MarvelMonday: The Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire

September 15, 2014

It's Clara, JRA Blogger-in-Chief here. Usually, we keep #MarvelMonday to our Facebook and Twitter channels, but I just couldn't contain all of the awesomeness I witnessed at this past weekend's 2nd Annual Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  For those unfamiliar, "Maker Faire" calls itself " the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement." The first official Maker Faire was produced by parent company Maker Media in San Mateo, California in 2013, and since then, dozens of large-scale Maker Faires and smaller, community-driven "Mini Maker Faires" have popped up all over the world, from Tokyo to Oslo to Cincy.  While these Faires showcase the latest and greatest, not all of the innovations are inherently technical, and low-tech and DIY demonstrations abound.

A Cincinnati Museum Center "bugbot"?

Obviously getting into the Halloween spirit early...

At the Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire, Over fifty creators showcased their wares over two days - everything from robots to 3D printing to an automated Barbie apartment (seriously). The Faire also offered a "Crafty Supermarket" - a haven of handmade items, including soaps, jewelry, and, as you can see above, a very funky DJ booth.  And the audience wasn't just passively observing - they were driving robots, assembling circuits and even learning to solder.  Pop-up fashion shops, brewing demonstrations, electrics workshops, puppetry, a LEGO assembly studio and even a "Power Tool Drag Race" entertained and educated attendees both inside and outside the museum.  Here were a few of my favorite things:

Matt Luken demonstrates Happen Inc.'s 3D printer.

Happen, Inc.'s Personalized 3D Prints - Ever wanted to have a 3D-printed bust of your head?  You can do that at Happen, Inc., a local art studio where parents and kids can create art together.  Guests can reserve a time in Happen's "Toy Lab" to have a digital scan made of their face.  The scan is then inputted into the printer, and about six hours later, it becomes a 3D plastic portrait!

Mad Knitting

Mad Knitting Lab - The crazy machine you see above is actually an electronic knitting machine circa 1985.  Originally, the knitter would plug a floppy disc reader into the machine.  An onboard computer would read the floppy disc and tell the machine where to move the needles.  Then the knitter would hand knit back and forth across the machine.  Shop owner Andrea Zehner has "hacked" the machine so that it will read from a laptop (this involved creating a special cabling system, since the 30-year-old knitting machine obviously doesn't have a USB port!).  The laptop, which runs a customized software program, "tricks" the onboard computer into thinking it is reading a floppy disc. Andrea still knits back and forth, and a pillow with a custom knitted photo-portrait of your dog, child or logo is born.


The Manufactory - Ever wanted to learn how to weld?  What about woodworking, rabbit laser-cutting or even basic embroidery? Cincinnati's The Manufactory offers classes in all of these subjects and much more for a daily, monthly, or yearly membership fee. They also offer shared space and tools for Cincinnati's makers.  One of those makers, Gordon Edelheit, showed me his creation,  All I had to do is push a button and smile, and the SelfiPic snapped my photo with a custom Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire border and uploaded it to its Facebook page.  I typed in my phone number, and it immediately sent the Facebook photo link to my phone. With its compact design and themed entertainment relevance, I wouldn't be surprised if we see SelfiPic at a future IAAPA Expo.

The Stingray 6 - Photo Credit:

As I was heading out, I happened to chat with Joe Toth of Zion 3D printers.  I wanted to learn about his compact printer, discover what inspired him to be a maker, and ask what he thought was behind the Maker Movement.  The Stingray 6 (so called because it has a 6"x6"x6" usuable area), costs $850 as a kit or $999 fully assembled and can print on everything from PLA plastics to tea glass. Later this year, the company plans to unveil its Stingray 8 and Stingray 16 via a Kickstarter campaign.

Joe largely got into the maker game by accident (his friend had the idea but needed someone with fabrication skills to implement it), but was thrilled to be at his first maker faire and said the attendees came with great questions.  He credits the maker revolution to the plethora of tools and maker spaces available, as well as cheaper, faster software. "Even just five years ago, makers like drone manufacturers would have to make their drones via induction molding, which was extremely expensive, and even basic software was financially out of reach for the average hobbyist," said Toth.  "Now, makers can create in a maker space with 3D printed plastics and laser cut acrylic.  The tools are getting better so smaller companies can make better parts."

So I had my photos, I had my interview, but there was one thing missing from my geek-tastic experience...


...perfect.  :-)

Congrats to our friends at the Museum Center and all the folks at Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire who made the event a success. Tune in Thursday, as we travel from Cincinnati to Amsterdam to preview the 2014 Euro Attractions Show!




Tags: Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

The Future is Wow: Theme Park Drones Take Flight

September 11, 2014

The Mouse is changing the themed entertainment game again.  Or is he?

As reported in news outlets throughout the world, Disney Enterprises recently published its 2013 patent applications for three different drone technologies. The first, which could affectionately be called the “Geppetto” drone, involves a marionette with “articulatable appendages” supported from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by tether lines.  The second consists of a multitude of UAVs positioning a flexible projection screen in the air.  And the third is a system for UAVs to provide a synchronized aerial display with floating pixels (‘or flixels’).” Think of a fireworks show comprised of drones with lights instead of pyrotechnics.

"Geppetto" drone. Image source: Patentdocs.

For these patents, Disney Enterprises has literally drawn on necessity as the mother of invention.  For example, they argue that fireworks, in addition to being a safety hazard, are unpredictable, making it hard to create a repeatable show.  Projection shows on water screens or fountains are limited by how far the water can reach.  And aircraft-based displays (such as blimps dragging banners) are limited in size and the availability of necessary equipment.  According to the patent application, “the inventors recognized that presently there are no mechanisms for creating very large aerials such as a display that is reusable/repeatable, dynamic and interactive.”

Projection screen drone. Image source: Patentdocs.

But before we dive into the pros, cons and limitations of Disney’s plans, let’s take a step back and define what a drone is, learn how its been used so far, and discover how others may have already beaten Disney to the drone punch.

What is a Drone, and How Are They Used?

The FAA would prefer that we use the term “unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)” or “remotely piloted aircraft”. (But we don’t work for the FAA, so for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll use the term “drone”.)  A drone is an aircraft controlled by computers or an external operator on the ground.  Historically, they have been used in areas “too dull, dirty or dangerous” for manned aircraft and have been primarily employed by the military.  The concept of a drone dates back to the mid-1800s, but the drones we think of today were developed in the 1900s for military target practice, and they have been used in various conflicts throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Currently, the military and the CIA operate two separate permanent drone programs, the former housed only where troops are stationed and the latter in more clandestine, extra-military areas. In addition to the US, over 50 countries employ drones for military and civic uses.

But drones are more than just war machines.  In CNN’s article, “15 Ways Drones Will Change Your Life”, the news outlet outlines the more pacifist and humanitarian uses of drones both now and in the future.  Drones can and plan to be applied to such diverse areas as search and rescue, crops surveying, shepherding, animal conservation (i.e., monitoring poaching), delivering medical supplies to remote regions, forest fire detection and disaster relief.  MIT is even using drones as guides to help Harvard students maneuver its meandering campus. And drones equipped with GoPros are opening new avenues for photography and filmography.

The American Alliance of Museums chronicled potential cultural uses for drones in its 2014 Trendswatch report and demonstrated drone technology live at its 2014 Annual Museum and MuseumExpo.  According to Trendswatch editor Elizabeth Merrill, these aerial vehicles could help document the condition of historic and heritage buildings, giving patrons an unprecedented view inside and outside these institutions.  Our neighbors at the Cincinnati Museum Center tested that theory, producing a “Union Terminal From the Air” video in anticipation of its Save the Icons levy campaign. In addition to documenting building conditions, with their ability to reach into previously unreachable places, drones have the potential to provide glimpses into such remote areas as archeological sites, archival artwork collections, and zoological habitats (“National Zoo Panda Drone”, anyone?).

Drones as Big Business

But according to a recent BI Intelligence report, “12% of an estimated $98 million in cumulative global spending on aerial drones over the next decade will be for commercial purposes.”  Technology juggernauts Amazon and Google are already poised to be first in line for a slice of the drone pie.  As a 2013 New York Times article quipped, “Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Chief Executive, is planning to take what looks like a barbecue grill, attach eight propellers and a basket to it and use it to deliver small items to people’s houses.”  Bezos claims that the Amazon Prime Air “octo-copter” could one day deliver packages up to 5 pounds to customers within a ten-mile radius of a delivery center in about a half an hour. Amazon’s website boasts that one day Prime Air vehicles will be as ubiquitous as mail trucks.

Amazon Prime Air.  Image source:

Meanwhile, Google is developing Project Wing, with a focus on delivering goods to remote areas.  Astro Teller, director of Google X, the company’s research wing, told The Atlantic, “What excited us from the beginning is that if the right thing could find anybody just in the moment that they need it, the world might be a radically different place.” Their drone flies at an altitude of 130 to 200 feet.  It uses its rotors to take off, land and hover vertically, but it rotates 90 to fly horizontally. When it reaches its target destination, it lowers its payload down on a tether.  A sensor goes down with the payload so that the craft knows when to let down and lift the line.  Google has stressed that the Wing is in Beta and not a final product.  Further studies need to be done to assess how the Wing operates around possible obstructions, but at first blush, experts say its design makes it potentially faster and capable of longer ranges than Prime Air.

Future Possibilities, Current Limitations

Amazon’s website also claimed, “we’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place.”  Those regulations have proven to be the biggest obstacle, and they could make Disney a latecomer to the drone party.  Disney’s use of drones is currently prohibited by the FAA.  The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 sets a deadline of September 30, 2015 for the agency to establish regulations allowing for commercial drone use (the FAA currently requires non-recreational drone users to be sponsored by a public entity like a university or non-profit research association).  Even if the FAA achieves the 2015 deadline, successfully implementing the regulations could take several more years.  In the face of increasing criticism from the journalism and motion picture industries, the FAA agreed in August 2013 to grant licenses on a case-by-case basis, but according to a recent Forbes article, in the short term those licenses will most likely be given to commercial applications of existing drone technologies, and not the new technologies laid out in Disney’s patents.

Neopter.  Image source: Puy du Fou

In the meantime, Disney’s overseas competition is taking full advantage of fewer bureaucratic hurdles.  French theme park Puy Du Fou unveiled its Neopter drone on August 29 as part of Cinéscénie®, the park’s elaborate nighttime spectacle.  Developed by the park and Belgian company ACT Lighting Design, the Neopter is the first drone able to simultaneously fly within an aerial fleet without any intervention. Using GPS to locate itself in the air autonomously, it can perform synchronized choreography either in the air or immersed in water and can even operate in strenuous wind conditions. Each Neopter can carry a load of up to 6.6 pounds (3 kg), making a fleet capable of carrying sound, video, lighting, or sceneography (e.g., pyrotechnics). According to the Puy du Fou press release, this combination of nimbleness and hauling capability enables the Neopter to be both a “leading actor” and a “scenic carrier”.  ACT Lighting Design and Puy du Fou spent 12 months in development before being approved by the General Department of French Aviation.  They plan to deploy 50 drones in the coming months and market the Neopter to live shows around the world.  By having a marketable finished product in a country with freer UAV regulations, Puy du Fou and ACT have leapfrogged over Disney to become drone technology pioneers.

Despite Puy du Fou’s success, many questions remain about the use of drone technology.  One need only remember the “Miracle on the Hudson” to understand that something as innocent as a bird can bring down a large aircraft.  A single accident involving a drone crashing into a building, hitting a plane or dropping an object on a person below could cause a firestorm of negative publicity.  Privacy issues are another concern: nine US states have already passed laws restricting private and law enforcement drone use.  As UW law professor Ryan Calo shares in the CNN article, “drones make surveillance cheaper and easier, and when you do that, you can expect to see a lot more of it.” To many, drones are just another vehicle for Big Brother’s watchful eye.  And then there’s the practicality of it.  As one critic points out, how do you deliver something to an apartment dweller with no balcony or roof access in a skyscraper-laden city like New York or LA?

For supporters of drones, the technology means an avenue of opportunity, one that the United States is poised to see pass by: “the USA is losing $10 billion in potential economic impact for every year the FAA delays,” Gretchen West, Executive Vice President of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, tells CNN.  But for those able to explore this technology to its fullest, the possibilities for industries such as themed entertainment could be as limitless as the sky itself.

"Flixel" drone. Image source: Patentdocs.

Tags: Blog N Learn , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Newly Renovated and Expanded South Carolina State Museum Now Open

August 28, 2014

Photos courtesy South Carolina State Museum unless noted.

The South Carolina State Museum’s new planetarium, observatory and 4D theater is now open to the public. The State Museum hopes that this major transformation will help propel its mission to entertain, inspire imagination and creativity, and enrich the lives of visitors.

The renovated and expanded State Museum will be the first museum of its kind to house, under one roof, an onsite and online observatory and classroom, a 55-foot digital planetarium dome and a 4D multisensory theater.  The museum also features an outdoor viewing terrace for its vintage 1926 Alvan Clark 12-3/8” refracting telescope, as well as new gallery exhibit space for the Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy telescopes and optics, considered the largest collection of historic American refracting telescopes in the world. 

Photo credit: Brett Flashnick

Photo credit: Brett Flashnick

The State Museum is one of the largest examples of an astronomy/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) educational facility connected to an interdisciplinary museum, and it will be the first organization in the nation to allow students and teachers to remotely control a digitized vintage telescope for distance education purposes.

JRA was retained by the State Museum as a thematic design consultant.  JRA’s scope of work included planning and conceptual design, interior and exterior environmental graphics, concept and schematic design for the new retail store, materials and finishes selection, and design input for much of the common areas, which included enhanced guest services and meeting capabilities within the museum.  The JRA-designed Main Lobby showcases iconic South Carolina artifacts representing the museum’s four disciplines: art, cultural history, natural history and science and technology and will also feature permanent exhibits occupied by the Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, South Carolina Educational Television and the South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department. The Cotton Mill Exchange museum store, one of the cornerstones of the expansion project, embodies the essence of the old mill in which the museum is housed, and features newly uncovered brick walls and windows dating back to 1894.

Photo credit: Brett Flashnick

The new State Museum will have a significant economic impact on the City of Columbia and the State of South Carolina.  The museum expects an additional 75,000 visitors in the first year and a growth in annual earned income from $1.5 million to $3 million.  Longer visitor dwell times will result in increased spending both at the museum and at surrounding restaurants, retail outlets and hotels, and the expansion’s aggregate economic benefit will boost tax revenues for the city, county, region and state.

“JRA helped fulfill our vision and did a remarkable job creating a thematic design that celebrates South Carolina and our historic mill building,” said Willie Calloway, executive director, S.C. State Museum.  “We are glad we hired the best-of-the best in the entertainment design industry to create a unique facility and experience for our guests.”

The State Museum is located at 301 Gervais Street, Columbia, S.C., 29201. For additional information and ticket prices, please visit

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Learning Through Side Doors: The Intersection of Design and Theatre

August 14, 2014

Joshua Borenstein, Managing Director, Long Wharf Theatre

Joshua Borenstein, Managing Director, Long Wharf Theatre

Blogger-in-Chief Clara here. Welcome to our brand new blog series, Learning Through Side Doors, where we explore other industries that, while on the surface may seem unrelated to themed entertainment or experiential design, really aren't that different after all.

At JRA, we say that "the attraction is the stage, the master plan the script and story, and the guests the audience." Many of our team members, including yours truly, came to themed entertainment from the theatre. Through my role as NextGen Chair of the Themed Entertainment Association, I have enjoyed speaking to theatre students about how their skills (collaboration, designing with a limited budget, creating a guest experience) are easily transferable to a themed entertainment career.

To test my theory that theatre and themed entertainment are two parts of an experiential design whole, I interviewed my good friend and former grad school classmate, Josh Borenstein, who is currently the Managing Director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.

In our industry, the process often begins with a feasibility study - determining if a park or museum is in the right place for the right audience. How do you determine that a play is "right" for your theatre?

First, full disclosure – I don’t pick the plays! My artistic partner, Gordon Edelstein, makes the decisions on which plays to produce, although we certainly talk about it together. In thinking about whether a play is “right” for us, Gordon contemplates what it means to be alive at this particular moment in time. He reflects on what is happening in the world, in New Haven – you know, that sort of thing. He then develops a list of about 15 – 20 plays which we might produce, and we talk about it together. In offering my feedback to Gordon, I try to look at each play through the following lenses: whether our production will have some kind of national impact on the field (for example, a world premiere of a play), whether the play can be leveraged for community engagement or educational impact, and whether the play can make money (we have to sell tickets, after all, to stay in business). If a particular play can meet two of these three criteria, then I feel it is worth producing.

Museum exhibits often deal with controversial themes. If you know that you are producing a play that is going to ruffle some feathers, how do you prepare your audience for that?

Communication is key, of course. When we think that one of our plays will be controversial, we often reach out to our subscribers. Usually, this outreach takes the form of a letter from Gordon talking about the play, why we chose it, and why we hope the audience will be excited about it. This letter provides the context about the potentially controversial production, so audience members become more receptive to seeing it. The few people who feel that they be offended have the opportunity to exchange their tickets.

We also facilitate post-show discussions after nearly every performance of each play, and we find that these conversations help our audience process controversial material.

In themed entertainment, we say that the guest experience starts the moment they enter the doors, or in this century, the moment they go online to purchase a ticket. What are some of the ways that your theaters create a quality guest experience before guests even enter the theater, and what are some ways you incentivize them to return?

We do a few small things, but we think that they have important impact. Each Monday, we send out an email reminder to all of our subscribers that they are supposed to attend an upcoming performance this week. This message has two benefits. First, subscribers see it as nice customer service gesture. Second, and maybe more importantly, it reminds subscribers to exchange their tickets if they can’t attend. Our “no-show” rate has dropped by 50% since we started these emails.

We send out surveys to all ticket buyers (subscribers and single ticket buyers) asking them what they thought of the show. They appreciate this solicitation of their opinions. We also use this information so that, if we see that a show was particularly successful, we can send them future emails which suggest similar offerings (e.g., “If you liked Guys and Dolls, then you’ll love Carousel!”).

Josh, you recently completed a large capital project. What were some of the experiential components your team considered during the renovation?

A few things – one of which you might find hilarious. First, we added different kinds of projections to the lobby. My favorite is the simplest: quotes related to the current play projected on to a carpeted wall. The video just adds a cool, modern look to the space and provides some good background information about the plays.

One the major changes is that we added more leg room to the seating in the theatre. Our seating was so cramped that some people stopped coming because it was too uncomfortable.

Finally, and perhaps the most positively commented on, was the expansion of the women’s restrooms. Theatres have notoriously long lines for the bathroom, and Long Wharf was no exception. It is a particularly big problem when 70% of our ticket buyers are female. We doubled the size of our women’s restroom, and patrons still thank me. It is easy to forget that these kinds of facilities are important experiential components to many people.

Obviously, budgets are a huge issue.
  - Can you talk a little bit about your budgeting process and the steps you take to ensure that it doesn't impact the quality of the product onstage?

This is one of the great issues which we struggle with. More and more, we have partnerships in order to create work of a demanding scale. For example, we co-produce about once a year with other theatre companies so that we can share rehearsal and building costs. We also have more partnerships with commercial producers to develop new plays, especially new plays of a large scale. We try to get as many of these partnerships in place as early as possible so that they inform our budgeting process.

  - Many museums nowadays are coming up with innovative ways of monetizing some of their ancillary activities to raise revenue or sharing resources to reduce expenses. Have either of your theaters attempted to generate revenue or reduce expenses through unconventional means?

We have been able to raise revenues and reduce expenses, but not through anything revolutionary. On the revenue side of the equation, we have been booking in additional programming during the summer, when we are not producing. We have also been gradually building our endowment, which now generates about 10% of our total operating revenue. On the expense side, we have been sharing costs whenever we can, especially through co-productions, as I mentioned earlier.

Technology is rapidly changing the game for museums and theme parks, and we find we often need to strike a balance between flashy, cutting edge effects and good storytelling. To what extent has technology enhanced or changed what you put on the stage? How do you ensure that the technology doesn't overpower the storytelling? How do you see theatre's storytelling role evolving over time, particularly in this increasingly digitized world?

You know, the funny thing about Long Wharf is that we do not use a ton of technology in our productions. We have occasional automation and projections on stage, but ultimately we have stayed true to the theatre’s original form. And I think that’s one of the reasons why people come to our theatre – to experience a story without technology. If they want to go see something with lots of special effects, they are much better off going to the movies.

My sense is that people will continue to want to see live performances, despite the increased use of technology. Or maybe because of it. I see a trend where people are starting to set parameters for screens. For example, some of my fellow parents ban phones and screens from the dinner table or from the bedrooms. Some people enact a “technology Sabbath” where they don’t check email for 24 hours. I happen do this. Theatre may become a place where people can take a break from the constant hum of technology. We’ll see!


A focus on guest experience. Tight budgets. Sensitive audiences. Tough artistic choices.  Sound familiar? 

I hope you enjoyed Learning Through Side Doors, and we look forward to more discoverines in the months to come!  If you have an idea for a future segment, please let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

- Clara

Tags: Blog N Learn

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

PHOTOS: Angry Birds Take Flight at Dubai World Trade Centre

August 08, 2014

As we reported in June, Angry Birds Universe, developed by Imagine Exhbitions in partnership with Rovio and JRA, is taking its initial flight at the Dubai World Trade Centre this summer as part of the Dubai Summer Surprises festival.  Thousands of Dubai residents and visitors are enjoying this life-size version of the popular game, but if you can't be there in person, consider these photos your admission ticket:

Animation Station - Create your own version of this global gaming phenomenon!

Guests can Be the Bird, flying through the air just like the Angry Birds!

Kids young and old can build their very own version of an Angry Bird in the Build-A-Bird area.

Meet the Birds!

Shoot Birds at obstacles just like in the game with The Slingshot. It's a "ph"un way to learn about physics!

From digital games to physical interactives, Angry Birds Universe offers a one-of-kind immersive experience, and a great way to beat the Dubai heat!

For more photos of Angry Birds Universe, visit Imagine Exhibition's photo gallery or check out our Facebook page.

Next week, we add another project opening to our 2014 slate of announcements.  Stay tuned!



Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!