Hero Ventures recently announced its collaboration with Marvel Entertainment to produce The Marvel Experience, a 4D, immersive touring attraction that will launch in 2014. InPark Magazine co-editor Judith Rubin interviewed George Wiktor, director of attraction management at Hero Ventures.
How long has The Marvel Experience project been brewing, and when did you come on board?
The principals of Hero Ventures have been working to put this together for a couple of years. I’ve been on board since April.
Tell us about the role you will play. Who else is on the creative team? Are there still openings?
The key creative individuals have already been assembled. Some have worked with Marvel in the past in one capacity or another. Lead producers Michael Cohl and Jere Harris were named in the first announcement from Hero Ventures; others will be named at a later date. I can tell you that they are really top-notch professionals, and they’ve already been working hard on this project for a while, as we all have – because it will include elements that haven’t been combined this way before.
Hero Ventures co-founders Doug Schaer and Rick Licht, respectively the COO and CEO, have been impeccable in finding all the right leaders in their respective areas. They’ve collected the best of the best – including some of the newly released investors and partners, including Marvel itself. An interesting thing is Hero Ventures’ dual role: they are the client as well as the creative producers.
As director of attraction management, I am like a project manager who brings in smart, creative, capable people; I keep the dialog going and the project moving forward. I also bring my understanding of and experience with attraction development and production. Everything I do has an eye toward maximizing the guest experience.
Please expand on what you said about “elements that haven’t been combined this way before.”
We’re bringing together two forms of entertainment. We’re combining the event form – the temporary installation that arrives in a major center and creates an experience for a limited time – with what’s been the traditional, architecture-based, park-based form. We will put them together into an immersive, narrative-based attraction, and send it on the road.
Rick and Doug, as well as fellow co-founder and CPO Jason Rosen of Hero Ventures, have recognized that we are at a place where we can take attractions and liberate them from the architectural limitations of theme parks. We have a giant mobile domed complex, the likes of which has never been seen before. It’s the opposite of permanent location-based entertainment. It’s an exciting, new idea – a big idea.
Accordingly, our team spans both sides. We have people such as Cohl and Harris, who are experienced in creating touring attractions – from exhibitions through rock ‘n’ roll festivals – and people who are accomplished in creating entertainment installations in permanent structures. The team’s combined experience and wisdom are boosted by the advancement of technologies in both areas.
The kinds of media-based technologies, dome systems, interactives and support infrastructure that will be implemented in The Marvel Experience are technologies that, not very long ago, required a comparatively huge amount of support, and gear that took up a lot more space. Nowadays they are much more efficient, and smaller. It’s amazing how small some units are now – for instance I was shown a surprisingly compact AC unit that can cool a 60-foot dome – not long ago, such an AC unit would have been the size of a big-rig trailer. The scale is such that we can take a much more ambitious project on the road as never before. The Marvel Experience is going to break new ground in the applications of technology as well as in immersive storytelling.
Let’s hear more about the storytelling part.
Telling stories is what gets my passion going – stories that are appropriate to the culture and the time and place. From both the technological and the cultural point of view, we’re at a paradigm shift in what people expect from entertainment. The medium has evolved and so have the expectations of the guest.
In today’s participation culture, many people spend time creating entertainment for themselves and their friends. The experience we provide – the way we tell the story – has to be relevant to that culture.
What about maintaining the authenticity of the Marvel property? Given the fan base, the stature of the brand and its being owned by Disney, the bar must be pretty high.
It’s important that we be genuine – that we stay genuine throughout the process. We are all committed to that. Authenticity is a touchstone that makes these kinds of things successful, and The Marvel Experience must feel a legitimate part of the Marvel universe, reflecting its values, stories and backstories. There’s a lot of expertise on the team that understands this IP. We’ll make the most of that passion and knowledge to speak to the fanboy/girl audience. At the same time, the experience itself must be as awesome as the IP, and it must appeal to the broad, family demographic this attraction will serve. Marvel is multi-generational and multi-gender in its appeal. The attraction will speak the universal language of the superhero.
Contractually, it’s a complex and formidable task to bring together a high-level, branded project like this. Tell us about the Hero Ventures principals who engineered this agreement.
Doug Schaer and Rick Licht are dynamic, interesting, entrepreneurial and visionary people. They come out of the world of sports entertainment and over the past few years have focused with laser intensity to make this project real. They’re passionate about it. They’re very good at what they do, and they’re comfortable in the business world. They care about creating good entertainment.
A project like this doesn’t just entail design and production. There are also operations, bookings, maintenance. How are those being handled?
Hero Ventures is creating a whole product. The team they’ve put together covers all the bases.
Do you see this as something that will revolutionize the attractions industry?
To my thinking it’s more of an evolution, as opposed to a revolution: a natural evolution of the industry. And thanks to the technologies now available, we’re going to pull this off in a very short timeframe. We have about a year to do something that in the past would take 3-5 years – I guess you could call that revolutionary. Not everyone could pull it off, but this team can. Since I am a person who always wants to try something new, I’m fortunate to find myself with a group of people who are equally excited about the challenge and have the skills to meet it.