To Screen or Not to Screen? That is the Question, for Theme Parks and for Fans
Great theme park attractions often employ fresh technology. Motion simulators have become a staple in the industry, and for the past few years interaction between the passenger and the ride have become more and more prevalent, which can be quite exciting! One thing many simulator and interactive rides have in common is they rely heavily on screens. Given the pace that film and display technology have advanced throughout the past decade or so, can these simulators and new shooting rides ever reach a legendary status like the rides of old? I thought it would be fun to look at the pros and cons of the digital ride age which is upon us.
When I think of the most iconic dark rides, my mind always travels right to Disney. Say the name "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Haunted Mansion" to a park enthusiast, and you'll see their face light up with excitement. Within moments they start to pine for the day they can board their ship or doom buggies once more. These rides and others, such as Space Mountain, Peter Pan's Flight, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, all have enjoyed decades of popularity, and Disney still relies heavily on them as drawing cards to their Magic Kingdoms.
These rides all share a foundation built on physical elements. The limitations of technology from the period in which they were created made Imagineers build the whole illusion into physical worlds we could immerse ourselves within. Would you feel the same if you were staring at HD screens when the boat drops into the first scene on "Pirates"? If it was made today, that might probably be a likely scenario.
On the other hand, who's to say that's bad? If it were done convincingly, it could be quite exhilarating. In a lot of ways, these changes from physical thrills to digital ones mirror the movie industry. Both rely on fantastic special effects, and more and more in the film industry we see physical effects getting swapped out for computer graphics. Some of the new rides have beautiful, giant projections that look great and get us totally caught in the moment. Most have very long wait times as well, proving their popularity is quite high.
Technology advances. Regardless of where you stand on that issue, it is an inevitability. With simulators you can create the illusion of the thrill for a fraction of the cost of actually creating it. So we pretend to fly through space, or ride broomsticks with Harry Potter, or soar over California's orange groves. And these rides are fun.
But will they be regarded in the same way as the classics 30 years from now? It's hard to say.
If you were to watch a movie made as recently as 2010 now — something heavily reliant on effects — there are quite a few moments you'd wind up thinking the effects were cheap-looking or dated. The technology advances so fast, it's hard for a new sci fi or action movie to look great as the years pile up. That same effect happens on the rides built today. Go from The Gringotts Bank Coaster to Forbidden Journey, and the difference in screen display is noticeable. The new ride looks new; the old ride doesn't look as clear. Not to say that it looks bad, far from it, but it's noticeable. The new versions of Forbidden Journey built around the world have their displays upgraded to 3D from the original, a ride that's not even six years old. As much as I loved the original Star Tours, by the time it closed I thought it was years overdue. (Not updating the cars you ride in to have a bigger screen was a bust in my opinion, but that's a topic for another article).
Perhaps the answer is to constantly upgrade the rides films, as we've seen with The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Star Tours, and we are going to see with Soarin' in Epcot. Keep the displays up to date, clear and fresh. Rides go through refurbishment all the time, even the classics. Throw in an exciting new character like Johnny Depp into a classic ride to keep it somewhat fresh.
My own personal taste always goes back towards the classic rides. I enjoy rides like Toy Story Midway Mania and Star Tours, but if I made a trip to Disney and for some reason The Haunted Mansion was closed, I'd be vocally upset. The animatronic world and physical backdrops add so much depth and realism to the world you're trying to get lost in, and as much as the simulator rides are getting better and better they can't have the same effect. One of the reasons I think the new Harry Potter rides are so popular, besides the obvious Potter-mania, is because they do a great job of blending both physical thrill with simulated. The rumors of the new Kong attraction are similar in description, which has me very excited to get my first ride. I hope Disney has a similar approach with its new Star Wars Land.
The first Haunted Mansion opened at Disneyland in 1969, using some old magician tricks to display the physical animatronics in a surreal, transparent way. Forty-six years later, it's a beloved icon of the parks we all love so much. With all the changes in technology, do you think the simulators that are built today will still be in the parks 46 years from now?
Imagine It's A Small World without the animatronic dolls but existing on 3d screens
Dark ride's always show you show scene's. There is always a disconnect from your vehicle and how everything is presented to you. You are never there. Take Haunted Mansion. As soon you get in the ride vehicle you are a spectator, not a participant. Even at the end where the ghost get into the vehicle you spectate that.
Actually the movies are trending back to using practical effects. Not saying technology is still majorly used but they can't be primary as CG isn't always believable. Many Star Wars fans are hoping for this in the upcoming movie. I personally believe practical sets are better for sure in rides and definitely help balance movies.
Those old Disney rides were expensive, and are continually expensive to upkeep - if upkeep happens regularly and properly at all. But they can never replicate the high-speed action, or over-the-top moments, of Transformers or Forbidden Journey. The expense of building a detailed set and rushing you through a scene quickly would be lost.
Let's be clear. Universal has a different strategy than Disney. Film based attractions works better for Universal. Disney can have a mixed approach. This doesn't mean Universal won't use animatronics. They used it to some extent in Diagon Alley. Universal uses dinosaur animatronics in Jurassic Park river adventure. It seems like practical effects depends on the attraction. Disney will have more film based attractions for Avatar and Star Wars. The Little Mermaid was almost all animatronics expect for a few animated sections.
I don't really see it as Disney vs Universal, both parks use a lot of screens with their newer attractions, and other company's use them as well. I love both parks, nor do I don't hate screens, Sometimes they are a great fit. There are great uses for it and bad ones too. If you read the amount of money they spent on Mission Space to have it look as dated as it does now, you have to figure these talks go on in the industry as well
I will always find real sets and AAs to be more impressive to me than watching video on a screen (and I say that as somebody who considers Spider-Man to be the greatest ride of all time), simply because - rightly or wrongly - I think screens can become a crutch that designers go to when actually doing it "for real" would be too difficult. When I'm on a ride, I prefer to physically move through real sets and see actual, physical things in front of my eyes, rather than watching a ride film.
I think screens are a good thing when used appropriately, and I have no objection to using them to depict something that would be impractical to do with practical effects. However, screens will never give the same experience as a ride that is all practical effects. With practical effects, you feel like you are in the middle of the action, while with screens, no matter how well they are blended into the scene, I've always felt I was watching the action from the sidelines. Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean...if these rides were simply screens they would be average rides instead of being the best in the world. For motion simulators and interactive attractions, screens make sense, but for everything else I would rather have a practical set with limited (if any) screen usage.
In reference to screen rides, you write: "Most have very long wait times as well, proving their popularity is quite high."
I think it's silly to make an argument for screens or not screens. Ride developers must use the technology at their disposal to make for the most compelling ride experience possible. This may include practical effects or it may include screen effects, but it's the balance that makes it work. I have ridden rides that employ all animatronics that bored me to death, and I have ridden rides with all screens that fell flat. And 50 years from now, when children have grown up loving screens as a technology, the next big thing will come along and we will argue whether or not it amplifies the ride experience or not. The most important thing is to tell the story, and the rest solves itself. Spiderman is not a great attraction simply because it balances screens and practical effects so well; it is a great attraction because it's the most fun I've ever had on a ride.
Oh, I agree, that statement is merely reflecting that the general population hasn't shown an issue with screen based rides. This includes older ones, Soarins been in Epcot for over 10 years and the lines get up to 120 minutes often. Some of the older screen based attractions have definitely not maintained waits like the classics, which is what made me think to write the article. I loved radiator springs, great ride, and I bet people are gonna love it for many years, fantastic blend of immersive physical backdrops with thrills.
I go to a theme park to be immersed in a physical fantasy environment. I can get a screen based CG environment at home on my game console or at the local multi-plex.
I love simulator rides and I don't see why they won't remain classics as long as they are constantly updated. Screen based rides are amazing, but I wish my home park, USH, would have more physical props. Spiderman won the best attractions award every year and showed how great a screen based ride truly can be.
I think screens and animatronics are not exclusive. Mystic Manor in HK Disneyland use both to great effects.
Digital animation in movies or rides is the same. It should be used only when the real practical effects are too difficult or impractical to use. Rides like Despicable me and Simpson's are just lazy and cheap imo. They should have been Disney style dark rides.
I think it's good to have a mix, though I think the use of 3-D is getting out of control. I still think one of Disney's most immersive rides is Mission: Space (I still have yet to figure out why this attraction doesn't connect with guests). You are sitting inside a practical set that looks and feels like a space capsule, and the projections right in front of you fill in the rest of what would be impossible to pull off with practical effect or animatronics. The idea is to make the experience as real as possible, and even if the ride mechanism allowed for the capsule to move past practical scenes (like Nemo's Submarine Voyage), the screens offer a better solution to moving slowly past relatively static scenes.
I personally like MIB the best because it's a huge ride with lots of detail and changing scenes that has a lot of hidden stuff and it's screen based ending changes every time you go on it.
Another generation coming along folks. Our favorites are old fashion already to some, and obsolete to others. Sad but true.
I'm screened out. And enough with the 3-D glasses already.
I think forbidden journey is the best example in how to make a modern dark ride, they have actual sets and automactronics as much as screens.
As crazy as it is, I wouldn't be surprised if one day they found a way to work your phone into rides, not just treasure hunting apps like they currently have. The one comment above is right, another generation is coming along and most people have a screen in front of their face several hours a day. You'd figure they'd like a break from that to be immersed in a more physical environment, but it's our culture now, like moths to a light....
Spider-Man at IoA I would say is the best dark ride. The moment Spidey jumps on the front of your Scoop might as well be an animatronic it feels that real and draws you in better than Pirates or Pan. It also makes good use of limited set walls.
The key is simply use the technology that best tells the story being told.
I enjoy many screen-based attractions and 3D rides. But lately, Universal has been creating little else, while Disney has offered us more variety. It does look like the upcoming King Kong ride will be a step in the other direction.
Humans are too complex to realistically recreate with audio-animatronics, so "screens" will always be superior to jittery mannequins. The 7dwarves Mine Train hybrid is ideal.
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