Saturday, April 20, 2024

TEA Announces 2015 Thea Recipients at IAAPA Attractions Expo; Universal and Disney Joined by Innovative Museums, Parks, Attractions, and the Newest Lifetime Award Recipient

Steve Birket
Steve Birket

Burbank, CA, USA (November 18, 2014) — “Disney’s ‘it’s a small world’ has been named for TEA’s Thea Classic Award – one of the new international slate of 17 Thea honorees announced today, to be awarded March 21, 2015 at the annual TEA Thea Awards Gala in Anaheim,” said Steve Birket (Birket Engineering), incoming president of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). Birket said, “‘small world’ stands as a timeless classic – and a metaphor for our increasingly global industry. The new Thea recipients are distinguished by uplifting messages of unity and diversity – hope rising from tragedy in the National September 11 Memorial Museum, the power of Harry Potter, the pioneering East-West collaboration in Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, interactions with our natural environment as in Kongeparken’s Gratassland, and many others. Each Thea-honored project represents a step forward in our industry and our collective drive toward excellence in the making of compelling experiences and places. We encourage the public and the press to learn about these achievements and their creators – and to celebrate with us.”

The prestigious TEA Thea Award is considered one of the attractions industry’s greatest honors. The 21st Annual Thea Awards Gala, set for March 21, 2015, is a ticketed, black-tie dinner affair at the Disneyland Resort, Anaheim USA. Tickets go on sale in early 2015, and are available to the general public as well as to the industry. Title sponsor of the 21st Thea Awards Gala is AECOM.

Prior to the Thea Awards Gala, full case studies of the Thea awardees will be presented by the award recipients at the TEA Summit, a 2-day conference for the attractions industry. Summit dates are March 19-20, 2015 – and more information will be posted at

The Thea Awards Nominating Committee (listed at bottom) recommended the current slate of 17 Thea Award recipients, with final approval by the TEA International Board of Directors.

Ron Miziker

The Buzz Price Thea Award –
Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements
Ron Miziker, Miziker & Company

The current Lifetime Achievement Award recipients discussed the work of a number of nominated candidates before making a recommendation to the full Thea Awards Committee. After reviewing Ron Miziker’s history in the industry and determining that he was still producing spectacular entertainment productions, Miziker was a unanimous choice. The discussion also paid attention to Miziker as a teacher of new talent, not only by project example (i.e.  Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade) but  also by service to TEA, including two terms on the International Board, service as a member of the annual Thea Awards Committee, and by producing 5 Thea Awards shows, including the very successful TEA 20th Anniversary event. He has also been the recipient of two Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Show Design.

No one in our industry has created and produced a broader variety of shows around the world than Ron Miziker. Miziker founded his own production company, Miziker & Company, in 1984 and his clients have included television networks, leading corporations, Presidents, Kings and Queens, a Sultan, the Olympics, the World Cup and Super Bowl, attraction and hotel developers, Disney, Universal Studios, Radio City Music Hall, Lotte World, Spain’s Expo ’92, Port Aventura and most recently, a major casino in Macao. Those projects have spanned the globe: Japan, Australia, Oman, Central and South America, China and the USA.

Miziker started his career in advertising, producing a daily variety show in Cincinnati before he joined the Disney Company as Director of Entertainment and Show Development, in 1971. At Disney, he was responsible for the planning and production of all shows for the opening of Walt Disney World and thereafter was responsible for shows at all Disney parks including Disneyland, Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland.

During his tenure at Disney, Miziker was responsible for the development of many original shows, parades, revues, dinner theater shows, celebrity headliner specials, character and animal shows, fireworks, and laser extravaganzas. One of the most popular productions Miziker produced was The Main Street Electrical Parade. He also participated in the master planning of some of Disney’s largest outdoor entertainment projects. After a period away from the company, Miziker returned to Disney Studios as Producer of Television Programs, including the Wonderful World of Disney. He was eventually named Vice President of Original Programs and Productions for the launch of the Disney Channel.

Whether developing show concepts, writing or producing – or passing on his know-how and entertainment ideas to new generations – Ron Miziker has earned this Thea recognition for over 40 years of creating first-class fun and spectacle for audiences around the world.


Thea Classic 
“it’s a small world,” Disneyland (Anaheim, Calif. USA)

“It’s a world of laughter; a world of tears / It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears / There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.”

If ever there was a Classic, ‘it’s a small world’ seems to define the category.

Fifty years!  Originally created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair as a benefit for UNICEF, this international voyage celebrated the happy spirit of children everywhere. After two years and more than 10 million visitors, the attraction moved to Disneyland Park in California, where it has entertained hundreds of millions of visitors since 1966. Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris,  and Hong Kong. Consistently among the 10 most visited attractions in each park, year-after-year. It was never the most advanced in technology. Yet it continues to captivate audiences around the world with pure charm, melded with a profound message deceptively hiding in a simple and astonishingly catchy song.

Its message of “hopes and fears” captured our feelings when it first appeared during the height of the Cold War, but continues to resonate as we face issues of global warming, international conflicts and more. This timeless classic continues to engage generation after generation. Surely ‘it’s a small world’ is the very definition of a Classic.

Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement (AOA)


The Time Machine, Parc du Futuroscope (Poitiers, France) – AOA, Attraction Rehab on a Limited Budget

The Time Machine utilizes a popular cast of characters known as the “Lapin Cretins” (Raving Rabbids, of video game/children’s TV fame). The attraction skewers all manner of milestones, warping history with the Cretin’s demented and yet playful sense of humor. The Cretin invasion of Futuroscope has caused mayhem everywhere, and the attraction’s queue foretells a sense of what’s going on as it weaves visitors through a museum of defaced masterpieces… all greatly “improved” by Cretin artists.

Just before guests board 15-seat Time-Trains, an attraction host mentions that there might be enough time to visit the restroom before the journey begins. Each group is escorted into a washroom, “taking their seat” on toilet shaped “thrones!” For visitors not aware of Cretin fondness for bathroom humor, this moment could be quite arresting.

Once visitors are seated and provided with 3D glasses, the train leaves and the audience revisits four historic scenes:  Pre-historic age, Greek games, American Indians, Conquest of Space along with a massive dose of the Raving Rabbids crazy humor!  On board effects include: vibrating floor, dynamic seating (moves up and down with the on-screen actions), leg ticklers, airblast. In the scenery: moving, rain, collapsing, speed sensation. This 4D experience becomes 5D as the train is also animated with special effects and moving backdrops.

In response to changing demographics and the need for more “fun” in Parc du Futuroscope, a partnership was formed with Ubisoft, creators of the popular Lapin Cretins franchise. It took a lot of audacity to welcome the demented world of the Cretins into a park with set goals like Futuroscope. The park sensed that this outlandish franchise might give them a shot at overcoming low expectations for a repurposed facility and existing ride system. It might even deliver something that feels entirely new.

Beyond the terrific special effects, irreverent characters, and never missed chance to catch audiences off guard, the Thea Nominating Committee recommends an Award for Outstanding Achievement, Attraction Rehab on a Limited Budget to an extremely clever show that dares to defy convention to achieve excellence, The Time Machine.


Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (Zhuhai, China) – AOA, Theme Park

Mainland China’s explosion of cultural attractions, theme parks and resorts has a radiant new standard-bearer. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is a world-class marine life theme park located on Hengqin Island, a verdant paradise just a short bridge away from the buzzing casinos of Macau. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom raises the bar for other Chinese park developers and demonstrates how much can be achieved with a combination of Western design and Chinese execution.

Guests enter the park’s Ocean Main Street under a huge, arching LED video display simulating an underwater environment. 24 attractions (including 14 animal habitats and shows) give the park an impressive array of opening day activities. The Ocean Wonders aquarium boasts a number of new superlatives: the world’s biggest aquarium, largest collection of fish, and biggest single viewing window make for a stunning undersea experience. New expansion attractions are already in the works. The beautiful Hengqin Sea lagoon at the park’s heart serves as the stage for a dazzling nighttime spectacular.

Since entering the theme park business in 1997, Chimelong Group has increased the scale and polish of its offerings at a dramatic pace. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is the fifth theme park to open under the Chimelong group, and their first outside their Guangzhou home base. Each park has been significantly more polished than the one before. A number of TEA member companies contributed to this latest effort, giving the resort world-class scale and refinement.

The Nominating Committee acknowledges that Chimelong’s park isn’t perfect. (Neither were many US parks when they first opened.) But taken in aggregate, the Committee (many of whose members have visited the park in person) agrees it’s the biggest, grandest and best new park in China and deserving of the award because of its scale, ambition and opening day quality, along with its formidable plans for future growth.


Gratassland “The Land of the Little Grey Tractor,” Kongeparken(Stavanger, Norway) – AOA, New Park Land, Limited Budget

A new park land themed like a working farm, based on the Massey Ferguson tractor known as “Little Grey Fergie” (Gråtass). This tractor revolutionized Norwegian agriculture after the Second World War and was sold through a company based in Stavanger (where Kongeparken is located). In the 1990s, “Little Grey Fergie” became a well-established and beloved children’s character in a world of stories and activities for younger children. There have been several television series, two feature films, ten music albums, live shows and more than 15 books. It is the tractor everyone has an emotional connection to and as of 2013 it is also a charming theme park attraction aimed at children between the ages of 2-7.

Using Massey Ferguson’s modern tractors, Kongeparken built the ride, which traverses the whole land, on an industry standard tractor ride using “Little Grey Fergie” as the storyline. The new park land begins with a “meet and greet” show where guests meet the tractor and farmer together and interact with both of them throughout the day. Once in the ride, the guests board a modern tractor and “Little Grey Fergie” tells them their main task is to test a new GPS system that Goggen (a crazy inventor) has built, while also testing a new tractor; Fergie also warns them about scrap yard villains who are looking to steal their tractor. The guests then set off on their mission and go outdoors into a farm where they interact with real farm animals such as mini-horses, wooly pigs and special goats, (inspired by a Zoo 360 concept), farm equipment and old stories from Massey Ferguson’s history.

Several simulated GPS malfunctions cause the guests to go down wrong roads and closed roads, and lead to several encounters with the scrap yard villains who are trying to crush the tractors in a large car press. “Little Grey Fergie” ends up saving the day and singing chickens thank you as you drive through the farm-themed merchandise store. There are several add-on experiences throughout the land, where you can meet an animatronic Gråtass and actually sit on him, visit a play area with several agricultural elements, meet the farmer, and interact with real animals in the petting farm, and visit a themed retail store.

It is a charming new land that engages adults and children alike. It immerses them in the world of “Little Grey Fergie” and is an ideal mix of real environments and fantasy. It celebrates history, modern times and fantasy, all with a goal of entertaining and teaching about animals, farming and the importance of taking care of our environment. Using an IP that is truly beloved by all Norwegians, this park has created a fully integrated guest experience. Much like what the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has done for Universal, Gråtassland has done for Kongeparken. The minute the guests enter the land, they are in The Little Grey Tractor’s world and their own world, simultaneously. For the limited budget of $2,263,000 it is a tremendous success that never strays from the story of the IP or the goals of the project.


Wilderness Explorers, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World (Orlando) – AOA, Attraction, Limited Budget

Following in the footsteps of Russell and his faithful dog, Dug, from Disney-Pixar’s film ‘Up!’ the entire family can now enjoy a technology-free interactive experience within Disney’s Animal Kingdom that combines personal guides, active guest engagement, and collectible badge rewards with learning more about the wonderful live animals and habitats throughout the park.

First stop: Wilderness Explorer Headquarters or any Troop Leader location throughout the park.  There, guests can pick up a Wilderness Explorer’s manual, give the Wilderness Explorer’s call-to-action (Caw! Caw! Roar!), and set out on a series of fact-finding challenges. Every challenge is unique and allows the participating guests to collect new sticker badges for their official Wilderness Explorer’s field guide and learn key skills about exploring, culture, and conservation. A few example challenges include helping to diagnose a sea turtle’s health to earn the Veterinary Badge, identifying animals that you see throughout the park to earn the Animal Find Badge, learning how to play an African drum to earn the Music Badge, and joining in the exploration for dinosaur fossils to earn the Dinosaur Badge. Each interaction is designed to enrich the park experience in a personal way for individuals or groups.

There’s no pressure to finish all 30 challenges in a single park visit, and the Wilderness Explorer’s manual is so beautifully crafted, that reviewing it at night after a great park day allows parents to extend the learning and excitement inspired by Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  This is Imagineering at its very best – creating an adventure that leverages a beloved Pixar property and Disney theme park to perfection.

This interactive adventure stands apart in the smart, low-tech nature of its execution (guide, pencil, stickers) which matches authentically with the unique experience of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With dozens of Wilderness Explorer guides stationed throughout the park, there are multiple entry points and a depth of interaction, fun and – yes, learning – that has captured a significant percentage of the park’s gate. Disney has incorporated storytelling and gaming to create an experience that is intimate and personal in its connection to the guests, yet wisely recognizes that technology would be a distraction and remove guests from nature. Guests are given a role in the story – becoming a Wilderness Explorer – that was a poignant, aspirational story of a core identifiable character from the Pixar film. This intersection point between film story world, live animals and the beautiful habitats within Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a huge part of why this attraction is effective.

The low barrier to entry Wilderness Explorer’s manual is beautifully crafted and more immersive than a device. In an age of short attention spans, they managed to get kids excited about playing in nature and involving parents in a really cool way.  Guests learn about real science that conservationists and biologists use every day.  Ratings for connecting guests to animals were equal to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Animal Kingdom’s safari ride. What might have been another technology-driven interactive overlay instead was crafted to be a deeper immersion into the stories and experiences already there. This unique attraction is worthy of honors as much for its craft as for the authenticity and cleverness of implementation within a unique park environment.


National September 11 Memorial Museum (New York City, USA) – AOA, Extraordinary Cultural Achievement

September 11, 2001 was unquestionably one of the most significant events in the history of the United States and the world. The cataclysm and loss resulting from the actions of that day continue to impact our lives today and resonate throughout virtually every aspect of international economy, culture, religion and politics. Creation of a Memorial Museum that would appropriately preserve the story, reverently honor all who were touched by that day, and maintain the almost sacred nature of the physical site itself has made it at once one of the most important and sensitive experiential projects ever undertaken, in almost every aspect of its development.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum is emotionally powerful, thought provoking and intellectually challenging throughout.  It thoroughly integrates the site of the event itself into the experience, displays artifacts of every scale in compelling ways, and provides detailed context and historical record in juxtaposition with emotional witness and testimony of the stories events. The audio visual media and interactives are powerfully dynamic but sensitively engaging, giving visitors many alternate ways to connect to the story. The space also provides eloquent moments of honor and tribute, and meditative spaces which memorialize, in very personal and profound ways, those who perished on that day.

Documenting and preserving the story of 9/11 has been an incredibly complex and challenging effort, requiring not only the involvement of leading architects, designers, curators, historians and filmmakers, but more importantly an unprecedented process of participation between multiple stakeholders who have the strongest possible emotional and personal connection to the mission of the museum. Survivor families, witnesses, historians and federal and local government agencies from multiple jurisdictions were all involved. Every detail of the site, the building, story, the artifacts, and the method of presentation were rigorously examined, debated and discussed by stakeholders and designers in search of a consensus to determine the appropriate form and experience the Memorial Museum would present. It was a very long, highly politicized, emotionally charged and occasionally very contentious process.

The magnitude of the event it preserves would make the 9/11 Memorial Museum an important project in any circumstance. The added challenge of political factions, multiple stakeholders and need to reach consensus in presenting a highly sensitive and complex story on a hallowed site could easily have resulted in a project which felt “safe,” sanitized or frozen in time. Due to the passion and perseverance of the stakeholders and the designers, however, this Museum fulfills its mission, conveying its important story with eloquence and emotional power while allowing for thoughtful reflection, learning and tribute by every visitor.

Wonder Rooms at Gemeentemuseum (The Hague, Netherlands) – AOA, Museum Exhibit

Wonderkamers (Wonder Rooms) is a role playing game/interactive art exhibit for kids, teens and the young at heart. It is located in the basement of the Gemeente Museum in The Hague. Wonder Rooms was created with the aim of bringing the broad spectrum of art to the attention of young visitors. Guests play the role of a curator for the museum and learn about a wide spectrum of art forms with the end goal of creating their own little art exhibit.

The art adventure starts off by getting a tablet-like device which gives the guest instructions on what to do and where to go. After seeing a short introduction clip on a video wall, guests go inside the exhibit space. The first part of the experience takes place in an outer ring of themed rooms (the actual Wonder Rooms) where points can be earned. Each room showcases a different form of art, like painting, sculpting, architecture, fashion, music, etc. Little, strategically placed barcodes correspond with the tablet and start the various games in each room.

With the points collected in the Wonder Rooms, guests go to the second part of the experience. From a seemingly endless art display they can virtually collect the art pieces of their liking. The collected pieces are gathered in the tablet and used in the last part of the experience. The center of the experience is a giant cabinet filled with over a 1000 miniature art pieces. Spread throughout the cabinet are empty spaces with projected media effects. Here guests can upload the collected art pieces from the tablet and create their own mini art exhibit. The experience concludes when the guest sees an animated version of him/herself opening the exhibition by cutting the rope, accompanied with applause and colorful confetti.

The combination of art, storytelling, themed environments and a gaming aspect makes Wonder Rooms unique within the world of art museums. The creators did a great job in blending all these elements together into one experience. The various spaces the guest can explore, as well as the media components, are well designed and executed. Another notable aspect about the Wonder Rooms is the flexibility of the experience. The game is set up to accommodate the possible time restraints of the guest. Guests fully control the duration of the game without ever having to miss the personalized conclusion. Therefore the playtime of the Wonder Rooms experience can vary from just a few minutes to many hours of educational and inspirational fun.

Art museums all over the world face the same challenge: how to make kids and teens aware and interested in art? The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague dared to step out of its normal comfort zone with the creation of the Wonder Rooms and has truly delivered a meaningful, but fun experience that answers this challenge.

Nature Lab, Natural History Museum (Los Angeles, USA) – AOA, Museum Exhibition, Limited Budget

The Nature Lab is a permanent, 6,000 square foot exhibit where visitors discover how truly wild Los Angeles can be. This fun, interactive exhibit allows visitors to learn and be surprised by LA’s unique biodiversity, fulfilling The Natural History Museum’s mission to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. Visitors can engage in the scientific exploration of LA as a biodiversity hotspot through interactions with volunteers sorting insect material (like a “Genius Bar” with scientists) from the Museums BIOSCAN project, demonstrations by Museum curators, and hands-on interactives allowing visitors to be in the middle of their own scientific investigation that increases their observation skills while learning scientific methods. The purpose of the Nature Lab is to engage the Los Angeles community in becoming “Citizen Scientists.”

Committee members who visited the Nature Lab were impressed. The NHM, with a limited budget of $4.8 million, designed compelling stories around plants and animals found in and around LA, then employed themed entertainment elements including Memory Mapping storytelling graphics, media, sound, and hands-on interactive displays to immerse the visitor in discovery. Real time social media allows visitors to upload their discoveries to be featured in the gallery. Live animals and plants add a layer of real science to the Lab.

The Legend of Lady White Snake (Zhenjiang, China) – AOA, Event Spectacular

The multimedia spectacular, “The Legend of Lady White Snake,” showcases one of China’s oldest fabled stories. Live performance, a laser light show, a unique modular moving stage, plus high-speed fountains and 50 meter water screens, the premiere show is among the largest and most elaborate multi-media water shows in China to date. The ancient tale of Lady White Snake revolves around the West Lake in Hangzhou. A beautiful White Snake who lives in the lake gains immortal magic powers and assumes human form. She befriends, and eventually falls in love with, a young man who assists her. Over the years they battle enemies and perils… until finally love triumphs.

Zhenjiang, historic capital of Jiangsu province, is the home of Jinshan temple, which plays a major role in the famous Chinese legend of Lady White Snake. In 2012, discussions began about the possibility of portraying the legend in the form of a regular outdoor public performance including projection, lighting, music, fountains and live action. A perfect location for the show was chosen on the shores of Jinshan Lake, and after much discussion and pre-planning, work began in early 2013 on the construction of a large amphitheatre within direct view of the famous Jinshan temple. The completed show opened on April 28, 2014.

The legend involves people and water, so the main performance area is a man-made lake containing a huge, unique, forty-segment moving stage forming a dynamic platform for the performers. Each 3m x 3m stage segment can rise independently up to 4m above the water and 0.5m below. At the front and rear of the stage are floating fountain systems and giant water screens capable of being commanded to sink below the water surface when not required, while additional mist jets and arch jets support laser projection and laser effects. Flame effects are also included. On either side, structures in the form of giant rocks have been created to support a complex dynamic fly-wire suspension system for performers. Pyrotechnic effects are also launched for special shows.

The end result is a sophisticated and exciting performance, telling the “Legend of Lady White Snake” to a new generation of local, provincial, and foreign audiences. China is no stranger to beautiful, live spectaculars, but there’s something especially haunting and poetic about “The Legend of Lady White Snake” that makes it stand out from the rest. The show moves with a fluidity and grace that enlarges the text and helps us experience the ancient myth in a whole new way.

The Thea Awards Nominating Committee was taken by the show’s beautiful design, colors and costuming, noting especially the huge-yet-delicate moving segmented stage that assumes many forms during the show. Characters and objects float magically over the stage, supplemented by water projections and lasers that harmonize beautifully with the choreography.

The Grand Hall Experience @ Saint Louis Union Station (Saint Louis MO, USA) – AOA, Live Show on a Limited Budget

A large, permanently installed, indoor immersive projection-mapping experience that occurs in the historical Grand Hall of Union Station in St. Louis. Once the “Gateway to the West,” this location is now a new hotel, dining and shopping experience. The goal of the project was to drive visitation to the new properties while still maintaining the historic character of the original architecture.

Projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot-tall, barrel-vaulted ceilings and across the entire space, the 3D presentation is made up of 30 vignettes that take the guests on a fantastic journey from the depths of the sea to the Sistine Chapel to Busch Stadium. The show is a combination of projection, audio and LED lighting, all used to elevate the space and immerse the audience in the media event. The show differs nightly with every hourly evening performance, which gives visitors a reason to visit time and time again.

The project has not only rejuvenated a National Historic Landmark, but it is an engaging dynamic space that allows the audience to see the architecture in a whole new way. It is a well-thought-out show that uses the trains as a historical reference for time passing. The various vignettes and pieces are gorgeously rendered, uniquely stylized and fully-developed moments in time or place. For the limited budget of $2,279,236 it is a great success.

Wings of Time (Sentosa Island, Singapore) – AOA, Event Spectacular

“Wings of Time,” a nightly spectacular on the beach at Sentosa Island Singapore, is a multimedia show that combines lights, fountains, pyrotechnics, projection mapping, water projection and an original musical score and script to tell the story of a young couple and the magical bird that takes them around the world.

At the beginning of the 20-minute show, the “set” which is constructed just off the sandy beach and amphitheater where the audience watches the show appears to be a simple construction of geometric forms. During the show, the setting comes to life and continually changes and morphs into an endless array of compelling animated and kinetic visual sequences, spanning a wide arc of energy and emotion as the story is told.

The techniques this show uses (water and mapped projection, fountains and pyrotechnics, etc.) have all been used many times before. In fact, a similar type show was previously located in the same spot (and received a Thea Award 7 years ago). But the similarity ends there. What is different is the way the elements have been used. The show creators have displayed a sophisticated understanding of each element in their tool box, and have stretched to achieve maximum impact from each. Moreover, they’ve used that understanding to artfully blur the lines between each of the techniques employed to create a sense of magic… it’s often impossible to understand where the water screens stop and the mapped projection begins, and when that happens, the audience suspension of disbelief expands dramatically.

The result is a show that continues to surprise, change and offer new visual surprises far beyond what the audience (or even our somewhat jaded) eyes expect to see. It is visual and theatrical experience creation on a very high level.


Bistrot Chez Remy, Walt Disney Studios Park (Disneyland Paris) – AOA, Themed Restaurant

Bistrot Chez Remy, inspired by the scenes and recipes of the Disney?Pixar film Ratatouille, is a 370-person table-service restaurant that greets guests as they exit the ride, Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy. The family restaurant, which serves French bistro cuisine, has been built by the lovable rat Remy and his friends, so that the guests are rat-sized when they dine. It is a truly charming and thematically thorough dining experience, where oversized objects are reused in every possible way to create tables, chairs, architectural elements, and props. The backstory is conveyed through newspaper articles, old photos, and trophies displayed in the waiting area. Once guests enter the main dining room the shrinking illusion is clever, consistent, and full of wry jokes. Giant versions of miniature cocktail umbrellas, chairs based on champagne caps, a giant colander chandelier with Christmas lights overhead, huge bistro plates as dividers between seating areas, everything is very well-conceived and delivered to create an illusion that is both convincing and coyly self-aware. The exterior of the attraction looks like a typical Parisian café, but on closer inspection, one realizes that this is the world of Paris from the film, where there are no straight lines – a perfect blend of fiction and reality.

This venue exhibits thoroughness, conceptual clarity, dedication to narrative detail, and exceptional finish.


The StoryGarden at The Amorepacific Beauty Campus (Gyeonggi-do, South Korea) – AOA, Corporate Brand-Land

Amorepacific, a cosmetics and beauty products company based in Korea, is home to The StoryGarden, at their corporate headquarters. This immersive brand experience begins in a beautiful botanical garden that features plants used in the preparation of the company’s products. From there, guests enter The StoryGarden. Part company history museum, part branding center, The StoryGarden is total experiential immersion in the values and essence of the brand in a striking, high design aesthetic environment that is “on model” with the company’s look and feel.

From a magically transforming art gallery to the factory tour itself and on to a interactive space where visitors design and star in their own ad which then becomes a gift to take home. A multi-screen media experience concludes the experience and visitors exit into a unique gift shop that features a personalized gift: a lipstick with their own name on it plus their printed advertisement they created earlier.

The StoryGarden transforms the concept of a factory tour, elevating the experience of a brand visitor center to the highest artistic and emotional standard – a stunning new standard for Asia and the world. The arrival, interior design, media installations, interactives and galleries all deliver on the essence of Amorepacific’s brand while also delivering a distinctive experience.


Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Florida (Orlando) – AOA, Paragon Award

–Diagon Alley, Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley Retail/Dining

When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade opened in 2010 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the superlatives that were bestowed upon that amazing project – retail, and food & beverage experiences, attraction and technology – were legion. Nothing like it had been seen before and no one could imagine that it could be topped. Four years later, Universal Studios Florida opened the audacious and incredible Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. Not only was it more but it was also better. Better because the environments were richer, the experiences even more immersive and the world building more total than its predecessor.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley does something that no other theme park in the world has managed to do (with the exception of Universal’s own Hogsmeade): It has created a completely seamless storytelling experience without parallel that is unmistakably superior to anything. Thanks to the creativity, storytelling and technical prowess of Universal Creative, the brilliant production design of Stuart Craig and the strong collaboration with Warner Bros., Diagon Alley is bigger, richer and more detailed than what that same team created at Hogsmeade. From the Muggle world environs of London and King’s Cross all the way to the day-for-night environments of Knockturn Alley, the craftsmanship, attention to detail, delights and surprises that amaze around every corner are just… better.

The dining, food & beverage and retail experiences are richer, more varied and more immersive here, too – as a result of collaboration between Universal Creative and their colleagues in Food & Beverage and merchandise. Muggles can visit the Leaky Cauldron, taste Earl Grey and lavender or (of course!) Butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. The world is so complete that even the mundane task of getting water from what would typically be a street cart or vending machine has been turned into a storytelling opportunity. Ollivanders wand shop has been expanded here and there are new retail environments to discover, including the dark Borgin and Burkes for all your Death Eater outfitting needs. Even transactions have been transformed for the experience as guests can trade their Muggle money into Gringott’s bank notes, while interacting with an animatronic goblin teller.

Audaciousness and innovation truly come into play when considering the Hogwarts Express. What could have been a mere transportation mechanism to commute visitors from one park to the next within the two worlds of Harry Potter, the Hogwarts Express is a near-perfect recreation of the experience Harry, Ron and Hermione have while riding from Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross to Hogsmeade Station (and back again). This experience delivers on the uncanny sense that guests have traveled somewhere else… and, of course, you have. Recreating the stations, engine, train cars, compartments – even the views out the window to an all-media countryside and cityscape full of magic, creatures and surprises – not to mention more nuanced surprises along the way, turn transportation into yet again another innovation in seamless storytelling.

The Thea Committee created a new award category – the Paragon Award – for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley for the entire land, integrated retail and food & beverage in addition to the Hogwarts Express.

HP and the Escape from Gringotts 2_LR (1)

Harry Potter & The Escape from Gringotts, Universal Studios Florida (Orlando) – AOA, Attraction

The excellence of guest experience and placemaking in Universal Studios Florida’s new Harry Potter built environments continues with the innovative Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. It begins with a highly elaborate, deeply immersive queue experience featuring a visit to the Gringotts Bank where animatronic goblin tellers appear to work in an incredibly imposing space and even interact with guests. An elevator ride (that could, in other circumstances, stand as an attraction in its own right) and filmed characters integrated into dimensional settings have been taken to a new level of believability in the lead-up to this incredible ride.

The ride system is outstanding in its ability to confuse the rider with its capabilities, performing as a coaster at one moment, an omnimover the next and then as a simulator with complex motion control. All of this is synchronized to the action in the show with media so well integrated into dimensional sets that removing the 3D glasses is the only way to tell for sure what is or is not constructed. Using what must be the largest screen images ever employed in a ride-through attraction, combined with extremely sharp-filmed imagery, delivers the convincing illusion of absolute reality.

The story is engagingly understated: We are merely here at the same time as Harry and friends were in the vaults during the last film – so the perspective is familiar to fans and also understandable even to those not conversant with the Potter ouevre. Music is a key part of making this adventure emotionally engaging as well. The final notes as the ride concludes are strong enough to get some riders welled-up with emotions – having just experienced something extraordinary. In the themed entertainment industry this attraction seems clearly to be the new yardstick by which all will be measured.


Interactive Wands – Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Florida (Orlando) – AOA, Technical Excellence

Within the land is a surprising array of innovative, interactive wand experiences that allow guests to say a spell, gesture their wand a specific way to accompany that spell and watch – if they get it right! – as the results of their magic are seen in display windows, on the streets of Diagon Alley, in magical illusions and more throughout the environment. The uniquely devised and ingeniously applied, proprietary wand technology is the key. The end result is an “invisible” technology that engages guests and activates the land in a whole new way. The Thea Nominating Committee found this to be an impressive technology, impressively used.

Patti Drum, Chair

Craig Hanna, Vice-Chair

Rick Rothschild, Board Liaison

Karen McGee, Coordinator

Buzz Price Lifetime Achievement Recipients
Marty Sklar (Buzz Price Nomination Subcommittee Chair)

Monty Lunde (Technical Subcommittee Co-Chair)

Don Iwerks*

Bob Gurr (Technical Subcommittee Co-Chair)

Tony Baxter

Jon Jerde*

Barry Upson

Yves Pepin

Bob Rogers

Jack Rouse*

Bob Ward

Mark Fuller*

Kim Irvine

Joe Rohde

Frank Stanek

Garner Holt

* Non-participating

Committee Members
Adam Bezark

Susan Bonds

Michel den Dulk

Phil Hettema

Lisa Passamonte-Green

Roberta Perry

John Robinett

Museum Subcommittee
Roberta Perry, Chair

Shawn McCoy

Audrey O’Connell

Cynthia Sharpe

Kurt Haunfelner

Larry Tuch

Brad Merriman

Ray Giang

Live Event Subcommittee

Susan Bonds, Chair

Adam Bezark

Brian Gale

Dave Cobb

European Outreach

Michel Den Dulk, Committee Coordinator

Michel Linet Frion, European Coordinator

Yves Pepin

Asian Outreach

John Robinett, Committee Coordinator

Chris Yoshii

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.

Related Articles

Latest Articles