Here are some of the endeavors I had the privilege of covering this year that I regard as major milestones for the themed entertainment industry. -- J.R.
1. The USA Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010
In a near-miracle, Nick Winslow and partner Ellen Eliasoph created a worthy US presence at the largest world exposition in history. With the official blessing of the US Department of State, they successfully headed the effort to raise the money and realize and staff and operate (and eventually dispose of) the pavilion - despite formidable odds: no government funds, shrinking time window, recession economy and a sketchy US participation record at past expos. A top design team of expo veterans (including BRC Imagination Arts, Clive Grout Architect and Electrosonic) turned out a first-class show and building, and the pavilion operated efficiently and hospitably to capacity crowds throughout the six months of the event.
2. TEA's SATE Conference comes of age
The Themed Entertainment Association went to a project-centric format for the 4th annual SATE Conference (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, Experience) held in Orlando in September 2010. Conference chairs Larry Tuch and Kile Ozier and their team organized the most compelling SATE meeting so far, with more than 150 attending to hear the inside story from creatives as well as operators on the development of recent successful projects - including Beyond All Boundaries, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Information & Communications Pavilion at Expo 2010, the remade Fort Worth Museum of Science & History and Exploration Space at Kennedy Space Center. Analyzing industry projects using the SATE breakdown is a unique approach that has stood TEA in good stead, promoting fresh thinking and stimulating dialog. 2011 will see another SATE in Orlando in the fall, and the first SATE Europe in the spring.
3. Convergence of digital cinema and giant screen, and the emergence of the digital dome
Facilitated by digital processes, content is now being shared across a network of museums, science centers, planetariums and educational institutions' theaters - including flat screens, 2D and 3D, and domes. The number of digital dome theaters in planetariums alone has burgeoned in a few years to about 700, and it is now seen as inevitable that virtually all planetariums will convert to "fulldome" systems.
The immersive power and the "democracy" of the digital dome were foreseen in this article by giant-screen filmmaker Bayley Silleck, and are being tapped by entertainment markets today as well; high-profile examples include the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios (named for a 2011 Thea Award), Dragons Treasure at City of Dreams (recipient of a 2010 Thea Award) and Marvel Superheroes 4D at Madame Tussauds. Planetariums are starting to expand the way they use digital domes, including live theater productions, and a new trade organization, IMERSA, formed in 2008 to promote the uses of digital dome technology.
4. Museums become experience centers and designers stop hiding their "mouse ears."
Having a theme park or film industry background used to hamper a designer addressing the museum sector, but the stigma has been pretty much eradicated thanks to successful experiential museum projects such as the Abraham Lincoln Museum, the new California Academy of Sciences, CSI: The Experience, the George Washington Education Center and the National World War II Museum. Moreover, Van Romans, the head of the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History is a veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering.
5. Cruise ships set the example for greenbuilding, wayfinding, robustness, self-sufficient operations -- and maintaining the experience bubble. Cruise ships have a strictly limited footprint, a mandate to conserve energy, a harsh operating environment and limited access to outside services. Disparate uses are often cheek-by-jowl and there is minimal margin for error when it comes to design and construction. Modern cruise lines such as Disney Dream serve a family audience that they need to keep happy and occupied for consecutive days and nights. Today's huge new vessels, such as Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Allure rely on extensive digital signage systems to help manage guest traffic and keep passengers oriented and safe. They also boast top of the line entertainment venues and AV systems. Land-based attraction operators and designers would do well to study them.