When I told my nine year-old that I met the person who created the Clutch Powers Lego hero, he screamed with excitement. The true heroes of the theme park world (the people who dream up, design, and build our favorite themed attractions around the world) converged at the Ports of Call at Sea World in Orlando, Florida recently to share, socialize, and engage at the SATE (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, and Experience) conference. The Themed Entertainment Association hosted SATE’11 at Sea World around the theme “The Power of Story”, and its conference attracted some of the coolest theme park geeks in the world.
How cool it was to peek into the themed entertainment design business for a day. I learned the quirky story behind the Swarovski Crystals theme park in Austria, the origin of Lego’s Clutch Powers hero, and that Disney is creating a new Avatar attraction. Best of all, I chatted with some of the coolest and most successful themed entertainment professionals in the world. These folks win Thea, Telly, and Emmy awards. They take inspiration from and pay homage to architecture, nature, Hollywood movies, and history. Their palettes contain everything from computer-generated movies, to sophisticated combinations of video projection, architectural construction, sound design, motion simulation, water, wind, air, story telling, and more. The projects they build might surprise you. We all probably think about Disney and Universal Studios when we think of themed entertainment, but I quickly discovered a whole universe of interesting themed entertainment projects.
Shane Skaggs from Nashville, Tenn. is a video specialist for Mankin Media Systems and he is passionate about storytelling through technology. Looking a very youthful 31, Shane shared a great story about how his company participated in converting a church’s youth center interior into a House of Blues-inspired theme complete with a 30-foot projection screen. The church, located in Louisville, KY, is called The Block. Do not be fooled by the simple name, the architectural details and technology integration inside of this building are stunning.
Dina Benadon and Brent Young of Super 78, based in Hollywood, Ca, are rocking the museum world in Singapore, where they have designed a 360-degree immersive experience called Typhoon Theater in the Maritime Xperiential Museum – Resorts World Sentosa.
The experience, opening in October 2011, literally and figuratively sinks the audience into the story of a 9th century trading vessel along the Maritime Silk Road as a massive typhoon hits. Using state-of-the-art in-theatre effects including projecting video onto painted silk, passengers find themselves in the depths of the ocean, up close with the shipwreck and magnificent marine life. Water spray, temperature changes, sound effects, and wind machines make the experience completely immersive. Dina and Brent designed Typhoon Theatre’s powerful story around a real shipwreck. The Maritime Xperiential Museum was built to house the Jewel of Muscat, a reproduction of a shipwrecked Arabian dhow found preserved in sediment. According to Wikipedia, the wreck contained the biggest single collection of Tang Dynasty artifacts ever found in one place and revealed previously unknown details about trade between the Middle East and China.
Kristy Scanlan and Joshua Wexler of Threshold Animation Studios in Los Angeles, Ca, really understand geek moms and geek dads. It is obvious that they both share a deep passion for fun and creativity in their work. For example, Kristy, who is head of production at Threshold Animation Studios, revealed that in the Bionicles movie, produced by Threshold Animation Studios, hieroglyphics written on the walls are actually names of production staff members.
Joshua is a self-proclaimed geek dad and he proves it in a big way. Joshua, co-founder of Threshold, has been a Lego fan since childhood and is the father of two seven year-olds. He is also the creator of the Lego hero, Clutch Powers, cleverly named after the Lego term Clutch Power — the strength of the connection between Lego bricks. Joshua, in homage to Superman, Star Wars, Monty Python, Aliens, and Indiana Jones, dreamed up Clutch Powers so that Lego might have its own hero. He pitched the idea to Lego and Lego loved it. The rest is history.
As the mother of a Clutch Powers fanatic, I asked Joshua for some cool, undocumented facts about the movie. Joshua delivered. The Arthur Fol character’s name comes from the acronym A.F.O.L. or Adult Fan of Lego. If you visit Legoland Florida, which opens on October 15, 2011, be sure to check out Las Vegas in Miniland USA to catch a glimpse of Clutch Powers on a billboard there. While you are at Legoland Florida, check out the Clutch Powers 4D attraction, which was designed by Threshold Animation Studios.
Theme parks are the ultimate immersive experience, and the people who dream, design, and create them are among the most dynamic, creative, and fun people on the planet. Therefore, the next time I visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or stand in line at the Legoland Florida park, I will go with a newfound appreciation for the real heroes behind these amazing immersive experiences. Thanks SATE’11!