, programmable infrared transmitters. The IR transmitters can be hidden anywhere in an entertainment space and programmed using an iOS app or a standard DMX controller. Each IR transmitter can be independently programmed to make the receivers (torches) in the area respond in a particular way. Each torch can blink, flash, strobe, or hold a constant preselected colour for a scene (i.e. blue for a frozen space). As guests move through particular scenes, their torches can also vibrate at different pre-programmed frequencies, based upon the action occurring in the show space. It is a unique handheld, outdoor rated, programmable device that can access up to 16 million colour options and is affordable enough to be utilised within limited budget attractions.

It is a device that personalises a show experience for each guest. Whether used in a haunted attraction, museum exhibit or other guest experience, it reacts to each person’s specific movement through an environment. It is unique in its ability to transform scenes via colour shifts, flashing and strobing. With the addition of programmable vibrations, major climactic moments are further enhanced.

The Gantom Torch is recognised as an exemplary show technology due to the unique and personal show experiences it can create, the device’s versatility, ease of programming, and accessibility to most show designers due to its low cost.


The Gantom Torch can create unique show experiences personalised to each guest

The Gantom Torch can create unique show experiences personalised to each guest
Geppetto Animation Control System Los Angeles, CA, USA

Award: AOA Technology Breakthrough

The Geppetto Animation Control System (ACS) is Super 78 Studios’ proprietary “living animated character” technology. Puppetry is one of the oldest live entertainment art forms – and Geppetto ACS is a way to keep the art of puppetry alive, bring it to new generations, and make it state-of-the-art.

Geppetto ACS has the capability to incorporate multiple characters and all kinds of different environments. It also handles branching storytelling, 3D imagery, multiple screens and multiple in-theatre effects.

The Geppetto Animation Control System is controlled by an off-stage operator who wears a microphone headset and operates a simple hand controller for the character’s basic movements and expressions, along with character voicing. Much more involved animation motions and all of the 4D effects are additionally controlled from a large touchscreen fully programmable for creating an unlimited variety of storylines, characters and 4D effects. The entire presentation, while following a specific story flow line, can be interactively modified by a single operator. The response time is close to instant and changes can be made as fast as fingers can fly across the control screen.

The system is a comprehensive 3D character, environment, and 4D effects show control system. It can be easily programmed to create any animated audience interactive experience while being extremely fast and simple for a single off-stage operator to create completely different shows for every audience.

Ultimately, the Geppetto ACS has raised the bar to new heights in the quest to provide show producers with a fully proven and openly available tool to advance guest experiences for any venue, whether theme park, museum, or future environments yet to be developed.


A way to keep the art of puppetry alive, bring it to new generations and make it state-of-the-art
SpongeBob SquarePants Adventure Moody Gardens, Galveston, TX, USA

Award: AOA Attraction

The SpongeBob SubPants Adventure combines 3D film, 4D effects, a live performer and a real time animated character that interacts with guests – all in an attraction which allows the audience to choose their destination on a delightful undersea journey.

After experiencing the preshow, which features touch tanks and educational interactive exhibitions, guests enter “Le Plunger”, the submarine (4D theatre). Here they are taken on a simulated descent to Bikini Bottom, where an animated Patrick Starr from the SpongeBob SquarePants series helps them decide where they want to travel.

The different elements combine to recreate the world of SpongeBob to quirky and comical effect, all in perfect syncronisation with the characters and sensibility of the franchise.

The attraction uses the new Geppetto Animation Control System (also recognised with a Thea Award) to achieve the seamless integration of the real time animated character in the show.


The preshow features touch tanks and educational interactive exhibits

The adventure combines 3D film, 4D effects, a live performer and a real time animated character
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
V&A, London, UK

Award: AOA Museum Exhibit

From the famous Kate Moss “hologram” to the presentational wow of the “Cabinet of Curiosities”, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was born, was an astonishing display of one man’s work.
It featured dozens of McQueen’s groundbreaking designs in a custom-built, custom-themed environment, presented as if the visitor was touring the controversial fashion designer’s own mind. It ran March-August 2015 and drew nearly half a million visitors.

McQueen’s innovative and often bizarre fashions were imaginatively presented in ways that illuminated and framed the clothing on display. The V&A team constructed rooms within rooms to protect the museum’s historical architecture. Each gallery became a frame for the art as well as an environment that immersed visitors into the style, look and feel of the fashion. Clever use of mirrors, reflective surfaces, angled walls and half-mirrored glass allowed visitors to explore in depth. Exemplary lighting and sound design added to the atmosphere, and integrated media contributed to the storytelling.

The culmination – the “Cabinet of Curiosities”, lined with boxes filled with hats, shoes, mannequins, media and more – was breathtaking in presentation and in the immense collection that delightfully overwhelmed the senses. Although the subject matter was haute couture, the provocative designs and craftsmanship were engrossing for all.


McQueen’s fashions were imaginatively presented in ways that illuminated and framed the clothing on display

McQueen’s fashions were imaginatively presented in ways that illuminated and framed the clothing on display

McQueen’s fashions were imaginatively presented in ways that illuminated and framed the clothing on display
Les Amoureux de Verdun
Puy do Fou, Les Epesses, France

Award: AOA Attraction, Limited Budget

Puy du Fou, France’s beloved historical theme park, has taken a daring subject and turned it into a beautiful study in love and sorrow.

Focusing their unique artistic vision for the first time on events of the twentieth century, the Les Amoureux de Verdun attraction takes visitors into the terrifying battlefields of winter 1916. Guests follow the love letters between a soldier and his fiancée as they endure the pains of war and lay witness to the miraculous Christmas Truce between the French and German soldiers.

It’s not a ride… it’s not a stage show… it’s not a haunted maze, but incorporates elements of each. Visitors are surrounded by the sights and sounds of the snowy trenches of Verdun in north-east France, snaking through ditches and foxholes, as cannon fire shakes the earth. Theatrical sets and lighting, live actors, animated props and projected media integrate perfectly to capture the atmosphere and draw us into the wartime story.

Puy du Fou’s creative team has achieved a rare blend of historical accuracy and theatrical intensity. The team compiled over 7,500 authentic WWI artifacts, which serve as scenic dressing and props throughout the attraction. Fifteen live actors blend seamlessly with 80 animatronic and static figures to populate the story, while multiple projection screens enlarge the canvas.

This is the second Thea Award for Puy du Fou – the entire park was honoured in 2012 with the Thea Classic Award.


It combines a rare blend of historical accuracy and theatrical intensity
“Moments of Happiness” World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, GA, USA

Award: AOA Corporate Visitor Center Rehab, Limited Budget

The World of Coca-Cola is one of the top corporate visitor attractions in the US, regularly receiving annual attendance of more than one million. Located in Atlanta, the experience includes a series of exhibitions on the history of the company and the beverages they produce, a tasting area and a large retail shop.

Staged in the Coca-Cola Theater, as part of the preshow for the entire experience, “Moments of Happiness” delivers a contemporary brand message in a six-minute film. The film celebrates inspiring and heart-warming special moments in the lives of people of all ages and many cultures. The sales pitch for Coke is very subtle, but the emotional impact is not. At the conclusion of the film, the screen rolls up to reveal the entrance to the World of Coca-Cola.

“Moments of Happiness” provides a new preshow experience in an outstanding and memorable way. The uplifting scenes include a surprise visit home by a US soldier, a boy’s first hesitant approach to a girl, and an impossible basketball shot by a group of college friends – all underscored with upbeat music. They all strike a deep and powerful emotional chord in guests. There are few dry eyes in the house, and the film combines the joy of poignant events with a quiet reference to the pleasures of drinking Coke. Guests leave on an emotional high that extends through the rest of their visit; visitor satisfaction survey results have skyrocketed and the overall attraction has a new buzz.


The sales pitch for Coke is very subtle, but the emotional impact is not
Fountain of Dreams Wuyishan, China

Award: AOA Event Spectacular

Wuyishan is one of China’s scenic, world-heritage regions and “Fountain of Dreams” is the story of the town’s fabled waters, unfolding through 12 compelling scenes. At its core is the simple beauty and power of nature: the generous waters that sculpted the region’s emblematic mountains and the nine twists and turns of its famous river. These are evoked in the show as live performers work multiple levels of the stage and the story unfolds through water curtains, fire, 3D video mapping, LED, lasers, cascading waters, musical score and ghostly characters from China’s traditional past.

Every aspect of the show – from theatrical décor to seating – is designed as if on one unified stage. The waterfall depicts the neighbouring mountains with the terraces reminiscent of the still active tea-growing terraces in the region in a truly unique theatre design. The sweeping roof has a contemporary cantilever design so that it appears to float, allowing a full field of vision of all the effects for the entire audience. Many effects happen throughout the audience seating area. 3D mapping is used across the entire canvas to achieve seamless imagery. The facility also houses what is said to be the world’s biggest outdoor water screen – 30 metres (98 feet) high.

“Fountain of Dreams” has been described as an experience where technological innovation meets ancient storytelling. Beyond this, the unique night-time spectacular breaks the barrier between audience and performance, immersing the audience into the world of the story using innovative technology within a custom-built show facility.


An experience where technological innovation meets ancient storytelling

The story of the town’s fabled waters unfolds through 12 compelling scenes
One World Observatory New York City, NY, USA

Award: AOA Attraction

One World Observatory, built on the site of the former World Trade Center, is a collection of experiences that celebrate the dynamics of Manhattan, its surroundings, and the resilient vitality of New York City. The experience begins at ground level, where a series of preshow queues focus first on the people who constructed the new building, seen in the multi-screen “Voices.” This is followed by an informative themed re-creation of the bedrock beneath the structure in an area called “Foundations.”

Visitors then ascend to the top in a 47-second elevator ride which includes a changing panorama of Manhattan, covering more than 500 years of geographic and architectural history during the trip to the 102nd floor. Visitors emerge to a row of kaleidoscopic screens and theatrics that prepare them to “see forever”, followed by a dramatic reveal of the city through expansive glass walls.

The observation space includes unique exhibits and interactive attractions such as “City Pulse” and “Sky Portal.” The return elevator trip to the ground floor uses the on-board screens in a very different manner, virtually transporting riders out of the elevator shaft for a helicopter-like flight around neighboring structures.

One World Observatory in New York City has found a comfort zone within a location inevitably tied to devastating recent history. The creators have succeeded in bringing this experience to life by contrasting the solemn nature of the memorial (the adjacent 911 Memorial & Museum) with a celebration of the rebirth of physical space.

The design uses both familiar and state-of-the-art tools to weave together what are usually the “blank spaces” of rooftop vistas (queuing, elevators, gift shops and viewing decks).

The result is something arrestingly unique and unexpected that overcomes the huge challenges presented by an emotionally charged location.


Visitors emerge from the elevator ride to a row of kaleidoscopic screens and theatrics
?Foresta Lumina
Parc de la Gorge Coaticook, QC, Canada

Award: AOA Attraction, Limited Budget

The natural state of a dense forest at Parc de la Gorge Coaticook located south east of Montreal in Quebec is known for its hiking trails and beautiful surroundings. This is the canvas for Foresta Lumina. This immersive and multisensory night-time experience along a 1.5-mile (2.4km) stretch was inspired by forest mythology and local legends.

The adventure begins in the Garden of Wishes where seven beautifully illuminated manuscripts introduce the cast of characters inhabiting the park’s nocturnal landscape. Mysterious runes mark the trail and visitors move to the heart of the story by crossing the Gorge on one of the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridges and passing through a mysterious, misty, illuminated portal.

As the story unfolds, they encounter a series of characters, each presented with sophisticated lighting, audio, mist and a variety of moody but magical theatrical effects, all further enhanced by the darkness.
Experiences with mapped media and lighting effects gain popularity every year. The creators of Foresta Lumina were tasked to adapt these modern technologies to a living environment that calls for nuance in its scale and execution. The unique forest setting and use of local folklore, balanced with the subtle adaptation of multimedia make the Foresta Lumina project stand out.


Each character is presented with sophisticated lighting, audio, mist and theatrical effects that create a moody but magical setting
Disney Paint the Night
Hong Kong Disneyland Park, Hong Kong, and Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA, USA

Award: AOA Parade Spectacular

This electrical parade featured at Hong Kong Disneyland Park and Disneyland Park in California is lit entirely with LED lights (a first of its kind)… except they are really Pixie dust from Tinker Bell and Mickey Mouse’s magic paintbrush, pulsing with colours and sparkle.

Tinker Bell’s Fiber Fairies wear costumes adorned with fibreoptic strands that can be touched by guests with special interactive wands that change their colour. Pixar properties brought to life include Monsters Inc., Cars and Toy Story. The Monsters Inc. float features Sulley and Mike and a series of spinning peek-a-boo doors with hidden video screens that reveal scary monsters. Lightning McQueen leads the Cars contingent with the 25,000-light Mack truck followed by glow-in-the-dark Cars Crew dancers. The Toy Story float, dubbed Electric Rodeo, features a huge Slinky Dog with Woody and Buzz sitting precariously atop the illuminated coils. The Lasso Dancers, each spinning a lighted ball on a string designed to look like a neon lasso, are joined by Jessie the cowgirl.

No Disney parade would be complete without a procession of princesses. Belle from Beauty and the Beast commands the lead float dominated by a massive red rose, with Cinderella and Rapunzel on trailing candelabra mini-floats. The Court Dancer performers wear colour-changing costumes while the Dove Dancers look like winged ballerinas. The Little Mermaid float features a massive King Triton figure with a rear-projection face. A large troupe of performers tags behind, including the electroluminescent coral fish and Nemo.

The finale is truly spectacular, with Mickey Mouse wielding a giant paint brush to control a wild kinetic sculpture that creates an optical illusion with an array of disco balls. As the lights and geometry move, the illusion is magical.

Technology advancement is a good thing, especially when it comes to re-imagining the Main Street Electrical Parade. The new Disney Paint the Night is a marvel of lighting technology, creative artistry, storytelling, showmanship, live performance and interactivity centered around beloved Disney characters, both recent and classic. The parade opened at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2014 and at Disneyland Park with several added elements in 2015 as part of the park’s 60th Diamond Celebration – a show of massive scale, mounted twice within 12 months on two different continents.

The parade includes more than 1.5 million lights on floats, costumes and video screens. Special guest merchandise was developed that synchronises to the parade as it moves down the street. Along the way, homage is paid to the original Electric Light Parade, including a drum float and some of the original music.


Mickey Mouse wields a giant paint brush to control a kinetic sculpture

About the guest editor:


Christine Kerr

Christine Kerr is vice president at BaAM Productions, a creative production company creating experiences for clients in the worlds of entertainment, sports and culture based in Toronto.

She is immediate past president of the Themed Entertainment Association.


Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2016 edition

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