An insider's look at the new world's fair: Shanghai World Expo 2010
By Robert NilesThe next "world's fair," Shanghai's World Expo 2010, opens on Saturday (May 1, 2010) and Bob Rogers, the award-winning theme park attraction designer who leads BRC Imagination Arts, the design team behind the USA pavilion, took a few moments last week to answer some questions for Theme Park Insider about the process of creating a World Expo pavilion.
Published: April 28, 2010 at 1:46 PM
It used to be that we described Walt Disney World's Epcot as a "permanent world's fair," but I find that I now often describe Expos as "temporary Epcots," with their international and corporate pavilions. Expos long have provided a type of sandbox for theme park designers; several popular Disney attractions - It's a Small World, Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln - first saw light as exhibits at the 1964 Expo in New York.
The USA Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 takes visitors on a virtual trip to the United States through four show spaces. A pre-show welcome overture leads visitors into a three-screen film presentation on "The Spirit of America." From there, visitors enter the third show space, "The Garden," where they'll watch an "urban fairy tale" about a girl transforming an empty lot into a garden. This
On the set of the USA Pavilion film, Creative Leader Greg Lombardo, USA Pavilion Commissioner General Jose Villarreal, actress Rain Spencer, and Bob Rogers. Photo courtesy BRC Imagination Arts.
Theme Park Insider: What are some of the differences between designing for a World Expo and for a theme park?
Bob Rogers: The first big difference between a theme park and an expo is like the difference between a textbook and a blog. One must last; the other is completely now. A theme park attraction or major museum must stand 10, 15 or 20 years without requiring much of an update. Examples: BRC's Mystery Lodge at Knott's Berry Farm has been deeply resonating with guests for 16 years now. You achieve this by focusing on deep human issues that never get old. On the other hand a world expo pavilion plays for only six months. As a result you can be much more in the moment and immediately contemporary in thought and style.
Bob Rogers: BRC Imagination Arts has now conceived, designed, created and produced 11 pavilion shows and consulted on a dozen or so more all over the world. That experience has taught us that every expo is different but there are recurring aspects. Like every expo, Expo 2010 has had its own unique challenges. The USA Pavilion got off to an impossibly late start with a low budget. Lots of doomsayers claimed it could not be done in time. A year ago we proved to ourselves on paper that it could not be done in time. So, in an American tradition worthy of the USA Pavilion, we said "Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!" Impossible or not, we decided to get it open on time anyway. It has been an amazing come-from-behind story that plays out right up until a few moments before the ribbon cutting.
Bob Rogers: The principles of storytelling are timeless. The tools for delivering stories are ever-changing. Fresh delivery technology brings new energy to everything we do.
Here's where the LED's come in: An "out-glow" of LED lighting trims each of the screens, allowing us to change the color of the out-glow and turn it on/off or fade it scene by scene, shot by shot and cut by cut. Using about 100 programmed lighting cues PER MINUTE, the experience becomes a high-tech programmed light show worthy of a rock concert.
This BRC-designed ICT Mobile Device is all new, created only for this pavilion. (ICT stands for Information Communications Technology.) Every visitor to the Pavilion gets to borrow their own device which accompanies them throughout the various stages of the Pavilion exhibits and shows, allowing them to personalize their experience and to interact with what they see. In some areas guests personalize their experience by making selections using the touch screen. In other areas of the pavilion, as users see things that interest them, they swipe the device over the target and it collects that dream so they can learn more about it later at home. Or they take a picture. When the guest returns their device at the exit, their experience is downloaded and is transformed into a personal Web page for each guest which the guest can later access to retrieve their photos and to interact with other visitors who share their dreams. (In case you were wondering, no personal information is collected. Guests make-up a username and a numeric password to later access their individual page.)
The technology needed to do this is only just now available. In order to keep pace with the huge flow of traffic into the Pavilion – about 2,600 visitors an hour, and 30,000 per day – there will be 8,000 ICT Mobile Devices on hand at the Pavilion, with 2,600 simultaneously active at any given time.
This is another example of amplifying classic, timeless storytelling through the new possibilities of emerging technology. The device brings the story and its messages to life, allowing huge numbers of visitors to take part in the show while receiving information in real time about what interests them most. This is mass-customization applied to experience design. The result is a magical experience that combines the most state-of-the-art ICT technology with a spellbinding story that will stay in the visitors' hearts long after they have left the Pavilion. That's a combination that we always look for at BRC.
Oh, and of course the device also does the other things you would expect, such as deliver the presentation in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean.
Theme Park Insider: What are some of the other pavilions at the Expo that you've been looking forward to seeing, as a visitor?
Bob Rogers: I look forward to the entire expo. A world's fair is an advance laboratory of creative and technical ideas for our industry. Expo pavilions try things. Some work, some fail but they all give you great ideas for your next project.
Bob Rogers: First, I would plan to spend at least a week seeing all of Expo. A world's fair is here today and then gone forever. After that, there are theme parks here. But China itself is at the dawn of a golden era. See China.
Update from Robert: Here's a new photo of The Garden theater, just released by the USA Pavilion:
Bob also sent along this photo of Gate 8 at the Expo.
And I thought the Magic Kingdom entrance gates were big! And this is just one of the entry gates. How big will the Expo be? Bob wrote: "On the last Sunday before opening they had over 300,000 people on site – just a very 'light crowd' to help them test for Soft Opening. I am told that for Grand Opening (May 1) they plan to limit the crowd to between 500,000 and 600,000 guests, just to play it safe."
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