Musings on the evolution of the roller coaster Experiences within theme parks are changing. Gone are the days when roller coasters used to be two-minute thrill rides, now it’s all about wrapping guests in a narrative to create lasting memories and experiences that can be shared.
Immersive technologies are playing a more important part than ever within the theme park of the future to draw guests into a compelling story both on- and offride, creating an adventure and bringing meaning to the experience. This is what creates memories that guests will talk about for years to come and in this age of social media, results in more content rich shares as they send out snapshots (or Snapchats) from their journey.
What’s even better for park operators is that these new experiences aren’t just limited to new coasters, existing attractions can be given a multisensory overhaul without needing any major structural changes.
A notable coaster for first embracing this trend is Mystic Timbers at Kings Island, US which launched last year with the mystery of #whatsintheshed. The coaster itself is a wooden construction from Great Coasters International. A preshow mystery builds throughout the queue line, planting clues in people’s minds and culminates in the finale multisensory experience, revealing what is in the forbidden shed but with a massive media twist. [See “The Mysteries of Mystic Timbers,” InPark issue 69, August 2017 www.inparkmagazine.com/the-mysteries-of-mystictimbers/]
We’re seeing more operators embracing this trend in roller coasters around the world. Leading the pack this year, in our opinion, is Wicker Man, which opened at Alton Towers in the UK this March. A multisensory preshow experience puts guests at the heart of a terrifying story before they board the park’s first wooden coaster.
Holovis designed and delivered all elements of this, working with Merlin Magic Making to concept and script the preshow, then produce the media and deliver the complex AV elements throughout the attraction.
The preshow takes place in the ceremonial hall, a tall wicker room, and focuses on a seamless and dramatic combination of straight up and 3D mapped projection. Initial shadow puppetry forms the exposition of the ride’s backstory before merging to create the mapped face of the deity. As guests realise that they are to become the sacrifices, the face transforms to grow twisted wicker horns and becomes the Ramshorn skull. Surround subsonic audio is designed to convey the sense that guests are being encircled by the wicker people, heard through their whisperings.
Moving through to the loading station and when on-board the ride, the audio immersion continues with adoring
shouts of “It’s him!” and “He’s here!” recorded and mixed in the Holovis Audio Studio. The multimedia experience combines with special effects including pyrotechnics, programmed to synchronize with the storyline throughout the experience.
The effects even continue within the Wicker Man structure itself. When on the coaster, guests speed into the wicker head which appears to be rising in flames, an effect created using 6.2mm pixel pitch LED displays and featuring media created by the Holovis team. This can also be seen from the outside so the Wicker Man looks to be ablaze at all times.
Another UK attraction reflecting these immersive trends launched two weeks after Wicker Man, this time at Thorpe Park with The Walking Dead: The Ride. The experience wraps guests in the story from beginning to end, starting with the initial queue line and continuing with the preshow, dramatic on-board effects and a death defying finale.
The preshow sets the scene for guests, placing them in the Safe Zone then seeing this be compromised through a series of visual and sensory special effects that are disseminated into the theming. This includes mock CCTV footage showing Walkers attacking the area of the queue line they were just in and clambering against a window, which is actually a 4K screen.
Guests then move through the rest of the line as a batched queue, with zonal surround audio and lighting giving the illusion that they are the only group there. The immersive media scenes continue into the loading station and on the coaster, with interludes at key moments combining physical and digital effects with real actors.
This is another project that Holovis delivered as a turnkey attraction, working with Merlin Magic Making from the initial design phase through to capturing and creating all the media and integrating it with the AV and lighting across the whole attraction and special effects. This has allowed us to really maximize the impact and de-risk the project, as the repercussions from things that are being seen and heard are interconnected to fit the gripping story.
Interestingly though, the attraction is a retrofit of X: No Way Out, which launched in 1996 as the world’s first backwards roller coaster in the dark, and it is completely unrecognizable. This is a prime example of how existing attractions can be given a new lease on life through an overlay of integrated media, special effects and theming making it a relatively quick and easy transition, with minimal structural work required.
Immersive pre- and post-show scenes have now become a staple of the traditional roller coaster experience, extending the thrill of the ride from just a few minutes to something that guests will remember, talk about and share for years to come. • • •
Peter Cliff is creative director at Holovis. He works with clients to create experiences that utilize an array of emerging and multisensory technologies, allowing guests to explore, interact with and immerse themselves into fantasy worlds.
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