Behind the scenes with the creator of Efteling's new Symbolica ride

July 9, 2017, 10:45 PM · At the press launch for Symbolica at Efteling, I had the chance to speak with the attraction's lead designer Sander de Bruijn and Karin Koppelmans of the park's communications and PR department. In our quick chat, we covered the ride's development, its use of ride technology, and how Efteling builds original worlds for its attractions.

Ben: Sander, how long have you worked at Efteling? How long has the ride been in development?

Sander: I've worked here since 2005 as a designer. I worked with the founding father of [the ride's main character] Pardoes, Henny Knoet, since then to create the world of Symbolica. That was a very special period for me. Unfortunately he died, but for three years we've continued to develop the world and story of Symbolica, and now we are here, almost at the opening.

Ben: So am I right in thinking that it evolved from what was previously known as Hartenhof?

Sander: Yes. So first you had the world of Symbolica [as conceived by Knoet], and then you've got the in-between, Hartenhof, and now you've got the Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy ride.

Ben: Why did you decide on using trackless ride technology?

Sander: We liked it from other rides, and we liked the scale of it. Because it's a six-person ride, it's a perfect ride to experience with your family. It's cosy and not too big – it's not a huge experience, it's small and compact – and I think that's perfect for a fairytale fantasy ride. That kind of fantasy comes to life on a six-person ride better than for eighteen people. So I think this is more to the heart of our guests.

Ben: Were there any challenges to working with this technology?

Sander: Absolutely! You've got three tours – sometimes you are together, and sometimes you are apart. But when you are together, then you want to give the best experience for all three tours. At some times you are the first visitor in the scene, and at some times you are the last. That has to fit in the best way, and I think it's a challenge to make that the best experience – these are scenes with shows within the scenes. And it's totally different for instance than Carnaval Festival or Droomvlucht [an omnimover and Pirates-style towboat ride] that are on-going shows.

Ben: Was all the work done in-house, or did you work with other companies?

Sander: The design of the experience is an in-house job, but the animatronics for instance are from Garner Holt. We worked together with other companies, but the whole IP and the ideas behind why we do the things we do – that's from Efteling.

Ben: I loved the interactivity – using on-board touchpads to have an effect on things within the scenes. Was it quite an early decision in the process to use that idea?

Sander: Yes, it was from the beginning. It was a wish to do something with interactivity, to make it for children or for families that they have a connection with the scenery. And to make it so you feel special in the ride – that you do something and it reacts – and you feel involved in the whole experience.

Ben: Lots of parks around the world use characters from books, films, TV shows, famous characters – but what I love is that at Efteling you create your own worlds. Can you speak a little about why that's important to you as a designer, and what are the benefits of that?

Sander: For the Efteling, it's very important that we create our own fairytale worlds, with our characters and our own specialities. And this is a new example of it. For us it's very good that we develop it by ourselves because for 65 years, from Anton Pieck and the other designers, it's been very important that it's all connected together. When you buy an IP, like Marvel for instance, then you don't have the connection. It's another world, you buy it. And now we can make the connections between all the other dark rides, all the other characters, and I think that's very special for Efteling.

Ben: Do you think that will continue? That you'll continue to develop your own world and your own characters?

Sander: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's what we've done for 65 years. Sometimes our own stories – like Symbolica is our own story – but the heart and the soul of Efteling is fairytales. So it's always a connection with fairytale stories or fairytale-like stories. And that's very special for Efteling.

Karin: It's not just the Fairytale Forest [an historic part of the park featuring dioramas and shows], but we bring the legends out into big rides, like Baron 1898 is a legend. It's not maybe so well known – the 'white women' are the keepers of the land, and they make sure that the land is not robbed of the gold. They want to try to stop you from getting the gold. But that's [how we do it] – we know the story, we have an idea about a new ride, and we put the two together.

Ben: Efteling is something that seems to be handed down from parents to children, and when they grow up they hand it down to their children. It's part of the identity – that's brilliant, and rare in this industry. Obviously Symbolica is a big investment for the park. Do you see this as reaching a wider audience outside the Netherlands?

Karin: No, we want to reach a wider audience with all our rides. It was just time for us to build a new dark ride. We asked the people what they want, we looked to ourselves and said what are we missing, what is a good addition? So there are multiple factors that make a decision.

Sander: Our last dark ride was almost 25 years ago. We are so proud of our dark rides, and we were in love with the ideas and with the opportunity to make a new dark ride.

Karin: And dark rides are most often so expensive because you need to build the whole house, and the foundation etc, and then comes the Efteling part in all the details and the feeling – and what you [Sander] are so good at! [They laugh.]

Ben: One final question, for both of you – what's your favourite moment in the attraction?

Karin: That's impossible to answer! There's so much to see, and I want to stay everywhere longer because I see so much. I think that's what I like – that you can look everywhere and be amazed and think... [pretends to gasp in delight]. I've done all the routes a few times, and I see new things every time. That's what I love.

Sander: Last week we had 50 school children for tests with the experience. They give so much energy back to the ride, they were so happy and enthusiastic. So that was for me a very special moment, that so many people were so excited to ride it – and wanted to ride it over again.

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