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An insider's Q&A with Manta's design director, Brian Morrow

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Published: May 8, 2009 at 1:52 PM

Brian MorrowSeaWorld Orlando's new Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster, Manta, is up and running now to rave reviews. This week, Theme Park Insider readers submitted questions for Brian Morrow, Director of Design and Engineering at SeaWorld Orlando. Our thanks to Brian and the crew at SeaWorld for taking the time to respond.

Q: What was the thought process of the creative team that led to the idea of a manta ray-themed coaster? Does the ride itself have an actual story (like Kraken and Journey to Atlantis do)?

A: The flying coaster experience - the feeling of flying - was a natural fit to support a SeaWorld ride because we always want our shows, attractions and ride to get back to our core - the mysteries of the sea. It truly was a natural fit (rays "fly" underwater) and very easy to communicate visually which is the international language of our guests.

The ride's top line creative feel is to go from "from seeing to being." At the minimum we want our guests to be inspired by the ocean we all share, be amazed at the underwater acrobatics of the rays and then experience that flight under the wings of the grandest ray of them all -- the manta.

However these mega attractions need to have long life as they are large investments for Seaworld. To do this we lay in multiple story threads throughout the attraction that act as creative guides to help us make decisions along the design process. These threads will unfold to guests as they experience the attraction multiple times.

The Manta attraction does have a back-story however it is told visually not verbally:

Manta is located in the Lost Cay, a private cay off the coast of Key West where locals, artists and travels can escape from the busy streets of Key West. Here at the Lost Cay they can become reconnected and inspired by the ocean and the natural world we all share. At the Lost Cay man and nature are in perfect balance as indicated by the architecture of the cay which is nestled into the natural landscape and waterfalls.

Others before us have traveled to the lost cay and became inspired by the majesty of the sea and interpreted their inspirations in various art forms including sand sculpture, mosaic tile, rock carvings, music, written word and glass. Even the light fixtures and handrails have been inspired by the sea.

The ultimate manifestation of this inspiration is the Manta where we can fly and soar over the land and the sea under the wings of the magnificent Manta ray. From seeing to being...... diving deep and flying high.

While in the queue and aquarium keep an eye for these works of art, Shamu even makes an appearance a few times amongst a large collection of rays and other creatures. I give you one hint to find a ray sculpture:

Once you pass under the waterfall of the entry grotto you'll travel over a wooden bridge. Look to your left on the beach. There you will find a ray sand sculpture on the shore, complete with sea glass and shell details. Notice the footprints and hand marks in the sand. The artists working on the project really walked in the wet plaster and made the sand sculpture out of concrete while barefoot!

Q: Did anything about Kraken inspire you while you were designing Manta?

A: We learned from Kraken that guests do relate and appreciate the clever integration of the ride within the landscape and the setting in the park. These unique elements make the our coasters and rides very special to our guests. Also Kraken has pacing between large ride elements which was also duplicated at Manta allowing the guests to digest the large elements before entering the next.

Q: How do you go about trying to make this or any coaster unique from others already built aside from the theming?

A: The location of the coaster and it's interaction with the park and non riding guests is key. If Manta was simply sitting in the parking lot the ride experience would be severely degraded. However we're always focused on creating unique and special attractions (as our guests expect it) so we developed various ideas that would place Manta on the most do list of any vacationer to Orlando. The wing dip effect and the water fall near miss (AKA manta kiss) are probably the two most notable ride elements. However the entire attraction experience from the entry plaza, queue, stairs, loading platform and exit path all work together to make this flying coaster the most unique in the world.

Q: Were there any difficulties to designing a coaster where its queue would be an attraction itself? What standout creatures I should look forward to seeing?

A: The most complicated aspect of the Manta design was the site restraints. The site is located smack dab in the center of the park. We had to ensure the impact to the front gate experience of the park would not be degraded by the coaster. Great care was taken to create a ride layout that would compliment the front gate of the park but yet still deliver huge flying coaster thrills. When you see Manta, you'll notice the large ride elements are all located to back of the site and the unique lower elements are all at the front of the park, this was no accident.

The interior queue and non ride aquarium attractions (really two attractions in one building) are very complex. We are the first coaster in the world to have life support systems for the habitats located under the coaster station! The majority of the facility guests never see, there even is an entire second floor to the main show building dedicated to animal support. So while you are walking along the queue think of all the staff working above you to ensure you get the best experience possible!

A couple notable animals you'll encounter include the amazing Shark Ray also known as the Bow Mouth Guitar Fish. She is in the main ray tank most easily seen the cathedral cave viewing area of the queue. The fresh water rays found just before the stairs up to the Manta are my favorites, watch how differently they swim when compared to the salt water rays.

In the non rider experience look for the Giant Pacific Octopus, he or she (we don't know yet) can actually solve puzzles and open jars! The leafy and weedy sea dragons are also a top pick for amazing animals to watch and learn about.

Q: How does the lie-down dynamic change the safety tests performed? Does it affect the maximum allowable G-forces on the body? Also, what is the standard Safety Factor for a roller coaster like Manta? This one's a bit of a nerdy engineer question, but I'm curious.

A: Answered by Mike Denninger Dir of Corp Rides and Maintenance

While the prone ("flying") riding position of Manta puts riders in an orientation that differs from many other coasters, it does not alter the orientation of the axes by which biodynamic accelerations are measured.

Great second question! The "flying" riding position of Manta reveals that the accelerations traditionally experienced by a rider on a sit down coaster like Kraken, are experienced quite differently when "flying" on Manta. For example, at the bottom of Kraken's large initial loop (after the first drop) a vertical acceleration in the rider's "eyes-down" or "z" direction is experienced. This makes the rider "feel" like they are "heavy". Now comparing to Manta, at the bottom of the dive loop (after the initial drop), a similar vertical acceleration as on Kraken is experienced, but this time the rider is "flying" on their back at the bottom of the loop, and the acceleration is experienced in the "eyes-back" or "x" direction by the rider. So instead of "feeling" heavy, the rider experiences a unique feeling of being "pulled" into the back of their seat. You might relate this feeling to that of accelerating in your automobile on the highway, and being pushed into the back of your seat. As you can see, this rotational difference of the coordinate system results in the need to review biodynamic measurements differently for a "flying" coaster like Manta than for another coaster like Kraken.

With regard to maximum allowable G-forces, ASTM International has published a Standard that details the specifics of acceleration limits for all types of rides and we always adhere to all standards.

Bolliger and Mabillard Consulting Engineers Inc., the same team of engineers and designers that worked on Montu, SheiKra, Griffon, Apollo's Chariot and other world class coasters in our parks, performed the engineering, design, and fabrication work for Manta. While Manta is a uniquely SeaWorld attraction, it is first a very safely-designed attraction. In addition to the exceptional engineering, calculations, and design work required to fabricate and construct Manta, sufficient safety factors were applied in all respects to the many systems operating on this great ride.

Q: Is the entire course filled with sand? Was the decision to utilize sand based on the ride experience or complaints from park neighbors?

A: Only the rails of Manta are filled with sand. This makes the coaster a bit louder than kraken as we wanted the ride to sound like a coaster. However we did not want it too loud to distract from the overall park experience. The riders are actually the loudest part of the ride...and we love to hear them scream!

Q: Is there a platform below the coaster on the lift hill? If not, how do they let people off if they needed to evac the train if it got stuck?

A: There is an evacuation platform located at the bottom of the lift (it's the gray colored device right at the base of the lift). Having the mobile platform allows the riders to have a clear view down as they climb the lift. You'll notice on Manta our riders actually start to scream as they climb the lift due to the visual fear of climbing higher and higher while face down under the Manta wings...its really a great part of the ride.

Q: Why did you decide to enter this industry and how did you get involved?

A: I can't remember a time when I did not want to work in the theme park industry. However I thought what I wanted to do was design roller coasters, but I learned quickly that what I really wanted to do was design attractions that create unique and special memories.

My first job in the industry was as a food service safety intern at Six Flags AstroWorld. I took the job just to get my foot in the door, soon I moved to operations then to park design, all as in intern. Having the front line theme park experience is critical to success in the industry as our projects are not always rides we design restaurants, shows, animal habitats, retail venues even bathrooms. Having that front line experience as a team member always serves me well while working on new projects.

Q: Now that Manta is finished, what's next for SeaWorld Orlando?

A: Our department, Design and Engineering, is lucky to work in three of the Worlds of Discovery theme parks including SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. With three world class parks we always have new projects in design. Of course I can't tell you about any of them but keep a watch for new construction walls throughout all the Worlds of Discovery parks in Orlando.

Readers' Opinions

From Corey Romberg on May 8, 2009 at 6:01 PM
Thanks for answering those questions Mr. Morrow! (mine was first! haha) It is refreshing to see a non-Disney park pay attention to theme and back-story, instead of just designing a coaster for pure thrills...it seems amazing and I cant wait to ride it sometime this month!!
From Joshua Counsil on May 8, 2009 at 6:27 PM
Thanks for getting the attractions director to answer that question. Manta seems to be a nice addition to the recent onslaught of GOOD coasters in Orlando.
From James Rao on May 8, 2009 at 9:21 PM
Great interview, although he completely (and understandably) side-stepped my question...
From Don Neal on May 9, 2009 at 10:57 AM
Great interview. Thanks Robert! and to Brian Morrow!
From Wok Creative on May 10, 2009 at 10:46 PM
Thanks. Great questions and interview. Can anyone add to the sand issue? If the rails are filled with sand, does the extra weight affect the engineering calculations? Is it only there to make it louder?
Can't wait to get down there and see/ride this one.

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