December 05, 2013
IAAPA Wrap Up 2 - Magic Bands, Glowing Ears and Tugged Heart Strings:
How Disney Melds Technology and Story
Welcome back to our 2013 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo Wrap Up. One of the “water cooler topics” of this year’s expo was the intersection of technology and experience. By coupling the latest and greatest gadgets with innovative new storytelling strategies, Disney is revolutionizing guests’ interactions with attractions and each other, and we as attraction designers can learn from their example.
One of the first presentations during the Expo was “New Age of Interactive Exhibits and Attractions”, and it featured Jeff Voris of Walt Disney Imagineering R&D. Voris kicked things off with a cautionary note on technology for technology’s sake. “We are making connected experiences through technology,” he began, but “the more things look like technology, the harder it is to draw you into a story.” Disneyland itself, he argued, was the ultimate virtual reality, taking a story and embedding into an environment through the technology of the time. Walt Disney said himself that “Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination in the world.” But while imagination is constant, audiences are changing, as is their amount of free time and the ways visitors connect.
A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the 7 Seas. Photo courtesy Disney Parks Blog
One of the ways that Disney is changing with its audience is to employ new interactives into its parks. One example is “A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the 7 Seas”. Participants are tasked with helping Captain Jack raid 5 treasures from Adventureland and are armed with a map and a talisman. Along the way, they encounter the formidable pirate Captain Barbarossa, but if they can vanquish him in battle, they are deemed official members of Captain Jack’s crew (Editor’s Note: our own Shawn McCoy recently took his family on this adventure and said it was one of his favorite experiences at the Magic Kingdom). Another interactive game that launched just last month, Mickey’s Fun Wheel Challenge, literally puts guests in control of the giant wheel at Disney California Adventure. Once guests are in the “World of Color” viewing area, all they have to do is join a specific Wi-Fi network on their mobile device within 45 minutes of the show. The wheel then becomes a giant game board, where guests match specific lighting sequences on the wheel to sequences on the device. The winner of the game gets to control the lighting sequence straight from their phone or tablet.
These interactive experiences are just the tip of the iceberg for Walt Disney Imagineering. As we reported during the September SATE Conference, the “Legend of the Fortuna”, a long-form pirate caper currently in beta, raises the bar on guest interaction, offering live actors, mobile gaming and props. Another WDI alternate reality game (ARG) experiment was “The Optimist”, which began with Amelia, a fictional college student, blogging about her journey to discover more about her deceased grandfather. The story of her grandfather, fictionally but not coincidentally, is interwoven with the history of Walt Disney and the World’s Fair. The blog spawned a Twitter account, introduced new fictional characters both online and through live interaction at the D23 Expo, and culminated in an emotional meeting between characters and players at a movie theater, where Amelia’s “film” about her grandfather premiered. Without technology, these kinds of feats would not be possible, but as Voris so aptly explains, “families don’t want to know about the behind-the-scenes work – they want to make memories.”
Making memories is Priority #1 for George A. Kalogridis, President of the Walt Disney Resort. In his Incredibles-themed keynote address, Kalogridis discussed how Disney strives to address the various “merge points” of themed entertainment in the 21st Century:
Photo courtesy DisneyFoodBlog.com
He began by unveiling the latest and greatest attractions to be found at Disney’s parks, several of which can be found at the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. Instead of being confined to just a ride, Dumbo now has a whole Storybook Circus in which to play. The ride itself has been completely revamped, featuring two sets of rotating elephants, a fountain with colored lighting and a one-of-a-kind queuing system. Upon entering the ride, guests receive a virtual pager that holds their place in line. Meanwhile, kids can enjoy a circus-themed, air-conditioned playground while adults watch from comfortable seating. The new Fantasyland even offers a Tangled themed rest area, complete with tree stumps embedded with charging stations. With its exacting attention to detail and story, the new Fantasyland will continue to be a hit with parents and kids alike.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia
In addition to new attractions, Disney is upping the bar with completely re-imagined character interactions. Far from a standard photo opp, “Enchanted Tales with Belle” immerses guests young and old into the story of Beauty and the Beast. A mirror in Maurice’s cottage suddenly turns into a door, where Lumiere and Belle await in the Beast’s library. Guests are then each given a character to play as they re-enact the film’s dancing scene. Since the story is now told by Belle and her guests, no two experiences are alike. “My daughter absolutely loved Enchanted Tales with Belle,” said McCoy, “being able to tell the story together created a lifelong memory for our family.“ Enchanted Tales with Belle is another way that Disney is meshing story with technology for maximum effect and fun for all.
Photo courtesy WDWInfo.com
But for Kalogridis, the biggest Disney technology game changer was MyMagic+, a suite of online and mobile tools enabling the guest to customize their Disney vacation. The MyMagic+ program’s key component is the MagicBand, an RFID wristband that enables Disney guests to enter their (Disney property) hotel room, purchase souvenirs, make FastPass ride and dinner reservations, order photos and have special interactions with Disney characters. Said Kalogridis: “MyMagic+ gives Disney an ability to increase customer satisfaction more than anything we’ve ever done.” But he didn’t want the audience to take his word for it – every member of the audience received a MagicBand loaded with a free day at a WDW park of their choice and three FastPasses so they could try it for themselves.
Kalogridis closed his presentation with a grand demonstration of the power of technology. For the park’s “Glow with the Show” experience, guests purchase interactive Mickey ears for $25, which they then don right before one of the resorts popular evening shows (including “Wishes Nighttime Spectacular” at the Magic Kingdom and “Fantasmic!” at Disney Hollywood Studios). The ears are programmed to light up in choreographic fashion, flashing, twinkling and changing color with the beats of the shows’ music. But again, Kalogridis urged the audience not to take his word for it, so all guests in the room were given the colorful ears, which they were then asked to wear. They were then treated to a sound, light and image presentation crafted just for the IAAPA keynote, so they could “glow with the show” right in the Orange County Convention Center ballroom (check out our video on Facebook). From day to night, and from the time the guest plans their visit at home till the time they return from a memorable trip to the parks, WDI technology is at work, crafting the guest’s vacation story.
So what can we as attraction designers learn from all this?
1. All technology must be in the service of story. It is the ultimate “man behind the curtain.”
2. We must continue to innovate, to push the limits of technology in order to tell our stories better.
3. We need to make sure the story is accessible to all, since visitors are increasingly traveling in multi-generational groups.
4. Guests are becoming increasingly eager to become the authors of their own stories and controllers of their own experiences. Creating opportunities for them to do so creates deeper connections with your attraction, more diverse methods of interaction, and a greater likelihood for repeat visitation.
Next week, we'll wrap up our wrap up with a re-cap of Shawn's IAAPA Museum Day presentation, "Museums and Science Centers, New Trends in Attractions Design."
November 27, 2013
IRecently, we shared a video of Casino Pier’s 1-year rebuilding process in the wake of the devastating Super Storm Sandy. Last week, Vincent Storino, Owner of Casino Pier, brought these images to poignant life in his presentation, “Restore the Shore”, at the 2013 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo. Presenting alongside Storino was Nate Bliss, Interim Executive Director for the Alliance for Coney Island, who offered his own story about the rebuilding of not just an historic attraction, but an entire Brooklyn neighborhood.
Vincent Storino, Casino Pier
Storino began by saying that the “storm could have been much worse”, and offered three points of advice:
1. “Heed the warnings”: luckily, the warnings began nearly a week before the storm was scheduled to hit shore.
2. “It’s never too early to prep”: Storino and his team began preparations nearly six days before, which included raising critical items off the floor and finding homes for foreign employees. It also meant keeping detailed records for the insurance adjusters to hopefully make for easier claims. “Have the best insurance company, document everything and hope for the best,” advised Storino. The team finished just in time – one day before landfall.
3. “Expect the worst”: Storino became emotional when he shared how he lost contact with his brother due to cut power lines and cell phone service (luckily, no one in the family was hurt). He had no power for two weeks, and even though the storm had dissipated by October 31st, he could not return to the site until November 12th.
Most of the damage to Casino Pier was caused by water, as the winds were minimal. The waves surged 11.5 feet above sea level, and the flood height reached 7.9 feet. A car featured in Casino Pier’s haunted house attraction actually washed 8 miles north and into one of the Storino family’s arcades. “It was a big mess,” said Storino. “That’s the only way to describe it.” Casino Pier’s power was not restored until May 15th, and the basement “was a toxic wasteland.” But the Storinos were determined to re-open the boardwalk and pier in a miraculous 6 months. It took 1,000 man hours per day to re-open the park, but on May 24, 2013, Casino Pier welcomed visitors to its arcades, restaurants and retail, and two months later, 15 rides (including the aptly-named “Superstorm”) were up and running.
The Storino family was determined to build Casino Pier “bigger, better and stronger.” That meant spacing more and larger pilings closer together, raising transformers from the basement to the first floor and including galvanized steel walls to keep out the waves. Some of the greatest challenges to completing the work were the seemingly constant visits from the media, politicians and even Prince Harry. “It was great,” explained Storino, “but it was a big inconvenience.” While Casino Pier was able to somewhat recover from the storm, the beach houses, hotels and restaurants weren’t as lucky (over 650,000 homes were damaged). As a result of this lack of infrastructure, Casino Pier’s 2013 attendance was less than hoped for. “If you build it, will they come? Well, they didn’t come, but they will.”
Nate Bliss, Alliance for Coney Island
Nate Bliss of the Alliance for Coney Island also began his presentation with three valuable tenets of wisdom:
1. “Mother Nature always wins. Water seeks its own level.”
2. “Everything comes out in the wash.”
3. “The only way to deal with hard luck is hard work…we fought back.”
Unlike Storino, Bliss’ team was able to get to Coney Island the morning after the storm and begin its rebuilding efforts, but historic buildings took a beating, and “Surf Avenue literally became Surf Avenue.” Bliss recalled a “huge outpouring of support,” and a year after Sandy, his prevailing memory is of the “inexhaustible drive” of those who pitched in to help. “There was no time for wallowing,” said Bliss. “It was a marathon at a sprint’s pace.”
In unprecedented fashion, Coney Island’s businesses, community, not-for-profit organizations and residents banded together to form the Alliance for Coney Island and to launch the fundraising effort, Coney Recovers (#coneyrecovers on Twitter). The effort raised $700,000, and the monies were funneled not towards business losses, but to a local neighborhood that was “reeling”. The various attractions on Coney Island saw the post-Sandy era as an opportunity to re-invest, while they worked tirelessly to make opening day business as usual. The Alliance engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign, with such slogans as “Keep Calm and Visit Coney”. As a result, only a few months after “Frankenstorm” descended on the East Coast, Coney Island welcomed its biggest opening day crowd ever. The 2013 Coney Island season offered a remodeled, iconic Nathan’s Famous hot dog store, a new carousel (which opened on schedule), and a $2 million upgrade to its iconic parachute tower, including the addition of 8,000 programmable LED lights to the tower’s exterior. Alliance member organization Coney Island Generation Gap trained dozens of area students as Tourist Greeters, communicating the message that Coney Island was ready and welcoming for visitors.
So what’s next for Coney Island? According to Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, “the future is unlimited!” Among the attraction’s plans are a concert venue, a new coaster and expanded programming at Coney Island’s New York Aquarium. Farther on the horizon are proposed resiliency initiatives to prevent future hurricane damage, such as the addition of a tidal gate. But for now, Bliss credits the success of Coney Island’s recovery to the fundamental human need for escape:
“Coney Island has a beautiful beach; it’s in a 20-million-person metropolitan area and it has access to public transportation. But more than that, it speaks to the innate human desire to escape to the seashore. No storm can take that away.”
November 13, 2013
Photo courtesy IAAPA.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
For many, this song verse conjures images of snow-covered rooftops, Thanksgiving turkeys and Black Friday shopping. For our industry, the most wonderful time of the year is November 18-22: the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo in Orlando, Florida. With its theme, “Imagine the Possibilities”, this year’s show promises to be the largest on record, welcoming over 26,000 attendees from 100 countries. With 522,000 square feet of exhibit space (think 13 football fields) and nine miles of aisles, IAAPA President and CEO, Paul Noland, is warning attendees to “wear their comfortable shoes” and cites “too many business-building ideas to count” among the 1,100 exhibitor booths.
But the Expo offers more than just an expansive exhibit hall – IAAPA has planned more than 80 expert-led education programs throughout the week, from marketing to operations to HR to the latest industry trends. Also on the menu are networking receptions, full-day tours and evening festivities at world-class attractions, and heartwarming charity events benefiting Give Kids the World and children with life-threatening illnesses. “Get ready to take full advantage of the new innovations, learning opportunities and networking experiences the Expo has to offer,” said Noland.
With all of these options, it’s hard to know what to choose! When not at (brand new!) booth #854, here’s a few the places where JRA will be during IAAPA week:
Monday – JRA proud to sponsor of IAAPA’s annual Museum Day. As part of the festivities, JRA’s Shawn McCoy and Thinkwell’s Cynthia Sharpe will offer a rapid-fire look at the most incredible attractions to hit the industry this year, and how these attractions’ design approaches can help museums and science centers refresh and engage. JRA will also be announcing its newest project, so be there, and be the first to know!
Tuesday – Entertaining and unpredictable, the morning's IAAPA Kickoff Event is a must-see. With live performances, project unveilings, and exclusive sneak peaks, the Kickoff is the place to learn what’s new and now in the attractions industry.
Wednesday – Tim O’Brien. Marty Sklar. Jack Lindquist. Lee Cockerell. Combined, these four men bring nearly 200 years of experience to the themed entertainment field. At “Legend and Their Legacies: The Authors Speak Out” these pioneers will celebrate the release of Sklar’s book, Dream It! Do It!, My Half-Century Creating Disney Magic Kingdoms, while offering their own words of wisdom to industry novices and veterans alike.
Thursday – From the great achievers of today, the topic shifts to the prodigies of tomorrow with “TEA Presents: Future Legends of the Industry”. Attendees will learn about the projects, philosophies and industry forecasts of four of the themed entertainment’s sharpest young leaders. And an IAAPA Expo would not be complete without its annual Thursday night celebration. This year, “IAAPA Celebrates at SeaWorld”, and ticket holders will be treated to lavish hors d’oeuvres, beverages and exclusive access to the newly opened Empire of the Penguin attraction. But the big question of the day: will our own Chloe James be able to repeat her medal-winning performance at Thursday morning’s Footprints from the Heart 5K?
Friday – One more day to visit us before another IAAPA Expo comes and goes!
But don’t just take our word for all that IAAPA has to offer – check out this video to learn what attendees have to say about their experience. See you at the Expo!
October 15, 2013
Greetings, readers! Clara Rice, Blogger-In-Chief, here. I recently had the great pleasure of attending the Themed Entertainment Association's Storytelling Architecture Technology Experience (SATE) Conference at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The conference, sponsored by CHRISTIE(R), brought two days of thought-provoking discussion and new insights for each of the four disciplines. All were tied together in the service of story - how attractions and museums can leverage stories to create compelling experiences with emotional resonance. You can read a complete wrap-up of the two-day event in InPark Magazine and view additional photos on our Facebook page.
The choice of SCAD for the SATE conference was no accident, and the academic setting only further stimulated dialog and informational exchange. Adding to the flavor of the proceedings were the large number of TEA NextGen members in the audience, comprised of students and recent graduates from universities across the country. Practically bursting with enthusiasm, these Gen Ys brought with them a passion for the industry and a fearlessness in having their (tough) questions answered. To learn more about the NextGen component of this year's SATE, as well as the future plans for the TEA's NextGen Committee, check out our article for the TEA blog.
Here at JRA, we share the TEA's mission of fostering the next generation of industry dreamers and doers, and we're lucky to have co-op relationships with SCAD and the University of Cincinnati's Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) program. To that end, over the next two Fridays, we'll be offering another series of "Friday Fives", interviewing our current co-ops to learn what motivates and inspires them, while throwing in some fun facts in the process. Next Wednesday, we'll continue our Conference World Tour in Albuquerque, covering the Assocation of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference. Thanks for reading!
SATE Co-Chairs Aram Ebben and Stefan Lawrence kick off the conference.
Don Marinelli covers the "'Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmatic of the 21st Century" in his keynote address.
Liz Gazzano and Roger Gould discuss how Cars the film became Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.
May 30, 2013
Seated from left: Mark O'Neill and Edward J. Friel
As reported in InPark Magazine today, last week the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) welcomed 5,000 attendees to its Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo. Throughout the course of the MuseumExpo, guests were treated to a variety of engaging educational sessions, ranging from career development to international collaboration to technology. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be covering the two we had the pleasure of attending and look forward to hearing what our readers have to say about their sessions.
Kicking things off on Tuesday was “Glasgow Museums: Building a Sense of Place That Reaps Huge Economic, Social and Cultural Benefits.” Given our recent blog series, we were interested to hear how museums had transformed this Scottish city from a post-industrial wasteland to the 1990 European Capital of Culture. Participating in AAM’s “Big Idea Session” of the day were Edward J. Friel, Professor at Niagara University, and Mark O’Neill, Director of Policy & Research at Glasgow Life, an organization who’s vision is “to inspire Glasgow’s citizens and visitors to lead richer and more active lives through culture, sport and learning.
O’Neill began by offering some of Glasgow’s history. In 1900, the city was Europe’s fourth largest, but its population has dropped by more than half since. When heavy industry collapsed in the 1970s, the government actually told companies not to invest in Glasgow because it had fallen so far from its former glory. Two hundred thousand Glaswegians were in poverty, including 70,000 children, and the country’s citizens suffered from low life expectancy and poor education.
Despite enduring this depressive time of economic contraction, Glasgow’s citizens still patronized its arts and cultural assets, and the city still invested in them. The local government spent roughly $30 US per person on museums, and 50% of Glaswegians visited museums every year. Visitation spiked in the 1980s, due to Glasgow investing even more heavily in cultural assets such as the Burrell Collection, which in its first year welcomed 100,000 visitors. Museums were part of a cultural civic story ingrained in Glasgow since the Victorian era, when parks, arts, and literature where seen as integral aspects of a civilized life. But Glasgow needed to reinterpret that relationship for the 21st century.
Glasgow Cathedral. Photo: Wikipedia
Those interested in building this 21st century cultural infrastructure asked Glasgow, “don’t you want a Guggenheim?” The response was a resounding “no”: the city wanted to concentrate on its existing arts assets. These assets included the Open Museum, an innovative, free service that takes museum objects – not replicas – on the road for the community to see and touch. In addition to emphasizing hands-on interactions with museum materials, Glasgow invested in “sites of meaning making” and adaptive re-uses of existing buildings. Its historic Glasgow Cathedral (also called St. Mungo’s) now welcomes 200,000 visitors per year. The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is housed in a re-purposed city commerce building and aims to recruit traditional art goers to contemporary art. Its permanent galleries feature themes that resonate with global and Glaswegian artists alike, and its changing exhibits are inspired by what the city owns. GOMA is now the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland.
Kelvingrove Museum. Photo: Wikipedia
Kelvingrove Museum is one of Scotland’s most popular free attractions, with 22 galleries and over 8,000 objects. When the museum was refurbished between 2003 and 2006, O’Neill’s goal was to “modernize it without improving it worse.” His team wanted to emphasize Kelvingrove’s commitment to education and give the Glaswegians a sense of ownership over it. Foregoing a geographical or historical approach for an “object-story” approach, objects were organized by theme (e.g., “Souvenirs of War”, “Glasgow and the World”) and were put into context by “intro galleries” to make the art more approachable. The museum even applied this guest-centric approach to its archives, offering behind-the-scenes tours, the philosophy being that the objects are those of the people, and therefore, the people should have access to them. As a result of these transformations, Kelvingrove has attracted 3 million visitors per year since its re-opening in 2006. “The museum is deeply rooted in its own history,” said O’Neill, “but now that history can be shared with the world. Together we can create stories that make our lives more meaningful.”
So, we’ve heard about the before and the after, but how did Glasgow’s cultural journey evolve? It evolved by examining what culture meant to the city and how it could be better harnessed and promoted. “Places market their culture,” said Edward J. Friel, “but different types of social scientists define culture differently.” He defined it as a fundamental need for belonging – when we don’t have that sense of place, we are dispossessed. More and more, he continued, people are finding their place in cities, sparking the need to create sustainable communities. The key to creating such communities, he said, was to identify the nature of problems, finding solutions for those problems and then brokering support for the solutions. Cities need to own their difficulties, which Friel says is exactly what Glasgow did: “people lost their civic pride when industry collapsed.”
In his work helping to re-gain that Glaswegian civic pride, Friel and his colleagues needed to identify Glasgow’s “assets of place” and identify the city’s tourism product supply chain. In 1983, tourists traveled to Edinburgh and then turned north. As Friel put it, “the only people who came to Glasgow were those who were lost.” To combat this perception, Friel’s team assembled seven different public/private organizations, each with their own civic regeneration mandate, including the Creative Glasgow Tourist Board (publicity/promotion), Glasgow Action (economic development), and other organizations tasked with making the city clean, green, safe and welcoming for tourists. These organizations devised an event-led strategy, which, combined with the investments in arts infrastructure, led to the city being named the European Capital of Culture in 1990. A £1.5 million advertising campaign, featuring glossy pics of five different everyday Glaswegians, were emblazoned with sassy taglines such as “Glasgow: Scotland with Style” and “Glasgow: The New Black.”
While the tourist market laughed at these ads at first, it was Glasgow that was left smiling in the end. Between 1983 and 2003, hotel bookings exploded from 1,100 rooms to 17,500. Tourism employment also skyrocketed from 1,500 to 68,000. And convention income went from zero (yes zero) to $50 million. The momentum hasn’t stopped in the last decade. Glasgow welcomes 3.57 million tourists per year, and its Riverside Museum, Scotland’s museum of transport and travel, was recently named the 2013 European Museum of the Year. The success of all seven organizations working together was spurred by an overwhelming goal. “We needed to be service leaders, to serve the community we lived in,” said Friel. “We were winning for Glasgow.”
Next week, we shift from economic development to technology, as we explore how three museums are incorporating gaming into their exhibits.