Friday, July 13, 2018

Why Creatives Matter: Designing an Impactful Themed Entertainment Guest Experience


More information on Ashlie Anctil can be found here.

Nine people sit around a glass-top conference table displaying colorful dry-erase marker sketches, doodles and notes across its surface. The creative buzz is palpable as one person ignites an idea, and another fans the flame with imagination. It is not long before everyone is contributing to the fire of passion and innovation. This is just a taste of how we jumpstart projects at our themed entertainment company: ITEC Entertainment.

This brainstorming process, which is referred to as “Blue Sky” by most in the industry, is one of our favorite stages. It encourages teamwork, camaraderie, and laughter, as much as imagination, research, and reflection. Throughout this process, each individual team member at ITEC takes the first step toward making a difference in the world.

“Making a difference in the world…” It seems a rather daunting, or even impossible, task from behind the computer screen where a creative often spends eight-plus hours a day. Sometimes, it can be difficult to see beyond the tip of the paintbrush or digital pen when attempting to fix the angle of shadow on a piece of concept art. But in this action, it is imperative to understand the all-encompassing question: “Why?”

Why does it matter whether the shadow cuts right or left across the scenic?
Why agonize over the character’s relationship with her wish-granting genie?
Why ensure the prop’s color is red-orange and not orange-red?
Why does the font need to match on every graphic sign?
Why does it matter if the column has rounded or square corners?
Why coordinate the animatronic’s movement with the musical cue to the millisecond?

Why do what we do, and how does this make a difference in the world?

The answer to every one of these questions is that each detail is instrumental in bringing the narrative to life, and through storytelling, we thrill, inform, and entertain. We evoke emotions and create memories.

That is to say, we create the Guest experience.

At ITEC Entertainment, we are in the business of designing immersive, dynamic, and inimitable Guest experiences. We understand that producing a successful themed attraction is about so much more than calculating theoretical hourly ride capacities or planning the number of restrooms (though those are undoubtedly important, too). An impactful Guest experience is defined by creating a flawless world where anything seems possible, escapism is king, entertainment is outstanding, and the underlying story ties it all together.

When the noise of the outside world fades beneath the architectural dome of fantasy, it becomes easier for our Guests to focus on what is truly important.

This is where the deliberately designed and carefully constructed Guest experience can create life-changing events. Like when…

  • Artistic and immersive experiences inspire the imagination of a new generation of writers, filmmakers and artisans. They should thank the creative research and dynamic narratives of a show writer.
  • Siblings clutch one another in a terrifying haunted house and create a lifelong memory that brings them closer than ever before. That creepy concept was artfully rendered by a team of talented illustrators.
  • Families fragmented by distance or history are reunited in an embrace in the setting of a beautiful hotel lobby. It was designed to be open, warm and welcoming by a 3D modeler and interior designer.
  • A couple’s happily ever after begins with a proposal and kiss in picturesque gardens. They’ll never know how much thought was put into that design by experienced landscape architects.
  • A final wish is granted beneath a sparkling sky of fireworks. It would bring tears to the eyes of the show director, composer and pyrotechnician who orchestrated that experience.
Themed design is not just a construct of artificial reality meant to entertain; it's meaningful world building intended to affect the very minds and hearts of those who share it. All this magic begins with the simple idea in a conference room that becomes something incredibly special thanks to the creatives who bring it to life.

Now that’s what I call making a difference. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Guest Experience Matters... ...All the Way to the Bottom Line!


More information on Seth Foster can be found here.

Thinking about the Guest Experience for large-scale property design is an alien concept for most developers. Whether these projects are resorts, mixed-use developments or urban planned communities, they each pose their own unique challenges in creating an ideal experience for all patrons. It isn’t easy to think “outside the box” and grasp the value of ITEC Entertainment’s approach to a project, which focuses on developing a storyline and narrative for a property that resonates with a guest emotionally.  However, more developers around the world are beginning to recognize that a great experience can mean even greater returns.

Humans are a storytelling species, and we often connect with storytelling on a subconscious level. When a story feels right, even if one is ‘suspending disbelief,’ that connection can form an emotional bond which translates into higher revenue for projects, as well as more frequent visitation and incredible social media interaction with potential global impact.

To understand the importance of story and how it impacts the value people place on experiences, consider these two examples:

  Celebration, Florida: A planned community by Disney that was literally constructed from nothing, to create an American hometown that truly only existed in the imagination.  Opening sales were oversubscribed, visitors had hours-long traffic to contend with when it first was opened to the public and prices were (and still remain) at a premium over comparable homes in the area.
   Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”: This classic attraction is beloved by many for over 50 years and counting. Yet, virtually no one that has ridden it knows the story being told (prior to the recent movie tie-in revisions).  We just “get it”.  On an instinctive or subconscious level, each scene and vignette works in service of the story, even though guests don’t specifically know why.   This is a direct result of the purposeful development of a detailed, layered, and broadly-appealing story enhanced by a flawless execution.  As a result, guests are enthralled and develop an emotional attachment with the ride experience - and by extension with Disney as a whole. 
Imagine the potential of a resort, a mixed-use development, or even a city that’s developed around a fully-realized story and theme that just “feels right”.  The opportunity then exists to integrate design in the architecture, environment, and the entire organization of a site, to seamlessly support this narrative.  Developers could construct amenities or activities in a resort that “work together perfectly for some reason” because the story underpinning the project allows for them to form a unique connection between the project and the guest. This makes the Guest Experience more meaningful, less repeatable by competitors, and therefore more valuable.

That reality isn’t far off.  ITEC Entertainment is currently working on several projects in Asia, Latin America and North America where developers recognize the value of incorporating a memorable Guest Experience into the core DNA of their projects.  By building the project around the story, we can create something fundamentally unique and much less vulnerable to competition.  Enhancing the value of a guest’s experience translates into loyalty, a perception of increased value, and a marketable differentiator that can further expose the project to millions of people through online and social media.

Invest in the Guest Experience and create that emotional bond.  It will resonate with customers like dropping a pebble in a pond, radiating out beyond the limits of the specific visitors, beyond the time they are at the site, and develop a valuable brand identity with incredible potential to enhance the bottom line.

Friday, June 1, 2018

A Young Designer's Guide to Design Principles & Translating Them to Scene Attraction Design

More information on Bradley Caruk can be found here.

Design principles such as pattern, rhythm and movement are often taught in U.S. schools. Within the field of design, the correct number of principles, whether it be 6, 8, or 12, is often debated. Regardless, many young show designers in the industry today fail to see the parallels used in the real world of designing scenes within attractions.

Take, for example, the concepts of “Proportion” and “Large versus Small.” These principles refer to the visual weight, size, and prominence of various elements within a composition or frame of reference, as well as how they work off of and/or relate to one another. When telling a story without using words and by visually utilizing these principles, it often helps to have a specific order of elements that are revealed to the guest that enhances his or her experience.

Concept Art by Alex Seifert, ITEC Entertainment
By grouping related elements, aspiring designers can best assign them importance, even ones smaller in size or of less significance. Imagine a swarm of tiny beetles purposefully meant to flood guests’ RV through projection mapping. The swarm would disrupt the guests' expectations within a climactic scene of a dark ride. Then, one huge element would follow the tiny beetles, such as a gigantic beast reaching out to grab the guests' vehicles. The contrast between the two elements is significant to the entire experience in a visual, experiential and storytelling point of view.

If all the elements of your scene design are well-sized and thoughtfully-placed, the guest’s overall experience will be greatly enhanced. That is just a first step in the right direction. Of course, there are so many other elements to consider for this process that I could write a book about it, and that is not even including sound, lighting, atmospherics, smell, music, and so on. However, once a show designer masters the principles of design and applies them to real world design by building relationships, their process of composing a scene becomes more intuitive and will elevate the memorable moments of the experience.

At ITEC Entertainment, much of our project development for scene attractions is to bring a story to life using these principles and ensure that every guest receives the same enthralling experience. In addition, we have also honed the ability to perfectly orchestrate motion with object sizing and other sensory components, including audio/visual, that is necessary to create a unified guest experience requiring repetition every few seconds or minutes. Transferring abstract concepts into something that is both calculated on the back-end and natural for the audience is at the core of great scene design, and what we've delivered for almost 30 years. By starting with a strong foundation and understanding of design principles, young designers can find their way too. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

ITEC's Patrick Kling with 8 Tips & Methods that any business can apply from the Theme Park Industry

By Patrick Kling, Project Coordinator

                               More on Patrick Kling can be found here.

Theme Parks are serious business.

In fact, in 2017 the Walt Disney Company’s Parks and Resort division took in 18.4 Billion Dollars in Revenue. This isn’t a fluke. This is a meticulously ran division and an important part of the strategic vision for the Walt Disney Company.

While you may not be in the business of building Hogwarts castles or tea cups, there are lessons from theme park operations and design that you can apply to your business.

So lower your lap bar, remain seated at all times and put on your 3D glasses… let’s go!

1. Encourage your employees to use your business, product or service

At any given moment there are countless theme park employees and designers walking (or 'playing' as we affectionately call it) around Disney and Universal parks. Companies encourage this by granting their employees generous admission access. This isn’t just a perk, it's a smart business practice. Employees are the toughest critics and often know when something is wrong and can impact change in your organization. They also make great brand ambassadors for your business.

Consider encouraging your employees to use your business’s services or product by increasing discounts, and don’t be afraid to facilitate feedback from them. They live and breath your brand every day and are likely to care the most.

2. "Yes, If” versus “No, Because"

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Gurr, a famed theme park designer whose first project was designing the Autopia vehicles at Disneyland. He went on to design then Monorail’s, Haunted Mansion ‘Doom Buggies’ and even the King Kong animatronics for Universal parks. He was speaking to several of my fellow theme park industry design folk and shared fascinating stories.

They mostly revolved around his former boss, Walt Disney.

While Walt Disney and other creatives would dream up the impossible, forward thinking attractions, it was up to Bob Gurr to figure out how to actually build them!

Walt Disney hated it when anyone would tell him “No”

That’s why Bob Gurr adopted the mantra is “Yes, if”

Even if something seems impossible, there may be a way to make it happen. Let’s take a practical example:

“We need to finish finalizing the year end budget by Friday”

Less productive response - "No, because I am already overworked, and don’t have time to do it.”

More Productive response - "Yes, if I can shift some of my workload, or get more help.”

This mantra and thinking can help get proper resources needed to accomplish a task, or let leaders make the decisions themselves on what to prioritize. Try it at your business and watch your communication and productivity improve!

3. Queue management 

Theme parks are infamous for their endless lines snaking through switchbacks and seemingly endless hallways. In recent years, industry leaders like Disney and Universal have rolled out innovative queue management systems like Fast Pass, or waiting areas like at "Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York" attraction. The Jimmy Fallon attraction is quite unique as guests can lounge and be entertained by the Tonight Show’s zany, contemporary a capella group, The Ragtime Gals, while they wait for their ride to begin.

Jimmy Fallon soaks in the smooth barber shop tunes of the Ragtag Gals during a preview of his attraction. The Ragtag Gals perform daily in front of audiences who are waiting to board the ride. 
©Universal Orlando

At your business it may be common to have people waiting. Waiting to be seated, waiting to be seen, waiting on hold, waiting to place their order, or waiting for answers. Here are some principles to learn from:
  • Give your customers an accurate wait time
  • Keep customers informed of delays
  • Entertain or occupy your customers while they wait
  • Be careful of bottlenecks in your wait, ensure multiple people can attend one line
Applying these principles will lead to higher efficiencies and less perceived wait from customers.

4. Nurture and give perks to your biggest fans

Word-of-mouth continues to be one of the best forms of advertising. When you have a repeat customer, it is likely they are in your targeted demographic and know others that would be interested in your business as well.

Nurture them!

Theme parks have upped their fan appreciation over the past several years. Since the inception of seasonal and annual passes decades ago, theme parks have cultivated a dedicated and huge fan base. Disney and Universal have seized this opportunity and hold various events throughout the year that attracts and caters to their biggest fans.

Since 2014 Universal Orlando has held A Celebration of Harry Potter™, with exclusive celebrity meet and greets, panel discussions and special merchandise.
©Universal Orlando

What are you doing to retain your most passionate customers?

Are they given priority over others? Are they given discounts or perks? What can you do to expedite their experience? Do you interact with them on social media or other platforms

Happy customers tell others about their experience and can become a significant marketing vehicle for your company.

5. Empower your employees to help customers

At the major theme parks, front line employees are empowered to resolve issues on the spot.

Did little Billy just drop an Ice Cream cone? A nearby employee can help and get that replaced, most likely with no questions asked. Is a customer having a bad day… train your employees to ask them what they need to right the situation. Most of the time, people simply want to be heard. 

Nothing will ruin your vacation faster than a dropped Dole Whip splattered throughout Adventureland. At the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida there is no need to fret as a nearby Cast Member will help resolve the issue on the spot.

Photo Courtesy: Kristen Walbieser

Businesses are complicated, and empowering your employees to resolve issues can be good for them, and let you spend less time handling routine issues and more time on the bigger picture.

6. Design your business in terms of the customer or guest experience

Theme parks have meticulously laid out what the guest experience is like in every square inch of their parks. From the parking lot to the amount of water fountains and benches, it is all deliberately orchestrated. 

How does a customer engage with your business?

In 2013 the Walt Disney World Resort rolled out the Magic Band changing how guests interact with everything from Theme Park entry points, to hotel room doors to on-ride photography.

Conduct an analysis of each touch point between the business and customer. Identify how you can make it better for them. Is there a way to expedite the customer experience by having them give you information ahead of time? Could they be greeted personally? Could they speak to the same representative each time?

Think about how to make it more personable. If done properly, you will see the difference!

7. Measure and analyze everything

Theme parks measure wait times, hourly capacity, and of course, per cap spending.

It's a no-brainer to count the basics at any business such as revenue, expenses and profit, but think about expanding to more out-of-the-box measurements. How long does it take for a customer to talk to a person while waiting on the phone? How long does it take for someone to greet a customer when they are in your store? How could a customer pay quicker?

If you are consistently measuring, you can analyze how to make your business, and the customer experience, more efficient and hold employees accountable.

8. Keep it up! 

“Keep it up - Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance, people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.” - Marty Sklar, Imagineer and Disney Legend

If you're business has been open for a year or longer, things may already be deteriorating. As Marty Sklar said, ‘Keep it up!’ If you are a store or restaurant, ensure you set aside capital to keep your business updated, current and working. Nobody wants to walk into a dilapidated business with chipped paint, and broken furniture (unless you’re an antique shop).

Things break, but it is possible to keep ahead of it.

For over 60 years the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland in Anaheim, California has been maintained, updated and kept relevant for today’s audiences.
Photo Courtesy: Kristen Walbieser

Every few years, attractions at Disney and Universal will be closed temporarily for days or weeks, to fully “refurbish” the ride. This is in addition to the regular nightly maintenance each attraction goes through.

Keep your business looking fresh, and you’ll have plenty of customers coming back!

The theme park industry is very unique as it blends countless trades, technologies and is a living and breathing entity. Next time you frequent one, take notice of the surroundings and how meticulous it is laid out.

We have merely scratched the surface in terms of lessons learned from theme parks. There is also a lot to learn from one another - what industry are you in? Let us know what lessons theme parks might be able to learn from your business in the comment box below!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

ITEC's Jerry Brown on Modeling for 3D Printing Best Practices

By Jerry Brown, Director of Media

More on Jerry Brown can be found here.

At ITEC Entertainment we often have the need to produce physical models of props, buildings, ride cars and more to tangibly visualize 3D models or prototype an item. 

Unlike 3D modeling for film or video, your models don't just have to look good, they need to be built a certain way so they can be physically 'replicated' in the real world with real world physics. Here are my 10 tips and best practice recommendations for when modeling items for 3D printing.

Tip #1: Models must be watertight with no holes. If the object you are creating is designed to have a hole (like a piggy bank), it must have an outside and an inside and have a defined thickness. The entire area must be closed watertight and void of missing polygons and/or unconnected polygons.

Tip #2: The object must be what is referred to as manifold – meaning that one edge of the object cannot share more than two faces. This sometimes occurs during modeling when extruding edges vs faces, OR when extruding faces inwards but not up or down. This causes a shared edge among several polygons. 3D printers don’t know how to interpret what is to be done with those. 

Tip #3: Normals must be oriented in the correct (outward) position. In the piggy bank example – the outside edge normal must face OUT, and the inside surface normal must face IN.

Tip #4: Don’t make detail too thin. Everything must have a thickness that is more than 2 to 4 millimeters. Some printers will not print very fine detail, especially if the detail is unsupported or sticking up by itself. For best results, avoid antennae, hair, strings, or wires, and other unsupported detail in your models. 

Tip #5: It is good practice not to overlap or intersect geometry. Instead, try to connect (Boolean) them. For example, if a gun barrel is sticking out of a tank top turret, try to connect the gun to the tank top instead of just placing it through. 3D Printers sometimes get confused on what object is printing (the gun or the turret), and will sometimes build up plastic in that one area. Keep this practice to a minimum and you will have better 3D print results. 

Tip #6: Be aware of overhangs. Most 3D printers print like an ink jet printer (one layer at a time on top of the previous layer). Overhangs will require the printer to make a ‘support’ which is built into most slicing software which is helpful to take into consideration when modeling. Most 3D printers can print a 45 degree angle without support and can also print spheres without the need for additional support structure. 

Tip #7: Consider modeling something in two or more pieces that can be glued or connected together after printing. This will help you avoid having to use supports. For example, a ship's hull can be printed in 2 pieces and then glued together. Or in the example below, this chess piece would have needed supports to print the top. By separating the piece at printing stage, and gluing the pieces together later, you will avoid the need for supports. 

Tip #8: 3D printers only print the data that is displayed as polygons. They do not print bump, normal, or displacement maps. If you create something using a third-party 3D sculpting and painting tool like Mudbox or ZBrush, you will need to convert to polygons first. Some modeling software like Maya has a mode called Smooth Mesh Preview, which will show how it will "render" but it will print without the smooth mesh preview and use the polygons.

Tip #9: Try to keep your polygon count to a reasonable level. The more polygons, the heavier the print increasing the chances of a software crash. 

Tip #10: Consider size restrictions. Most consumer desktop 3D printers can print an object at approx 6x6x6 inches, some a little larger, some a little smaller. Keep this in mind when creating a model. If you create a 10 inch action figure, you will find that very few desktop printers will print that size at the moment. If you need to print a larger item, consider splitting it up into several pieces and assembling after. NOTE - this is also a good idea for prints that take a very long time (over 10 hours) to print. Better to cut these up into smaller, two hour prints. There is nothing more frustrating than a fifteen hour print crashing in the fourteenth hour because of power failure, etc, and having to start all over!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


ITEC Entertainment Corporation, an industry leader of worldwide entertainment solutions, announces that construction has begun on a major mixed-use and entertainment complex in Harbin, China. ITEC Entertainment is providing master planning and concept design services for Harbin Paradise Park and what will become the first Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attraction located in China. ITEC Entertainment’s services will include attraction identity and story treatments to be delivered and experienced throughout the attractions’ rides, exhibits, displays, branding and activities that extend into all interior and exterior environments.

Harbin Paradise Park will team the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attraction with two other major themed attraction areas in the development to form a major local and visitor entertainment destination in Harbin.  Rainforest Bay Aqua Park - a multi-story indoor water park with pools and caverns, cabanas and multiple slides, zip lines and elevated activity gazebos – will cater to entire families of wet adventure seekers.  Aiming to draw shoppers after their Ripley’s and water park experience will be a commercial sector, with nearly a mile of storefronts inspired by world continents.

“ITEC Entertainment is grateful for the longstanding relationship we have had with the legendary Ripley Entertainment brand,” said ITEC President, Bill Coan. “That trust combined with the strength of our joint venture partnership with Shanghai Xian Dai/Arcplus Group will ensure a thrilling and rewarding guest experience.”

Rainforest Bay Aqua Park and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attraction areas are slated for a 2019 opening.