Saturday, May 18, 2024

Full access to the toybox

Attractions Technology Lab and the power of synchronization

Interview by Joe Kleiman

The Attractions Technology Lab (ATL) was created to give industry members a behind-the-scenes look at the technology behind a full ride experience, with the benefit of showing the intercommunication between different systems in a controlled, curated environment. It is a showcase of leading attractions technologies working together in a single project, in a setting that offers plenty of time for exploration and networking.

Now entering its third year and preparing for its next gatherings in Orlando in June and November 2023, the ATL started as a partnership between founding members Alcorn McBride, Christie, Garner Holt Productions, Oceaneering and Weigl Controls.

“Our events are designed to deliver high value to our collective clients,” says Loren Barrows, Alcorn McBride Chief Operating Officer. “The goals for the partners involved are collaboration and growth in the interest of building better products and better relationships. With collaboration, we are looking to improve the interoperability of our products between manufacturers and grow the technical talent pool so companies can find the people they need to be successful. With growth, we’re gaining exposure and blazing the trail for a stronger voice for the technical users in our market.”

To keep pace with the market, ATL is evolving, and discussions are underway with new partners (including several key partners from the team that produces Illuminarium) to expand the experience for its November event. We spoke with Devin Flannery at Alcorn McBride to learn more. In his role as a Solutions Architect, Flannery supports clients with their applications and conveys the clients’ needs to the Alcorn McBride engineering team. He also oversees the company’s training programs. 

Interview with Devin Flannery

As part of your duties with Alcorn McBride, you play a key role in the development of the ATL. What is the ATL experience going to be like this year?
Devin Flannery
Devin Flannery

We are excited to treat attendees in 2023 to two different ATL showcases, both at Oceaneering’s spacious Orlando facility, which has the infrastructure to do a full dark ride. Our June show will conveniently run while the InfoComm Show (taking place June 14-16) is in town. It will be similar to what was presented in 2022. So if you missed our earlier gatherings, June 2023 is a reboot of those, followed in November by a brand-new presentation during IAAPA Expo (November 10 and 13-17). For our November show, we’re in discussions to add some exciting new technology from additional leading providers. Event info can be found online at https://attractionstechnology.com/event-info/

As I’ve said, the June 2023 show will revisit what was presented last November – but the reboot will have more of an open house feel, welcoming other manufacturers to see what the ATL is about. We are rebooting the Dark Ride Lab which features a large screen from our supporting partner Carbon Black Technologies and animatronics from Garner Holt. The ride takes about five minutes, but then riders stay on the vehicle and go through a second time for a behind-the-scenes guided tour, where they see how everything works together.

Other supporting partners include Theme Park AV (ride vehicle audio system design), thejuice (dark ride media content), 4Wall Entertainment (lighting system design and rigging), Goodtheory Studios (mapping content), InterAmerica Stage, CarbonBlack, QSC, PowerSoft, and ETC (lighting fixtures). This group of companies continues to expand.

Some things we can tell you now about the 2023 version in November: It will feature permanent projection surfaces with complex curvature from Strong/MDI. We’re in talks with HOLOPLOT to attach their matrixed beam-forming speakers to the Strong MDI screens. (Right now, the audio is a static experience.) One discussion with HOLOPLOT involves steering of the audio beam in real-time. We’re also in discussions with Panasonic Connect about showcasing some of their technology. [Editor’s Note: Strong/MDI, HOLOPLOT, and Panasonic Connect have contributed to the Illuminarium attractions currently in Atlanta and Las Vegas. See https://www.inparkmagazine.com/wild-kingdoms/]

Are there other activities attached to the ATL besides the ride experiences?
Weigl training session. ATL photos courtesy Alcorn McBride

The ATL also offers in-depth training sessions where people can see the equipment and interfaces and learn how they’re employed. It’s a way for them to become more familiar with the product offerings. Each training session is specific to each manufacturer. For example, Weigl has a training session on how to program animatronics. Attendees can come in for the training session before experiencing the showcases and then get a short tour of the lab. It usually lasts about two hours.

There’s also a tour of the Oceaneering facility and people will get to ride one of their autonomous shuttles between buildings.

What was the genesis of the Attractions Technology Lab?

It began with Loren Barrows having discussions with other industry leaders about how we could showcase our companies’ technologies outside of the more traditional events. Scott Harkless, Alcorn McBride’s Chief Innovation Officer [and a contributor to InPark Magazine] was very involved in putting this together. It helps that all of the partners know each other well, because we’ve all worked on attractions projects together for clients.

What criteria do you have when considering new partners for the ATL?

We look for companies that can fit the bill of theme parks – dark rides, AV control, animatronics and ride control. There is a slight caveat in place that the first rights for showcasing a technology go to the five founding members, but we’re very open to other companies showcasing their tech. InterAmerica Stage is a leading rigging company and Carbon Black is a cutting-edge manufacturer of transparent screens, but we look at other companies like Strong/MDI if they have a product that’s unique in the market. Our goal is to provide a top-tier experience, and it’s important that a company’s equipment fit into the overall flow of running an attraction, because that’s really what we’re showcasing.

The ATL is not fixed on dark rides. We’ve been doing that because the Oceaneering facility manufactures dark ride vehicles. Future iterations of the ATL will be focused around other types of attractions as well.

Audio plays a key role in an attraction. How is that accomplished?
All the equipment’s on view

PowerSoft and Q-SYS are our current audio partners. We use our Alcorn McBride V16X show controller and BinloopX AV controller fitted with a BX-16A audio playback module using Dante and a BX-4KU 4K video playback module. Our RidePlayer onboard audio is installed on the Oceaneering vehicles. Powersoft has provided the amp and subwoofer, while we have a Q-SYS Core and amplifier driving the QSC speakers.

What are some of the technology trends you see in the attractions industry or elsewhere that might migrate to attractions?

From my perspective, it’s about immersive experiences and using technology to augment the world around us to enhance the experience, as well as to engage with and excite the guests.

I believe the most fundamental trend is the personalization of a shared experience. Growing up in Orlando, I’ll never forget the surprise and awe that I felt on the E.T. Adventure ride at Universal Studios Florida when E.T. would say your name as you approached the end of the ride. That’s the realization that attractions aren’t just canned loops, and can actually be catered toward individuals, while still being an experience that we all share.

I think people are naturally communal, and as such prefer Augmented Reality over Virtual Reality – we don’t want to shut out the world around us, but rather augment and enhance it to make it more exciting.

Companies such as HOLOPLOT seem to support this idea as well. The way they utilize beam forming in their products is exceptional, and provides a unique auditory experience for numerous people within the same environment. It’s really quite thrilling to experience. And from what I’ve seen, the team over at Misapplied Sciences is looking to achieve something along the same lines with video using their Parallel Reality product.

How did you get involved with theme park technology?

While in college in 2006, I was offered a job with a family friend, Jeff Bobbin, at his company Show System Integrators (SSI), which he founded after leaving Soundelux Showorks. This is where I got my first taste of working on a theme park design/integration when we were awarded the design-build contract for The Simpsons Ride in Orlando and Hollywood, and also when I first met Scott Harkless and learned about Alcorn McBride products.

Guests learn about how different components work together in a single attraction

Then in late 2010 I was offered a job back at SPL (which had become AVI-SPL by that point) in their Special Projects Group to work on some Universal Studios projects that they had landed. Many of these projects also involved Alcorn McBride products to varying degrees.

Later, I decided to join some of my friends/colleagues over at Electrosonic. I was hired on as a Design Engineer, but quickly became part of the leadership within the engineering team, eventually becoming the Engineering Manager of North America. This is also where I met Gabe Perry, who joined the engineering team after leaving Universal Studios (prior to him coming aboard at Alcorn McBride).

Then in 2022 I learned of an opening at Alcorn McBride and jumped at the opportunity.

What attracted you to Alcorn McBride?

For me the people were the initial appeal. I’ve known various people who have worked for Alcorn, and I had a great working relationship with Scott and Gabe. From my years on the integration side, Alcorn has had a reputation for building solid, reliable products. Couple that with a fun, supportive working environment with some exceptionally talented people, and it’s an opportunity that you’d have to be crazy to turn down.

Who should attend the ATL?

We’ve found that a lot of people adjacent to the attractions industry or who have nothing to do with it come through and enjoy the experience. We find that more tech-inclined people tend to get more involved in exploring the technologies and how they work together and there are lots of students coming through.

Our members do a lot of presentations for university programs. Alcorn-McBride provides training sessions on our platforms once a quarter in Orlando and twice a year at a facility in Burbank. We find that a dozen or so students sign up for each program, and we’re impressed. There’s lots of engagement with lots of high-level questions. Our partner Christie also partners with UCF’s Graduate Program in Themed Experience. UCF last year announced a partnership with Universal Creative, so there’s another extension of how we can reach out to students.

What do you want people to come away with after experiencing the ATL?

Technology has to be of value and add to the show and it has to be of value to the guests in attendance. People are coming onboard all the time with new technologies or new products they try to get in the fold to augment what they’re doing. The ATL is a way to show how the process can be streamlined and it’s a way our partners can showcase new elements. The show itself is not centered around the show. It’s centered around the behind-the-scenes experience.

We’re not faking anything or cutting corners. Everything involved is real, it’s the same elements that would be used in a real-world application. We build on our previous shows and it takes a lot of coordination, permitting and logistics between partners – about three weeks to install and program the shows. When you come to the Attractions Technology Lab, you’re going to see everything that makes the experience happen.

The most exciting part for me in working on the ATL is engaging with the attendees and seeing their eyes light up and the gears start turning in their mind when they see how the systems integrate and communicate to drive the whole experience. It’s an “Aha” moment when they see the power of synchronization at work.

Oceaneering vehicles are a featured component of the Dark Ride Lab
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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