ABOVE: This concept art, developed very early in the creative process, helped establish the overall aesthetic, color palette and character qualities that would drive the rest of the experience design. All images courtesy of Super 78.
“We are on the cutting edge of a revolution in real-time attraction production,” says Brent Young, Creative Director of Super 78, a creative studio based in Hollywood serving the attractions industry with concept design, media, technology and more. In 2008, the studio began developing Geppetto,™ the company’s proprietary live animation and show control system. Geppetto was created as part of the development for “Donkey Live!” – an interactive character experience that Super 78 produced for Universal Studios Singapore.
Super 78’s Geppetto attractions invite guests to become an integral part of the show, having one-on-one, unscripted conversations with animated characters. Controlled by state-of-the-art technology, such interactive character experiences create moments of spontaneous, organic magic that delight guests of all ages and origins.
The prototype configuration of “Donkey Live” proved to be rock-solid, running continuously since the attraction opened. However, due to the technology limitations of the time, it required multiple racks of servers, computers, monitors and operators to manage a single performance.
In the decade that followed, Super 78 continued to upgrade Geppetto, streamlining the hardware and software, adding more features and boosting its media horsepower. By 2014, Geppetto was able to handle live 3D animation, and synchronize media across multiple screens. The system’s enhanced back-end architecture allowed for branching, non-linear storytelling, empowering guests to choose where their adventure went next. And one performer now controlled everything.
At the time, Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX was looking to add an immersive, guest-participatory experience. Moody Gardens is an AZA-accredited, nonprofit, educational destination with the feel of an amusement park, offering a mix that includes entertaining, media-based attractions to share its mission of nature and conservation. Annual attendance is about 2 million. SimEx-Iwerks, one of Super 78’s longtime collaborators and the provider of Moody Gardens’ 4D theater and AV systems, brought Super 78 on board to develop the show. As a result of the collaboration, in 2015, Moody Gardens debuted the “SpongeBob SubPants Adventure.”
During its multi-year run, “SpongeBob SubPants” took guests on a wacky submarine trip to Bikini Bottom where they had live, personal conversations with Patrick Star and helped navigate the voyage; no two shows were ever alike. Both the attraction and Geppetto were honored with 2016 Thea Awards (Outstanding Achievement: Attraction and Outstanding Achievement: Breakthrough Technology, respectively).
With a three-year licensing deal in place, we knew at Super 78 that the time would come to rework the show without the star power of Patrick Star. By late 2018, the time to bid farewell to “SubPants” was approaching.
Although one of Geppetto’s built-in virtues is the ability to easily update and add new content to an existing facility, following up “SpongeBob SubPants” came with several challenges. First, for that attraction we were blessed to work with the brilliant characters created by the late Stephen Hillenburg (who is sorely missed) and the wonderful team at Nickelodeon; this time, we’d be starting from scratch.
Second, the goal was to repurpose the existing site facilities and maintain efficiencies as best we could, to keep the scenic budget from ballooning.
Third, Moody Gardens – an educational destination first and foremost – hoped to include more didactic, real science content in the main show than was presented in the SpongeBob attraction. This meant that we would be animating photo-real animals against photo-real undersea environments, an appreciably more difficult task than reproducing SpongeBob’s cartoon characters and locations in three dimensions.
The first step was locking in the big idea, and that came from Super 78 Creative Director Brent Young. “Given that we were still going to be taking some kind of submarine voyage, my mind immediately went to the most famous submarine of all: Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. And the book they came from, ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ is just about the perfect IP: internationally-renowned for many generations and in the public domain,” said Young.
The Super 78 team also quickly landed on a kind of Western steampunk aesthetic for the attraction, which would distinguish it from the more whimsical mid-century visual language of the SpongeBob universe.
The basic story came together very quickly as well: after years of solitude at sea, Nemo has resurfaced in Galveston at the turn of the last century to establish a new base of operations. The new mission of Nautilus is to study our oceans for the betterment of all life on Earth. And the guests are volunteers for these exploratory voyages.
The interactive star of the show is Deep, a pufferfish from the Indian Ocean who is the “dive lead” for the adventure. Deep, outfitted with several robotic enhancements (including the ability to speak English, of course) introduces us to real sea creatures as we travel to a Caribbean reef, an ancient lost city, Antarctic ice caves, the Mariana Trench, a trove of shipwrecks and an undersea volcanic plain. Guests will learn how killer whales speak through “songs,” how rays communicate with electricity, and how anglerfish use their bioluminescent esca light to lure prey.
As the design and animation process for the show media began, the Super 78 team also started considering how to update the queue, preshow and main show theater spaces. The previous attraction was created with a small interior queue area and two preshow rooms, all of which were designed to look like a seaside wharf and submarine dock. The essential layout and structure of these spaces would remain.
Super 78 was entrusted to redevelop all of the scenic elements and queue/preshow graphics. Almost nothing was left untouched. The rich visual language of steampunk (with a Texas frontier twist) gave us free reign to redress every surface with engaging period detail and intriguing curios. The former pineapple-yellow “Le Plunger” submarine was transformed into the riveted and copper-clad Nautilus. Custom nautical maps and blueprints, filled with narrative details, were developed to reward those guests who take a deep dive, so to speak, into the world of the experience.
We were able to introduce more educational storytelling devices, such as a Morse Code interactive at the “Frontier Telegraph” office, and a semaphore flag display in the preshow areas.
With the benefit of over three years of performances to review, we at Super 78 were able to work hand-in-hand with the Moody Gardens team to improve every operational component: how guests are physically directed through the preshow spaces; when safety instructions are communicated; what 4D effects get the best reactions.
And the studio brought in accomplished screenwriter Bennett Yellin (“Dumb and Dumber,” “Stuck on You”) – now working in themed entertainment – to make the new script’s comedic aspects as strong as possible.
Since the “SpongeBob SubPants” premiere, the Geppetto system itself has made still more evolutionary — and revolutionary — leaps forward. In 2018, the company debuted Geppetto v.5 which packages all the technology into the Microsoft Surface Studio Pro. And debuting with this new attraction will be “Geppetto 2020,” which includes even more powerful rendering capabilities and a more emoji-based performer interface, to make the system even faster and easier to master. These upgrades have made the system as compact, as powerful, and as mobile as it has ever been; a single performer can control an entire attraction using just the Surface’s massive touchscreen interface and a standard, hand-held Xbox game controller. And we can place a Geppetto interactive character experience into almost any location. (The system was recently field-tested with two live animation performances for the Television Academy, including the 2019 Interactive Emmy Awards presentation.)
These “under the hood” enhancements have allowed our team to push the level of animation detail further than we ever have before. The various sea creatures guests encounter on the adventure – a manta ray, a leatherback sea turtle, an orca – are “feature-quality” realistic. (We did make two exceptions to the “real animals” rule, however, at Moody Gardens’ request. When we meet a seadevil anglerfish and a colossal squid, those creatures – rather terrifying in their natural state – were designed to be more child-friendly.)
To incorporate the branching storytelling capabilities of the experience, the show is divided into modules. This structure builds in the capacity to plan ahead for a refresh of the experience, removing one “mission destination” and replacing it with another. Animation pre-production for two new scenes has already begun and Super 78 can continue to update the show for Moody Gardens with new sequences for years to come.
This modularity has also facilitated creating a version of the show specifically to serve visiting school groups and other primarily educational audiences. In that version, the Nautilus ventures to the sea floor and “drops anchor” so an educator can discuss the various types of marine life in the environment.
Moody Gardens has been an incredible creative partner to Super 78 for many years. Along with this new attraction, the destination is also currently hosting “Reef Rescue,” a multi-player High-Capacity Virtual Reality (HCVR) experience created by Super 78 and introduced earlier this year. “Reef Rescue” takes up to 15 guests at a time on a virtual dive to an ailing coral reef, where they clean the waters, plant new coral branches, and feed the fish to restore and preserve it.
Microsoft has been an amazing technology partner as well, supporting Geppetto’s integration into the Surface Studio Pro and working with Super 78 to begin developing the next generation of hardware for the system.
“Geppetto is a perfect example of Super 78’s in-house motto: ‘How hard can it be?’” said Dina Benadon, Super 78 CEO. “When we need a new tool that doesn’t exist, we make it ourselves. And we don’t just stop with version one; we keep adding, improving and pushing the envelope because that’s what makes groundbreaking experiences.”
“Animation is an art form and the separation of the creator and their art by time and distance are challenges to the creative intent,” added Young. “The masters described animation as the ‘illusion of life.’ We strive to attain this goal, to bring your spark of inspiration, your moment of brilliance, closer to the moment of creation. This is what the Geppetto system is all about: your idea and its manifestation at the speed of light…bringing characters to life.” • • •
Robert Coker marked his sixth anniversary as Super 78’s Senior Show Writer | Creative Development this past October. His most recent projects include “20,000 Leagues,” “Dino Tour,” “Reef Rescue,” and “Alpha Flight.” www.super78.com
• Based in Galveston, TX, Moody Gardens is a public, non-profit, educational destination utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research.
• Moody Gardens features three iconic triangular architectural structures: The Rainforest Pyramid®, The Discovery Pyramid® and The Aquarium Pyramid®.
• 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea will be housed inside The Discovery Pyramid, in the “Audience Recognition Theater.”
• The interactive attraction is powered by Geppetto, Super 78’s Thea-Award honored proprietary real-time animation and show control technology.
• After volunteering to become Nautilus crewmembers, guests go on an exploratory voyage to several undersea locations including a Caribbean coral reef, the Marianas Trench, an Antarctic ice cave, a submerged ancient city, a shipwreck reef, and an undersea volcanic plain.
• During the adventure, guests will interact with Deep the pufferfish and the marine creatures they encounter, including a manta ray, an anglerfish, an orca, a leatherback sea turtle, and a colossal squid.
• The attraction includes two opportunities for guests to choose which destination The Nautilus will next visit, further ensuring that no two shows are ever exactly alike.
• The duration of the entire guest experience is approximately 22-25 minutes.
• The attraction opened November 16th, 2019.
Comments Off on Super 78 nominated for Producers Guild Award for latest interactive project
Comments Off on Super 78 teams with Microsoft on next generation of Geppetto real-time interactive animation system
Comments Off on Super 78 opens attraction featuring 8K immersion tunnel at Dinosaurland in Changzhou, China
Comments Off on Super 78’s real-time animation show 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea opens at Moody Gardens
Jul 06, 2020 Comments Off on Tickets now on sale for TEA’s 26th annual Thea Awards Digital Case Studies
Jul 06, 2020 Comments Off on Kings Island reopens with premiere of new Orion giga coaster
Jul 03, 2020 Comments Off on Splashin’ Safari opens July 4 with world’s first launched water coaster
Jul 03, 2020 Comments Off on SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort adds patriotic display to tanks
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on #81 – COVID-19 and beyond
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Editorial: Finding paths forward during uncertain times
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Editorial: Appreciation for Alf Heller, to whom I owe my career
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Mack Rides: Through the generations
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Connect&GO: Removing barriers
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on CAVU Designwerks: Self-Driving Vehicle
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on DreamCraft Attractions: Reality, but better
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on Around Disney’s Galaxy in 25 minutes
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on Inside the mouse house
May 19, 2020 Comments Off on Touch-free and other options for a new world of interactive exhibits
May 05, 2020 Comments Off on Inside the time machine
Apr 22, 2020 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: International participants in Dubai Expo 2020 share thoughts on the likely one-year postponement and the status of their pavilions
Apr 13, 2020 Comments Off on What should Themed Experience graduates know, say and do?
Apr 10, 2020 Comments Off on What will it mean to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai until 2021?
Apr 09, 2020 Comments Off on Sustaining the mission: Zoos and aquariums in the age of COVID-19
Jun 30, 2020 Comments Off on Right place, write timeHollywood screenwriter Bennett Yellin authors a new future...
May 18, 2020 Comments Off on Eleventh Hour: The rise of consultants since COVID-19 affords a vision of leadership for the Location Based and Themed Entertainment Industry.To help companies respond to industry-specific challenges,...
May 05, 2020 Comments Off on Inside the time machineCreative Principals’ Geoff Thatcher says now is the...
Apr 22, 2020 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: International participants in Dubai Expo 2020 share thoughts on the likely one-year postponement and the status of their pavilionsLeaders of several national pavilions being developed for...
Apr 03, 2020 Comments Off on Bingo Tso, ACE International, on the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on Asian companies and the attractions marketBingo Tso of ACE International shares his perspective from...
Mar 17, 2020 Comments Off on COVID-19: Reassurances from Beijing and Kelly Ryner (Thinkwell)"As for business here in China, there is a lot of positive...
Dec 25, 2019 Comments Off on California’s Great America WinterFest: Transforming a theme park into a holiday wonderland.With millions of lights and thousands of decorations, the...
Nov 16, 2019 Comments Off on #80 – IAAPA 2019Table of contents
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on Meet Amanda ThompsonIAAPA’s incoming chair has deep roots in the attractions...
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on TEA 2020A chat with Michael Blau - incoming TEA International Board...
Nov 14, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA 2019 Chair David Rosenberg: The aqua-manRosenberg serves as the 2019 Chair of the IAAPA Board of...
Nov 14, 2019 Comments Off on CircusTrix CEO Fernando Eiroa: Leaps and boundsInPark spoke with Eiroa about the unique business of...
Nov 09, 2019 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: Interviews with Jeremy Railton and Scott Ault on the launch of their new company, Railton Entertainment Design (RED)Themed entertainment design veterans Jeremy Railton and...
Oct 22, 2019 Comments Off on ISE 2020The annual Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) trade show for...
Oct 21, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA: “Wear comfortable shoes!”"If this is your first Expo, attend the First Time...
Sep 11, 2019 Comments Off on Netflix and thrill: Greg Lombardo joins the content streaming powerhouse as Head of ExperiencesLombardo brings with him more than a decade experience in...
Sep 10, 2019 Comments Off on Transitions: Leaps and boundsIndustry professionals are making moves and creating waves
Sep 09, 2019 Comments Off on Exploring IAAPA EuropeMeet recent additions to IAAPA’s European team
Aug 08, 2019 Comments Off on IPM Interview: Jennifer Lee Hackett, Sinking Ship EntertainmentGiant screen veteran Jennifer Lee Hackett has joined...
Jun 28, 2019 Comments Off on John Miceli and the new DE-ŹYN StudiosThroughout his career, John Miceli has worked in feature...
Jun 26, 2019 Comments Off on Meet Lionsgate Entertainment World’s new general manager: Selena MagillMeet the new GM of Lionsgate Entertainment World, scheduled...
May 08, 2019 Comments Off on ECA2: All eyes on LanzhouECA2's latest spectacle, a permanent installation in a...
May 06, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA Expo Asia"Establishing a presence in both Hong Kong and Shanghai...
Apr 29, 2019 Comments Off on Vekoma: Coasting around AsiaInPark spoke to Jason Pan, Vekoma’s regional director of...
Mar 21, 2019 Comments Off on Lisa Passamonte GreenThe Thea Awards Nominating Committee annually reviews and...