Friday, December 9, 2022

Christie: Boarding pass

Flying theaters take guests on the ride of their lives

by Joe Kleiman

Christie projectors and solutions are helping guests suspend disbelief and take the ride of their lives in venues of all kinds – including premium, one-off experiences at major theme parks, standalone theaters in tourist destinations, and more standardized configurations for regional leisure venues.

In a flying theater, riders sit in motion-controlled seats with their feet dangling, surrounded by imagery on a large dome or curved screen. Christie is one of the specialist projection suppliers that often partners in the creation of flying theaters, with projection options for a wide range of settings, configurations and budgets, and a decade of specialized expertise.

Christie’s acumen in supplying systems to flying theaters is built on extensive experience in two, closely related sectors where multiple projectors and blended images tend to come into play – professional motion simulators (aka training simulators) for industry and government, and full dome theaters for planetariums and other settings.

When Doug Boyer, Entertainment Account Manager at Christie, joined the company in 2004, “Christie was forming a custom solutions group. We hired solutions architects – AV engineers – because we were very involved in the industrial simulator business and we were interested in how the technology could be applied in solutions for other fields.”

At the ultra-high-end, the Christie Eclipse 4K RGB pure laser projector, honored in 2020 with the prestigious Thea Technology Award, was introduced at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. The Christie Eclipse processes and reproduces true HDR imagery on-screen, at both high and low brightness levels and true 4K resolution, achieving an unparalleled contrast ratio of up to 20,000,000:1. In addition, its color gamut approaches Rec. 2020.

Says Boyer, “If there were no budget ceiling for a flying theater, we would, unhesitatingly, recommend Eclipse projectors due to the ultra-high 20,000,000:1 contrast ratio that we’re able to achieve with these units.” Meanwhile, “we offer the best solution that fits within any physical constraints, the target budget, and the scale of the project.” Those options include (but are not limited to) the Christie laser and RGB pure laser projectors that have been utilized in recent flying theater installs by SimEx-Iwerks and Kraftwerk Living Technologies (KLT).

SimEx-Iwerks: screen size and shape

One of the pioneers of motion simulator attractions is SimEx- Iwerks. The company’s rich history of innovation includes the development (by SimEx) of the 1984 Tour of the Universe in Toronto – an early and influential example. In 2002, SimEx would acquire another pioneer of the genre, Iwerks Entertainment. A driving purpose of Iwerks was to streamline products and processes to help bring high-quality, sophisticated attractions within the reach of smaller operators.

Today’s SimEx-Iwerks takes a whole-product approach to business in that it provides the motion base and the audiovisual integration for a project and is at the same time a content provider. They’ve brought this to the development of flying theaters. “Our goal for visitors is to have bright, vibrant, fully immersive imagery with as much impact as possible,” says Doug Wildeboer, A/V Engineering Manager for SimEx-Iwerks. “Ultimately, we want people to be in an environment that is involving them in the moment.”

Agila the EKsperience at Enchanted Kingdom, Philippines © 2021 SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

The SimEx-Iwerks FlyRide system debuted in 2016 when the 105-seat Agila the EKsperience attraction opened at Enchanted Kingdom theme park in Santa Rosa, Philippines. It uses three Christie 4K projectors, with a curved screen to envelop guests in an aerial tour of the region.

SimEx-Iwerks opened its next generation of FlyRide theaters at two Beyond the Lens leisure destinations in the United States – two 40-seat theaters, one in 2020 in Branson, Missouri, and one in 2022 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Whereas the screen was visible upon entry in the first generation of FlyRide and the floors lowered to create the foot-dangling effect, this second generation of FlyRide houses the ride carriages in individual bays.

Doors in front of the riders rapidly open to reveal the screen, and the motion base shoots forward with no floor beneath the riders, bolstering the sense of takeoff and flight. Each theater uses four Christie Crimson laser projectors. With WUXGA resolution (just slightly lower than 2K per projector, but close to 4K resolution with the projectors combined), the 3-chip DLP® projector provides 25,000 lumens, and up to 20,000 hours of maintenance- free operation.

The Take Flight flying theater at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI © 2021 SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

At Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, a 60-seat FlyRide theater uses four Christie D4K40-RGB pure laser projectors, featuring up to 45,000 lumens each, blended into a single high- definition image with Christie Mystique – Large Scale Experience Edition software. According to Joel St-Denis, Director of Product Management at Christie, “Depending on the design of the flying ride, you may have vibration in the structure that can lead to projection shift. Christie Mystique can accurately align and maintain content across multiple projectors in minutes.”

Christie’s Boyer pointed out that one thing that keeps customers coming back to Christie is its group and 24/7 aftermarket support services.

Says Wildeboer, “Our partnership with Christie has been crucial to the product we provide to our clients. Christie’s support team has worked closely with us in creating unique solutions. Their post-install support is fantastic as well.”

Kraftwerk Living Technologies: different architecture, different challenges

Austria’s Kraftwerk Living Technologies is an integrator whose projects range from architectural AV to research and conceptualization software. KLT is also well-known in the attractions industry for its approach to unique projects – including full dome attractions and flying theaters, and has been part of numerous high-profile installations in Asia and Europe that involve specialty cinema.

Dragon’s Treasure at City of Dreams, Macau was a highly acclaimed show and novel use of the digital dome that ran from 2009-2015. © Falcon’s Treehouse

“Every project is different,” says Thomas Gellermann, Head of Special Projects. “Flying theater projects actually have more similarities to one another than full dome theaters. But we did learn from our full dome projects. For instance, Dragon’s Treasure at City of Dreams, Macau (a highly acclaimed show and novel use of the digital dome that ran 2009-2015) taught us the importance of positioning projectors to hide shadows. This is something we learned when applying projectors to flying theaters, where they are positioned typically around the riders. This and the requirement to develop uncompressed, multi-channel media servers with integrated auto-alignment functionality, gave us our own custom solutions and the advantage to set the challenges even higher.”

On another project in Macau, at the Studio City Macau resort, KLT employed three Christie 3DLP projectors on the 72-seat Batman: Dark Flight flying theater, which opened in 2015. KLT partners with various motion base manufacturers, each with its own ride system. For Batman: Dark Flight, the motion base was supplied by Dynamic Attractions. Riders take their seats on a base sitting flat on the ground; the entire base then rotates 90 degrees, placing them in front of the screen with feet dangling.

The 72-seat Batman: Dark Flight flying theater opened at the Studio City Macau resort in 2015. © Kraftwerk Living Technologies

For Europa-Park’s Voletarium attraction, which opened in 2017 and features what is said to be the largest flying theater in Europe, KLT integrated three Christie Mirage Series projectors in each of the two 70-seat theaters. Voletarium tells the story of two fictional European aviators. The main event is a flight above Europe in front of a 16-meter (52-foot) high dome with projection at 120 frames per second. The theater utilized Brogent’s i-Ride motion bases, which suspend individual carriages within the dome space.

Voletarium at Europa-Park features two 70-seat flying theaters. © Frank Baudy

KLT also was the integrator for two recent FlyOver attractions – one is in Reykjavik, Iceland, opened 2019, and one in Las Vegas, Nevada, opened 2021. FlyOver operates under the umbrella of destination travel company Pursuit. “FlyOver Iceland was a new build, while FlyOver Las Vegas was a retrofit of an existing place,” says Gellermann. “So while we had more room to work with in Iceland (and a smaller screen), we had our ceiling height compromised in Vegas. Our process starts with defining the screen area, then where the projectors will be placed. We need to understand the pitch and viewing area and define the sweet spot in the theater. All these elements define the ideal position where the projectors can shoot at the best angle without colliding with the motion system.”

Gellermann finds that for many of his projects, “the native 4K 3DLP systems are the best. There might be differences in the light sources, but RGB laser is important for reaching that Rec. 2020 color space, which provides the most realistic color spectrum. For these types of projectors, Christie is one of the best.”

The magic: technology and people

An advantage of Christie’s current lineup of projectors is their ability to project at up to 120 frames per second (fps) at native 4K. Flying theaters can easily suffer the same issue as virtual reality or first-person video games, where lower frame rates can result in motion fatigue and dizziness, especially when physical movement on a motion base is factored in. At 120 fps, motion blur is virtually eliminated and a more realistic image, comfortable to the brain, is produced.

The Christie M 4K25 RGB features 25,000 lumens and RGB pure laser technology. Photo courtesy of Christie Digital

Christie offers other solutions to improve the viewing experience. Along with Mystique, another key Christie technology used to maximize quality is LiteLOC. According to Ernest Bakenie, Senior Director of Sales, Themed Entertainment, Americas at Christie, “The first time you see an attraction, it looks perfect on day one. But what does it look like six months, nine months, two years down the road? To keep attractions looking as perfect as they do on the first day, Christie utilizes a variety of technologies such as LiteLOC which will keep the same color balance and brightness over time regardless of fluctuations in ambient temperature.”

“LiteLOC is standard on our latest 3DLP projectors,” shares St-Denis. “Additionally, you can prolong the life and brightness level of the projectors by not running them at full brightness. This means they can stay as bright as the first day. For instance, you might have 35,000-lumen projectors, but run them at only 25,000 lumens to maintain the same light level. People want to experience the attraction the same way every time they ride it, year after year.”

The Christie Griffyn 4K50-RGB pure laser projector delivers 50,000 lumens and achieves ~98% of the Rec. 2020 color space. Photo courtesy of Christie Digital

Recently, Christie introduced its Griffyn line of 3DLP 4K laser projectors. For the larger domes and screens, the Griffyn 4K50- RGB pure laser projector offers 50,000 lumens of illumination and features Rec. 2020 color capabilities [see “Screens to fill, markets to disrupt,” InPark issue #77]. A 35,000-lumen version of the projector will soon be on the market. “Our 25,000-lumen M 4K25 RGB projector,” says St-Denis, “has a small form factor that becomes something to be considered when there isn’t a massive amount of space. It’s UHD and can be stacked to achieve desired light levels.”

“We’re focusing on offering a smaller form factor with higher power,” adds Bakenie.

Christie works closely with its partners to develop solutions that meet the needs of each project. “One of the important things to note about flying theaters,” says St-Denis, “is that they’re all custom projects. Each one depends on the type of installation, the type of space, and the integrators’ approach.”

“We have a variety of projectors to meet a range of budgets and spaces and complementary technologies to make the experience as immersive as possible,” says Bakenie. “Our technology ensures that every time, in every seat, guests will have a fantastic experience.”

IAAPA Expo and the Attractions Technology Lab

Christie will be exhibiting at booth 1383 during the IAAPA Expo in Orlando, Florida, November 15-18, 2022. In addition, the company will be demonstrating its latest technology at the Attractions Technology Lab, taking place at Oceaneering’s headquarters in Orlando November 14 and 15 (there will be free shuttle service from the IAAPA Expo). The Attractions Technology Lab (attractionstechnology.com) allows park and attraction operators and AV integrators to experience a complete ride installation in a controlled environment. It is presented by the Attractions Technology Collaborative founded by Alcorn McBride, Christie, Garner Holt Productions, Oceaneering, and Weigl Control. In addition to a choose-your-own-adventure dark ride experience, tours of Oceaneering’s facility will be available, as well as training from the partner companies.

Visit christiedigital.com. • • •

Batman: Dark Flight. © Kraftwerk Living Technologies
Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleimanhttp://wwww.themedreality.com
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, ThemedReality.com takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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