01 December 2011

Turtles and Cruise Ships are the new black: More notes from IAAPA

Turtles and Cruise Ships are the new black: More notes from IAAPA
At left: Patsy Tillisch, principal of EDG. She is holding the press release announcing the 18th Annual Thea Awards recipients, who were announced during IAAPA by the Themed Entertainment Association. Patsy, a former Disney Imagineer, is a longtime colleague of Joe Rohde, who was named for the Buzz Price Thea Award, a lifetime achievement nod. She worked closely with him in the creation of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Since Joe wasn't around to be photographed in conjunction with the announcement, I asked Patsy to pose in his honor.

Click the link to find out more about the Thea Awards and the full list of recipients, to see more pictures and to read numerous news items and commentary about sessions, people, companies and ideas encountered at IAAPA 2011 in Orlando - and why turtles and cruise ships are the new black. Photo by Judith Rubin; all rights reserved.

IAAPA snaps from Wednesday Nov 16

IAAPA snaps from Wednesday Nov 16
Top: Jonathan Casson and Tisa Poe in a mustachioed moment at the BRC booth. Below, Robert Ward cruises the floor. Click the link to see more pictures from the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2011 in Orlando. Photos by Judith Rubin, all rights reserved.

Some IAAPA snaps

Some IAAPA snapshots
Photos from the 2011 IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, Florida. Our industry's biggest trade show of the year. At left, I am sitting with Jim Benedick of Management Resources. We are in the ice room at the Ice Bar, at a party generously hosted by BRC Imagination Arts. Click the link to see more pictures. Photo by Martin Palicki; all rights reserved.

News stories from IAAPA - Museum, zoo & specialty cinema projects

News stories from IAAPA - Museum, zoo & specialty cinema projects
Captured on the IAAPA floor near the Technifex and TEA booths, from left: Brian Yessian, Dave Goodman (Goodman Experiences), Chris Barbee (Bandit Lites), Doug Yellin (Matilda Entertainment), Rob Wyatt, Vijay Sehgal (FSY Architects). Photo: Judith Rubin; all rights reserved.

Why are these guys all posing together looking so comfortable with one another? Because they recently all worked together on the Capitol Theater in Edmonton, Alberta. The historic theater was completely restored in all its original and authentic glory on the outside, and inside was fully updated to include a modern auditorium for live theater productions as well as cinema - and in addition, it runs a 4D show during the day about the history of the region. 

Click the link to read more about this unique project and several other projects we learned of while shmoozing on the floor at the 2011 IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando.

06 October 2011

The future of themed entertainment: Networking with 20-somethings at SATE '11 Orlando

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) hosts a professional design conference called SATE (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, Experience). SATE '11 Orlando took place at SeaWorld on Sept 22-23. I handle much of the PR and social media for TEA, and I was on the SATE conference committee so was very gratified to see the event sell out for the first time this year, with record attendance of 220.

TEA is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. A natural consequence of the passage of those two decades is that some TEA members are now 20 years older than they were when this international association was founded in 1991.
Joy Kalov

When professionals have accumulated experience and knowledge in a field - particularly something as specialized, unique and rewarding as what TEA calls "the creation of compelling Experiences and Places" - they look for ways to pass along what they have learned. There's a keen desire among TEA's mature members to keep the culture of the industry and the association going while continuing to evolve and remain relevant - in other words, an inter-generational exchange is needed, with both sides listening, learning and teaching. Several programs are in place, and others in development, for outreach to recruit students and young professionals to find their way in the themed entertainment business and become active in TEA.

These programs are bearing fruit - young, creative people are finding us and showing up at TEA events. Once they are there, the time-honored practice of face-to-face networking (the technical term, borrowed from the Yiddish, is "shmoozing") comes into play. Here are five young people I interviewed at SATE's evening gathering at Discovery Cove. Four of them are looking to break into the industry and one of them is already in business.

Paul Martucci
Joy Kalov lives in Chicago and is thinking of relocating to Orlando. She has been a seasonal worker at Disney World (Magic Kingdom operations) and is interested in learning to write for shows. She found her way to SATE with the help of her father, a freelance writer who discovered the event in the course of an Internet search.Joy studied theater at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her favorite theme park is Epcot: "I love the vision - it has all the hope and promise of the future. I love Illuminations; when the lights for every country meet, it gets me every time." Her favorite ride is Peter Pan's Flight. Joy mentioned that she particularly enjoyed the SATE session The Architecture of Engagement.

Paula Wang

Paul Martucci lives in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. He is a CPA and currently works as an auditor. He explained that his passion for theme parks and experiential storytelling led him to SATE - he joined the TEA group on LinkedIn and followed the SATE blog. Paul is now considering going back to school for a graduate degree related to themed entertainment. He was intrigued by the SATE session on Technology and Personalized Experience. "I'm excited about inventing new messages to deliver," he said. "We're still just skimming the surface with mobile technology." Paul's favorite attraction is Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World in Orlando. "The level of theming amazes me." His favorite theme park is Epcot. He has traveled in Europe and studied in Geneva.

Andrew Hansen
Paula Wang, a student member of TEA, is in the MFA program for Production Design at George Washington University in Washington, DC. She learned about TEA while attending the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo at the suggestion of her professor, Carl Gudenius, who teaches scenic design and lighting design in GWU's theater and dance department. Paula, who graduates in December 2012, already has a head start on her goal of becoming a professional Experience designer: Her networking at IAAPA led to an internship with Bruce D Robinson Design Group. A favorite theme park is Universal Islands of Adventure, and her all-time favorite ride is the old Dueling Dragons (now integrated into the Harry Potter land at Universal Studios Florida).

Andrew Hansen is a double major (Architecture and International Studies) at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. A year ago he discovered the Season Pass podcast series which led him to attend SATE this year and become a student member of TEA. Andrew wants to be an entertainment architect and has a strong interest in urban planning. He remarked on the contrast between his formal education and the panel discussions at SATE: "SATE is very different from school - it's more organic." His favorite theme park is Disneyland, and he also holds annual passes to SeaWorld and Universal Studios. His family has visited Disneyland regularly since he was a child, and "a day in Disneyland always starts in the Tiki Room."

Quan Gan
Quan Gan, president of Darklight System has just settled in the Los Angeles area after spending the last 3 years in Shanghai, where he and his business partner and spouse Charlie Xu brought the haunted house experience to mainland China with their Shanghai Nightmare business. Quan grew up in Valencia and has extended family in China; Charlie grew up in Shanghai, and the multilingual, cross-cultural pair are comfortable conducting business back and forth between East and West. Their new company, Darklight System, designs and manufactures professional LED scenic lighting equipment for the amusement park and attractions industry. The company's clients include Universal Studios, Six Flags Great Adventure and the Winchester Mystery House. The Darklight fixture Quan showed me fits easily in the palm of one's hand, making it not only convenient for discreet installation but also for on-the-spot demonstrations. Naturally, Quan always has one stashed in a pocket, ready to impress.

SATE 2012 is now in the planning stages - it will take place in September at a location in Europe, TBD.

30 June 2011

Creating immersive digital cinema experiences for science centers & planetariums: Interview with Martin Howe of Global Immersion

The "digital starball" effect in the Grainger Sky Theater. Photo: Adler Planetarium.
A convergence is taking place among the giant-screen cinema, digital video, planetarium and themed entertainment communities. Here, we look at several examples - new theaters and guest experiences at two of the world’s oldest and best-known planetariums, Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Russia’s Moscow Planetarium - as well as the Taipei Astronomical Museum, the Peoria Riverfront Museum, and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego. All these projects feature Global Immersion systems.

Later this year, Martin Howe, Global Immersion chief executive, will speak about the Adler Planetarium project on the panel “Digital Dome Stories,” at TEA’s SATE ’11 Orlando conference on Experience Design, Sept 22-23. I interviewed him for InPark Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

JR: The Adler Planetarium was one of the first to install a permanent digital dome or “fulldome” theater in the 1990s, which it upgraded 3 years ago (the Definiti Space Theater on the lower level). That makes the Global Immersion system in the 21.6 meter diameter Grainger Sky Theater (opening to the public July 8) the third generation of digital dome video projection that Adler has adopted. What particularly distinguishes this new installation?

MH: The Grainger Sky Theater at the Adler stands out on two fronts: technology and visitor experience. Both reflect the client’s vision, as it emerged and was shaped during the concept stage and the ensuing design/build process.

We call it the “world’s first digital starball” because the upgrade included removing the old opto-mechanical starball and replacing it with our Fidelity Black 8K™ system, with a 20-channel hyper-array of  Zorro® projectors from Rockwell Collins in a custom configuration with custom-built lenses. It has enough contrast and resolution to compete with the contrast and clarity of a starball while providing all the advantages of digital. We believe the Grainger Sky Theater is now the highest resolution digital theater in the world. It’s not a stereoscopic system, but it feels very 3D with the configuration and the high contrast. There is a lot more to 3D than just stereovision - I’ve written a few papers on the subject. I like to think it sets a new benchmark in immersive theater layout and also a new standard in planetarium systems...

03 June 2011

Tom Tait talks about technical design for themed entertainment

After 13 years developing and building museum, theme park and visitor attractions as Show Systems Manager with BRC imagination Arts, technical designer Tom Tait is now independent and looking for his next challenge. I interviewed him for InPark Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

Tom Tait: "If you are able to make a design at the beginning of design development and produce it all the way through without reexamining it, in my opinion you probably got lazy. The reality is that along with your financial budget and schedule for the development process, you need to have an emotional budget as well.

"Some tech designers will take a hard stance and say, “These are the compromises you must make.” That forces storytellers into a defensive position. It’s a much more successful process if everyone can come to table to explore and make the most of things together, without politics. It should be the tech designer’s goal to come to each and every meeting and say “Yes, if,” while clearly explaining at each step what the realities are going to be in terms of schedule, manpower or aesthetic. That may be quickly followed by a “No, because...” by the project producer if those conditions can’t be sustained within the rest of the project, but at the very least the opportunities and the obstacles are all out on the table."

...Read the full interview here.

30 May 2011

Craig Hanna talks about Thinkwell Group's design for Monkey Kingdom theme park opening 2014 near Beijing

Monkey King Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of the real estate, financial and cultural industry investment enterprise Zhonghong Real Estate announced on May 28 that Thinkwell Group would design the park, which will form the first phase of a planned, major mixed-use complex and total investment of 10billion RMB ($1.53billion USD). I interviewed Craig Hanna about the project, for InPark Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

Craig Hanna: "The Monkey King exists in a series of fables and stories with 100% penetration in China. The closest you could liken it to in the US is Santa Claus. Every man, woman and child in China, from the oldest to the youngest, knows what the Monkey King looks like, about his adventures and the ancillary characters. That is an incredible breadth and depth of storytelling to tap into.

"The challenge to us as a Western firm is knowing how to tap into the zeitgeist of China – to know and fulfill their expectations in telling these stories. It’s not unlike the challenge Peter Jackson had with the Lord of the Rings movies: there was an existing impression in fans’ minds of what these characters looked like based on Tolkien’s original books, and he had to get it right. Jackson went to Lord of the Rings fans, and what he learned informed his filmmaking; Thinkwell brought in a world-renowned specialist on Monkey King, and that specialist’s insight and guidance inform the design of this project."

13 May 2011

Interview with Phil Hettema about designing the Hello Kitty Park, set to open near Shanghai in 2014

Photo courtesy The Hettema Group
It might seem incongruous for a company coming off an American historical attraction (Beyond All Boundaries at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans) to next announce designing an entire family theme park in China, but as Hettema points out in the following interview, storytelling is storytelling. And he’s no stranger to large-scale undertakings: prior to establishing The Hettema Group about 9 years ago, Hettema oversaw the creation of Universal Islands of Adventure in the role of senior vice president for Universal Creative. 

Here's an excerpt of my interview with him, done for InPark Magazine:

Phil Hettema: "Hello Kitty has a pretty strong presence in China, but we will go beyond her immediate circle to have about 35-40 characters appear in the park. I think part of the reason Sanrio is doing this is to open their demographic amid the developing market in China. The first goal is to make it a great place for families to come: as the middle class in China grows, there’s a corresponding need for family entertainment and family activities.

"The secret of building a really great theme park is that all the elements combine: food and merchandise, landscaping, area development, the technology in the rides and so forth. It’s all interrelated - so the biggest job on a project like this is communication. There is so much happening so fast. Once concept and design are complete, it becomes a real project management challenge to bring all the entities together and maintain the quality of design throughout.

"Nowadays, these kinds of projects are built on business alliances with a combination of government involvement and private interests bringing talent together to make it happen..." see the full interview here.

25 April 2011

Loop Trolley development moves forward in St Louis

The Loop Trolley is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Joe Edwards, a well known local figure and the developer of The Loop, the metro area’s popular, six-block, retail/entertainment strip and an award winning example of successful urban revitalization. 

The Loop Trolley is envisioned as a fixed-track, vintage-style system to serve locals and tourists alike. It would help to tie two neighborhoods together and bridge a development divide. Edwards has emphasized the importance of a fixed-track system as being the most conducive to development, because developers can put stock in its permanence.... read the full story here.

17 January 2011

Christopher Reyna’s festival-filled year: helping create quality cinema experiences at TCM, Doha Tribeca and Telluride

Open Air Theater, Doha Tribeca Film Fest. Photo: Doha Film Institute
For the past several years, Christopher Reyna of New Paradigm Productions has been imaging producer for the nonverbal film Samsara - a sequel to Baraka - working with producer Mark Magidson and director/cinematographer Ron Fricke. Between Samsara production episodes, Reyna has pursued a variety of projects that involve his technical and archival expertise and general passion for great cinema. Most recently he played a role in shaping two new and noteworthy film festivals. For Turner Classic Movies' first TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood April 22-25, 2010, he was co-technical director with Boston Light & Sound, brought in by BLSI’s Chapin Cutler. For the Second Annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Oct 26-30 in Quatar, Cutler again recruited Reyna, this time as technical liaison. This kept him busy in the Mideast much of the time between July 2010 and November 2010, with a break for the Telluride Film Festival (Sept 3-6, 2010) where Reyna is a longtime player - Telluride honored him with the Silver Medallion Award in 1998.

It was a welcome surprise to get a catch-up call from Reyna now that he’s come up for air and back at his headquarters in Paso Robles, California. In the 1990s and early 2000s I worked frequently with him as newsletter editor and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, of which he was founding president. LFCA (now merged with GSCA) was a force within the special venue cinema industry, boosting growth and innovation – promoting digital tools and the establishment of standards, encouraging the development of ancillary revenue sources and better business models, building bridges with other branches of cinema and opening the doors wide to the press, and celebrating excellence in cinematography with the Kodak Vision Award.

With the overwhelming success of its first iteration, the TCM Classic Film Festival became an annual event - the next is scheduled for April 28-May 1, 2011, and passes are now on sale. “Although Turner had presented films for many years on cable television, they had never before done a film festival,” noted Reyna. The festival would help TCM expand its brand. “They went and got the best damn prints that could be found -” Reyna approvingly recounted, “- from archives, private collectors, studios, vault prints… in some cases, when a print of the film didn’t exist, they paid to have new prints made from the best existing negatives.” There were several major restorations: King Kong, A Star is Born, North by Northwest, and Metropolis (with newly discovered footage incorporated, the restored Metropolis had its US premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival with a live score by the Alloy Orchestra – and then went on tour).

Poster: UFA. Variation on Schulz-Neudam poster.
“Because they were all archival prints, it was very important they be handled right and shown right, and all of the participating theaters were converted to platter operation,” reported Reyna. Moreover - “archival 2,000 foot reels can’t be cut, and in two of the theaters, it was necessary to restore appropriate dual projector setups to facilitate changeovers. We pushed all the other equipment aside and installed these beautiful Kinoton 35mm projectors. It was a wonderful thing. Genevieve McGillicuddy [senior director of brand activation at Turner Classic Movies] did an incredible job organizing the festival.”

Some program highlights included a 70mm screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Egyptian, with a pristine print supplied by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “The print had been run just a few times, and the Academy was on board as a sponsor,” said Reyna. There were also new prints of Singin’ in the Rain, Saturday Night Fever and The Stunt Man. On the latter, Reyna worked with the director, Richard Rush, to create a new print. Venues included the historic 1922 Egyptian Theatre (acquired and restored by The American Cinematheque in the 1990s) and the 1927 Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (owned and operated by Mann Theatres).

The personal appearances captivated audiences as much as the movies did. “For every film, they tried to get somebody who had been involved in the original production,” Reyna explained. The celebrities – many of them well on in years - included Eli Wallach (“collegial, effusive and full of stories”), Luise Rainer (“an indomitable force”), and Jean-Paul Belmondo (“dressed in a beautiful sharkskin suit and with his trademark charm”). In one of his last public appearances, the late Tony Curtis introduced Some Like it Hot and The Sweet Smell of Success. Danny and Angelica Houston were on hand for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Reyna will repeat his technical direction role for the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival, the theme of which is "Music and the Movies." The program will include a celebration of the musical legacy of The Walt Disney Studios, organized by TCM in collaboration with D23, The Official Disney Fan Club. Presentations in that vein will include a screening of the recently restored Fantasia (1940), a collection of Silly Symphonies animated shorts, and a special tribute to Disney live-action musicals. There will also be a collection of animated Laugh-O-Grams: shorts created by Walt Disney that were recently discovered and restored by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and are being presented in partnership with The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Reyna noted that the 2011 program will also include a new restoration of Citizen Kane. “The people at Turner and the festival are all great to work with - they want to put the quality into the show.”

In early July 2010, six weeks after the TCM festival closed, Reyna was in Qatar. There were about four months to ensure that all theaters - including two new, permanent venues, and two new, temporary outdoor venues - were up to standard for the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, a joint effort of the Tribeca Film Festival and the Doha Film Institute. “It was a huge job,” he reported. The two new venues – an opera house and a large theater screening room, in a new cultural village called Katara - had never opened to the public. An initial survey revealed that both needed equipment upgrades as well as architectural and acoustical fixes to make them into optimal cinema spaces. In addition, 14 theaters within two multiplexes needed projection system upgrades and setting up for simultaneous English-Arabic subtitles.

The equipment installed was all state-of-the-art, specified by Boston Light & Sound, including, as Reyna reported, “4k upgradeable Barco digital cinema projectors, the very best Kinoton 35mm projectors, and a fantastic 7.1 surround sound system with EAW speakers and QSC amps and signal processing." As GC, BLSI contracted out the acoustical work, which included modifications to the HVAC system, and plugging the holes in a stage house wall that had gone unnoticed and were the cause of a sound leak between theaters. “They were the kinds of problems often encountered in movie theater construction,” observed Reyna, “but magnified - because all the goods: equipment, staging gear, acoustical treatment and so forth - had to be imported from the US or Europe, which meant it had to come by container or air cargo, and everything got backed up. Two containers shipped in August that were supposed to come in early September didn’t arrive until early October - but in the end, it all came together, and was very successful.”

Doha Tribeca Film Fest site. Photo: Doha Film Institute
Many screenings at the 2,000-seat Katara Open Air Theatre, main hub of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, were free and open to the public, and the house was packed on opening night. This temporary structure, featuring 14 huge steel arches, was designed by Jeremy Thorn and constructed on the esplanade at Katara by Dubai-based Al Laith Event Services. The screen was 23 meters wide and the stage accommodated a full orchestra for the performance of the 1929 black-and-white classic, Throw of Dice, presented with a special live score by Nitin Sawhney and the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. “That venue is larger than a football field,” noted Reyna. “It took 30 days to build and five to tear down. There were something like 7,000 light fixtures [provided by PRG] in the lighting package, with lighting designed by Adam Basset Design and running on generators from Prime Power.”

The festival kicked off October 26, 2010 with the Middle Eastern premiere of award-winning French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law. Other films screened included John Curran’s Stone, Ahmed Ahmed’s Just like Us, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, Julian Schnabel’s Miral, Randall Wallace’s Secretariat and Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader. Indian films had a strong presence, including Ram Gopal Varma’s Rakha Charitra, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, and Throw of Dice.

Egyptian Theatre in 1962. Photo: American Cinematheque
Although he didn’t savor the 125-degree F summer heat, Reyna relished the multicultural experience as much as the opportunity to create a series of quality screening rooms. He shared quarters with an Iraqi filmmaker and enjoyed exploring the variety of ethnic restaurants in the local suk. “It was really an international group. In addition to the Qatari nationals working on the festival were many people from other Arab countries – Lebanon, Beirut, Egypt, Morocco… there were also many Europeans: Transylvanian, French, German, Dutch, Danish… it was a dedicated community, very committed to launching a film industry in that area, and doing a quality project.”

12 January 2011

LF Examiner proclaims "The Death of the Giant Screen"

LF Examiner, an industry newsletter published by James Hyder for the special venue cinema industry, particularly giant screen cinema, has announced that its January issue will feature an editorial by Hyder titled "The Death of the Giant Screen."

Writes Hyder, "The history of motion pictures is full of technologies that were revolutionary when introduced, provided a new and exciting movie-going experience for some period of time, then disappeared."

70mm giant screen cinema first appeared at world expos and was adopted by the science museum community in the 1970s. This richly detailed film-based process, exhibited on the largest movie screens in the world, remains a superior visual format. It is, nonetheless, heading rapidly toward obsolescence for a number of reasons.

We're eager to see how James Hyder will address the subject in his January editorial.