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Theme park planning is evolving, and design is Increasingly a virtual process, encompassing a wide range of technologies and techniques.  Bill Coan, president and design principal at ITEC Entertainment, speaks to Park World editor Bryony Andrews.

Based in Orlando Florida, the home of theme park entertainment ITEC Entertainment provides professional services in location-based entertainment or themed attraction projects.  “Simply put, we create a story that gives property a purpose, and helps developers plan and execute on that vision to deliver the best guest experiences,” says Coan, “Our expertise ranges from planning and creative, to the design, manufacturing and installation of entertainment technologies, as well as show and ride management.”

Founded in 1985, ITEC initially provided services for entertainment projects for Disney, with the ambition of becoming a full service design and project development firm in the global marketplace.  “In fact, one of our first projects was helping develop the World of Disney in Orlando,” reveals Coan, “While we have achieved an exceeded the initial goals of our company, ITEC has continued to provide a broader range of services to a more diverse client base in regions throughout the world.”

For many of its projects, ITEC Entertainment’s involvement begins in the initial strategic planning and design, and continues all the way through the execution.  Beginning the process in the studios, the work is then completed by a team on site supporting the clients in the construction, installation and commissioning.  “When it comes to construction, sometimes it’s just purely observational, and other times we help manage the on-site workers to ensure that aspects of the park or attraction are built the way the plan intended.”

Changing the game

Master planning of theme parks has evolved throughout ITEC’s 33-year lifetime to encompass an ever growing range of technologies and techniques.  “The nature, intent and application of theme parks has changed over the years, and therefore the designs of major attractions and their content have evolved as well.  While creativity remains paramount, after some 60 years there is an almost accepted design grammar related to theme parks, and more science involved today.”  ITEC’s planning and design process has become almost entirely virtual, Coan explains, incorporating digital modelling, photo-realistic pre-visualizations, and VR fly-throughs that translate to detailed drawings.  “These new technologies save a lot of time for our clients at the beginning of a project, so they can more clearly see changes early on when it’s easier to adjust.”

A recent example of this is the Monkey King attraction designed by ITEC, which is currently under construction in China.  It is a technologically advanced projected media-based ride similar to the Harry Potter ride n Orlando, for which ITEC developed the audio/visual components and technology back-end.  The VR isn’t in the ride itself – ITEC are using it for pre-visualization, to show the developers during the concept and planning stages exactly how the ride will look upon completion.  In general, Coan believes, VR requires a lot more headset maturation before integrating itself further into theme park design.  “Some attractions, like a roller coaster in Sea World, currently use VR to provide immersive imagery as you progress through the movements of the ride.  However, we feel there is more growth potential for Augmented Reality (AR) in the industry.  VR is an excellent personal technology, but theme parks can leverage their large, controlled spaces to deliver more impressive and advanced AR experiences than anyone else.”

Coan confirms that VR and AR, along with branded IP content, admissions, and premium service strategies, are the major trends driving location based entertainment at the moment.  “Parks want to develop experiences that keep patrons immersed in the park, rather than on their phones.

Some developers are also considering how to take people’s personal experiences from home and bring them to parks.  This concept is being discussed in the context of gaming because of the deep investment consumers have with their avatars, although it is still in very early stages.  On the business side, VR is being used in the development of more online content to increase exposure and attract new guests.”

How to engage an audience

Theme parks designs always vary from country to country, ITEC identifies the requirements of each project by looking at a range of factors, such as visitor profiles, ride types and content, revenue options, operation techniques, and the sophistication of technical solutions.

“One of the most common challenges as park designers is determining whether our client wans a regional and culture-specific design, or the ‘best of the West’, which is inspired by the major attractions in the United States,” reveals Coan.  “As we continue to work on more projects around the globe, and some in developing countries, we must be cognizant of our limitations in design.  For example, the predominant source of transportation includes bikes instead of automobiles in some cases.  This means we cannot develop attractions or rides that assume a core competency for driving.  Before beginning any project, we must place ourselves in the daily lives of a locations’ citizens, understand their culture and determine which rides and attractions will fit their day-to-day experiences.”

”VR requires a lot more headset maturation before integrating itself further into theme park design….  We feel there is more potential for Augmented Reality. “

ITEC’s extensive work with the Evergrande Group in China has centred around the development of attractions for “children-oriented, all-indoor, all-season theme parks’ located around the country.  “The target audience is “children-oriented” in China, but realistically you must cater to a family audience that likely includes a child or two and potential for six adults (i.e. two parents and four grandparents),” says Coan.  “You often wind up with more adults than you do children.  For that reason, we design attractions purpose-built for adults to watch their children have fun rather than requiring they all partake on the rides and attractions, because that’s the component of the experience they enjoy.”

He continues: “In terms of developing all-indoor, all-season theme parks, it becomes less park in the traditional sense and more a composition of entertainment venues and themed features.  For one, the guest flow and lack of open spaces is a huge initial challenge.  Decision related to the size, positioning, and relationship of the primary attractions become more consequential than in larger outdoor parks.  Attractions aside, these is a premium on other aspects of an indoor park that most don’t consider.  As an example, retail in outdoor parks has the ability to buy products in enormous bulk orders and store in the back.  Indoor stores must order in less quantity and will require more frequent deliveries.  That difference in capital and operational expenditure defines general challenges to indoor parks.”

Behind the scenes

ITEC provided the Ride Show Supervisory (RSS) systems for five Moliongate attractions, as well as the Dabangg Stunt Show in Bollywood.  Park World asked Bill about the role of technology in the creation of immersive, multi-dimensional guest experiences.  “Functionally speaking, t

he RSS system is the most important part of the attraction because it manages the immersive elements of media-based experiences.  The ride movements must be perfectly timed with the audio/visual technologies, lighting, safety systems, and other special effects to create consistent experiences most theme park patrons rarely think about.”

“The ability to provide a consistent experience through automation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without fail is crucial.  That’s why we don’t just build these systems, but our Sustaining Engineering team is often on call to update these systems or replace them as necessary.”

With between 80 and 100 staff, ITEC expends with temporary contracting and consulting talent as needed.  “Due to the diversity in our work and the talent we have, our culture is one of collaboration to achieve excellence in everything we do.  We teach that a strong creative process matched with our rich history and experience will result in the best design and technical solutions.

Looking to the future, ITEC Entertainment will be looking beyond theme parks to all the possible applications of their expertise.  “We are developing new practices that leverage our long history in themed attractions.  There are many industries that require better guest experiences, like mixed-use real estate, where we can apply the disciplines and principles of the theme park industry  to help more traditional property developers differentiate from the competition.  Our team is also expanding into more planning, architecture, media development, and sustaining engineering.”

As president and design principal at ITEC Entertainment, Bill’s primary responsibilities the creative development of concepts and designs of all ITEC themed entertainment projects and the management of ITEC’s relationships with its clients and partners throughout the world.  His vision and industry knowledge have helped cultivate ITEC Entertainment’s heritage as a global leader in themed entertainment.

Billy Graham’s Library

Although favourite projects depend on the location, type of project and client, a particularly memorable one is the Billy Graham Library, a cultural attraction in North Carolina developed for one of the most famous evangelists in Christian history.  “It’s significance, the creative challenge of the content, and that it remains an outlier for ITEC Entertainment are some of the reasons why,” says Bill.  “It’s also an excellent example of how the principles of theme park development can apply in other industries and experiences beyond entertainment.”

LOAD-DATE: July 22, 2018
PUBLICATION-TYPE: Parkworld Magazine

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