Special Feature

Philipp van Stratum, creative director, CEO and founder of P&P

Dark rides have always been an important part of our work; in the last few years we have experienced a

clear increase in requests for dark rides. To us it seems that this is due to choices made by Disney and Universal; they have been building dark rides, so other theme parks follow their footsteps. Also, we see a development in experiences. The

theme parks want to give their visitors a better experience. With this, rides and other attractions become much more immersive. Another factor of the current successes of theme

parks is the good economy. People travel more, they do not mind doing so and are able to spend more money too. This makes it harder for some parks to keep up with new developments. Some will grow and bloom with the newest developments, but some will fade away and eventually stop. Park managers therefore endeavour to keep up with the newest items and hottest rides, to make sure that the visitors keep visiting. A lot of trends come and go in the dark ride

sector. This of course results in various types of (advanced) dark rides. Classic dark rides, with animated figures, a lot of theming and props will, according to us, never be extinct. Some parks add new trends to these classic rides to keep up with the latest technology and inventions. A new trend was set with the Spiderman ride and later the Transformers ride, where video projection plays a

major role. According to some parks, this mainly became a trend because animated figures could not give the experience that animation could give. The experience is much more with a projection, because this makes much more dynamic animations available and much easier to facilitate. This was also one of the reasons we had no animated characters on the Thors hammer dark ride that we built for Tussenfryd. But, against all expectations, we now suddenly

see that the animated figures have made a great leap forward. Just look at the recent sneak peeks of Beauty and the Beast characters, and Disney’s Star Wars characters, and current avatar animatronics. These animatronics are far more advanced than other animatronics that ever have been used. This is something Disney, Universal and other parks are very willing to invest in. The rides we have been working on lately, now

involve an amazing kind of animation. Which has been developed over and over again. To explain what I mean, look at The Efteling Symbolica Dark Ride. In this dark ride The Efteling also used themed floors, to provide the visitor with a full experience. Some time ago there was a trend and firm belief in video animated rides only, which made theming and props unnecessary. There have been some attempts to accomplish something like this. For example; The JUMBLE FEC, which only contained projected scenes. At this moment, we do not believe that this, nor VR rides, are the future. Currently the

Jeff Havlik, vice president, PGAV Destinations

The theming of rides and attractions has always been widespread; and today, in some form or another,

whether limited or extensive, almost every ride and attraction relies on theming. In some respects, even stock rides are themed. Rides coming straight from manufacturers have a name, a paint scheme, and decoration that denotes an element or creature, place, or action more colorful than, “spinning bucket.” There are exceptions: a Scrambler does in fact scramble, but a Himalaya is themed as its namesake. Coasters were less thematic but often had names associated with a maneuver or simply something fast: The Dips, The Comet, Greased Lightning, etc. Now a thematic name with a custom paint or decal scheme and custom cars is more prevalent even in what most would consider non-themed rides. Other attractions like dark rides have almost always been themed around a story or event. It’s the basis for their design. This basic theming evolved to become more

elaborate to make attractions more marketable and distinguish them from the competition. It deepened once again when visiting a park wasn’t enough of an escape, so the attractions themselves needed that escapism as well. Attractions’ theming needed


to tell a story and immerse the guests in a different time or place, to transport them. Today theming has evolved to more often leverage existing intellectual property (IP), where theming, based on known characters and events, is used to immerse the guests. Here theming is building on the momentum of fan devotion to an existing property and delivering a visceral experience that they have only experienced as an observer before. It is far easier and more effective to design and market an attraction tied to popular IP, than to invent and deliver an entire backstory to guests to understand and enjoy the events in the attraction. Since the beginning, themed attractions benefit

marketing by creating a one-of-a-kind look and character. But now with social media, this distinction is more important. When guests use social media to broadcast their experiences around the world, that distinctive attraction in that particular park is permanently associated with guests having fun. Studies show that the most prominent reason for guests visiting an attraction is recommendations from family and friends. Easily identifying the attraction in the photo is priceless, and theming facilitates that. Theming is on track to only continue to deepen and lengthen, bolstered by the maturing of virtual

© Merlin Entertainments

sector has been well divided. There is a good mix between animated characters, video projections, normal theming and props. Pirates in Shanghai is a great example of this. This will most likely continue to grow in the future. In the meantime, we keep working on both kinds of dark rides, static and mixed - both new style and old school. Another trend is the combination of coaster and dark ride like Arthur and the Minimois we worked on at Europa-Park. One old school ride was Vikingaliv in Stockholm, where the story is told by old school dioramas, enhanced but with state-of-the- art projection. We are also working on the New Liseberg Ride

that will make its debut in 2020, and on other state of the art rides and attraction’s including the Nickelodeon Adventure Entertainment Centre at the different locations in Europe.

reality (VR) technology. Considering experiences such as Harry Potter, Avatar, and the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where thematic immersion will begin in a hotel and continue throughout the park experience, the bar for thematic immersion has been set very high. Today’s guests are wanting more diversified and individualized experiences than most attractions currently provide, and VR may be a critical component of that. Interactivity and developing ways to change the ride experience based on the actions of the individual is likely to become more prevalent. Theming has always been a tool to elevate the attraction experience, and it is on track to hold its place in this evolution.

MARCH 2019

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