Creative innovators of Europe in themed entertainment
edited by Joe Kleiman
The unique and influential brand of creativity that comes from designers, technical specialists and park operators in Europe has had a strong impact on the global attractions industry.
Nick Farmer of Farmer Attraction Development Ltd. (UK) emphasizes Europe’s centuries-old heritage and culture. “Europe’s parks tend to be quainter [compared to American parks], with a feeling of tradition and timelessness. So when we do a project based on something like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, we tend not to lighten up the fairy tales. It might just be a little darker,” said Farmer, who is a past president of TEA and whose projects include many dungeon attractions.
Farmer pointed out that a large proportion of European parks are privately owned, even by a single family over generations. Regionally, this has shaped the culture of the industry. “Usually they know who they want to work with and they contact us directly,” said Farmer. “Museums might be a different situation because of municipalities and private authorities, but with most parks, there’s often no requisition. We just negotiate the terms.”
The close relationship between vendor and client has helped foster a unique individual style for each creative firm and designer based in Europe, many of whom have become successful, influential international players and game-changers as the industry grows. This creativity is reflected in parks, attractions, resorts, museums and heritage centers, events and spectacles and other venues in Europe and around the world. We asked some of these creative leaders to share their latest projects with us.
Based in the UK, Scruffy Dog Design, Create & Deliver, founded in 2010 by CEO Joe Bright, is a turnkey provider, offering creative design, fabrication, and installation. Clients have ranged from Merlin Entertainments to new theme parks in Dubai. The company has roots in television production design.
“Located in the historic area of Porto, Portugal on the South bank of the River Douro, The World of Wine is being positioned as a world-class visitor experience, occupying more than 30,000 square meters in total. Responsible for funding the project is The Fladgate Partnership, the company behind some of the oldest port houses including Taylor’s and Croft. We met The Fladgate Partnership team at The Museums + Heritage Show 2016, in Hammersmith. We clicked with the project team and arranged a follow up meeting in Porto shortly after.
“We have been tasked to curate and bring The Fladgate Partnership’s inspiring proposals and visions to life. When dealing with a complicated and historic production method that relies on so many variables and has such a cultural influence on the region where it is produced, our challenge was to create content that was suitable for a beginner who knows nothing about wine while not patronizing, and providing the in-depth information without intimidating.
“This project attempts to not only inform and entertain with impressive aesthetic statements and interactivity, but also break down the common misconception that wine resides and exists only for a particular demographic. The World of Wine and Scruffy Dog intend to create an inclusive experience that inspires all to enjoy and appreciate the taste of the product as well as the fascinating methods used in its production.”
The modern show park was born in 1977 when aristocrat Philippe de Villiers discovered the ruins of the Puy du Fou castle and was inspired to write an epic production about a local family spanning six centuries, performed the following year by a cast of 600. A decade later, the park – which portrays French history from the 3rd Century AD through the First World War, through 25 shows and attractions – is considered one of the top theme parks in the world. It has received three Thea Awards, including the Thea Classic. Philippe’s son Nicolas is President of Puy du Fou.
“Puy du Fou seems to be the only park that deals with dramas to entertain people. We move them with some stories inspired by history. History is often sad, but Puy du Fou draws from it the greatness of human beings. From the young children to the grandparents, everybody can share the same emotion in every show we present. And as show creators, we always look to present something unexpected – because we don’t offer what people like, but rather what they could like.
“Puy du Fou has always consulted the best professionals in every field to fuel its bold creativity: Architect Christophe Rabiller, interior architect and designer Thierry Rétif, costume designer Olivier Bériot, and decorator Dan Weil (who have worked regularly with Luc Besson), help to ensure the artistic synergy of the sets and costumes.
“One recent project is Le Denier Panache, which tells the story of François-Athanase Charette de la Contrie, a French naval officer and hero of the American War of Independence, who saw his life change dramatically in 1793, in a final fight for freedom! Conceived and produced entirely by Puy du Fou, this unparalleled performance has a grand 360° stage in a revolutionary hall measuring 7,500 square meters: Le Théâtre des Géants.”
Via a career that started in marketing and branding, moved to themed entertainment and ended in the cultural attractions sector for the last 15 years, Rosalind Johnson has worked around the world developing projects for national museums, the arts, The National Trust and others looking to cross the divide between culture and entertainment. Now, as the Guardian of Wishes and co-founder of Timbalaya, she’s using her skills to bring a fully developed, interactive park to life. Timbalaya was created as an entertainment IP that will stretch across attractions, publishing, games, digital content and films. Its parks, due to open 2019/20 are marketed worldwide as a franchise opportunity. With Timbalaya, Johnson and her partners have taken a unique approach to developing an IP.
“When we dreamt up Timbalaya as an entertainment brand and then as an attraction concept, we stayed firmly in the dark for about a year to give us time to play with ideas without any pressure. Looking back, I’d say this gave us a fantastic sense of freedom to explore new ideas.
“Storytelling is at the heart of Timbalaya, and our attractions are an immersive outdoor experience using the natural environment as our backdrop while reflecting the magical world that author Georgina Parfitt has created. At every step, we’re being true to the story yet imaginative with the physical experiences for children and their families to play in.
“We believe creativity can come from anywhere but only if you set yourselves up to be receptive to unusual thinking. We engage and create with illustrators, designers, writers and makers as you would expect from an entertainment brand. But we also engage with children, disrupters, educationalists, nerds, playmakers, rule breakers and artists. So, expect the unexpected when our parks open in 2019/2020.”
Internationally, Liseberg might be best known in our industry for the Liseberg Applause Award, granted every two years to a park whose “management, operations and creative accomplishments have inspired the industry with their foresight, originality and sound business development.”
But Liseberg Park itself is one of the most popular theme parks in Scandinavia and has become well known for its seasonal festivals – and as noted below, Liseberg is part of a robust Scandinavian community. Park CEO and President Andreas Anderson serves as First Vice Chair of IAAPA and is slated to be sworn in as the 2018 IAAPA Chairman this November.
“I believe that we are a very creative company, but I would say that we rather have been good at applying general innovations from the industry, than re-inventing the wheel on our own. If we, for example, introduce a new season – Christmas or Halloween – we have not been first movers. But we have made both seasons our own, and distinctively Liseberg. And I would also say that we have done them at a high creative and qualitative level, setting us apart from the competition.
“I think, that when you operate in a regional market, and in a market which is rather mature, you need to have a lot of focus on keeping the product fresh. That development, creativity and – as a consequence hereof – reinvestment are in the very core of the DNA of the parks.
“Scandinavia has a very long and strong tradition when it comes to amusement parks. The world’s oldest amusement park is Bakken; one of the world’s first theme parks (or pleasure gardens) is Tivoli, and the local appeal of parks in Scandinavia is extremely high. All this has been driven by regional development, and a focus on the local market. If you want to attract visitors again and again – and cross generations – you need to be creative. Always give the guests an excuse to go back. You can’t rely on tourist flows; you have to stay relevant to your local market.
“I actually think that this is why you will find some of the most robust and high quality parks in Northern Europe. A combination of a strong, culturally based tradition, and a focus on local guests, as the foundation for the parks success.”
Austria-based Kraftwerk Living Technologies specializes in the creative integration of media systems, show control, and lighting. Its projects can be found worldwide from Asia to Europe and North America, including award-winners, such as the BMW Welt in Munich, and the 5D Castle Theater at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom. Kevin Murphy is Kraftwerk Vice President of Strategic Planning.
“Key strengths of Kraftwerk LT and crucial factors behind its success and growth are the company’s broad range and technical experience – often working at the cutting-edge but always with profound expert knowledge of the latest technologies. While entertainment is certainly a key business sector, it is often the work in the high-tech automotive industry that allows the Austrians to venture for innovative solutions, which form the basis for new creative ideas in the AV entertainment market.
“A recent example for this is National Geographic Encounter, which opens its doors with Ocean Odyssey to the public in October 2017 in New York City’s Times Square. It is a 90-minute, self-guided walk-through immersive experience, with each scene technically unique. Together with SPE Partners, the developers of National Geographic Encounter, and the project’s other creative teams, the experts from Kraftwerk Living Technologies pushed the boundaries of technologies. The challenging technical feats include a unique blending of video mapping, 8K photo-realistic animation, mega projection screens, immersive spatial soundscapes, interactive ‘realtime’ audience tracking and a giant dome finale… just to name a few.
“This unique entertainment experience transports audiences on an incredible undersea journey, allowing them to interact with sea lions, play with rays and dolphins, and come face-to-face with humpback whales and great white sharks.” All of the underwater experiences were created by Pixomondo’s global VFX studios.
Donna Davidson had already had substantial international project experience as Global Project Development Director for BRC Imagination Arts when she relocated in 2003 from the company’s US headquarters (in Burbank, CA) to a local office in Durham, UK. Davidson has remained involved in projects around the globe including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in the US, the Museum of Liverpool in the UK, the Information Communication Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, among many others.
“Irish Distiller’s Limited was looking at redoing the guest experience at their original Jameson distillery on Bow St. where John Jameson began making Irish whiskey in 1780. They were maxed out on capacity and needed to increase throughput and efficiency within the existing footprint of the historic building. They also wanted to share the Jameson story in a more compelling, immersive way. They chose us as the lead design agency for the project because we understand how to create a holistic guest experience. We consider every element throughout the brand home, leading to a deeper guest connection to the brand and improving daily operations and revenue.
“The new Jameson Distillery Bow Street opened in early 2017 in Dublin. We worked on listening and uncovering Jameson’s history with the archivist; story and experiential development; media direction; conservation; infrastructure; city planning; operational planning and design; staffing, casting, and rehearsing the different tours and tastings; retail; and whiskey and cocktail tastings.
“The overall placemaking and scripted experiences are filled with artifacts, epic adventure, and interesting characters that bring the history and process to life in a fascinating way, aided with a little technical magic. Jameson has a great motto – Sine Metu – which means ‘Without Fear,’ and that comes through in the guest experience. Guests learn about Jameson through a variety of multisensory activities such as feeling, smelling, and tasting the ingredients; deconstructing different blends; or making their own cocktails. Bow St. also includes exclusive retail and whiskey offerings and JJ’s Bar where guests can enjoy live events and share great drinks and good times with friends. It’s become a great favorite with the locals and tourists alike.”
Click here for a past interview with Donna Davidson and more about the Museum of Liverpool.
Mack Rides is one of the oldest ride manufacturing companies in Europe. Its theme park, Europa-Park, in Rust, Germany, began in 1975 as a showcase for the company’s products, eventually taking on a life of its own. A number of innovative Mack divisions began in the park and are now doing work worldwide, including Mack Media and VR Coaster. The park’s newest attraction, a flying theater called the Voletarium, is centered around the new thematic concept of the Adventure Club of Europe. Key to its design is Chris Lange, the Creative Director at Mack Solutions.
“Mack Solutions is like Europa-Park’s version of Imagineering. We handle the creative designs within the theme park, the upcoming waterpark & hotel, and also for external clients and their attraction and theme park projects. The Mack family owns Mack Rides and the park and hotel as well. Our newest attraction is Voletarium, which opened at the beginning of June. The director on the film was brought in from the outside, but Michael Mack was the producer and went to every shoot throughout Europe to guide the process. We made sure we consulted with local people during the production. The Voletarium was a big new adventure for Mack Media, our media production division.
“The story centers around two Eulenstein brothers who have a research lab. One studies nature, like birds. The older brother is a professional watch maker from the Black Forest. We’ve taken an approach of environmental storytelling: The story is conveyed through sets, special effects, and audio – completely through the physical environment. Guests travel through an extended series of preshow spaces. They walk through the Institute, they enter a library with stories, then a workshop, where a flying machine is covered but being worked on. There are animatronic owls and a big observatory to look onto nature. There is also a mechanic’s workbench with everything more organized. A futuristic looking drone tells the story of the two brothers, and presents a safety video on a hologram projector. Once on the ‘rooftop,’ we dispatch 70 people into the theaters on each side. The entire experience is completely immersive – the lights are hidden, the AC hidden.
“The Voletarium is a standalone attraction that introduces the Adventure Club of Europe [ACE, whose members include an eclectic group of fictional European inventors and explorers, including the Eulenstein brothers.] At the park, there will be some other areas or even attractions which will feature the ACE. To go along with the attraction, we also developed Sky Explorer – a smartphone AR app/mobile game that also interacts with one of the Voletarium preshow elements.”
For a look at the Voletarium ride system, see “Flight of the Simulators,” by Brogent Technologies.