PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT: Toasting Jim Beam's Newest Brand Attraction

October 09, 2015

Last week, Beam Suntory, the world’s leading Bourbon maker, celebrated the grand opening of Jim Beam’s new visitors’ experience in the heart of Louisville’s Fourth Street entertainment district.

Last week, Beam Suntory, the world’s leading Bourbon maker, celebrated the grand opening of Jim Beam’s new visitors’ experience in the heart of Louisville’s Fourth Street entertainment district.

Beam Suntory, the world’s leading Bourbon maker, today celebrated the grand opening of Jim Beam’s new visitors’ experience in the heart of Louisville’s Fourth Street entertainment district. The 4,300-square-foot Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse not only establishes a highly visible presence for the world’s No. 1 Bourbon in the most vibrant tourist destination in Louisville, but also offers guests a hands-on bourbon experience unlike any other.

“For more than 220 years, Jim Beam Bourbon has made history and continues to do so by opening its first visitors’ destination outside of our flagship distillery,” said Kevin Smith, Vice President, Kentucky Beam Bourbon Affairs. “We’ve taken the brand’s rich heritage and put an urban spin on it, offering guests an interactive Bourbon experience coupled with a retail location, right here in downtown Louisville. The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is another place Jim Beam fans can call home as an extension of our Jim Beam American Stillhouse experience in Clermont, Ky.”

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined 7th generation Master Distiller Fred Noe, company leaders and local dignitaries to officially open the doors and commemorate Jim Beam’s unwavering commitment to the Bourbon industry – an industry it helped create when Jacob Beam made his first Bourbon whiskey in Kentucky in 1795.

“Bourbon is one of Kentucky’s most historic and treasured industries – a thriving $3 billion economic engine that generates more than 15,400 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million, and $166 million in tax revenue every year,” Gov. Beshear said. “With the opening of the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in downtown Louisville, the company is once again raising the profile of our Bourbon industry and giving visitors another great reason to come to Louisville.”

“We are happy to see Jim Beam expand its footprint in downtown Louisville,” added Fischer. “Fourth Street is a booming destination for tourists from near and far, and places like the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse offer a great opportunity to spotlight Kentucky’s heritage while driving increased visitors to Kentucky Bourbon distilleries.”

The new location is located in the heart of Louisville’s 4th Street entertainment district and includes a small working distillery, bottling line, tasting experience and its own exclusive bourbon, Jim Beam® Urban Stillhouse Select.

Located 25 miles from its flagship distillery in Clermont, Ky., the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse operates as a small working distillery and visitors’ experience like no other, with special features that include:

  • • A distillation system showcasing a small copper pot still with a unique rectifying column and see-through glass vapor condenser.
  • • Interactive displays and décor that immerse Bourbon enthusiasts in the Jim Beam® brand and educate them on the fine nuances of whisky making;
  • • A one-of-a-kind tasting bar crafted from reclaimed wood and designed to reflect barrel staves and flowing Bourbon;
  • • A sculptural American Oak tree built from barrel staves. The tree features a canopy crafted from laser-cut steel leaves and illuminated Jim Beam bottles, symbolic of the First Family of Bourbon;
  • • A full retail store offering branded items, as well an opportunity for guests to label, fill and customize their own bottle of the site’s exclusive Bourbon offering, Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select.

JRA provided complete master planning, design and project management for both the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville and the Jim Beam American Stillhouse and Distillery Tour in Clermont. According to Noe, the Urban Stillhouse is a natural extension of its Clermont distillery, likening it to "putting a new room on your house."

"We enjoyed working with the 'Beam Team' to create a spectacular urban presence for Beam Suntory in Louisville," said Rob Morgan, JRA Senior Project Director.  "The 'Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse' is a unique addition to the 4th Street Live District, reflecting Beam's rural Clermont origins with a sophisticated twist in an exciting downtown setting."

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is located at 408 South Fourth Street in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Like Jim Beam on Facebook or follow #UrbanStillhouse on Twitter for the latest updates.


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Keith James Talks Intellectual Property at the 2015 IAAPA Euro Attractions Show

October 06, 2015

JRA CEO/Owner Keith James addresses the crowd for

JRA CEO/Owner Keith James addresses the crowd for "TEA Presents: The IP Landscape" at the 2015 IAAPA Euro Attractions Show.

Earlier today, JRA CEO/Owner Keith James spoke to the "IP Landscape" as part of the Theming, Storytelling and Design Track at the 2015 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions' Euro Attractions Show (EAS). The track, presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), explored intellectual property (IP) from a variety of perspectives, and Keith offered a designer's view of why and how IP is currently used at attractions around the world.

In case you weren't able to fly to Gothenburg, Sweden for EAS, below is a transcript of Keith's presentation, which not only addresses the question of "Why IP" but also some of the benefits and challenges of incorporating branded (and often guest-cherished) material.


IP Opportunities

Over the past few years, it seems that more and more IP’s are making their way into the attractions industry, so I’d like to look at some of the opportunities and challenges in designing attractions based upon intellectual property. But before we look at designing with IP, I think it’s important to first look at why owners decide to invest in IP-based attractions in the first place.

Reason #1: Familiarity

First, using IP allows the licensee to capitalize upon years of the public’s familiarization and affinity for the selected IP’s stories, characters and environments. For example, would you rather..

Visit a theme park based upon this story….

or this story?

Reason #2: Credibility

The use of IP also provides instant credibility to the public, potential project investors and the industry. As another test, would you rather invest in a new attraction based upon these characters on the left, or this character on the right?

Reason #3: Filling in the Gaps

IP also can help an existing theme park fill in a gap with an existing target market.

Kings Island, a successful regional theme park back in my home town of Cincinnati, in the United States, has done a good job of this. Over the years, they've used a variety of IP’s to develop themed lands specifically targeted to younger children and their families, beginning with Hanna-Barbera characters, such as Yogi Bear and Scooby Doo, which they used from the early 1970’s until 2006.

This land then changed to a Nickelodeon theme...

...and most recently to Planet Snoopy.

So by using a variety of known well-known, family-oriented IP’s, the park has been able to continuously attract and entertain a valuable segment of their audience since its opening in 1972.

Reason #4: Increasing Attendance

You can also add new IP to existing theme park to increase attendance, both in the short-term and long-term. Paulton’s Park is a 140-acre park located 2 hours southwest of London. Founded in 1983, the park featured no IP-based attractions and averaged about 500,000 guests per year. That was until 2011, when the park added the world’s first Peppa Pig-themed attraction - Peppa Pig World. That year, visitor numbers to the park increased from 500,000 per year to over 1 million, which has been mainly attributed to adding the new IP land.

The IP has been so successful that the park has now embraced the land as a significant part of its marketing efforts, even resulting in a change in its logo and branding.

Probably a more well known example of an attendance boost through IP is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which, as Lesley Morrisetti pointed out in a recent article, boosted the park’s attendance by 70% in its first two years.

It also recently led to the development of the new Diagon Alley area, which created an additional 17% spike in attendance after its first year of operation.

(…meaning that it really doesn’t look like this too often, but ….more like this.)

Reason #5: PR and Marketing Opportunities

And finally, IP provides valuable marketing and PR opportunities and assets for the license holder. For example, the new Hunger Games traveling exhibit is able to tap into iconic characters and imagery from the movie franchise to market its current run in New York. The license holder also benefits from the IP’s own marketing, so the exhibit will certainly benefit from the media blitz accompanying the series’ final movie premiering next month.


So, those are some of the benefits in using IP.  From a designer’s standpoint, what are some of the challenges in working on IP-based projects?

Challenge #1: Balancing IP and Client Desires

One of the biggest challenges as a designer or architect is that you are typically hired (and paid) by the licensee, but also have to answer to the IP owner. And sometimes what a brand wants - and what it will take to fund or operate these wants - creates conflict.

For example, Ferrari licensed their brand to Aldar to create Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The park’s spectacular building was created by Benoy, with a roof painted in vibrant "Ferrari Red".

…which becomes not so vibrant when the desert sand coats it.

As this specific red color is an integral part of the Ferrari brand, it was important for Ferrari to ensure that the roof’s color remained consistent. The idea for an automatic washing mechanism on the roof was suggested, but this option wasn’t operationally or financially viable for the Owner.  So, a compromise between the IP and Owner was reached in order to keep the roof clean and authentic to the brand…

...which consisted of a team of workers climbing on to the roof to clean it on a regular basis.

This creates some pretty interesting photographs, but it also symbolizes the lengths that often go into protecting an IP’s assets, and how early design decisions can have operational ramifications down the road.

Challenge #2: Sensitivity Toward Translating 3D Characters, Environments

A designer also has to be aware of the IP’s holder sensitivity toward creating three-dimensional versions of their characters and environments, especially when they have only been seen in a 2D format, such as print or traditional animation. But there are techniques that can be used to make this translation authentic to the brand.

For example, when JRA created a themed land based upon Curious George, we took the beloved children’s books as our design inspiration...

...and created designs that matched the illustration styles found within the books.

As seen in these facade drawings, our team worked hard to keep the lines loose. The drawings were then translated into three dimensional environments.

We even used giant reproductions of the books themselves to provide context for the guest through their exploration of the space.

Sometimes, the best way to translate 2D characters into the three dimensional world is to keep them as 2D.  This technique is used quite well within Springfield at Universal Studios, where you’ll find all of the series’ characters throughout the three-dimensional recreation of the Simpsons’ hometown,

from Bart and Milhaus... Homer and Maggie.

Designers and fabricators of IP-based environments must also share the same magical attention to the details, as do the IP’s creators. For example, representatives for JK Rowling review every detail of any attraction or environment based upon the popular books and movies.

Even if those details can’t be seen by the naked eye (such as this turret top) they have to meet the IP’s guidelines, because a guest might be able to see the detail through a telephoto lens, and it has to remain authentic to the IP.

Challenge #3: Lack of Usable Design Assets

One of the biggest challenges in working with IP is the lack of usable design assets. Sometimes this is because the assets haven’t been created yet. In the early 1990’s, JRA worked with Universal Studios to create a children’s play zone based upon the animated film Fievel Goes West.  The problem was, we had to finish our design work before the actual movie was even finished.

So, we had to work with the studio to review their work in progress and develop the renderings based upon key sections of the film that were completed. Luckily...

...the project turned out well, and has been open for over 23 years.

Sometimes the IP’s assets are already created, but they aren’t usable from a technical standpoint. For example, our team has worked a lot with Rovio, the creators of the Angry Birds games. And while Rovio has a large inventory of digital characters and environments, they were formatted for mobile phones and iPads. Needless to say, the resolution of their graphics wasn’t high enough for themed environments. 

So our team had to recreate all of their graphics for a large-format output - beginning with their characters and building blocks… their lush background environments... that we could create large printed murals. 

So, again, another challenge in working with with IP is that their assets might be available, but unusable.

Challenge #4: Changing IP Assets

Another challenge in working with IP is that some IP is constantly changing.

For example, keeping with our work with Angry Birds.  When we began designing an indoor attraction based upon the IP, the characters looked like this, as they are seen in the game (no wings, no feet, and they don’t talk). Then, midway through our design process, the characters had evolved (for use in Rovio’s animated shorts or Toons), and now looked like…

...this. So, we had to change many of the attraction’s graphics to reflect the updated characters.

Then, Rovio created a new game based upon their relatively new Stella character, so a new themed zone had to be created to reflect these new assets.

And, most recently, images for how the birds would appear in next year’s animated feature were released - showing dramatically different looking birds - who now have wings, and feet, and speak. So, future attractions will have to accommodate the changing look of these characters and need to make decisions on which assets to use - the game version, the Toons version or the Movie version.

Challenge #5: The Lifespan of IP

Another challenge in creating attractions using IP is that they all typically have a lifespan and will need to be changed at some point - either due to an expired licensing agreement, or a change in park ownership or strategy.

Using the Kings Island theme park again as an example, when I first worked at the park in the 1970s, this restaurant was designed around a generic Octoberfest beer hall theme. However, when Paramount purchased the park, they asked us to turn it into a themed restaurant based upon one of their more popular movies.

So, the Fest Haus became a Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack, based upon the movie Forrest Gump.  Our designers were careful to limit the theming to decorations and paint treatment only, however, so that the facility could easily be changed to future themes once the IP agreement expired, which it did when Paramount sold the park to Cedar Fair and their designers took over. 

So now if you visit the restaurant, instead of Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack, you’ll find Big Hank’s Burrito Shack.  So again, it’s important to keep that flexibility built into your designs when working with IP.

Putting It All Together: The Benefits and Challenges of Working with IP

So, to recap, the are a variety of benefits in working with IP, including…
    •    Capitalize on proven popularity, stories, characters and environments
    •    Instant recognition and credibility
    •    Can instantly fill in a gap with desired target market
    •    Can provide short-term and long-term boost in attendance
    •    Valuable marketing and PR

But, there are also a variety of challenges that accompany these benefits from a design standpoint, such as…
    •    Sensitivity toward translating 3D characters, environments
    •    Lack of usable design assets
    •    Changing IP Assets
    •    Lifespan of IP

As the use of IP seemingly becomes more and more popular, I think that it’s great to have these discussions, so that we can all learn from one another and ultimately create attractions that benefit the owner, the IP owner and, most importantly, the guest. 

Keith answers audience questions alongside Ray Hole of Ray Hole Architects and David Camp of D&J International Consulting.

Tags: Blog N Learn , featured , JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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Exploding the (Blogging) Experience - A SATE Conference Storify

September 22, 2015

Welcome to our first Storify - a recap of the 2015 SATE Conference. Enjoy!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT: Crystal Lagoon Theme Park at Sharjah Waterfront City

September 15, 2015

Sharjah Oasis Real Estate Development, a rising real estate developer in the region, has announced the successful launch of one of its most iconic projects – Sharjah Waterfront City. The official launch of the project was announced through a press conference at Cityscape Global 2015 held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The press conference was hosted by Hayssam El Masri, president of Sharjah Oasis Real Estate and Sheikh Abdullah Shkara, Chaiman of Al Hanoo Real Estate Co.

Mr. Hayssam El Masri, president of the Sharjah Oasis Real Estate Development

El Masri commented on the launch of the project: “We have launched Sharjah Waterfront City keeping in line with Sharjah’s development plans to attract 10 million visitors to its emirate by 2021. These robust plans will increase demand for residential and commercial units as well as hotels, especially in prime locations that offer all modern facilities. We can proudly say Sharjah Waterfront City will be able to match the demands and provide the desired quality of living.

“The real estate market in this region has been stable and we are thrilled to have launched Sharjah Waterfront City at the right time in the right location.”

Sharjah Waterfront City

Sharjah Waterfront City (Sharjah WFC) is a series of ten islands interconnected by canals made by nature and spread across 36 km of coastal land on the northeastern coast of Sharjah. It is expected to be the largest commercial, residential and tourism development project in the Emirate of Sharjah upon completion, with an area of around 60 million square feet. Components of the development include:

  • - 200 towers for residential and commercial purposes
  • - 96 apartment buildings
  • - Multi-level hotels and service apartments
  • - More than 1,100 waterfront and parkside villas
  • - Marine clubs
  • - A world-class water theme park
  • - A large shopping mall and various commercial centers
  • - Two main entertainment centers

JRA is providing master planning and preliminary concept design for Sharjah Waterfront City's Crystal Lagoon Water Theme Park. The park will spread over 1.5 million square feet and include 40 water and dry rides, including the possibility of a coaster that would combine the action of a water ride with the interactivity of a video game, making it the first of its kind in the Middle East. Reaching a diverse array of theme and water park enthusiasts, the park will also feature family rides, thrill rides, 4D dark rides, a state-of-the-art planetarium and numerous children's rides. To encourage prolonged length of stay and to offer a respite from the thrills of the day, the park will offer a dazzling fountain show and evening spectacular. Developers hope the park will become a leading global entertainment destination, attracting one million visitors per year from across the Middle East as well as Europe and Asia.

Crystal Lagoon Theme Park

"I am pleased to be working on a project that has a combination of attractions typically unseen in the entertainment industry," remarked Dan Schultz, JRA's Chief Operating Officer. "I addition the fact that the Crystal Lagoon Theme Park is situated on its own island among the ten islands gives it a unique and picturesque location."

Speaking to the Sharjah WFC as a whole, Sheikh Abdullah Shkara, Chairman of Al Hanoo Real Estate Co. added: “We have invested a lot in this project and we are delighted to see Sharjah Oasis Real Estate Development doing a tremendous job in the construction of Sharjah Waterfront City. We believe this project will be the heartbeat of the city’s tourism 2021 vision.”

Check out our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube pages as we release new photos, video and news coverage of Sharjah Waterfront City everyday this week!


Tags: Project Spotlight

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Being Disruptive and Breaking the Rules at The 2015 SATE Conference

September 14, 2015

Explode the experience.

Be disruptive.

Change the rules.

These are the challeges to be posed at this week’s SATE Conference, presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) September 17 and 18. The TEA started SATE, which stands for Storytelling + Architecture + Technology = Experience, in 2007 as a way of stimulating professional dialogue about the experience design industry and encouraging information exchange among creative disciplines across the country. To foster this emphasis on learning, and for the third year in a row, SATE will be hosted by a university. Over two and a half days at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, attendees will be treated to over two dozen presentations and panels, as well as evening mixers, tours, and an opportunity to interview and recruit some of the industry’s brightest new talent. 

Exploding the Dialogue – SATE Speakers and Topics

SATE’s 2015 Co-Chairs, Shirley Saldamarco, President of Interactive Media Productions and a member of the CMU faculty, and Loren Barrows, Director of Business Development at Alcorn McBride, have assembled a diverse cadre of speakers to cover each of the S, A, T & E segments. Each of the segments is chaired by an industry leader: Linda B. Smith of Smithink will helm Storytelling, Anthony Van Dam of Forrec will curate Architecture, Paul Kent of Electrosonic leads the Technology segment, and Walt Disney Imagineering’s Cory Rouse directs the Experience discussions.

Storytelling – Deanna Franci of Gensler, James Grady of Fathom Information Design and Anna Musun-Miller of the Indianapolis Zoo will “unleash” architecture, technology and social action, respectively. These distinguished speakers will examine current trends in storytelling and culture, before coaching attendees on how to effectively deliver a story to unlock a specific audience reaction or response.

Architecture – How do you create “extended diversions” to increase visitor length of stay? How do you use architecture and design to make them feel “pleasantly disoriented” and transported from their everyday lives? Speaking of disorientation, why are the most unsettling rides always the most popular? How can you use aromas, sounds, textures and temperature changes to transform an experience? How does today’s “always on” technology affect consumer preferences and design decisions? This segment attempts to answer all these questions and more with the help of Matt Earnest of Entertainment + Culture Advisors (ECA), Thomas Fo of WATG, Cecil Magpuri of Falcon’s Creative Group, Tony Miceli of Electrosonic, and Josh Gorin of Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI).

Technology – SATE’s technology slate will feature brainwaves, drones, robots virtual reality and other cutting edge innovations and strategies, with speakers including Richard Herbert of UNTI-UB (“Neuroscience Fiction”), Chris Russell of the Annenberg Space for Photography (“The Drones Are Coming!”), Mark Argo of Aesthetec Studio, Inc. (“They’ve Got Some Character”, introducing a new generation to robots), Jesse Schell of Schell Games (“Understanding the Impact of Virtual Reality”), Erik Watts of the Pittsburgh Penguins (“Keeping the Edge”, a look at the Penguins’ tech strategies), and Jakob Wahl of Europa-Park (“Virtual Reality in a Real Park”).

And speaking of technology, for the first time, SATE attendees will experience a deeper level of engagement with the conference via a special SATE app. The app will feature a conference schedule, speaker info, attendee info, venue maps, live polls and questions and a scavenger hunt game. The app will be available on iPhone and Droid beginning Wednesday, September 16th.

Experience – Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company will kick off the segment by teaching the audience the most important rule in experience design: “Avoid the Penny."  Josh Jeffery of Google will chronicle the impact of big data on the guest experience. Matthew DuPlessie of 5Wits and MIT will unveil the unprecedented opportunities for personal experience in today’s technological age. George Nauman of Chute Gerdeman will reveal how to disrupt, engage and influence the customer journey through immersive sensory experiences. Kennywood’s Chris Salerno will delve inside the visitor’s emotional connection to innovation, and how it has shaped Pittsburgh’s 118-year-old theme park. Actor and motivational speaker David Shoup will take a step back from the industry and focus on the personal, challenging the audience to look into themselves and discover their own amazing experiences. Lenny Larsen of Next Generation Creative Group and Steven C. Blum of Universal Creative will explore how parks can create engaging and fully immersive experiences for guests with disabilities. Heather Kelley of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center will explain how the genetic variance in human taste perception can alter customer experience preferences. And Brian Tierney, Entertainment Host for Nickelodeon, will close the segment with a “Game Show Showdown” that promises plenty of shenanigans after two days of intense discussion and learning.

A Conversation with Anthony Daniels

Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated moments of the conference will be “A Conversation with Anthony Daniels”. Daniels, best known for his portrayal of C3PO in the Star Wars series, and the only actor to appear in all seven of the series’ films, will be interviewed in “Inside the Actor’s Studio” style by WDI’s Scott Trowbridge. The two men will discuss the role of technology, how it has changed, and its effect on over 35 years of Star Wars films, rides, museum installations and concerts.

Evening Networking

The dialogue at SATE doesn’t stop with the afternoon’s closing remarks. Guests will be treated to an array of evening events throughout the three nights of the conference, where they can continue to explode their conference experience in a variety of ways. Wednesday, attendees will meet and greet at the Opening Mixer at Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh, a nod to the city's German heritage. Thursday, Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) will host a tour of its cutting edge facility as well as an evening reception. Friday, attendees will need to be in their best voice (or not) as SATE takes over Claddagh’s Irish Pub for a closing mixer featuring #SATEoke! Started as a lark amongst a few industry friends, #SATEoke has now become a SATE staple, featuring performances from industry leaders and newcomers across a wide range of talent. All of these events promise additional networking opportunities with a strong dose of light-hearted fun.

Gibbing and Gabbing with the Future of Themed Entertainment


On Saturday, following the official conference, 17 TEA member companies and 32 student and recent graduates (members of the TEA’s NextGen program) will convene for GibGab SATE: a speed networking mixer. The morning will begin with a rapid-fire series of interviews, forcing NextGen members to deliver their portfolio, and themselves, in only three minutes. While half of the NextGen members are interviewing, the other half will be treated to a panel discussion with industry leaders on what to expect your first day on the job, how to keep a job once you have it, and industry do’s and don’ts. Throughout the morning, companies will have the opportunity to select NextGen members for an additional 15-minute afternoon interview, hopefully paving the way for a professional match. At GibGab, brevity might not merely be the “soul of wit”, but the launching pad for a brand new industry career.

Not Just Changing the Rules – Breaking Them

Through its dynamic discussions, engaging panels and various networking opportunities, Co-Chair Shirley Saldamarco hopes that SATE’s 250+ attendees will leave with a renewed sense of what is possible. “Real creativity begins at the end of your comfort zone,” says Saldamarco. “That’s sometimes a place we’re afraid to venture, but exactly where we need to be.”

For more information on the SATE Conference, please visit the SATE blog on and follow the Twitter hashtag #TEAsate.

Media inquiries: contact Judith Rubin,


Tags: JRA Journeys

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