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Global gaze: Asian attractions dominate the 2019 TEA Thea Awards

Global gaze: Asian attractions dominate the 2019 TEA Thea Awards

By Philip Hernandez

The attractions industry is booming in Asia. Mainland China expects to have 59 new theme parks by 2020 (“China Theme Park Pipeline Report,” AECOM, 2018.), and quality is keeping pace. This is reflected in the slate of TEA Thea Award recipients being awarded this April. Forty percent of the Theas (six out of 15) were named to Asian recipients (detailed below).

Asia’s attraction boom

The development of the attractions industry in Asia has had a unique trajectory. The sector is young, with variations from country to country and has developed on a fast track compared to its mature counterpart in the West. Theme parks in the West began as small, low-tech attractions (think Knott’s Berry Farm) that grew in technological complexity over time. In Asia, the pace has been faster and technology-focused from the outset.

According to forecasts from IAAPA, the Asia Pacific region will account for 62% of global growth in attendance for the theme and amusement park markets, with spending to increase to $21.5 billion in 2022. By comparison, North America spending is forecast to expand to a $29.7 billion in 2022 (“IAAPA Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook: 2018-2022,” IAAPA, 2018).

China and Japan

China was the fastest-growing market (16.5% increase in 2017), accounting for 83% of the overall growth in attendance for the region. Attendance benefited in 2017 from an entire year of operation from Shanghai Disney Resort and Fantawild Oriental Heritage. China will remain the quickest growing Asia Pacific market for the next five years.

While the attractions market is expanding in China, Japan remains the largest market in the Asia Pacific region. Spending in Japan’s amusement park market expanded 2.4% to $6.7 billion in 2017. By 2022, Japan’s spending is projected to top $9.2 billion with China trailing just behind at $8.18 billion (“IAAPA Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook: 2018-2022.” IAAPA. 2018.).

Attendance Drivers

The opening of new parks and attractions will drive attendance growth for the next five years in the Asia Pacific region. Two of the main trends seen at these parks are 1) attractions that use popular movie IP and 2) higher ticket prices. In China, Disney

Pixar Toy Story Land at Shanghai Disney Resort, and Shanghai Polar Ocean Park both opened in 2018. Universal Parks and Resorts is increasing its investment in Universal Studios Beijing from $3.3 billion to $6.5 billion. Six Flags has plans for three parks in the Nanjing area – the first opening in 2021 – and is planning 11 parks in China in the coming years.

The Asian recipients of TEA Thea Awards in 2019

The Asian projects being honored in 2019 with TEA Thea Awards range from an LED waterslide to a giant revolving theater, but they a set of common elements:

• State-of-the-art technology Every recipient relies on a leap in technology.

• The dissolving of boundaries Each of these projects alters boundaries in some way regardless of platform or category (theme park, museum, water slide, auditorium, parade, dark ride), each recipient alters the medium’s boundaries. What if a water slide rotated and was also a light show? What if exhibits in a museum moved and interacted with one another? What if set changes disappeared from a live performance? Each of these projects in some way dissolves traditional boundaries of the form and challenges the industry to keep up. The guest experience is more fully engaging than ever, and it’s just the beginning.

• Multi-generational appeal Families are the core market for themed entertainment in the East as in the West – although cultural norms and the role of family differ – and this is reflected in theme park and attraction design.

Fantawild Oriental Heritage

The Legend of Nuwa at Fantawild Oriental Heritage in Wuhu. Photo courtesy Fantawild.

Fantawild Oriental Heritage in Wuhu opened in April 2017. It’s the 22nd park developed and operated by Fantawild Holdings. The park blends aspects of traditional Chinese culture with technology-driven attractions. It features nine thematic areas, 12 major attractions, and a cultural heritage town. In-house animation and special effects units at Fantawild developed these attractions. “It brings together an exceptional blend of live entertainment, large-scale shows, and engaging dark-ride experiences to deliver a truly unique and compelling family destination,” stated the TEA Thea Awards Committee.

Besides operating theme parks, Fantawild produces original animations, themed performances, and consumer products. For a media company to expand onto the theme park platform to leverage IP and merchandising has been a growing trend. However, Fantawild finds a niche in its dedication to integrated technology. Fantawild is committed to spreading Chinese culture across the globe, with culture as its core and technology as its support,” per its published philosophy.

Technology is likewise at the heart of Fantawild’s mother corporation, Huaqiang Holding Group (established in 1979), whose portfolio demonstrates a substantial investment in the field. Among them is Huaqiang Electronics World (Shenzhen), a comprehensive trade and exhibition center for electronic components in China. A technology company turned theme park developer in Asia Pacific’s fastest-growing market is a company for us all to watch.

Legend of Camel Bells

The Legend of Camel Bells. Photo courtesy of ACE.

Legend of Camel Bells is a live-action production with all the grandeur of legendary Chinese storytelling. The production brings the audience along with a group of traders who are traveling the Silk Road from China to ancient Rome during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Along the way, the travelers encounter extreme weather, life-threatening dangers, and fantastic sights, all presented with half a dozen elaborate, animated sets. Xia Chunting, chairman of Huaxia Wenlv Group, produced the show.

In conventional live-action production, scenes play out on a single stage as the audience witnesses set changes. In Legend of Camel Bells, the auditorium itself revolves, bringing the audience to the next set. Set changes disappear; thus, the sets are more elaborate. “The six sets for the show (one for each story chapter) ring the audience platform. Each set is an elaborate, permanent installation with integrated technology systems, rigging, and effects. The rotating auditorium is capable of revolving 360 degrees, as well as back and forth, to bring the audience into position relative to the sets as the story unfolds.” (“Legends, camels and ACE,” InPark Issue #76 cover story, Jan 2019).

The Thea Awards Committee statement cites “stunning stage effects, massive props, extreme scenery, a huge cast, animal actors, a 15-meter-tall volcano and snow mountain, an 18-meterhigh Buddha and a 20-meter-high by 40-meter-wide waterfall – all presented on the massive, oval-shaped stage, backed by a 4,000-square-meter LED screen… highest level of visual imagination and design, theatrical flair, showmanship, and execution…wows the audience.”

MORI Building Digital Art Museum— teamLab Borderless

Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo teamLab

While the exact definition of “Immersive” is contested in our industry, three elements continually surface: complete environments, agency, and consequence. Immersive experiences allow guests to make choices that alter their experience, all contained within a complete environment (or microcosm if you prefer). With a few exceptions, museums and their exhibits are not immersive. But what if they were? What if exhibits moved between rooms and responded in real time to what you do? What if there were no “rooms” but rather the floor, ceiling, and walls merged into one endless canvas? This project brought together architects, engineers, programmers, CG animators, mathematicians, musicians, and designers to create such an immersive museum in Tokyo.

After exhibitions in Singapore, London, Paris, and Shenzhen teamLab collaborated with local urban landscape developer MORI Building Co. Ltd. to create the permanent attraction being honored with a Thea Award. MORI Building Digital Art Museum—teamLab Borderless is a massive, three-dimensional experience that takes place in five different zones within a 10,000-square-foot space. The artworks flow out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence, and sometimes intermingle with each other without boundaries.

“This simple yet innovative combination of analog interactive installations and advanced projection-mapping visuals equals a world-class, non-linear entertainment experience that allows thousands of visitors daily to explore, wander, and discover at their own pace. The level of technical complexity (520 computers/470 video projectors/interactive sensors, etc.) and the overall quality of the experience makes ‘Borderless’ a new reference point and potentially a ‘game-changer’ in the industry,” stated the TEA Thea Awards Committee.

Nemo Friends SeaRider

Pictured top of page. Copyright Disney

Rides can be expensive to build. Theme park operators generally wait decades to receive the full ROI on rides, especially those that are heavily themed. When a market (Asia Pacific, for instance) is technology sensitive, themed rides get outdated rapidly. What’s the solution? Refurbish and repurpose. Proper execution is tricky, but Disney is on a roll (likely due to their experience with Western parks). Disney received two Theas in 2018 for Attraction Reimagining: 1) Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! and 2) Frozen Ever After. 2019 sees Disney receiving another for SeaRider.

The Disney/Pixar films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory inspire the SeaRider simulator ride, which opened in 2017. Part of Tokyo DisneySea, SeaRider was repurposed from its predecessor, StormRider. SeaRider includes a new exterior theater façade, a new pre-show, and a real-time experience for each group of voyagers.

The storyline for SeaRider is this: At the Marine Life Institute in the heart of Port Discovery, scientists have created a substance called “Chidiminium” that can conduct electricity and shrink materials. This new material is used to safely shrink the SeaRider, a fish-shaped submarine in which guests ride. The SeaRider features artificial fish intelligence, which allows it to think like a real fish and operate without a pilot. Guests dive into the sea aboard this fish-submarine and meet marine life such as Nemo, Dory, and Marlin, who join passengers on a journey through the ocean, where they encounter numerous characters from the two Finding Nemo films. Each voyage on the SeaRider vehicle is composed in real time with more than 576 different video clips that create varying storylines for each 14-minute ride.

The Thea Committee wrote, “…beautifully executed and subtly transformed…plenty of surprises and action to entertain…a charming and exciting ride for the whole family.”

SlideWheel

The SlideWheel installation at Chimelong Water Park. Courtesy of Chimelong

The SlideWheel at Chimelong Water Park is the world’s first rotating water slide. Chimelong included SlideWheel, designed by Wiegand Maelzer, in the park’s April 2018 grand opening. The SlideWheel is a one-of-a-kind 110-second experience comprised of sliding, swinging, twisting, shaking, rotating, and zero gravity. Up to 480 passengers an hour can slide through on four-person rafts.

The German-made water slide doesn’t stop there – SlideWheel turns into a light show at night. The 24-meter-tall, rotating SlideWheel uses over 700 LED lights on the interior and exterior to create a stunning visual seen throughout the park. The light show capitalizes on the physical slide structure and eliminates the need for extra support rigging (generally an eyesore). The lightweight LED lights (the norm now due to their many advantages over incandescent fixtures: energy savings, compact form factor, longer life etc.) make the feat possible. Thus, the attraction not only succe on novelty of experience, but adds entertainment value to the evening offerings.

The TEA Thea Committee wrote, “SlideWheel is a highly engineered and innovative achievement that provides guests both visual and physical sensations that are unique to the waterpark industry.”

Universal Spectacle Night Parade – The Best of Hollywood

Courtesy Universal Studios Japan

Parades are a theme park staple. The classic recipe has been to present a character on a float repeating a scene, with dancers in between. Universal’s new parade re-imagines the format. Each segment is an evolving narrative where characters impact the environment and exit the float.

The Universal Studios Night Parade—The Best of Hollywood, at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, implements an innovative parade-control system that synchronizes onboard and off-board projection mapping with the progressive movement of parade units choreographed to a musical score. The massive, virtual, movie-based environments synchronize with puppeteered creatures and live performers to achieve a dazzling, multi-sensory experience for guests.

For example, a full-size Hogwarts Express rolls down a cloudy projection mapped street. The windows reveal students enjoying conversation before – a dementor attack! Nearby students (dancers) cast spells which fend off the Projected Dementors. Other environments include Transformers, Jurassic World and Despicable Me.

“Universal Studios Japan has dramatically reinvented the stage on which their nightly pageant performs. The result really does let guests ‘live the movies,’” wrote the TEA Thea Awards Committee. • • •

Philip Hernandez is CEO at Gantom Lighting, Editor-in-Chief of Seasonal Entertainment Source magazine, and Founder of the Leadership Symposium for Seasonal Attractions. Contact Philip at: philip@gantom.com

AN INPARK WEB EXCLUSIVE, 2018:

2019 Thea Awards, Asia, Chimelong Water Park, Fantawild Oriental Heritage, Legend of Camel Bells, MORI buidling Digital Art Museum, TEA, Tokyo DisneySea, universal studios japan

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