The Grand Hall Experience Brings a Thea Award Home to St. Louis

March 25, 2015

All photos courtesy Christopher Chien for TEA unless noted.

All photos courtesy Christopher Chien for TEA unless noted.

Last weekend, industry leaders from around the globe donned their black tie finery for the Themed Entertainment Association's Thea Awards Gala, hosted at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.  The Awards, considered the "Oscars" of the themed entertainment industry, celebrate the year's greatest achievements in the creation of blockbuster museums, theme parks, science centers and attractions. This year's 21st annual Gala, which enjoyed a record attendance of over 500, recognized 15 projects, featuring everything from wizards to rats to little grey tractors.

Among those projects lauded at the ceremony was The Grand Hall Experience at St. Louis Union Station. In 2012, Lodging Hospitality Management purchased the 120-year-old Union Station with the goal of driving attendance to the station’s Grand Hall and adjacent bar/hotel. Their challenge for the $66.3 million renovation was to accomplish this transformation without compromising the building's architectural integrity. One component of their overall solution was The Grand Hall Experience – a $1.8 million, ultra high-definition projection mapping show. Offered several times nightly and free to the public, the show is the first of its kind in the United States. According the the Thea Awards Committee, the Grand Hall Experience "...has rejuvenated a National Historic Landmark with an engaging dynamic space that allows the audience to see the architecture in a whole new way."

 

The day before the Awards were presented, the TEA hosted its annual two-day Summit, at which each award recipient had the opportunity to present a case study on the challenges, opportunities and keys to success of their projects. JRA VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy, offered a brief history of Union Station - from its opening in 1894, to its newsmaking moment as the backdrop for the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" photograph, to its hard times as the demand for rail travel waned. He then recounted the unique challenges of creating the attraction, specifically the fact that, due to the building's historic status, projectors and lights could not be mounted in any way that would mar the physical building.

Technomedia's Drew Atienza then explained the "how" behind its designs for and execution of the Grand Hall Experience. Projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot tall, barrel-vaulted ceilings and across the entire space, the 3-D presentation is made up of a multitude of vignettes, taking guests on a fantastic journey from the depths of the sea to the Sistine Chapel to St. Louis’s Busch Stadium. The 16-projector holographic light show employs 14 high-resolution projectors, digital media servers, consolidated control, 10-channel surround audio, and an LED lighting system to elevate the space and immerse the audience in the media event. Celebrity narration further enhances the experience, with St. Louis notables John Goodman, Bob Costas and John Hamm lending their voices to the show.

The following night at the Awards Gala, Bob O'Loughlin, LHM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, thanked his team and consultants. Since its opening on May 10, 2014, the Grand Hall Experience has generated both valuable PR as well as an increase of over 125% in attendance to the Grand Hall.  Most importantly, the attraction has helped a new generation of visitors appreciate the grandeur and historic significance of St. Louis Union Station.

Here are some photos from the weekend's festivities:

Shawn McCoy offers a brief history of Union Station, from its glory days to its not-so-glorious hard times pre-renovation.

Shawn and Technomedia's Drew Atienza present the final product for the Grand Hall Experience at Union Station.

Each project had the opportunity to produce a "making of" video for the Thea Awards Gala. Here, Shawn recounts the genesis of the idea for transforming Union Station's Grand Hall via projection mapping.

Bob O'Loughlin accepts the award for The Grand Hall Experience.

George Bauer, Bob O'Loughlin and Steve O'Loughlin (LHM President and COO) pose with their award and a photo of their project. In-house photo.

JRA would like to congratulate all of the recipients of the 2015 Thea Awards!

We're taking a little siesta next week, but come back in two weeks when we begin our month-long "Spring Into Museums" series on April 6!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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Discovering the "How Behind the Wow" at the IAAPA Leadership Conference

March 19, 2015

Dan Schultz, Clara Rice and Linda Round visit SkiDubai as part of the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2015.

Dan Schultz, Clara Rice and Linda Round visit SkiDubai as part of the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2015.

Last week, nearly 200 industry professionals from over 30 countries gathered in Dubai for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA Leadership Conference).  Attendees learned about the "How Behind the Wow" in one of the world's most dynamic cities, learning from keynote speeches and breakout sessions, touring new and developing entertainment attractions and networking against goregous architectural backdrops.  The overriding themes?

1. Build sustainably.

2. Provide the highest level of customer service, produced by the highest level of staff training.

3. Create experiences that will inspire lifelong memories.

4. "Impossible" is not an acceptable word.

JRA's Blogger-in-Chief, Clara Rice, covered the Conference for Blooloop.com, so get all the scoop here, and check out our photo album on Facebook.

Next week, we'll recap the 2015 TEA Summit and Thea Awards, featuring award recipient, the Grand Hall Experience at St. Louis Union Station.

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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Bright Lights, Blockbuster Projects: The 2015 Thea Awards Gala

March 07, 2015

A shot of the 2014 Thea Awards Gala

A shot of the 2014 Thea Awards Gala

Welcome! Clara Rice, Blogger-in-Chief, here. As we reported in yesterday’s blog, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) will host its annual TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala on March 21st at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. After two days of informative panel presentations and inspirational case studies, the computers turn off, the tuxes and evening gowns go on, and the industry celebrates the year’s greatest achievements.

But what goes into selecting the honorees of the “Oscar” for themed entertainment? Why did the TEA feel the need to create the Thea Awards in the first place? And what does being “A Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements” really mean in TEA talk? To answer these questions, I turned to Monty Lunde, President/CEO of show systems provider Technifex, founder of the TEA and recipient of the 1996 Thea Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement.

Monty Lunde

CR – Monty, thanks for chatting with me today. Can you talk a little bit about the process of selecting the Thea Award recipients? How do you get from a hundred or so applicants down to a dozen or so awardees?

ML - There are several factors that go into selecting the final slate of Thea recipients. First and foremost, the Thea committee must receive a nomination, with appropriate support materials. This information is critical in terms of allowing the committee to assess whether a project is truly worthy of Thea recognition, as it will paint a clear picture of the project’s success as a guest experience.

Once the Committee has all of the nominations organized (thank you Karen McGee!), we sort them by categories, if possible. Within the Thea Committee there are people who are expert in many of these areas and as such are given the responsibility to organize a sub-committee and review all of the submissions within their specific category: live entertainment, museums and so on. After a thorough review, each sub-committee makes a presentation to the main Thea Committee, highlighting the top contenders and the reasons they believe those projects should be recognized by the TEA. The Thea Committee members then vote internally on each of the top contenders, in each category, as to whether those nominations stay on the overall list of contenders, or are removed from further consideration.

At this point, if not sooner, the main Thea Committee polls committee members to see if anyone has personally visited the projects still on the list. If no one can speak about their personal experience, the committee reaches out to companies in the industry and asks for volunteers to visit the project and report back to the committee. This is done with the purpose of evaluating the guest experience and learning why a particular attraction has surpassed the norm.

Finally, the remaining projects are shortlisted and reviewed again by the entire Thea Committee. At this point, each nomination is reviewed independent of its category and more from an overall perspective. This includes the guest experience, innovations, quality of construction and operation, project location (geographic), relative quality compared to other nominations still on the short list and overall representation of the highest quality within the themed entertainment industry. At this point in the process, the overall list of nearly 200 nominations is down to the top 25 to 30 nominations. With the exception of those few nominations that clearly rise to the top, the support for any given nomination can be split among the committee members. If this is the case, it comes down to voting within the Thea Committee to select the final Thea Award recipients. This vote is after several rounds of discussion and impassioned support by the various Committee members. It’s worth noting that Committee members cannot vote for their own projects.

So there you have it! Once the recipients are chosen, the TEA front office drafts a release (thank you Judy Rubin!) and the recipients are announced (with great fanfare) at the TEA exhibit booth, on the Tuesday of the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando each November.

Ron Miziker

CR - Each year, the TEA chooses a recipient for the Buzz Price Thea Award, recognizing a lifetime of distinguished achievements. Ron Miziker of Miziker Entertainment Group is this year’s recipient and has been in “the business” since joining Disney in 1971. What do you think has been his lasting mark on the industry?

ML - In short, Ron has successfully entertained billions of people, in a variety of entertainment mediums. I don’t know of anyone, other than Walt Disney himself, who has been able to work in so many different entertainment markets and been so successful at making people smile. How many have seen the Main Street Electric Light Parade, The Disney Channel, Walt Disney World Grand Opening, live shows at Disney parks, The Super Bowl halftime show and the LA Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies? Billions! Ron is a master at getting a crowd excited and creating memorable moments.

CR - What in your mind makes the Thea Awards so special? Why were they created in the first place?

ML - At the core, the Thea Awards provide the opportunity for our industry to recognize the best work in themed entertainment, around the globe. They are the “Academy Awards” of our industry and the TEA, in its neutral position, is the perfect host for this type of an event.

The Thea Awards were created for two primary reasons. The first is the obvious: find great projects and celebrate them through recognition at the Thea Awards Gala. The second reason is more particular to the vendor community within our industry.

The vendors were the first members of the TEA, when the organization was formed. At that time, one of the greatest concerns these TEA members had was receiving proper credit for their work. Through the Thea Awards, the TEA was able to influence a change relative to large project developers recognizing and crediting not only those within their organizations, but also those outside their organizations who provided services to their project(s). This is because one of the specific rules regarding the receipt of a Thea Award is that you must provide a comprehensive listing of those who contributed to the project, including outside vendors.

The Thea Awards Program that we publish includes project credits as well as project descriptions. If you look at the program these days, these credits lists are often quite substantial, which is testament to the TEA’s success in establishing a broader industry policy regarding credits and also for developing awards that are coveted throughout the themed entertainment industry.

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Follow JRA’s blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook feeds for complete coverage of the TEA Summit and Thea Awards, including Shawn McCoy’s Summit Case Studies Day presentation on reviving historic icons.

For more information on the TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, or to purchase tickets, please visit the TEA website.



 

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Imagination and Inspiration: The 2015 TEA Summit

March 06, 2015

What do dancing marionettes, time machines, wizards and little grey tractors have in common? They will all be celebrated at the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) annual Summit and Thea Awards Gala weekend March 19-21 at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. TEA is a thousand-member business non-profit representing the creators, developers and designers of compelling experiences worldwide. (Fun fact: JRA President Keith James is a past President of TEA.) The TEA Summit & Thea Awards Gala comprise TEA’s marquee event of the year: two days of panel discussions, case studies and networking followed by the Saturday night Thea Awards Gala (produced by Phil Hettema and The Hettema Group) honoring the 2015 Thea Awards recipients with bright lights, blockbuster production values and black-tie opulence.

Summit Day One – Trolling Trends, Exchanging Insights

The weekend begins with TEA Summit Day One, a day-long program that addresses business issues and trends in the visitor attractions industry. Featured sessions include “The Big Picture from AECOM – Global Economic Trends in the Attractions Industry”, “Global Trends, Local Impacts”, “The User Perspective – Trends and Insights Into Guest Research”, and “The Value of Original Stories in Today’s Brand Focused and IP-Driven World.” The program aims to share the industry intelligence and knowledge that can then be used to help create such projects as those lauded on Day Two. Day One closes with Walt Disney Imagineers presenting a case study of “it’s a small world,” which was named for this year’s Thea Classic Award.

Christine Kerr

Co-chairing Day One are Christine Kerr, TEA Immediate Past President and VP of BaAM Productions, and Ann Hathaway, a member of the TEA International Board of Directors. Both of them embraced the challenge of putting together this dynamic slate of presentations: “Summit Day One seemed like the perfect project [for Ann and I] to collaborate on,” said Kerr. “We both agreed that the strength of the Thea Case Studies [that make up Day Two of the Summit] had shifted the dynamic, so we shared a goal of making Day One more inclusive and more aligned with the content of Day Two to broaden the potential audience.”

Ann Hathaway

Adds Hathaway, “The Summit has always been my favorite event of the TEA year. I really enjoy the acknowledgment and analysis of the business side of show business.”

Kerr emphasized the potential of Day One to connect the creators of themed entertainment projects with those who fund and develop them: “Our goal is to present the kind of information that should be considered as part of the project development process.”

Hathaway hopes “attendees walk away enlightened with an even greater appreciation for the elements (both business and creative) that help to make this industry so successful and fascinating.”

Kerr wants attendees “to leave the Summit prepared and inspired to start their next project,” and she would like the Summit Day One curriculum to continue to evolve: “I’d like it to be a conference when owner/operators and experience creators can come together for a dialogue on shared issues and challenges with a goal of creating the best possible visitor attractions and guest experiences.”

Thea Case Studies Day (Summit Day Two) – Learning from the Best of the Best

While Summit Day One offers a broad-brush view of industry trends, Day Two brings a deep dive into the 2015 Thea Awards recipients via a case study format. This year’s recipients include:

Roberta Perry

With this many fabulous projects to cover, Thea Case Studies Day plans to be a morning and afternoon full of information and inspiration. Curating it all are TEA Past President Roberta Perry of ETI, and Pat MacKay of Ones&ZerosMedia. Roberta and Pat are no strangers to Summit Weekend – the duo have been in charge of Day One and Day Two for the past two years. They gave up Day One this year due to professional demands, but kept Day Two because of their love for the information and format. Perry and MacKay have been working together on various themed entertainment seminars, workshops and networking events since the early 1990s, so they have a keen sense of each other’s strengths and styles.

When planning Case Studies Day, Perry and MacKay carefully consider the number of projects being presented and their overall vision for what they would like the day to achieve. “The primary purpose of Day Two is to give each of the award recipients a chance to present the ‘inside story’ of their project and allow all the attendees to network,” said MacKay. “So that means there are a number of structural givens: how many presentations, how many breaks, when do we start the day, when do we finish, how long is lunch, when does TEA leadership present, and when we break so that there’s time for everyone to breathe before the Western Division Party.”

As soon as the Thea Award recipients are announced at the annual IAAPA Expo in November, Perry and MacKay sit down and start doing the production math (durations for the welcome address, keynote, sponsor thank you’s, etc.). Then they decide on the order of presentation to keep the day lively and fun. As the information comes in as to who is presenting each project, TEA PR specialist Judy Rubin begins working to build buzz for the Summit and Gala. “None of this would be possible without Judy, TEA Events Producer Tammie Richards, and the best team of volunteers in the world, including Gary Fitch from Electrosonic, Joe Fox from Birket Engineering and the enthusiastic team of NextGen crew members – not to mention our terrific new COO, Jennie Nevin,” praises Perry.

Pat MacKay

In addition to being a Case Studies Day Co-Chair, MacKay will have the honor of receiving the 2015 TEA Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a TEA member’s outstanding contributions to the Association “above and beyond the call of duty.” MacKay was deeply honored when she found out about the Award:

  • For most of my professional life I have had the extreme good fortune to work in this intensely creative industry. When I transitioned from publishing about to producing in the themed entertainment industry, the TEA welcomed my eclectic background. My years on the Thea Awards Committee and work with the TEA Summit are both fun and rewarding. It’s quite wonderful to get an award for “doing what you do for love”!

In her role as co-chair, MacKay hopes that TEA Summit Day Two: Thea Case Studies Day leaves attendees with “inspiration and insight”: “I always find that Day Two is filled with fabulous ways the presenters ‘got around problems and made their dream a reality.’ Most of the project processes are like mini-action movies. We’ve got a problem and a challenge – how are we going to solve it with the time and money at our disposal? There’s so much to learn from each team’s strategic and creative processes.”

“Thea Case Studies Day will be a fast-moving, highly energetic day filled with incredible nuggets of truth and adventure,” adds Perry. “Then, we party!”

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To learn more about Saturday night’s big party, tune in tomorrow as JRA’s Clara Rice interviews TEA Founder Monty Lunde about the Thea Awards Gala – its glitz, its glamour and its importance to the industry.

Follow JRA’s blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook feeds for complete coverage of the TEA Summit and Thea Awards, including Shawn McCoy’s Summit Case Studies Day presentation on reviving historic icons.

For more information on the TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, or to purchase tickets, please visit the TEA website.
 

Tags: JRA Journeys

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TEA Talks: JRA's Shawn McCoy Discusses the Subtle Science of Story

February 26, 2015

Earlier this month, JRA VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy participated in "TEA Talks", a webinar series produced by the Themed Entertainment Association's NextGen Committee.  Shawn spoke to over 100 NextGens (defined as students or recent graduates of less than three years) about the power of story, its components, and how creators and producers can immerse their audiences in a story-based attraction.  Shawn was joined by Adam Berger of Berger Creative Associates and screenwriter, David Misch.

Through the magic of editing and video embed, the webinar can be viewed below, with a transcript of Shawn's remarks underneath.  Other TEA Talks are available for viewing at TEA TV

Next week, we'll have even more TEA news for you, as we preview the upcoming TEA Summit and Thea Awards.

Power of Story

Thank you very much for taking a few minutes to discuss one of my favorite topics: stories. And more specifically, the power that stories have to create engaging, memorable experiences.

What is Story?

I've had the pleasure of being in the attractions business for over 20 years, and over that time I've heard a lot about the use of stories in visitor experiences.

However, I admit, a lot of the time, I really didn't know what the word "story" meant, as it applied to visitor experiences.  

Some of you may feel that way, but hopefully, in about 10 minutes, you won't feel that way anymore.

Components of Story

To understand how stories can be translated into visitor experiences, you must first understand the basic components of a story.

The simplest way to think about story components is to think about the components of a great book.

It has a bevy of memorable characters,

A series of environments,

An interesting narrative that has a beginning, middle and an end,

And stories can have great power over an audience.

For example, stories can make you care about characters.

As a quick test, if you had your choice, would you want to have a beer with this archeologist, or this one?

I would say most of you would choose the fictional Dr. Jones, because you know his story.

But what if I were to tell you that Professor Howard Carter actually uncovered King Tut's Tomb? You'd probably want to hear that story also.

Stories also make us care more about content, such as artifacts in museums.

For example, you probably wouldn't look at this chair for more than two seconds if you saw it in a museum.

But when you hear the story that it was the chair that Abraham Lincoln sat upon when he was assassinated, that story makes that chair much more interesting.

And that's our job as attraction designers, to engage audiences by telling that story in a memorable manner.

So how exactly do we do that?

How To Manifest Story in Visitor Experience

Luckily, we have a number of mediums at our disposal in which to tell stories:

Including:

  • - Themed architecture
  • - Environmental graphics
  • - Displays
  • - Immersive environments
  • - Media experiences
  • - Rides
  • - Shows

But do those tools really work to create memorable guest experiences?

Well, let's see.

No Story / Story

Let's look at two rides that are pretty much identical, except for a layer of story and theming.

First, our non-story based attraction: a generic drop tower.

Pretty simple concept: you go up and down and, sometimes, up and down again. No characters, no environments, no stories. Just thrill. Just amusement. Fun for those 45 seconds or so, but not really memorable beyond that.

Now let's take that same ride component and overlay engaging environments, characters, a strong storyline and a bit of intellectual property and you get...one of my favorite attractions of all time:

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (TM)

The story begins with its haunting architecture and carries on as you walk through the creepy lobby and into the library, where we hear the story of those who perished on that doomed elevator.

We then make our way into the boiler room, and take an elevator, where we see the ghosts of those who passed away. All of this builds up and happens before the highlight of the ride, the tower drop.

This attraction points out one of the key factors in telling a good story within an attraction, in that by taking guests through several environments and pre-shows, the story was able to slowly unfold, providing guests with the opportunity to forge an emotional connection to the characters and underlying narrative. You have to provide space and time for stories to evolve and connect with your audience.

So, again, the base ride is still the same for both of these attractions. But I would propose that the guest experience within the Tower of Terror is much richer and more memorable because of story.

To IP, or Not IP

As most of you are probably aware, intellectual property is very much in demand these days.  And when you base an attraction on an existing IP, your audience has already been exposed to, and become emotionally attached to, your characters, environments and stories, which makes it easier to immerse them.

But do you have to have IP to create a memorable guest experience? I would say that while its certainly nice to have IP to work with, it's not a necessity.

Let's again take a look at two identical rides, one with IP and one without, to see if the use of intellectual property provides a markedly better visitor experience.

Ratatouille Adventure

Based on the popular Pixar movie, Ratatouille Adventure opened at Disneyland Paris this past July.

During the attraction, guests ride on a trackless vehicle and see all of the movie's characters as they ride through the Parisian kitchen featured in the movie and try to evade the evil Chef Skipper.

So that's a quick look at a ride that successfully integrates intellectual property and story.

Mystic Manor

Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland provides a very similar guest experience, except this attraction is based upon a new story developed specifically for the ride.

The story begins with the architecture of Mystic Manor, home of Lord Henry Mystic and his monkey, Albert.

In the immersive pre-show, Lord Mystic explains that the house is filled with exhibition rooms of his latest collections. He also mentions an enchanted music box full of rare magic that must be opened with caution.

Guests then begin touring the Manor, and, of course, Albert opens the box and brings everything inside the house to life.

So, while this attraction isn't based on an existing IP, I would say that it's every bit as engaging as the Ratatouille ride, given its use of likable characters, magical environments, and an exciting storyline.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The best story-based attractions are those that engage all of your senses and make you feel as though you are part of the narrative, living it in real life.

My last case study is probably the best recent example of this approach in action: Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Since 1997, a variety of memorable characters, magical environments and exciting stories have been described in great detail within 7 books and brought to life in 8 movies. So, audiences have had over 17 years to fall in love with these components, which Universal had to bring to life. And they have done so by using all of the techniques we discussed today: themed architecture, immersive environments, rides and shows.

Through these techniques, you live the story.

You walk through Diagon Alley, choose your wand at Olivander's, run through a brick wall to get to Platform 9-3/4, and ride the Hogwart's Express.

You can eat at the Leaky Cauldron, drink a butterbeer in Hogsmeade, or buy a chocolate frog at Honeydukes.

You can explore the various environments and unleash the magic of your wand or see a variety of shows before you return to Hogwarts to outmaneuver a dragon or re-visit Diagon Alley to "Escape From Gringotts" with Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Why is this such a great experience?

Because it uses a variety of mediums and techniques to completely immerse guests with a story that once only existed on paper.

Takeways

Which brings us to our final chapter.

In summary:

  • - A good story is comprised of interesting characters, environments and narratives.
  • - Stories have the power to make an audience care about characters and content.
  • - To engage your audiences in a story-based attraction, you must provide enough time and space for the story to evolve and for your guests to care.
  • - Intellectual property certainly is nice to have when creating an attraction, but not required. Guests will remember a good story more than a weakly interpreted IP.
  • - The best attractions completely immerse guests in a story, engaging all of their senses and making them feel as though they are part of the narrative.

Most importantly, stories have the ability to suspend reality for a moment in time and capture our guests' hearts and minds, and that is an amazing power.

Thank you.

  •  

 

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