How Does a Theme Park Ride Come to Life?

April 19, 2022, 5:12 PM · Like with so many creative arts, theme park attractions come to life only through a team effort. But how do those teams come together?

Even big companies like Disney and Universal often call upon specialists from outside businesses when developing their theme park attractions. For smaller parks, assembling the right team of third parties is essential for developing a competitive new attraction. While trade shows such as IAAPA's allow clients to meet representatives from hundreds of companies serving the themed entertainment industry, each of those businesses is isolated in its own booth. There's no way to see how they work together.

For that, it's time to enter the Attractions Technology Lab.

Say what? Essentially, this is a collaborative pop-up from several leading themed entertainment contractors, designed to show how they can work together to provide attraction solutions for parks of any size and budget.

Alcorn McBride Inc. Chief Operating Officer Loren Barrows yesterday walked me through a preview of this week's Attractions Technology Lab, which is running today and tomorrow at Garner Holt Productions' facility in Redlands, Calif.

Dark Ride Lab
The Dark Ride Lab at the Attractions Technology Lab inside the Garner Holt Productions shop

In the Dark Ride Lab (above), a motion base vehicle from Oceaneering stands below a Christie projection system, next to an animatronic from Garner Holt Productions and a bank of show control systems from Weigl Control and Alcorn McBride. Everything's out in the open, so that Lab participants can see these systems working in real time.

Barrows invited me to climb aboard for a demonstration, for which I did not hesitate. I put on a pair of 3D glasses, pulled down the lap bar and enjoyed a showing of Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Battle for Eire, here rendered beautifully and enhanced by the extended motion of the Oceaneering ride vehicle. (The show plays in VR in a flight simulator-type theater in Williamsburg.)

Battle for Eire demonstration
The show, in action

But the real attraction for a theme park insider is to stand to the side and watch the show controls in action.

Show controls
Watching the elements of show control

Ride control
Ride vehicle and control panel

"We're showing how it works," Alcorn McBride Chief Innovation Officer Scott Harkless said. "We're allowing people to walk up to the equipment racks and see what's really going on, what the show control scripts look like, what the animation programming looks like. So it's all front and center - people can see what's really going."

The Lab might look like a theme park attraction - because, functionally, it is - but the purpose here is not to entertain participants with a behind the scenes look at a team working together. It's to help train participants how to put together and worth with such teams. To that end, the Attractions Technology Lab features a schedule of training sessions. Want to learn more about synchronization? Or the Christie Mystique projection mapping software? Or would you like to try programming an animatronic? They're all on the schedule this week.

Barrows said that the Attractions Technology Lab partners also are reaching out to K-12 and college educators to provide instruction to students. We walked through Garner Holt Productions' training space that welcomes many local students to learn about the engineering, science, and artistry behind animatronic development. It's not just about showing the industry how to bring attraction development teams together, but inspiring a new generation to populate those teams, as well.

Look for another Attractions Technology Lab in Orlando this fall, around the annual IAAPA Expo, with the Lab returning to Southern California next spring, timed to the annual TEA Summit at the Disneyland Resort. Additional Lab events may come to other cities, as well, Barrows said. For the latest, follow the Attractions Technology Lab at attractionstechnology.com.

Replies (2)

April 20, 2022 at 10:59 AM

Several years ago, I took Steve Alcorn’s course on Theme Park Engineering which dealt with pretty much the same concepts mentioned here. From blue sky to finished product, we learned all the disciplines involved from show building construction, show control, safety, lighting and sound etc… it was a lot of fun and each student had to create their own “theoretical” show and deal with all the logistics and unexpected pitfalls.

I enjoyed it so much, I bought several pieces of Alcorn-McBride show equipment to learn the programming language and experimented on making my own mini shows. While I did successfully build my own animatronic talking and singing Figment from Epcot’s Journey into Imagination (basically a plush Figment with a frame I built and installed servos inside), I was never able to find an affordable motion base that could hold one or two people to build what I REALLY wanted....ahhhh maybe one day, all homes can have a motion simulator in their basement! :)

April 20, 2022 at 11:31 AM

Hi Sarah! Great to hear about how you enjoyed imagineeringclass, and that you've incorporated theme park tech into your own classroom! Best Wishes, Steve.

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