Technifex® continues to build on its substantial legacy of 38 years in business
by Judith Rubin
With CEO Monty Lunde at the helm, Technifex has taken steps to remain well positioned in the mainstream of attraction trends, maintaining and growing its place as an innovative and influential pioneer. The company has celebrated 38 years of success – and, over the past few years, has revamped its company structure, expanded its leadership team, retooled its business model, and added prestigious and groundbreaking new projects to an already distinguished portfolio.
Collaborating with experience designers on the leading edge, today Technifex helps develop and provide key elements to high-profile brand activations, high-stakes IP-based attractions, immersive virtual environments, free roaming virtual reality (VR) experiences, bells-and-whistles gamification, the current boom in location-based entertainment (LBE) and more.
Examples include the Dreamscape Immersive venues, and Stranger Things: The Experience. We delve into the company’s work on these and other projects below.
At its founding in 1984, Technifex was unique in identifying itself as a provider of special effects, across the spectrum – not pegged to, for instance, digital effects, fabrication, show action equipment, fountains, fire, or illusions – but with the talent to produce them all, and more. This was unusual at the time, and it still is.
Lunde explained that the original concept for the company grew out of his own work history and that of his partner and company co-founder Rock Hall (now retired), both having honed their craft and versatility working for Disney on the development of special effect systems for EPCOT. (A wave of new entertainment companies and consultancies formed following the 1982 opening of EPCOT, as team members were obliged to move on.)
“Our work at Technifex was an extension of what we had been doing at Disney: Working with and inventing an array of technologies within our custom design-build shop to produce theme park quality effects,” says Lunde. This was not an over-broad attempt to be all things to all people, nor the establishment of a one-stop shop; but rather the recognition of a scope of needs within the company’s target markets and an understanding, based on experience, of where they could shine, with minds and eyes kept open to recognize and pursue opportunities.
“Being generalists has been key to our longevity; Technifex is and was a chameleon, able to adapt quickly depending on the type of effects that were popular at any given time. In the early years at Technifex, Peppers Ghost illusions were extremely popular, and now the development of innovative water features has become predominant for us,” says Lunde.
One becomes three
The chameleon culture continues to pay dividends.
Part of what has kept Technifex thriving over nearly four decades is to have a presence in more than one market sector at a time, and the company’s recent reorganization was done to help it better respond to specific verticals. From the original firm Technifex Inc., three companies have blossomed to energize immersive experiences for entertainment, education, training, simulation and more. They are Technifex LLC, Technifex Products and Technifex XR™.
Technifex LLC perpetuates the original company, helping clients realize their vision with custom design and fabrication of technical show and effects systems.
Technifex Products offers a menu of up-to-date models of the company’s patented products on an off-the-shelf basis, including rentals. Examples include the popular FauxFire® (one of the company’s best-known products); the Sensory Floor™ (which garnered a lot of attention at the 2021 IAAPA Expo) and various special effects bundled into modules for use in 4D experiences, gaming experiences and LBE venues. Technifex has been applying the latest in technology and production techniques to refine its time-tested and valued creations, making them more robust, simpler to manufacture and more affordable.
Technifex XR is active in the immersive, multi-sensory and virtual realms, providing systems, technology and effects for training and simulation used by government agencies including the military, fire and police departments. This includes all the various “realities” – extended reality, virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality (XR, VR, AR and MR), as well as physical elements that work in unison with AR/VR components.
Dreamscape Immersive is a series of standalone, VR adventure centers currently in seven locations around the world in North America, Europe and the Middle East. It delivers shared experiences with sensory effects and body tracking. Guests suit up with light backpacks, hand- and foot-sensors and headsets. Through their customizable avatars, guests can see and interact with one another and with the environment. Technifex Products provided all the 4D effects for the various venues. The scope of work included designing the structure that surrounds the play area which houses the modular effects.
Dreamscape Immersive was the brainchild of Bruce Vaughn, formerly a creative executive with Walt Disney Imagineering. After 22 years with Imagineering, Vaughn went on to apply his experience in new directions, co-founding Dreamscape Immersive with Walter Parkes, who is the current CEO.
“Bruce called us in to help augment the VR experience with 4D effects and bring the guest immersion to a higher level,” says Lunde. “The Technifex engineering department and the team at Technifex Products worked with Bruce’s team to develop an array of 4D effects that worked well and were also easy to service and operate. They made their first appearance at the flagship Dreamscape facility in Century City.”
These systems are now available through Technifex Products. “We’ve now taken the technology through even more iterations, resulting in some very elegant and fairly inexpensive ways to create and integrate 4D effects into immersive environments,” says Lunde.
Stranger Things: The Experience takes fans of the global hit series inside some of its most iconic settings on an intimate, guided adventure alongside their favorite characters. The adventure is followed by the chance to hang out in a real-world physical space populated with elements of the Stranger Things world, themed food and beverage and merchandise. It opened in 2022 with successful runs in New York City and San Francisco, followed by London and is headed soon to Los Angeles and other new locations.
“Things can get more complicated when we are working with a high-level IP,” says Lunde. “Projects of this kind have a built-in audience and fan community you can tap into, but it’s a very demanding audience that knows the story, setting and characters inside out. To satisfy stakeholders and please the true fans, you have to get things absolutely right.”
Technifex worked with design firm Mycotoo for co-producers Netflix and Fever on Stranger Things: The Experience. “We provided an array of effects that simulate the mind control phenomena that are integral to the show,” says Lunde.
In Fever’s official 2021 announcement, Greg Lombardo, Head of Experiences at Netflix said, “We know our Stranger Things fans will embrace the chance to be the heroes of the story.”
Products to fire up events
Technifex FauxFire is the company’s most popular and enduring proprietary creation. Now, via Technifex Products, there are new versions rolling out, including campfires, torches and Afterburners which lately have been used to help ignite brand activations.
The classic FauxFire system is steam-based. The very first installation of FauxFire was for the Valhalla indoor dark flume ride that opened in 2000 at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. “It has since gone through multiple redevelopments, and it’s led to a lot of offshoots,” says Lunde. “In general, we have worked to productize systems that represent natural elements – fire, water, heat, etc. – and help clients apply them to their particular program or show.”
DRAGON’S DEN (images: HBO)
Technifex Products provided FauxFire Roadies, a portable version of the standard FauxFire product, for the flame effect behind the Iron Throne selfie station and a FauxFire Campfire for the Dragon’s Den AR walkthrough experience at the HBO Activation for George R.R. Martin’s House of The Dragon prequel to Game of Thrones at ComiCon International: San Diego (2022). Technifex came into the mix via exhibit designer Showtec. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, at the Ciroc Passion Vodka product launch event at Harlem Parish in New York City in July 2022, a Technifex Products FauxFire Roadie provided a bar fire effect. Technifex was brought on by NVE Experience Agency. “Our rental products can be set up easily and are very popular with exhibit companies,” says Lunde.
FauxFire Roadie comes housed in a durable road case and uses theatrical smoke (instead of steam) with specialty LED lighting. Technifex’s FauxFire Campfire uses theatrical smoke and LED lighting to create the look of real campfire flames and is designed for temporary use; a steam-based version for permanent installations has also been developed.
CIROC LAUNCH EVENT (images: NVE Experience Agency)
“Technifex Products is handling a lot of our work in the LBE market,” says Lunde. “We have worked hard to make our patented products robust and the Technifex quality our clients expect, at a lower cost than the custom systems produced by Technifex LLC. These products can be reproduced easily and efficiently. Through our internal process, we’ll take the development of a new product through a series of iterative designs, mock-ups and prototypes to keep quality and function high, while bringing the costs down. We also look at our supply chain and available materials, to determine the most cost-effective fabrication solutions.”
This process has been applied to the company’s water effects. “We took our Variable Pattern Nozzle (VPN) and redeveloped the manufacturing process to where it can now be completely 3D printed,” says Lunde. “It works better, costs less than our brass and copper model and can be manufactured very rapidly. We’re now looking at our rain curtain components as well, and I think the revamped version will revolutionize the rain curtain market – which admittedly is a niche market, but a promising niche.”
The Technifex water effects line includes Aquashot® which Lunde declares is “the most robust and powerful water cannons ever made for entertainment,” and the popular WaterWeb™ rain curtain maze and Tunnel Vision™ for water slides. Other innovative products include their Dragon’s Breath™ – Heat Blaster and FauxFire Afterburner, to name a few.
Vision, innovation and trust
Technifex is a standout member of a generation of companies that emerged from the creative community that built EPCOT. They went into business doing something that had never been done before, and now, at a state of maturity, are productizing the results of that work while continuing to innovate.
Any company needs to be something of a chameleon to survive and thrive for 38 years, and Technifex’s kind of innate versatility is vital in the attractions industry, where there is always the need to upgrade, reinvest, reinvent to keep offerings fresh and guests engaged. Invention and reinvention are inherent to the art and craft of themed entertainment.
And the spark that created Technifex also led to the creation of a powerful industry association – the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), founded by Lunde in 1991 – which helped galvanize an industry just then coming into its own. While Technifex continues to expand its reach and help lead the way into the future of themed attractions and sister markets, Lunde’s own impact and influence in the attractions sector have been huge.
“Bring us your impossible ideas,” is one of Lunde’s catchphrases. Again and again, the team at Technifex has made the impossible reality. But even a technology company with a robust product line, standing ready to embrace the next challenge and reach the next milestone, knows that relationships and service are core to success. “Though we build show systems, we’re a service company,” Lunde says. “We take our clients from an idea all the way to an end product, always trying to build a bridge of trust throughout that process. That is what creates happy, repeat clients.”