Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Comparing Themed Entertainment in the U.S. vs. China: A Designer’s POV








As an experienced show designer with a deep understanding of Chinese culture, I am responsible for communicating deliverables and objectives between our creative team and the Chinese themed entertainment market, which has significantly matured over the last twenty years. My interest in the theme park industry started at a young age and my background has since provided me with the experience and skill sets to lead projects and provide entertainment solutions in China and across the globe.  

After visiting Hong Kong Disneyland when it first opened, I knew at age 16 that I needed to be in the theme park industry. Born and raised in China, I searched for opportunities to get involved. This led me to study industrial design at Chongqing University and enroll in Disney’s international college program. After college, I knew where I needed to go to get experience: the U.S., home of the world’s first roller coaster and Disney’s headquarters. While attending the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, I was introduced to ITEC Entertainment through a professor, and proceeded to intern for the entertainment solutions company before joining full-time. Serving as both an intern and a show designer at ITEC, I have noticed several key differences between themed entertainment in the U.S. and in China. 

Starting a Project and the Use of Intellectual Property (IP)



Compared to themed entertainment projects in the U.S., Chinese projects allow for incredible flexibility and endless creativity. Chinese clients often come to ITEC with “blank slate” projects that allow our creative team to run wild with our imaginations. Catering to a massive population with a keen interest in entertainment in the form of theme and amusement parks, as well as other attractions, Chinese developers want to build projects that are unique. They strive for the most over-the-top designs with the biggest, latest, and newest in entertainment technology, which is a feat ITEC can deliver. 

While the United States’s history of theme park development is longer, with more deeply ingrained practices, its culture somewhat inhibits industry innovation when compared to China. This is because a lot of American theme parks rely on the use of IPs. By tapping into the emotional connections franchises foster, U.S. developers have a head start on cultivating major interest for new rides and attractions and tapping into the franchise’s fan base such as Harry Potter. However, this takes a lot of raw creativity away from designers and puts additional pressure on them to deliver an IP ride that meets the expectation of its target audience. In short, while IPs may boost the appeal of a ride, they may also remove some creativity from the design process and limit the potential outcome of the attraction. As time goes on, it will be interesting to monitor the IP trend in both the U.S. and China.

Tailoring Attractions to Reflect Local Culture

Every country has its own captivating culture, storytelling traditions, and folklore, that theme park developers must follow to be successful. Naturally, themed entertainment in the U.S. and in China diverge and cater toward each nation’s respective culture. When designing Disneyland in Hong Kong, Disney strategically adopted cultural aspects into its theme park design. This not only promoted sustainable growth in the region and attracted more local guests, but also ensured that no attractions missed their marks with the new audience. 

As a theoretical example, when I designed my graduate thesis project, I showcased how Hong Kong Disneyland could best design “The Tower of Terror,” an accelerated drop tower dark ride featuring ghosts in America. I explained in my thesis how it would need to be changed to “The Evermore Tower” at the Asia-based theme park. In general, it is not appropriate in Chinese culture to portray ghosts in the same manner that the U.S. does, and the theme park ride would not have been popular. Thus, Disney’s story concept for the ride was altered with new culture-conscious characters. Despite the cultural differences at Disneylands around the world, they all still manage to evoke the same key themes of discovery, adventure, and exploration. No matter the location and no matter the culture, it is a theme park designer’s duty to create immersive experiences that are enjoyable for everyone. 

The Rise of Mixed-use

In the U.S., theme parks are fun destinations that usually stand alone. Visitors do not expect much else in the area. In contrast, theme parks in China are becoming more intertwined with mixed-use developments and commercial real estate centers. While this real estate trend is also emerging in the U.S., as exemplified by the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey, it is much more established across Asia. For instance, elements of theme parks are incorporated into all types of projects in China including Ocean Flower Island, Fairytale World theme parks, Wanda Movie Park, and OCT theme parks and resorts. 

In contrast, Chinese developments usually share one main objective: to sell condos and apartments and generally boost property value in the surrounding areas. This is because housing is always a priority in China due to the massive population and lucrative real estate market that investors are eager to fund. In order to increase their own profits, developers are pressured to make their projects stand out from competing developments so that people readily buy units in them. One strategy to appeal to more Chinese buyers includes the use of theme park elements and attractions. People want to live in or own real estate at popular destinations or in close proximity to them. Entertainment solutions greatly contribute to making developments and otherwise unnoteworthy locations into fun destinations. As the combination of mixed-use and theme entertainment expands in both China and U.S. markets, it will be important to monitor how these trends develop and grow. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Guide to Windows Backups: The Task Everyone Should Take, But No One Really Does



While a data protection and backup strategy for a corporate enterprise like ITEC Entertainment is very comprehensive in nature, there are measures most any Windows user can take to better protect their data. 

It happens to everyone. You work on a document for hours and forget to save it. Then, the document gets mistakenly erased and you have to painstakingly start all over. This is especially tragic in ITEC Entertainment’s line of work, where each document could contain hundreds of hours of work from theme park and attraction design to engineering and architectural concepts. As an IT Manager, when these situations happen, my first question is: “Do you have a backup?”  More often than not the answer is “no.” At ITEC, I work to make sure that the answer is always “yes.” By staying on top of this simple housekeeping task, our company is able to stay at the forefront of innovation and ensure all our work is safeguarded. Below are suggestions for creating your own personal, data protection strategy – whether for at home or for your office workstation.


Update and Security Systems


The easiest step to set up is already built into your Windows 10. It’s on your Windows settings under the icon “Update and Security.”
















Flash Drive versus Cloud Storage


Depending on the amount of data you have, you can start with something as small as a flash drive, but, if you have large picture archives or video, you should consider a more sizeable storage of an external hard drive backup.  You can easily pick one of these up for close to $59.00 that will include several terabytes of storage, which will likely be more than plenty for your average user.  Once connected, you will see the following options show up:






















Here you can choose what folders you want to backup and how often you want the backup to reoccur. Windows 10 already has some common folders pre-selected for you to conduct the backup.

While an external drive is always the convenient setup for a quick restore of your files, external drives do fail every so often. The next option, while it is a paid option, will give you more versatility and peace of mind.  Cloud storage has been around for a while and Windows 10 comes with one already built in called OneDrive.  There are other options such as Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive, but for simplicity sake, we will use OneDrive since it is already ready to go.  

OneDrive comes in two flavors: personal or business.  Microsoft offers 5GB of storage free to try it out on the personal account (which we will use in this example), but signing up for Office 365 is required for commercial use.  The OneDrive personal plan comes with different options, so if you decide to use it as your cloud storage it can be molded according to the amount of storage you need.  While the name of the service is the same, the personal version allows you to sync pictures to the cloud storage from your mobile device automatically, while the business account does not.

Setting up OneDrive


To launch OneDrive, it is as easy as typing “OneDrive” on the search bar or scrolling down the windows menu until you find it.  


















Here you can log in with your personal account or create one.  OneDrive will then create a new folder for you under “C:\Users\YourUserName\OneDrive,” which you can find after the setup under File Explorer on the left-hand side of the File Explorer Window.  























The next window will have folders you can sync with your PC.  The folders showing will be pre-generated and you can customize them as needed.  Once the wizard is completed, whichever folder you put into OneDrive will automatically sync with the cloud and can be accessed from another PC, the web, and even your mobile phone!  Even if previously synced files are accidentally deleted, OneDrive will keep them for 30 days.  The clear advantage of the cloud is the versatility of reaching your storage no matter where you are, keeping files safe and protected from deletion.


While there are plenty of other ways to keep your files safe, I hope this tidbit of information will help prevent both personal and work disasters now and in the future.

Friday, September 14, 2018

ITEC Entertainment Strengthens Entertainment Technology Division with Three New Hires Amidst Sector Growth

Adds Mark Salchli as Director of Engineering; David Cline as Director of Sustaining Engineering & Manufacturing; Mike Rives as Attraction Technical Design Director


ORLANDO, Fla. (September 11, 2018) – ITEC Entertainment Corporation, an industry leader of worldwide entertainment solutions, today announced three new additions to its team, hiring Mark Salchli as Director of Engineering, David Cline as Director of Sustaining Engineering & Manufacturing, and Mike Rives as Attraction Technical Design Director, to further strengthen the Entertainment Technology division of the company. Their expertise in building the complex technological backbone and technical elements of theme park rides and attractions will help drive new business for ITEC and ensure clients surpass safety standards.

Mark Salchli brings over 25 years of experience to the company as an innovative and highly accomplished director in disciplines such as engineering, safety, resource management, and team development. At ITEC, Mark is responsible for all stages of design for various control systems required to safely operate an attraction from inception through final construction and customer acceptance. His team works collaboratively with ITEC’s fabrication and installation teams to integrate the control systems within each location. Mark’s work also includes leading extensive training with clients to ensure that attractions are operated and maintained for maximum enjoyment and minimal downtime.

David Cline has nearly 20 years of professional experience in entertainment technologies such as audio, video and projection, including 12 years with The Walt Disney Company. Under David’s supervision, his team manufactures the various entertainment systems that are designed and engineered by ITEC. Once manufactured, David’s team interconnects the systems for extensive factory testing and installs the equipment in the attractions. David’s team is also responsible for client-side sustaining engineering support, as well as annual maintenance services for the systems.


Mike Rives has over 35 years of experience in developing entertainment technology systems and elements for attractions, as well as managing the technical design teams. Mike is responsible for overseeing ITEC’s Technical Directors that are tasked with leading the overall technical design of the attractions, ensuring that all technology is customized to the needs of the attraction and the facilities are appropriately designed to support the technology. Mike’s team is also in charge of special effects design and integration, show action equipment, and animated figures for the attractions, whether done in-house or subcontracted to specialty vendors. The Technical Directors collaborate closely with the ITEC engineering team and subcontracted vendors to ensure all the entertainment technologies work together perfectly in the attraction. Prior to ITEC Entertainment, Mike spent 15 years as a Telecommunications Manager at AT&T, and 15 years working as Technical Director for various themed entertainment companies including Universal Studios Florida, Japan, and Hollywood.

“Theme parks and attractions are increasing in immersion, spectacle, and complexity, and thus require constant improvement to the technological systems and innovation that bring these elements to life,” said Steve Alkhoja, Executive Vice President of Entertainment Technologies at ITEC Entertainment. “Mark, David and Mike will be instrumental in maintaining our dominant position in the market for developing the most flexible and cost-effective solutions that are safe, sustainable, and keeping pace with park operator needs.”

ITEC’s Entertainment Technologies division develops the technical design, media production, systems engineering manufacturing for many iconic attractions around the world, including Fast & Furious – Supercharged and Harry Potter – Escape from Gringotts in Universal Studios Florida.

For more information on ITEC Entertainment and their latest design and engineering projects, visit ITEC.com. 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.

ITEC ENTERTAINMENT APPOINTS JESSICA MCNAULL AS VP OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT


Ex-PicSolve International Exec to Lead New Global Relationships Expansion



ITEC Entertainment Corporation, an industry leader of worldwide entertainment solutions, hires Jessica McNaull as the Vice President of Business Development. Jessica brings over 18 years of combined experience working in themed entertainment and development industries. Her amusement park industry expertise includes collaborating with intellectual properties (IPs) and brands, fostering integration, creating successful retail initiatives, and bringing client visions for projects to life from concept through execution.

Jessica is driving new global business and project efforts for ITEC, generating revenue growth to meet or surpass company goals and objectives. Her international network and involvement with unique projects in entertainment technology and processes, guest experience theory, and innovative retail technologies add significant value to the company.


“Jessica’s experience and expertise in the themed entertainment industry lends itself perfectly to the blend of creative design and technical work that we do everyday,” said ITEC President and CEO, Bill Coan. “She is a tremendous asset as we continue to grow our business in theme parks and attractions, as well as expanding into new geographies and different types of properties. We have seen a significant uptick in mixed-use projects and other interesting applications for themed entertainment around the world as developers look to differentiate themselves from the competition. We are excited to have an effective leader like Jessica spearhead this initiative for our team.”

Jessica joins ITEC Entertainment from PicSolve International, where she was the VP of North America. Prior to the position, she served as the Director of Operations for their attractions division, driving retail implementation and success for over eighteen accounts throughout North America.

“ITEC Entertainment has an incredible reputation within the themed entertainment industry for their ability to create grand properties and experiences from concept through development,” said Jessica. “I look forward to working with the team and its developers around the globe to help build new relationships and demonstrate the unique capabilities that ITEC can provide them through these partnerships.”

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.