How does immersive technology drive storytelling? Ask the specialists
Edited by Judith Rubin
ABOVE: Nickelodeon Adventure Murcia of Parques Reunidos All rights reserved to Nickelodeon; Nickelodeon Adventure Murcia in partnership with Parques Reunidos
In the world of visitor attractions, technology is now so deeply entwined with design that it is often part and parcel of the conceptual process. We asked five companies with decades of experience serving the global theme park industry to answer the question, “How does technology drive storytelling in today’s visitor attractions?” and to supplement that with current examples.
Based in The Netherlands, P&P Projects specializes in turnkey projects world-wide, from storytelling to design and from production to installation for the entire leisure industry, including theme parks, waterparks, FECs, museums and zoos.
Extend and enrich the world of the story
Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in virtual reality technology, video mapping and special effects. These tools are becoming more and more important in the theme park industry. Using new and innovative technology in an attraction is a hot topic. However, even at P&P Projects, we believe that a good attraction cannot rely solely on the use of such technology.
A good immersive attraction is all about the experience and making an emotional connection with the visitors. Visitors should feel like they are a part of the story and should be able to identify themselves within the experience. The story must first be engaging and immersive to the guest – then the technology comes into play, providing the chance to extend and enrich the world of the story and the depth of the experience. Our body of work at P&P Projects includes visitor attractions that tell a story with the help of physical sets, projections and special effects, juxtaposed and integrated to create a multifaceted environment. In our opinion, this represents the best approach to experience design and immersing guests so they become part of the story.
A great example is “Ragnfrid’s Saga” which we created as a design-build for Vikingaliv (a Viking-themed museum and experience center in Stockholm, open since April 2017). In this unique project, an 11-minute-long ride where guests are taken on a journey through life in the Viking Age year 963 we combined physical elements with technology, such as projection, to give the scenes more depth, and special effects including water, wind and hot or cold air to stimulate guests’ senses.
Technology can also be used to create interaction between characters and visitors. In the new family entertainment center, Nickelodeon Adventure Murcia (Spain), open since December 2017, we applied technology to enable children to join in an adventure with their favorite Nickelodeon heroes and friends as they play, explore and learn. To create this environment, we stepped away from the standard playground equipment, instead using various interactives to engage the children in the world of Nickelodeon. In this world, you can catch Jellyfish with Patrick or go on a mission with one of the Paw Patrol Puppies.
Alterface, headquartered in Belgium, is a leading manufacturer of interactive and mediabased attractions around the world.
Interactive dark rides become landmark attractions
If there is a sector where technology has been THE driving force, it is interactive attractions. When first launched, the interactive theatre was such a technology driven innovation that it stands as an example of how sometimes technology shapes the needs and not the other way around, going against the accepted industry maxim.
Dark rides have existed for ages, and technology augmented their appeal, with such elements as mediabased scenes, projection mapping and animated figures made interactive. As a result, dark rides today have reemerged as landmark attractions at many parks.
Steve Jobs once said that “it is not up to the user to define their needs, but to the supplier to offer possibilities.” This is exactly what the market is looking like today. The easiest part is to create the innovation, the most complicated is packaging it in a way that it can be adopted by the market.
There used to be concerns that media-based attractions ran the risk of early technical obsolescence. In most cases, time has proved this wrong. We have media-based rides operating for more than 15 years and still appealing to the public. Because more than the technology per se, it is the capability for the visitor to “get in the dream” that is shaping the way we tell stories.
Bazyliszek (Basilisk), open since July 2017 at Legendia theme park in Silesia, Poland, is a next-generation dark ride using Alterface technologies. This turnkey project was designed to maximize the experience from all perspectives and get the most out of the budget. Strong collaboration between the creative and technical sides (Alterface partnered with designer and scenic fabricator Jora Vision) supported a well-rounded result with a good balance between technology and theming. We selected a 2D projection scheme as best suited to integrate the screens into the scenery and work on this experience. We went for vehicles from ETF capable of sophisticated movements and of aligning the players with the scenes we want them to see. The capabilities of Alterface shooting technology allowed us to place here and there some little “gems” to great effect: Some “targets” were created with projection mapping and others are moving targets powered by actuators. Details like these enhance the story and the magic.
A non-linear dark ride such as Popcorn Revenge®, featuring Alterface’s proprietary IP and due to open next spring at Walibi Belgium park in Wavre, is a good example of building in the tech magic from the early concept design phase. The transitions from scene to scene are critical to maintaining the theming and story flow in such attractions, and the type of movement needs to support those in a definitive manner. Erratic® Ride is the first non-linear mixed-media ride ever with dynamic scene changing, whereby players can determine the sequence depending, amongst other, on their ranking and preferences. This ride offers a unique experience and can be installed in a relatively small space, yet with high throughput. The Erratic® Ride is based on and will be operated by the well-proven ETF trackless Multi Mover vehicles. Alterface is to reveal more at the upcoming fall trade shows.
A light and easily understood story, a good balance of action and contemplation, a good mix of technology and theming, a broad appeal to families, are, besides the notion of movement, key elements to a successful themed experience. There are no real “secret recipes.” Our “secret” at Alterface is simply to work to maintain a broad view of the project overall and be as unbiased as possible.
Based in the UK, Garmendale specializes in the design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of rides for theme parks and attractions around the world.
The good engineering is engineering you don’t notice
In the nearly 40 years that Garmendale has been serving the attractions industry, we have seen a huge change in the way the rides are delivered in parks. Most of this is in the stories that are being weaved around them.
Traditionally, rides delivered their thrills without the backstory. Look at the Waltzers that many of us grew up loving – they simply dimmed the lights, spun you around and rode some hills on an enclosed, circular track. But they were great fun.
Times have changed, and the next generation of theme park consumers have different expectations. At home, they watch their favorite characters on 4K TVs, play games in the first person… and you only need to see the way that a toddler intuitively handles an iPad to realize that things have changed forever.
To consume now means you have to be immersed, so the story is top dead center – and the way that this story is delivered is absolutely critical.
For us, as engineers this presents both challenges and frustrations.
The frustrations are obvious. We create some beautiful engineering solutions and all of them are buried. No one ever sees the engineering as they are immersed in the story, so there is a real danger that the engineering behind a ride is considered as generic.
The good engineering is the engineering you don’t notice. The challenge comes in engineering the ride to NOT intrude into the immersion. When guests are in a pre-show orientation and beginning to suspend reality – leaving the real world and entering the story – the last thing we need is the clanking of a ride in the background. It’s the same when they board the ride. If there’s mechanical noise or jerky movement that isn’t planned, the immersion will be broken.
We met this challenge in 2015 with our first 30seat, motion base dark ride The Forbidden Caves at Bobbejaanland in Belgium. Our brief was to deliver riders into the story in near-silent motion, throughout the ride.
In today’s rides and attractions, story is everywhere, story is paramount. IP-based rides are dominating current theme park planning and, in every case, we need to deliver utter consistency of brand and enable total immersion.
We love this challenge. It has pushed us, as engineers, to raise our game even further, to find new ways to engineer immersive, storytelling experiences.
7thSense Design is a supplier of highperformance media servers, headquartered in the UK.
Proceed with reasonable caution
The way we like to think of it is this: Storytelling should make use of the available technology, but the story should always be the single most important factor of the experience. Technology’s role in storytelling is really to be invisible, however new developments and advances continually bring new ways of telling stories and engaging audiences. Technology can facilitate a storyteller’s ability to bring concepts and ideas to life in entirely new and exciting ways.
The use of large and complex screen shapes enables storytellers to take audiences wherever they need to be. Today’s world is saturated with digital displays – both in and out of the home. The shape of the screen or display surface itself can have a huge impact on how audiences are immersed in detailed scenes – add to this the use of ultra-high resolution, high frame rates and high bit-depth content and it can really make for an incredible, realistic experience.
Technology can support many forms of storytelling. We’re seeing a trend in requests for interactive storytelling – so audiences have control over where they go and how they explore within the story. This is an area that is making better use of technological advances so that guests can control, touch and really feel their way through an experience.
Proceed with reasonable caution. Technology can enable magical storytelling but if used incorrectly or clumsily, or simply for its own sake or as a gimmick, there is a risk that the story can be lost.
Some attractions and sites are choosing to use a mix of immersive display formats to tell their story – different mechanisms can play a huge part in how the story is experienced and understood. A great example of this is the brand-new Parc Spirou in Monteux, France (themed on the Belgian comic strip character, Spirou). The park had its first-phase opening in June 2018. Two major attractions, each unique in its design, from Simworx feature 7thSense Design media server technologies (Infinity Media Server – Active 3D stereo, and Nano-2) throughout: the Immersive Tunnel ride, and the Stargazer Motion Theater.
The Immersive Tunnel is designed for all ages, featuring a 30-seat vehicle based upon Simworx’s exclusively produced ride film, “Dinosaur Island,” and accompanied by a preshow starring Spirou himself. Next, Spirou joins visitors seated on a jeep-styled simulator, which after a short journey along a track into the main show area, takes them on a fun-filled dinosaur adventure.
Stargazer Motion Theater, featuring Simworx’s 6DOF, 8-seat vehicle, is themed around Gaston Legaffe, a character from the Spirou universe. A total of four Stargazer units will be utilized within the attraction which will see visitors involved in a madcap adventure with Gaston, an enthusiastic inventor who often ends up in trouble!
AV Stumpfl is an Austrian company that designs, manufactures and markets highperformance projection screens and multidisplay and show control systems.
AV can turn rocks into rockstars
Today’s visitor attractions can rely on a great range of digital technologies that can aid or even fundamentally inspire different storytelling approaches. It all starts with the initial idea. If an attraction is based on a clearly developed IP (intellectual property), the nature of the IP will likely tend to guide the creative team to the kind of stories that need to be told and the technologies with which to tell them.
Sometimes the IP is clearly the star, sometimes a physical site and sometimes the technology itself. In most cases, factors such as these will need to be balanced. The main way in which technology drives storytelling can be likened
to colors on a painter’s palette. The more colors, the more creative freedom.
Theme park designers today have unprecedented freedom when it comes to telling or supporting their stories through audiovisual technologies, and today’s market demands it. Younger generations are already accustomed to high definition imagery and non-linear interactivity. Their general technological life experience sets a high bar for attractions.
Interconnected show control solutions that can be centrally controlled and changed in real-time enable an attraction’s story to be told in seamlessly integrated ways. The increased availability of uncompressed Full HD, 4K and even 8K content, as well as sophisticated audio technology for 3D soundscapes, allows for ultra-realistic experiences that encourage suspension of disbelief. Displays can be front- or rear-projection, multiple LED displays or smaller LCD monitors.
In the case of the geology-focused Steinwelten museum (“stone worlds”) in the Bavarian Granitzentrum (granite center) in Germany, the visual impact of a massive piece of excavated granite rock is enhanced with projection mapping that uses the rock as a projection surface. A rock is about as analog as it gets, but with the help of AV Stumpfl media servers, media producer Horncolor combined the physical presence of the rock with modern digital technology to aid the geology knowledge transfer and the storytelling. The museum uses a combination of impressive exhibits, self activating HD content display terminals and even an interactive elevator ride. AV Stumpfl’s AVIO show control system controls the DMX light and the KNX bus for the electrical system, with a simple touch interface.
At the popular Walibi theme park near Brussels, the brief for their special Halloween attraction, Asylum, was to transform a ride into a haunted house while using state-ofthe-art, automated AV technology to create an immersive and compelling guest experience. DW Production was engaged to build from scratch all rooms and aesthetic decoration for the attraction as well as the music and effects and animatronics, with GSF Events taking the lead on the technical aspects of the ride with the help of AV
Stumpfl’s distributor AED. The Asylum story unfolded, as visitors to the attraction passed through a series of eight rooms filled with memorable scenes of ghoulish delight. The AV Stumpfl AVIO control system was used to handle the seamless automation of hundreds of interactions that were vital to the storytelling. • • •