Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Creating memorable moments

Panasonic Connect and partners bring technology solutions to themed entertainment with 2022 TECH DAY

By Martin Palicki

PHOTO: Silky Fine Mist is one of many new products from Panasonic aimed at the attractions and immersive experience industry, as shown here in the Japan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Though Panasonic has been focused on this market for years (primarily through projector systems), the organization is leveraging all areas of the corporation to provide solutions-based approaches for the benefit of the themed entertainment industry.

The pixels and players of Panasonic Connect

Panasonic Connect North America is a B2B company that provides device hardware, software, and professional services to its customers across many industries. In particular, its Professional Imaging and Visual Systems group provides a full portfolio of AV solutions to create engaging, immersive, and inspiring experiences to a variety of markets including themed entertainment. Several industry professionals within Panasonic Connect are dedicated to the attractions market:

  • Larry Howard, Director, Themed Entertainment & Immersive Environments
  • Joseph Conover, Strategic Account Manager, Themed Entertainment
  • Fred Mitchell, Senior Strategic Account Manager, Themed Entertainment
L to R: Larry Howard, Joseph Conover, Fred Mitchell

The Panasonic Connect North America team works closely with its community of partners, innovators, and integrators to provide the right technologies and solutions to address customers’ evolving needs. Connecting with customers is a top priority.  “It’s not just the box. We are hardware focused, but solutions enabled,” explains Howard. “We have relationships with end users to understand their needs and then bring in our ecosystem to support that.”

Because so many projects in themed entertainment are custom built and require innovative technology, that focus on longer-term relationships and connections can make a big difference in the final experience, especially when providers like Panasonic Connect are a part of the attraction creation process right from the start.

Faisal Pandit, President, Panasonic Connect North America

Why focus on this market in the first place? Faisal Pandit, President, Panasonic Connect North America believes there are major benefits to being committed to the themed entertainment industry.

“I think theme parks are home to some of the best immersive experiences, where attractions have to appeal to a wide demographic with diverse audiences,” says Pandit. “The creative demands of theme park attractions stretch the limits and demands of technology, so it’s the best location to develop and showcase our solutions before expanding them to other markets and environments.”

Additionally, Pandit knows that while Panasonic Connect has a relationship with its customers, they also have a strong commitment to the end users: park attraction visitors. “Our ultimate commitment is to create environments that delight guests, and create memorable moments” affirms Pandit.

Panasonic Connect has been engaged with the entertainment market for quite some time. “All of Panasonic’s regions around the world have been working with theme parks, including Disney, for decades,” says Conover, who has been with the company since 2015. “In recent years, we have been asked more to develop solutions, not just products. In turn, our teams are innovating and creating efficiencies to help support the creative process.”

One example Conover cites is Panasonic Connect’s partnership with Illuminarium Experiences. The immersive environments of Illuminarium (covered in-depth on inparkmagazine.com) rely heavily on a suite of technologies, including dozens of Panasonic projectors. Illuminarium’s EVP of Technology and Content Brian Allen approached Panasonic Connect about creating the visuals that cover the walls and floor of the space. “We created a new short-throw lens together and manufactured that lens in a matter of months,” says Conover. It’s now used in Illuminarium Experiences in Las Vegas and Atlanta, with more locations in development. “Brian had the vision and we created a product to help make it a reality.”

Illuminarium’s SPACE experience – Photo courtesy of Illuminarium

More than meets the eye

Panasonic Connect is perhaps most widely known for its extensive lineup of projectors. Used in select attractions at Disney parks and in venues like AREA15 and Illuminarium, Panasonic projectors are silent workhorses. But other solutions from Panasonic Connect are also targeted to the attractions market.

To help get creatives thinking about the possibilities, Panasonic Connect hosts its annual TECH DAY to showcase their innovation. This year the event took place October 26th and 27th in Orlando. In addition to sharing the latest Panasonic Connect technology, a series of brief presentations took place throughout both days. Illuminarium’s Brian Allen provided a keynote about his experience with Panasonic Connect, as well as plans for future development.

“We support the market from both the bottom up and the top down. Our Panasonic Connect TECH DAYs are about supporting and bringing the technology directly to the people who can use it,” explains Mitchell. “Everyone is balancing a busy schedule of varying priorities right now, so having events locally are a huge benefit to companies in the local Orlando market. We want everyone to experience what would otherwise only be at major tradeshows.”

Panasonic Connect Innovations on display included:

Silky Fine Mist – Using just compressed air and tap water, the ultra-fine particles of water are small enough that they float, evaporate easily and are an effective, chemical-free alternative to fog, haze and smoke machines.

TOUGHBOOK – Ruggedized laptop, tablet and handheld devices are ideal for back-of-house use, such as managing warehouses, maintenance and vegetation. They have also been used as POS devices at outdoor kiosks and for virtual queue management systems.

5.2K HDR Stylish VR Headset – This slim profile VR headset has steampunk aesthetics. Each headset includes camera-based head tracking and integrated audio speakers.

Moving Mirror – This combination of a Panasonic projector and a rotating mirror can project images across a 120-degree field, both vertically and horizontally, adjusting automatically for natural distortion. Moving Mirror is ideal for museums, stadiums and more. The mirror assembly is a derivative of Panasonic’s PTZ motor mechanism, providing reliability and a long life.

PTZ Cameras and Professional Audio – Panasonic’s line of PTZ cameras and microphones are constantly being upgraded with new features. The latest versions include next generation automation, where cameras immediately focus on whichever microphone is being used. Originally developed for conferences and meetings, the system can also be utilized for special events and local in-park broadcasts.

Automatic camera-based alignment and recalibration – The trend of automation continues with Panasonic’s solution for calibrating and aligning projectors. This camera-based system takes less than two minutes to process and can be used on flat or 3D dimensional surfaces, minimizing maintenance time.

In addition, Panasonic Connect previewed concepts and advancements in the projector space that are still in development but coming to market soon.

The Van Gogh experience at AREA15 in Las Vegas – Photo courtesy of Laurent Velasquez

Teamwork makes the dream work

Themed entertainment projects don’t develop in a vacuum, and Panasonic Connect recognizes that creatives and developers rely on multiple vendors to create an experience. “The Panasonic Connect ecosystem of products and solutions is enhanced by the experts at our partner companies, which helps create a better end-user experience,” says Howard.

To help facilitate that, Panasonic Connect invited Alcorn McBride, InterAmerica Stage, 4Wall Entertainment, and 7thSense to participate in the Technology Days. Each had the opportunity to present and share their own products that support and complement Panasonic’s offerings.

“We’ve worked with the Panasonic Connect team for a long time and value the connections they bring to the industry,” says Alcorn McBride Chief Innovation Officer Scott Harkless. Alcorn is currently working with Panasonic Connect to more seamlessly integrate their media players and controls into Panasonic’s lens systems and projectors.

Scott Harkless, Alcorn McBride

Harkless says one of the major benefits of having strong industry partnerships is that vendors have been able to get involved earlier in the creative process and develop solutions as a team early on, rather than rushing in at the end of the project lifecycle. “The client always drives the process, but we work well together and help the client make decisions based on good, collaborative design,” says Harkless.

Matt Barton, 7thSense

“Relationships are key,” says 7thSense CEO Matt Barton. “We have one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a big puzzle and it helps a lot to know how all the other pieces fit together.” 7thSense’s media servers and show controls are often integrated in projects with Panasonic technology. “By understanding the systems and products out there, we all can help the customer better.”

Panasonic Connect expects teamwork and collaboration to grow as the trend towards immersive experiences expands.

“There’s been such a huge uptick in immersive spaces – not just in theme parks and attractions, but we are seeing historic sites, museums and even cities get involved in projection mapping,” says Conover. “We are on the cusp now of the next wave: interactivity and participation. Can you change a narrative through a crowd? The technology and creative are available to make it work today, there just needs to be the right opportunity to develop it.”

Let’s GLOW projection mapping in San Francisco

To Conover’s point, that’s already happening at places like Illuminarium Experiences, where guest movement impacts the projected scenery, and at the Japan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, where guests’ decisions created a unique avatar that followed them around in the final pavilion scene as Silky Fine Mist filled the room.

Whatever that next experience threshold is, Panasonic Connect and its collaborators are ready to engineer solutions to help themed entertainment get there.

“Imagination, creativity and expertise are required for this business,” says Pandit. “We continually bring together the best of these to help create the next generation of immersive experiences.”

Be on the lookout for Panasonic Connect’s 2023 TECH DAY and expect more of the same technologies and partners.

For more information, visit https://na.panasonic.com/us/panasonic-connect.

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, CNN.com and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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