Reflections from IAAPA Attractions Expo 2017

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Last month, the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2017 took place in Orlando, Florida, showcasing new, innovative ideas for themed entertainment and attractions worldwide, as well as giving the industry things to look for in the future of the field. Thinkwell was happy to have a strong contingency of employees attend the conference for a mix of client, project, and professional development needs. While some Thinkwellians attended IAAPA for the first time, many have gone for years and look forward to the annual event.
“For an industry that comprises everything from humble churro carts to high-end ride systems, IAAPA is a head-spinning introduction to the world of themed entertainment,” says Dave Cobb, Thinkwell’s Principal of Creative Development.

“I’ve been attending for almost twenty-five years, and every year I find it to be an energizing and fascinating (and exhausting) conference that gives a thousand-foot view at the different ways that attractions can engage an audience, both low-brow and high-tech,” he says. “And I always love seeing the reactions from our team members who might be new to the industry. It’s great to bring them along to network and learn and meet their peers and vendors, but also just to see their faces when they react to the sheer size and, well, *oddness* of the sprawling convention floor. Seriously, even after attending for almost twenty-five years, I still find it to be beautifully and uniquely bonkers.”
Here are a few highlights from Thinkwellians who attended IAAPA for the first time:

Nick Farmer, Design Associate, Thinkwell Los Angeles

  • With more than a few VR experiences on the show floor this year, one of the highlights was definitely Birdly® by Somniac. Since 2015, this VR flight simulator has transformed guests into birds in flight, inviting them to lie face down into a slick futuristic bird rig complete with articulated wing controllers. Contorted into an unfamiliar position, with a fan flowing wind through my hair, and a pair of intuitive controls, I was taken out of the hustle and bustle of the convention and thrust into a staggering yet meditative space high above the city skyline.
  • Moving away from all the glowing screens, Ropes Courses, Inc. set up a 2-Level Sky Trail® Discovery ropes course that reached up to the Orange County Convention Center’s ceiling and was a thrilling reminder that no simulator can compare to the pure adrenaline rush of walking straight off a ledge almost 30 feet in the air, and putting all your faith into a single carabiner to keep you alive as you zip over the heads of colleagues and conventioneers below. After safely landing on the other side, I knew that one time simply wouldn’t be enough.

Cory Watson, Vice President & Executive Producer, Thinkwell Media

Peden Bhutia, Business Development Associate, Sr., Thinkwell EMEA

  • Pandora – The World of Avatar was a remarkable “larger than life” experience. The bioluminescent jungle was enchanting and the Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey (rides) took my breath away.
  • Aquaticar and Birdly were my two favorite things on the floor.
    • Birdly® put the user in the shoes (wings?) of a bird where one could experience flying (and sometime crashing) over New York. It was creative use of VR.
    • Aquaticar introduced a social underwater experience.

Shengyu Zhang, Technical Manager, Thinkwell Los Angeles

  • The Aquaticar is one of the innovative rides that is very interesting. Underwater helmet diving – Sea Trek has been around for awhile now. Aquaticar takes the similar idea and pushes it to the next level with underwater driving. Guests can actually see and feel the water around them while on the ride. It offers a great opportunity for water park designers to tell a story under REAL water.
  • Dynamic Attractions announced a new ride system – All-Terrain Dark Ride. It is completely trackless and works both indoors & outdoors on various types of floor finishes. The name says it all. It breaks the limits and allow for bigger imaginations when we tell exciting adventurous stories!

“As always, it was really rewarding to discover new technologies and products with the rest of the Thinkwell team,” says Cobb. “IAAPA always leaves us with spinning gears in our heads, dreaming how we might use some of them in future projects. It’s a highlight of our year for sure, something we talk about for months after as we work on new ideas.”
Cynthia Sharpe, Principal of Cultural Attractions & Research at Thinkwell, is another IAAPA veteran and she spoke on two panels at this year’s conference. Sharpe took part in panels discussing “Gender Issues in the Workplace” and “Emerging Trends in Immersive Design,” giving her insight on two very important industry topics. Check back with us in the new year for a deep dive into the feedback and reaction to her “Gender Issues in the workplace” panel.

IAAPA Attractions Expo 2017 was definitely a success and we can’t wait to see what is in store for next year!