Creating world-class attractions
The theme park industry is booming, with new and expanded attractions opening around the world. And this interest in theme parks is good news for Dynamic Attractions, a company with years of experience creating and building attractions for the biggest and most successful theme park operators around. Earlier this year, Dynamic Attractions created a new division called Unlimited Attractions, to reflect the holistic approach it takes to creating world-class theme park experiences. Not all of today’s theme park operators have the decades of experience and expert staff needed to be able to combine telling a compelling story with creating a superb ride experience, which is where Unlimited Attractions comes in. Housed in its new, 40,000 square foot ‘Attraction Development Center’ the new division has the capability of offering everything needed for world-class attractions.
George Walker, Vice President Creative Development, explains: “The market had a need for an entity that could provide all the intricate services involved in building attractions. There are so many new theme parks opening around the world, there's really a kind of second life happening and we're capitalising on that. If you look at typical attractions, there are many, many components that all have to come together – but what we found was the backbone, the core of every attraction, is the ride system. This is the most expensive element. This is the element that drives the schedule and has the greatest amount of impact on the facility, so it makes sense to also design, manage, and deliver the show elements that wrap around the ride system. But people who design ride systems tend to be really good at math and really bad at story telling.”
At the helm of Unlimited Attractions is the expert trio made up of Walker, Mike Haimson (VP Technical) and Cindy Emerick (VP Business Development). Together they offer an unparalleled mix of skills and experience when it comes to creating theme park attractions. They originally met working on the Ferrari World expansion in Dubai, as Walker explains: “It is truly a massive expansion of that park, with a 40 percent increase in capacity that includes eight rides and attractions, as well as new facades and environmental updating. For the most iconic attraction of the project we hired Dynamic, and this is how Cindy, Mike and I found that we worked extremely well together. This was around the same the CEO of Dynamic Attractions, Guy Nelson, was interested in improving the way in which his company was able to provide these services for clients.”
And the result of this was Unlimited Attractions. Haimson adds: “I think the three of us work so well together because we take an attraction that has a ride system at its core, but then we start to fold in all the other elements. The storytelling moments, building the scenes. The way in which the experience is going to unfold for the guest. All of that is a combination of technology and art. It's very delicate and if you get it wrong you essentially spend a whole lot of money to not have as good an experience as you could have if you had done it right.”
So, how does any theme park operator know when its attraction is hitting the target? Ticket sales are a big indicator, of course, but it goes further than that, says Walker: “The pay off in the world of theme park design isn't the one that comes from the bank. It's the one that comes off the faces of the people exiting the attraction. That's the reward. So you never know for sure until you open.” But the Unlimited Attractions team has enough success behind it that it has pretty good instincts for this now.
Cindy Emerick adds: “I guess the challenge is always understanding how to mix the ingredients very well together, like a chef. How do you know it's going to taste good when you're done? You don't know, but because that's what you're trained for, that’s what you've dedicated all of your time and studies and experience to, you are probably going to be pretty close to right.” Being a one-stop shop for theme park attractions offers many benefits to Dynamic Attractions’ clients, beyond just the creation and construction of an attraction. Emerick says: “Dynamic Attractions also has probably one of the most extensive parts and service divisions. In effect, we can actually assist, maintain and audit a park technically. We train maintenance staff and even work on other attractions that are not ours because we have a talent pool within our company that can handle it, and a reputation in the industry for quality.”
Added to this long-term relationship with clients, Dynamic Attractions can bring together a group of specialist companies that have the know-how to produce every detail of an attraction. Haimson explains: “If you do one particular discipline – a fire effect, for example, or a special kind of media – then we’re going to involve you directly into our design and bring you onto the project under out contract.” These enterprises can partner with Dynamic Attractions, meaning they are potentially working across multiple projects for Dynamic and thus spreading the risk for themselves. And the client benefits from the economies of scale by contracting directly with Dynamic Attractions so they don’t need to spend the time and money sourcing these smaller, but highly skilled, companies. So, it’s a situation where everyone wins. Haimson adds: “That's how we're going to be able to get a better product at a better price; there is no downside to it.”
The team knows well which partner is right for a particular project – depending on what the client wants to achieve, as well as their budget. Smaller parks don’t have the big budgets of, for example, Disney and Universal. Emerick says: “They see these wonderful projects and they can’t compete with the pocketbook of those parks but they do want to deliver something great for their guests. So, we use Mike and George's expertise at being able to put on a big show with a reasonable budget.” And it is a constant challenge for the creative team, alongside the ride experts at Dynamic Attractions, to marry up the artistic and the technical elements of an attraction at the right price for their client.
“I like to think of it as an artist’s palette. The different colours, the different paints, the different materials are all like the different elements used in an attraction, like scenery, lighting, audio, media, or effects. All of these ingredients are interdependently related to the technical and ride system elements, and we balance them together from a creative standpoint,” says Walker.
And these days, the trio acknowledges, visitors are anticipating bigger and better experiences when they visit a theme park. Walker says: “The audience is expecting more. They want more than just a ride system, they want to be entertained all the time, while they’re queuing. While they wait for 45 minutes, we have the opportunity to get their attention and entertain them – that’s what the clients are wanting and that's what these smaller parks and locations are finding out. The level of expectation of the public is increasing. A great example of this is the Flying Aces attraction that I recently opened at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The queue for this attraction takes you back in time to the golden age of flying where we explore the origins of the Ferrari logo which comes from a WWI pilot who painted it on his plane. So the attraction recreates this with a story that leads you through the pilot’s barracks, through an old radio room, and to an airfield that is recreated using projection that fills the sky with planes everywhere. The environment is filled with scenery, props, rockwork, and even a plane crashed in a tree.”
Constantly coming up with the wow factor is at the heart of what Dynamic Attractions does, and it has a research and development team in Orlando, in the attraction development centre, looking into new – and sometimes established – technologies and what they have to offer theme parks. Interactivity is a hot topic at the moment and, as Haimson explains, it goes a lot further than simply live tweeting your ride experience: “We're working with clients right now at making things more interactive either in terms of augmented and virtual reality, moving scenery, media and real-time generated graphics. But we're also looking at ways to make the big mechanical stuff interactive as well. So imagine you as a guest can choose your path in a ride system and at the same time, try to make sure the client still achieves the return on investment that they need. So we're trying to stay ahead of the curve by investing our own research and development dollars into things and that's one of the reasons we built the Orlando facility. Ultimately how we make the guest experience better for the new guest, this new audience.
“Clients out there will hear the buzzword interactivity and they think that means the guests need to be able to either shoot at something or look at their phone. That is not what interactivity means. Interactivity is getting the guest to be engaged in their environment in a way that they can affect and in a way in which the environment can affect them. So I encourage anyone who wants to use interactivity to take that fresh approach and if you don't have any thoughts or ideas on how to do that, please give us a call. We've got lots. ”
And these ideas, when realised, will be right the first time. This is because of the precision engineering approach taken by Dynamic Attractions – making sure each part of a ride or attraction is perfect from day one can significantly reduce costs and time for both Dynamic Attractions and its clients. Emerick illustrates this point with an example: “We just designed and manufactured an attraction and because of the details and the special attention that the team did on the precision engineering, your design intent is properly executed. You want to ultimately provide a safe, functional, smooth and exciting attraction to the rider. They don't know what it takes to get there, but we do everything it takes to ensure the end experience is as great as possible.”
The motivation behind the team at Dynamic Attractions comes from their passion. Walker describes it this way, “We live in a world that is sometimes more harsh than it should be. Great attractions can take people out of that world for a moment. They can become an escape where you get a chance to be something impossible, or feel something you normally couldn’t. It’s a chance to give people a lasting memory that makes the world a better place, even if just for a moment. Who wouldn’t want to do that for a living?”