the rebirth of 4D at the regional theme park
by Brent Young, Super 78
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN INPARK MAGAZINE ISSUE #42, 2012.
ABOVE: Arthur 4D. Courtesy Parc Futuroscope.
Over the course of the last two decades, branded media based attractions have made the headlines as groundbreaking creative and technological wonders. Examples such as Spider-Man, Harry Potter and Transformers (Universal Studios parks) and Star Tours – the Adventures Continue (Disney parks) indicate that media based attractions are pushing toward delivering the true immersive experience. With the overwhelming financial and guest satisfaction success of these attractions at major destination parks, we would like to see smaller park operators following suit and are surprised it hasn’t happened more, especially in the US.
Asian parks appear to have embraced the idea of media based attractions as a part of nearly every new master plan, even at smaller parks. Integrated media attractions are part of the equation. We’d like to encourage that media based attractions be discussed more at capital expenditure meetings in the US regional market. Why?
Good price points
The cost of upgrading a theater to the latest in digital 3D is a fraction of the price of a new roller coaster. Even a new theater with a custom branded film would cost far less than most of the steel going into parks.
Good throughput potential
The basic media based attraction – 4D theaters – have a scale-able capacity. Based on the amount of theaters, seats and the film length the 4D theater can be configured to fulfill any capacity need.
This is a concern for owners and operators. After a guest sees a 4D show or another linear media based attraction, will they line up to see it again? The newest generation of 4D experiences is being designed with this in mind from the beginning. The basics of a fun and unique story are great characters, great action and great humor – in addition, the guest should have opportunities to feel he or she is part of the action, rather than just an observer. More specific and sophisticated methods are being developed for the current and next generation of attraction media to create more repeatable, interactive, immersive experiences.
•Different versions – Many park fans will ride a favorite attraction over and over again. The ability to create media that provides a new variation on the experience each time, through different scenes randomly selected, incorporating audience members’ likenesses or avatars, or other digital options now available, enhances and rewards this repeat visitation. The recent refresh of Disney’s classic Star Tours attraction is a great example.
•A penchant for detail and trivia – The richer and more dense the world and action therein, the more repeatable the attraction becomes, as fans are drawn deeper into the layers of the experience. Fans will look for and share special hidden details – this activity has exploded over social networks – as a way to convey their familiarity and knowledge of the experience. TurtleTrek at SeaWorld includes background details, like a plane flying overhead, and party-ers in a house in the distance that one may not see on the first viewing, but starts to become apparent on subsequent visits.
•Mobile apps – Making use of guests’ smartphone’ is another way to supplement the experience and make it engaging. Apps can present an extended experience unique to the attraction so guests can essentially take it home with them; they can also be used to spark interactions between guests and reinforce the shared experience that is one of the defining factors of out-of-home entertainment.
•Seasonal and custom content packages – Seasonal overlays include media developed for specific holiday and seasonal programs. Disney’s the Magic, the Memories and You! shows all are updated regularly for each season, and digital media has made this kind of customization simpler than ever. Customization can similarly be applied for special events and corporate presentations.
Quality content – now more within reach than ever
Some regional parks have concerns that the variety of content doesn’t match their theme or offer enough choice. Original content can be expensive to create, and challenging to market. Branded content can be a complex world of rights, territorial exclusivities and finances. These factors have created a perceived barrier to entry by the regional parks. However, the expansion of the branded media market has opened doors to bring quality content within the reach of regional parks. Deals are coming together with such major content suppliers as Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, Fox, and Warner Brothers actively pursuing the theme park and recreation markets. Supply and choice of premium content are now able to meet the demand.
Seasoned distributors that can bridge the mainstream and specialty markets, such as SimEx-Iwerks, nWave Pictures and Attraction Media & Entertainment have a range of products to meet the demand of different creative market categories and demographics. Producers and distributors of all stripes are seeing the advantage of packaging their content for a wider range of media platforms, facilitated by digital tools. And we’re also seeing a number of mainstream producers and directors take a direct interest in creating shows for special venue media, further enriching the library of available quality content. Luc Besson’s “Arthur 4D” attraction for Futuroscope Park is one example.
Investment and upkeep
As pricing for technology drops and branded content becomes more readily available, smaller parks have an opportunity to improve and diversify their offerings with new media based attractions. But it’s important to keep in mind that a media attraction requires a particular kind of upkeep, different from a traditional coaster or hard ride. It is an investment that needs to be maintained through updating, promotions and even re-branding. A media based attraction may only remain popular for 5-10 years before it needs refreshing – or it may go longer, depends on the staying power of the brand it is attached to. With active marketing, an integration of the repeatability factors mentioned and a keen eye for “what’s next” in the branding market, a media based attraction can be a popular and profitable investment for a regional park. • • •