Monday, October 2, 2023

eca2: Lighting up the night

ECA2 builds evening spectacles for two Chinese clients

by Martin Palicki

“If it’s done correctly,” says ECA2 President and CEO Jean-Christophe Canizares, “a nighttime attraction can bring a fast ROI.” The process is quicker than building a resort, can be cost effective, and encourage repeat visitation.

Canizares is in a position to know. Since 1974, ECA2 has been creating shows and events around the globe at World’s Fairs, Olympic Games and for top entertainment clients and venues such as Universal, Disney, Futuroscope and the Eiffel Tower. In recent years, the company has further established its long ties to Asia, with projects in Yeosu, South Korea (The Big O Show), Sentosa Island, Singapore (Wings of Time), Wuyishan, China (Fountain of Dreams) and Shenzhen, China (Mangrove Moove).

The success of ECA2 is largely due to continuing innovation, evident in both of the company’s latest shows, opened this summer in two very different settings in China.



The story of “Lake of Illusions” is one of layers. Opened July 2016 at OCT’s Shanghai Happy Valley, the nighttime spectacular engages guests by playing with depth in the theater, turning various two-dimensional screens into a rich three-dimensional palette. But it’s also a tale of how different divisions of OCT (a large Chinese tourism, resort and theme park corporation) and ECA2 partnered to develop the park’s first foray into evening entertainment.

Happy Valley Shanghai opened in 2009 (the fourth theme park in the OCT chain). Over the last few years, the park has started expanding and reinvesting in its product. In 2013 a second gate, Playa Maya waterpark, debuted followed by the Happy Ocean kids’ area in 2014.

In 2015 the park added additional rides and upgraded its architectural lighting, in preparation for extended evening hours. It was a necessary step to prepare for Lake of Illusions.

“We want our guests to have the best experience before they leave the park in the nighttime,” said the park’s Vice General Manager and Artistic Director Zhang Ji Bin. “In addition to entertainment, we want guests to have information about Chinese culture and history.”

The park is located in one of two national tourism resorts in Shanghai (the other is centered around Disney’s property). Happy Valley is committed to enhancing the value of tourism to the region, and understands that a nighttime spectacular benefits not only their park, but the whole SheShan tourism resort area.

Lake of Illusions Equipment List

Water installation:

  • 13 robotic moving jets in the icon (12 x 20m high, 1 x 40m high)
  • Two Spiro screens® in the icon (rotating water jets)
  • High pressure mist installation : two series of mist (30m each) in the icon, four series of mist (40m each) in the lake
  • 36 2D robotic moving jets (20m high)
  • 7 3D robotic moving jets (20m high)
  • Two water screens in the lake (50m wide x 17m high)

Lighting installation:

  • 32 LED wash for the icon architectural lighting
  • 24 B Eye in the icon
  • 24 moving head beams in the icon
  • 18 moving head spots in the rear lake technical rooms
  • 43 LED Donuts for the water jets in the lake
  • 188 LED Helios Bronze for the water effects in the lake

Laser installation:

  • One 25W high-end color laser projector
  • Two 20W high-end color laser projector

HD video projection:

  • Four Christie Roadster for water screens
  • Two Christie Roadster for the Spiro screens®

Flame generators:

  • 18 flame generators (10m high)

Sound installation:

  • 18 front speakers in the lake
  • 6 subwoofers in the lake
  • 7 loudspeakers in the stands

Show Control:

  • Medialon product with custom interface by ECA2

According to ECA2 Chief Architect and Stage Designer Julie Moreau, the brief from OCT was simple: build something impressive that becomes the new icon of the park. Make it visible from afar, impressive, and contemporary. OCT staff had seen ECA2’s work on The Big O Show and were not only impressed with the multimedia elements of the show, but with the architectural “O” integral to the production.

The team developed the idea of a tower, one that leans in towards the audience. It is visible immediately upon entering the park, but doesn’t dominate the skyline. The tower rises out of a central, river-fed lagoon that was already on the property. ECA2 set up a valve and pump system that can control the water level, lowering to provide access to submerged equipment and pumping out water when excessive rains arrive.

The components of the show are simple: Two 17m high water screens flank each side of the 35m tall tower. Six misters provide fog effects at water level and up the sides of the tower. 231 LED lights illuminate both moving and stationary fountains. 18 flame generators are located around the lagoon. 20k Christie Roadster projectors provide content for the water screens. Robe moving head lights and a color laser bring color and movement to the show.



The SpiroScreen® was a key innovation for this project. Mounted atop the tower, two rotating spinners (think of an old-fashioned spinning lawn sprinkler, only mounted vertically), one on each side of the tower, create enough spray to continue the projection surface from the large water screens at the tower’s base.

According to Technical Director Gael Picquet the SpiroScreens® filled a gap that regular water screens could not reach due to the height of the tower. The team tried using single arcs of water, but the lack of movement resulted in uneven surfaces for projection. They tried multiple arcs and then rotating arcs. After additional testing, they found the proper speed and water amount to make the screen as full as possible.

Lake of Illusions also marks the first ECA2 show with variable flame effects. Normally the flame generators spray the Isopar fuel at a certain pressure. The new system allows ECA2 to adjust the spray pressure and, in turn, the height of the flames to fit the show storyline.

Interview with Shanghai Happy Valley’s General Manager and Marketing Director, Mr. Yue Feng, & Vice General Manager and Artistic Director, Mr. Zhang Ji Bin

Building the Layers

According to Artistic Director Moira Smith the show narrative is more loose and flowing than past ECA2 productions. There is a basic love story inspired by a Chinese tale, but it is not central to the show. After the initial frame story is set up, each different scene is a play on a physical law or concept, like inertia, gravity, time, or infinity. The creative team then took those concepts and used the various special effects and tools to create a compelling experience.

This is where ECA2’s true talents come to the fore. Using only water, light and sound, the team turns the tower and lagoon into a multi-layered stage where images bounce forward and back, lasers cut through meters of fog, and color dances across the lagoon and up the tower.

In many respects, the tower disappears during the show – and that’s the way they designed it. With images and lighting surrounding the tower, and emanating from it, during the show it becomes less of an architectural piece and more of a technical component. In essence, it helps to create the different dimensions projected on the water and mist. In one memorable moment, a grid of lasers opens up above and below the audience sightline, creating this futuristic moving world that beckons for exploration. It’s one of dozens of those kinds of moments that combine to create the entertaining Lake of Illusions.

The future of Happy Valley Shanghai

In July, OCT began pouring the foundation for a new resort hotel at Happy Valley Shanghai. Three different  hotels will open up in the resort, all themed to be a European town. The first hotel to open in late 2017 or early 2018 will have a Spanish theme, followed by one with a Bavarian Black Forest motif, and a third Scandinavian-themed property.

The park is also planning a new international indoor show in the already existing OCT Theater. In 2018 the park is planning to open a new themed area called “Shangri-La”, a 1 billion RMB project covering 80,000 square meters.

OCT has also announced two more Happy Valley parks opening by 2018 in Chongqing and Nanjing.


Sharing the Sunshine: EASTERN SUNRISE

By contrast, “Eastern Sunrise” in Rizhao, China is an intense, story-driven production that was completed in an extremely short timeframe, thanks largely to the help of a quasi governmental development company skilled in construction.

Located on the Eastern seaboard of China, Rizhao is known for its expansive beaches, and according to legend, receives the first sun of the day in China. For the 2008 summer Olympics, Rizhao built large aquatic facilities as a backup and as practice sites for the Beijing games. Since then, Rizhao has become known for water sports and recreation.

Recently, the local government has emphasized tourism and charged the state-owned LLC RCCI (Rizhao City Construction Investment Group) to focus on developing projects in line with that mission. RCCI is essentially an urban construction firm that acts as a project manager. According to Mr. Li Zhifeng, Deputy General Manager of RCCI, many cities in China are set up this

way. When the government decides to pursue a new urban land development agenda, they engage a company like RCCI to execute the plan.

Similar to OCT, RCCI brought knowledge of local culture and customs and asked ECA2 to lend their technology expertise. But in this case, RCCI also brought their construction skills to the table. In essence, ECA2’s client was also a vendor, and RCCI’s knowledge of the area and project was critical to completing everything in the short 12-month timeframe.

“When our team arrived on site, everything RCCI had constructed was to specification,” said Canizares. “It really was an amazing experience working with a skilled and knowledgeable client like RCCI.”


Stage Design Elements:

  • A pool 100m length, 50m breadth
  • 8 different concrete sails with a single horizontal curve (10-13m high x 5m wide)
  • A wooden pontoon for the cast (23m length x 12m breadth)
  • 2 fishing net screens of 144sqm
  • 1,370sqm of sumbersible catwalks supporting effects

Audience Area:

  • 85 meters length, 16 meters breadth, 3 meters high
  • A full capacity of 2,030 spectators

Water installation:

  • 12 robotic Focus jets (20m high)
  • 2 robotic Calice duo (8m high)
  • 8 robotic moving jets (25m high)
  • 44 2D robotic moving jets (20m high)
  • 4 arch jets (40m high)
  • High pressure mist installation : 7 series of mist (2x27m, 1x21m, 1x30m, 1×54, 2x36m), 1050nozzles
  • 1 water screen (50m wide x 17m high)
  • 1 water screen (25m wide x 11m high)
  • 2 robotic moving Wave Water Screens® (25m wide x 11m high)
  • 8 Airshoot geysers (8m high)

Lighting installation:

  • 56 LED Donuts for the water jets
  • 181 LED Helios Bronze for the water effects
  • 169 LED Bars for the water effects, cast and mist
  • 8 moving head spots in the rear technical rooms
  • 10 moving head spots in tempest domes

Laser installation:

  • 1 34W high-end color laser projectors
  • 4 20W high-end color laser projectors
  • 2 15.5W high-end color laser projectors

HD video projection:

  • 2 30K Christie Boxer
  • 10 22K Christie Roadster
  • 3 14K Christie Roadster

Flame generators:

  • 12 flame generators (8m high)

Pyrotechnics installation:

  • 12 firing locations
  • 23 firing modules
  • 191 ignition per show
  • 489 shots per show

Sound installation:

  • 18 front speakers
  • 10 rear speakers
  • 10 rear subwoofers

Medialon show control system with custom ECA2 interface including redundant control, touch screens , and feedback information from all show elements in real time.

Inside the Show

Looking at just components, Eastern Sunrise has mostly the same building blocks as Lake of Illusions. The show utilizes fountains, lighting, misters, water screens, projection, lasers and pyrotechnics. Both shows are also built into lagoons, although Eastern Sunrise is connected through a series of dams to the Pacific Ocean, and therefore is in salt water. Beyond that, however, the shows are drastically different.

Eastern Sunrise is heavily driven by narrative. The 24-minute show is a love story: Boy meets girl and falls in love. Girl’s father does not approve of boy, tests the boy to see if he is worthy – nearly destroying a fishing village in the process – and ultimately deems him good enough for his daughter.

The stage is dominated by eight large sails rising up out of the water, each one unique and inspired by sailing ships. A small wooden pier sits close to the audience, used briefly by actors during the show (who are repurposed show maintenance workers), and flanked by fishing nets that double as near-horizontal projection screens.

Each of the sails acts as a projection surface, with a large gap in the center of the sails filled by two giant water screens, one forward and one back of the lagoon. In front of the sails, a large system of fountains, lights and additional water screens allows images to move closer to and away from the audience. Fireworks accentuate the performance.

More innovations

Eastern Sunrise utilizes new water jets and lighting for the show, giving more creative control to show designers. In addition to the typical water screen jets (which make a giant fan shape) and standard jets (think Bellagio fountains), ECA2 incorporated Wave Water Screens® and focus jets. Wave Water Screens® work similarly to standard water screen jets, but also pivot towards the audience, in effect “waving” the fan. With an image projected on the fan, when the fan pivots forward, the image appears to enlarge and move closer to the audience.

Focus jets work similarly to a garden hose nozzle, adjusting between a single focused stream and a flower or cone shape. When used at a low level, they actually can function as misters, and they are less susceptible to wind.

Audio for the show comes from three beach-mounted speakers and 20 speaker mounts behind the audience. ECA2 designers wanted to minimize the height and distraction of the beach speakers, so all bass is transmitted from the rear speakers. Most of the sound effects come from the rear, even though the visual effects are in front of the audience. There is no noticeable difference in the audio experience.

Eastern Sunrise is also ECA2’s first seasonal show. From October through May the show will be dark, although maintenance staff will continue to run equipment once per month during the off-season to ensure everything functions to its highest level.

Interview with Mr. Li Zhifeng, Deputy General Manager of RCCI

Reflections of self

The ECA2 and RCCI teams are pleased with Eastern Sunrise, even though the timeline was condensed.

“We were extremely lucky with RCCI,” says Canizares. “They understood construction, they were interested in the details, and they helped make decisions quickly, keeping the story and process simplified.”

“ECA2’s background in Western culture, modern art and technology really helped showcase our Chinese storyline,” explained Zhifeng. “It was a wonderful balance between our Chinese elements and their technology and design.”

“The show is about a group experience that you enjoy with your family and friends,” says Canizares. “So we created a show that appeals to a very large and broad audience.”

More than anything, Eastern Sunrise is a show about Rizhao itself. It represents the city’s transition from a fishing village into a regional tourist destination. And the story at the center of the show illustrates that love is as enduring as the rising sun. • • •

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
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, 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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