A Midnight Ride To A Thea Award

On July 31st, 2019, The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride made its grand debut at Lionsgate Entertainment World in Zhuhai, China. This innovative attraction was the world’s first to combine a fully interactive virtual reality experience with a high-capacity, individually-reactive motorbike motion simulator ride. 

Thinkwell partnered with Lionsgate and the Hong Kong-based Lai Sun Group to bring Midnight Ride from an initial blue-sky idea in 2015, through a multiyear process of design and development, to installation, testing, and ultimately welcoming the attraction’s first midnight riders. This unique achievement was only made possible through the close collaboration with the attraction engineers at CAVU Designwerks and DreamCraft Attractions and the computer animation specialists at Framestore. Yet the journey is never complete on opening day.

As Midnight Ride took guests on a journey through perilous winding forest trails, the attraction’s debut year saw plenty of its own unexpected twists and turns… including a temporary closure due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a grand re-opening in June 2020 with enhanced health and safety guidelines.

The long journey proved worth it, however, as later that November The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride was honored by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) with a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Attraction category. The Thea Awards have been awarded by the TEA since 1994 with the stated goal of bringing recognition to achievement, talent, and personal excellence within the themed entertainment industry.

Among the unique factors recognized by the judging committee, Midnight Ride is one of only a few major theme park attractions to give guests meaningful story agency during their experience. Within virtual reality, guests have the ability to choose their own moonlit path as they’re sent on an interactive motorcycle adventure alongside fan-favorite Twilight character Jacob Black and the rest of the wolfpack. This includes the ability to see and react to their friends within the motion-enhanced VR world, such as when they split off from the trail, speed ahead or fall behind, or are even attacked by the vampire Newborns, leaving each rider seemingly the last remaining of their group.

Other projects with Thinkwell’s involvement in past years that have been recognized by the Thea Awards include: Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi (2020 awards, theme park), Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter near London (2013 awards, studio tour), Fernbank NatureQuest in Atlanta (2012 awards, museum exhibit), The Jurassic Park Institute Tour in Japan (2005 awards, traveling exhibit), and The Imagination Workshop in Temecula (2005 awards, limited budget).

The Thea Award recipients for the 2021 ceremony were officially announced on November 19th, 2020. Thinkwell, with all of our partners who helped make this attraction a reality, are thrilled and humbled to see Midnight Ride recognized by our industry peers who placed it among the ranks of many of the world’s most influential and impactful themed experiences.

Crafting Stories within Virtual Realities

The introduction of 3D media in the 1950s and motion platforms in the 1980s were transformative technologies that changed the approach to themed attraction design. Within the past five years, the emergence of virtual reality (VR) has suggested that a similarly radical transformation is about to take place, especially once the technology takes the next jump forward with the emergence of augmented reality (AR).

The unique advantage of VR and AR for immersive storytelling is their flexibility as a platform. It’s best not to think of these technologies as a separate category of attraction design by itself, but rather as tools that can be mixed and matched with other technologies to create entirely new types of guest experiences, be it VR/AR roller coasters, motion simulators, or walkthrough experiences.

Thinkwell led the design of Lionsgate Entertainment World in close partnership with film studio Lionsgate, developer Lai Sun of Hong Kong, and park operator Village Roadshow, which opened one year ago in Zhuhai, China, and recently reopened to guests under revised health and safety guidelines. While full AR integration is still a few years away, the park’s development period overlapped perfectly with the initial rise of virtual reality as a new tool for attraction design, allowing it to become the first theme park designed with VR integration in mind from the very first blue sky idea sessions. The park opened with three separate innovative VR attractions: the interactive motion platform-based Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride; the immersive walk-through experience Divergent: Fear Simulator; and the first purpose-built VR roller coaster in the world, Gods of Egypt: Battle For Eternity. Each provided a fresh opportunity to push VR technology in ground-breaking directions for attraction design, and upon the recent reopening, guests are as excited as ever to experience the VR offerings at the park.

Lionsgate World Midnight Ride

One of the challenges with VR is cost relative to capacity. Large theme parks require large audience capacity (1,000+ per hour) in order to move the throngs of visitors through attractions and ride, a fact that makes most current VR systems an impractical solution. Meanwhile, smaller FECs (Family Entertainment Centers) can’t shoulder the development costs to create custom VR experiences, and often need to go with off-the-shelf solutions instead. 

Lionsgate Entertainment World fit neatly between these two extremes—larger and more immersive than an FEC, but with a smaller footprint than a traditional theme park—providing Thinkwell the opportunity to dream up big ideas for a more focused audience. The fact that the target audience would also be weighted toward technologically-connected young adults and families meant that this was the perfect opportunity to deliver some of the Lionsgate brand’s edgier story themes within an immersive virtual realm.

Combining virtual reality with simulator technology and game software is the highly popular Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride. Developed in close collaboration with the attraction engineers at  CAVU Designwerks and Dreamcraft Attractions and the computer animation specialists at Framestore, Midnight Ride gives guests agency with the ability to choose their own path as they’re sent on an interactive motorcycle adventure alongside fan-favorite Twilight character Jacob Black and the rest of the wolfpack, including the ability to see other riders in VR along the way.

Guests climb aboard individual motorbikes, each with its own multi-axis motion platform hidden below. Once settled on their bikes, the VR headsets drop from the ceiling and click into a lightweight wearable frame. The transition from the physical attraction environment to the virtual world is designed to be seamless; guests can see and even gesture to their friends (in simulated racing gear) on neighboring bikes. This awareness of other riders is important to the story, because each individual controls their speed and direction so later on when they’re racing through the moonlit woods, guests will see their friends split off from the trail, speed ahead or fall behind, or even get attacked by the vampire Newborns, heightening the sense of peril and adventure.

While Midnight Ride sets the precedent for an all-new attraction category, Divergent: Fear Simulator evolves the current landscape of walk-through VR experiences. Combining forces with Framestore and the VR specialists at Noitom, Thinkwell and the attraction team set out to reimagine the possibilities of “walk-through VR” as not just focused on shooting or puzzle game mechanics, but crafting an emotionally gripping experience that greatly expands VR’s physical and technical boundaries.

Inspired by the dream-like fear testing seen in the blockbuster Divergent films, guests are paired up, two at a time, and “neurally linked” to a simulation that challenges their fear of heights, darkness, and shifting realities. In order to reach a larger audience, Thinkwell designed a linear, multi-room experience, allowing operators to pulse guests through in multiple groups. While VR technology created the illusion of a much larger environment than the actual physical one, the design team went to great lengths to ensure that the physical and digital design were a perfect match. Pairing the digital world with a tactile environment creates an undeniably realistic experience wherein guests step across rickety, plywood boards between towering skyscrapers, navigate an abandoned bunker with surreal surprises, and work together to escape a mind-twisting nightmare, conquering one fear after another in Fear Simulator VR.

Finally, Gods of Egypt: Battle for Eternity opened as the world’s first fully bespoke VR roller coaster, with a layout custom-designed to exclusively support a VR experience. Constructing a thrilling and immersively themed roller coaster indoors is a challenge due to the added complexity of floor loads, columns, and other structural restrictions. Working with Mack Rides, Thinkwell quickly determined a powered coaster would provide the control and flexibility the team wanted, and combining it with custom VR headsets and integrated audio headphones opened an entirely new world of possibilities for the tight indoor space.

The powered coaster design also allowed for two discrete laps through the entire coaster circuit, one at slower speeds and then one at full speed – which the guest never realizes, since they’re immersed in the VR world as part of a battle between Egyptian gods. In this case, using virtual reality allowed for a roller coaster experience that is “twice as big, and twice the length” on half the footprint – a big coaster experience to match the enourous size and scope of the Gods of Egypt IP world, but on a much smaller footprint.

In each case, it was the storytelling that drove the attraction design, including the decision of when and how to use VR. While the technology is still evolving, and the introduction of AR in the near future promises even greater opportunities for attraction design, the varied uses of VR at Lionsgate Entertainment World indicates a multitude of possibilities for this tool when it finds the right application.

Lionsgate Entertainment World: A Year of Many “Firsts”

One year ago, on July 31st, 2019, Lionsgate Entertainment World in Zhuhai, China opened its doors to the world. Created in partnership between Thinkwell with film studio Lionsgate, developer Lai Sun of Hong Kong, and park operator Village Roadshow, this one-of-a-kind indoor theme park features twenty unique guest activities including rides, shows, attractions, and interactive experiences inspired by popular Lionsgate blockbuster film franchises The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, The Divergent Series, Now You See Me, Escape Plan, and Gods of Egypt. Thinkwell worked closely with computer animation house Framestore, VR attraction groups CAVU Designwerks and Dreamcraft Attractions, and many other global partners to bring the park to life.

To celebrate the first anniversary of that achievement, as well as the park’s recent June 2020 reopening under revised health and safety guidelines, we’ll take a look back at the extraordinary number of worldwide “firsts” Lionsgate Entertainment World represented.

Lionsgate Entertainment WorldForemost among these “firsts” was that Lionsgate Entertainment World became the world’s first vertical theme park, at nearly 250,000 square feet (24,000 square meters) stacked over four levels.

What exactly does a vertical theme park mean? The concept isn’t entirely without precedent—other theme parks have included multi-level indoor zones, and several urban entertainment centers have included a mix of interactive experiences within a vertical design. But Lionsgate Entertainment World was the first to take the kinds of immersive environments and signature attractions you’d find at a major theme park, including roller coasters and dark rides, and design the entire experience within a 100% vertical framework.

This verticality required a radically different approach to many of the fundamentals of theme park design, particularly to the organization of the park and its theme zones. Many theme parks use a “hub and spoke” master plan to orient guests within the park, in which the various themed environments are organized radially around a central icon, allowing guests to intuitively orient themselves within the park. 

The solution was to re-imagine the hub as an immense central atrium connecting all of the levels, by which guests could visually orient and physically move throughout the vertical space. The icon that attracts guests to this central space had to likewise fit the unique vertical philosophy of the park. Dubbed the “media chandelier,” this icon boasts a three-story, eight-ton, cylindrically shaped media installation using eight curved LED screens that are in constant motion. The glass and metal surfaces surrounding the atrium reflect the dynamic media, creating a 360-degree experience that’s not only an engineering marvel but also a mesmerizing sight to behold.

Lionsgate Entertainment World also provided an excellent opportunity to experiment with new technologies and storytelling techniques that could take advantage of the stacked vertical space. Engineering a vertical theme park meant that traditional large iron rides weren’t feasible, so Thinkwell had to devise more innovative media- and story-driven experiences to thrill its audience… which created many more “firsts” along the way!

Attractions based on virtual reality and gamified interactives, often associated with lower capacity upcharge experiences at theme parks, here are not only included in the base ticket price but serve as flagship experiences to represent Lionsgate’s most important franchises. These include The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride, the world’s first high capacity interactive virtual reality experience to open as a major theme park attraction and the world’s first purpose-built VR roller coaster, Gods of Egypt: Battle for Eternity, that uses its vertical space limitations to its advantage.

Additional innovations in the park were realized when creating a 4D simulator ride based on The Hunger Games franchise. Mockingjay Flight Rebel Escape provided new 3D layering illusions and in-cabin effects. For the media-enhanced dark ride The Twilight Saga: Bella’s Journey, Thinkwell’s design and production team combined squinching media, animatronics, mapped projections, and physical scenery to create an incredible retelling of Bella’s story from the blockbuster film.

Yet other attractions were the first to use technology or interactive concepts as part of a signature theme park experience, from high-tech escape rooms (Escape Plan: Prison Break), a team-based VR walkthrough experience (Divergent: Dauntless Fear Simulator), and countless smaller gamified digital interactive experiences hidden throughout the themed environments.

The park’s dining and retail offerings are just as experiential, whether it’s getting a makeover at Capitol Couture & Cosmetics from The Hunger Games, or solving a mystery with media and magic while grabbing a drink in the Oculus Lounge, based on the Now You See Me franchise. Collectively, the experiences at Lionsgate Entertainment World represent perhaps the biggest achievement: to integrate a deep level of participatory, technology-enhanced interaction within the entire theme park design, representing the first-of-its-kind in an entirely new genre of immersive themed entertainment.

That’s a lot of firsts for a single theme park to achieve in its first year of operation, yet as we celebrate one year of Lionsgate Entertainment World, and reflect on all the ups and downs the world has seen during that time, we know that it isn’t so much the primacy of “being first” that’s important, but the inspiration it gives to those who might follow.

Lionsgate Entertainment World to open in 2019

Asia’s first movie themed indoor interactive experience center to reinvigorate the Greater Bay Area, based on Lionsgate’s blockbuster movie franchises The Hunger Games, The Divergent Series and Now You See Me.

HENGQIN, CHINA (December 13, 2018) – Today Lionsgate Entertainment World held its first preview event in Zhuhai and offered a sneak peek into its key offerings, immersive entertainment experiences and innovative designs. Breathing new life into the Greater Bay Area, Lionsgate Entertainment World is a highlight attraction in Novotown Hengqin and Asia’s first movie-themed indoor experience center. The indoor center is based on exciting film properties from global content leader Lionsgate and will open in first half of 2019.

“The development of Novotown and Lionsgate Entertainment World is a testament to the great potential of the Hengqin New Area, as well as its role as an economic driver throughout the Greater Bay Area,” said the spokesperson of Administrative Committee of Hengqin New Area Zhuhai. “Along with the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge earlier this year, both Novotown and Lionsgate Entertainment World are poised to play a key role in creating more diversified entertainment offerings for visitors and boosting tourism in the region.”

Spanning 22,000 sqm of premium indoor space, Lionsgate Entertainment World is one of the key attractions in Novotown, an integrated tourism and entertainment destination in Hengqin. Lionsgate is an entertainment studio whose blockbuster films, popular television series, and digital products reach next generation audiences around the world. The studio has won multiple Academy® and Emmy® Awards and has a long track record in delivering world-class products. In addition to being Asia’s first movie-themed indoor experience, this marks Lionsgate’s first interactive indoor experience to open in the world and will feature blockbuster franchises like The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, The Divergent Series, and Now You See Me as well as films like Escape Plan and Gods of Egypt as the story backgrounds of the attractions.
Bringing the captivating stories to life is an eye-catching list of elite partners that helped create Lionsgate Entertainment World, including the design and production agency Thinkwell Group (“Thinkwell”) and the operator Village Roadshow Theme Parks (“Village Roadshow”). A global experience design and production agency, Thinkwell is known for delivering experiential design in major theme parks and resorts around the world. Partnering with Thinkwell is Village Roadshow, a world leading theme park operator with footprint across Australia and America. Other notable global partners behind Lionsgate Entertainment World are the Australian construction services company Cockram, international show contractor Scenario, Oscar®-winning visual media producer Framestore and many other world-acclaimed companies.

“Lionsgate Entertainment World aims to become a multifaceted destination by engaging guests through story-telling, as well as encouraging participation and social activities with opportunities for plenty of personalization,” said Selena Magill, General Manager of Lionsgate Entertainment World, at the event. “By working closely with our international partners, as well as creating immersive entertainment attractions featuring blockbuster movie properties, we expect guests in the Greater Bay Area to enjoy sensational experiences with their friends and families at Novotown.”

Leveraging on the latest state-of-the-art technology, Lionsgate Entertainment World offers an entertainment experience like no other, one that is designed to transport guests into the world of film where they are free to create their very own theatrical stories. Visiting guests will be able to look forward to several world-class attractions, including Hunger Games – Mockingjay Flight, The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride and The Divergent Series – Fear Simulator, and Gods of Egypt – Battle for Eternity. The application of technology has been carefully incorporated into the designs to ensure a perfect guest experience, while also allowing room for constant update on the contents.

While the attractions invite guests on a mesmerizing journey in the movie world, Lionsgate Entertainment World has a lot more offerings that will create a total immersive experience. There are themed dining outlets such as the opulent Hunger Games-inspired Capitol Club; the homey Peeta’s Bakery; and the modern and stylish Lionsgate Cafe. The entertainment center will also boast a wide selection of retail options, including Capitol Couture, Dauntless Ink and Gods of Egypt market-place.
With over 30 groundbreaking attractions to look forward to, Lionsgate Entertainment World leverages on the latest cutting-edge technology to deliver a one-of-a-kind immersive experience. The development is poised to set a new standard for entertainment centers in the region when it officially commences operation in 2019.

“As Thinkwell has been developing theme parks, family entertainment centers and museum exhibits around the world for many years now, we know there is nothing in the market like this and I am confident it will not only grab the attention of people on Mainland China, but internationally as well,” adds Kelly Ryner, President, Thinkwell Asia.

Selena Magill, General Manager of Lionsgate Entertainment World ; Zengqing Luo, Deputy Director of the Administrative Committee of Hengqin New Area ; John Tse, Chief Executive Officer of Novotown; Larry Leung, Managing Director of Novotown; Jerry Sabatini, VP Creative, Franchise Management of Lionsgate; Alistair Bennallack, CEO of Village Roadshow and Kelly Ryner, President of Thinkwell Asia, attended Lionsgate Entertainment World first preview event in Zhuhai.

John Tse, Chief Executive Officer of Novotown; Kelly Ryner, President of Thinkwell Asia; Larry Leung, Managing Director of Novotown.

Gods of Egypt – Battle for Eternity: The world’s first purpose-built VR roller coaster, which sees guests soar like a god on this high-speed, VR roller coaster adventure through ancient Egypt. As an epic battle wages between good and evil, it’s time to prove your valor, strength and devotion. It’s time to fight alongside the Gods of Egypt!

Hunger Games – Mockingjay Flight: Suit up and take flight alongside the rebellion on this action-packed adventure throughout the world of The Hunger Games. Danger lurks around every corner, but hope is in sight on this exhilarating 3D motion simulator attraction. May the odds be ever in your favor!

The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride: Race with Jacob and the Black Pack wolves on a daring VR dirt-bike adventure through the moonlit woods. But beware, beyond these hallowed hills, a different kind of creature roams, and this one is out for blood.

Capitol Club: Visit the Capitol’s most exclusive dining establishment, frequented by the Capitol elite. The Capitol Club offers the freshest and finest culinary masterpieces that Panem has to offer, with breathtaking views overlooking the Capitol.

Peeta’s Bakery: Indulge in a selection of handcrafted treats and delectable bites inspired by 74th Hunger Games victor Peeta Mellark. For those in need of a little pep in their step, enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, tea or other home-grown refreshments while on the go.

Capitol Couture: This luxurious upscale clothing store features many of the Capitol’s most celebrated fashion designers. At the Capitol Couture Collection, you can try on a variety of extravagant formal wear inspired by some of Panem’s most fashionable citizens from the world of The Hunger Games to model and take home.

About Lionsgate Entertainment World
Lionsgate Entertainment World, Asia’s first movie themed indoor interactive experience center, is one of the key attractions in Novotown – an integrated tourism and entertainment project in Hengqin invested by Hong Kong Lai Sun Group. Spanning across 22,000 sqm of premium indoor space, Lionsgate Entertainment World is set to bring to life some of Lionsgate’s most successful film franchises, including The Hunger Games; The Twilight Saga; The Divergent Series; Now You See Me; Escape Plan; and Gods of Egypt, with over 30 interactive and immersive attractions and rich entertainment offerings.

Released on behalf of Lionsgate Entertainment World by GHC Asia
For media enquiry, please contact:
GHC Asia (Hong Kong)
Claire Wang  / Ines Yu
Tel:+852 3163 0168 / +852 3163 0155
Email:[email protected] / [email protected]

Lai Sun Group Appoints Thinkwell to Produce Lionsgate Entertainment World™ at Novotown in Hengqin, Zhuhai

Zhuhai Hengqin Laisun Creative Culture City Co. Ltd., has engaged Thinkwell Group to create the first Lionsgate Entertainment World™, a themed immersive experience center that will bring to life some of Lionsgate’s most successful film properties in China, including The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, The Divergent Series, Now You See Me, Gods of Egypt and Escape Plan, through exciting interactive and immersive attractions. Spreading across 22,000 square meters of premium indoor space at Novotown in Hengqin, Zhuhai, the People’s Republic of China, the center is five minutes from the closest Macau border. Novotown is set to open its doors to the public by the end of 2018.

While cutting-edge technology will be leveraged to immerse “Explorers” into the films, they will also be transported through unique dining and retail experiences themed around these global film favorites. The combination of Lionsgate style and substance will set a new standard for entertainment centers in the region.

“These Lionsgate properties are providing us the opportunity to create a uniquely rich and sophisticated young-adult-centric experience center unlike anything out in the market today. The professionalism, commitment and vision of the Lai Sun Group team has made this project an absolute joy to develop,” said Kelly Ryner, President of Thinkwell Asia. “Lionsgate’s trust in Thinkwell to creatively push the envelope while staying true to their brand is a testament to our company’s abilities to deliver a world class product.”

“We are very excited to partner with Thinkwell, to design and produce the most innovative experience for Lionsgate Entertainment World™,” said John Tse, Head of Novotown Project of the Lai Sun Group. “It is Novotown’s vision to become the regional cultural incubator and this center will serve as one of the most thrilling entertainment centers in the region for visitors to explore and live the movies.”