A Quick Look At The Theas And TEA Summit

Noe and I spent a swell couple of days covering for Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media at TEA ’s Thea Awards and TEA Summit. We attended Friday afternoon’s panels and Saturday night’s awards gala, and learned a lot of stuff for my upcoming book, Manufacturing the Magic: A History of the American Theme Park. If I get to go again, I’m attending the entire thing – Matt Ouimet was the keynote speaker the day before, and it was an information-packed Master Class of Theme Park Design Gods.

Our first speaker after lunch was the absolutely delightful CEO of Efteling theme park in The Netherlands, Bart de Boer, who talked about winner of this year’s Thea for Event Spectacular, AquanurA. It’s the third largest fountain in the world, and the show covers the history of the theme park over its 60-year run. Each attraction from the original “enchanted forest” of Efteling is represented – the attraction’s theme song is performed by an orchestra while the fountain’s colors and patterns represent what is seen by visitors in each attraction. Like World of Color at DCA, the story is implied to and interpreted by the viewers. It is a show that can be seen from all sides.

Next, we got to learn about the new Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. Noe doesn’t care for Harry Potter (because it’s popular. I know, I know.) and even he wanted to go see it. We also got a super guidebook for the attraction, which was waiting at our seats after lunch. We learned the difference between this and the Universal Parks’ versions of Harry Potter for visitors – if it wasn’t done for shooting the movie, it wasn’t done at the studio tour. You see the green screens that they used – along with the creatures and models – NONE of the Hogwarts “flyover model” was CG until the last 2 films! The detail on it is redonculous!

Finally, the Disney stuff, which you’ll be able to read about in great detail on JimHillMedia.com – how Cars Land was made – and why the decision was made to let the Disney fans in on the magic of creating the magic from start to finish; the new technologies employed in Radiator Springs Racers, and how Ray Spencer winnowed out the classic beauty of some parts of the original Carthay Circle Theater from the truly hideous parts, and what’s so ironic about the big painting at the bottom of the stairs (and why it belongs there).

Then Joe Rohde took the stage and I can totally see why they saved him for last. NOBODY should want to follow this man onstage, ever. Seriously. He talked about Aulani, working with the Native Hawaiians, and listening to them in each and every aspect of the resort’s creation, something that, and I tell you from my own experience growing up and living in Hawaii over the course of three decades, has never, never been done before in Hawaii. The difference between this and the other talks I’ve seen him give is palpable: here, talking to his peers, he was tougher, spoke about his beliefs and his ethics much more, more direct, and as much as I learn from him every time he opens his mouth within my hearing, I learned what the Golden Ratio of theme park design entails. The next night, when I asked about Avatar, he didn’t tell me anything about project details that the public doesn’t already know, but he reiterated his point about story and what the story/message (my word) of Disney’s Animal Kingdom was, and said that those three things would be in the Avatar project. I believe him, but asked him to not let James Cameron write any dialogue for it. You’ll read about it in detail over on Jim’s site.

The next night was the Gala, and it was impressive. At the end of the Red Carpet, there were these adorable…um…they were so cute!

There was a cocktail reception, where we got to talk to old friends and meet new, fascinating people. Noe wore his traje de charro as this was a black-tie event. The dinner chimes sounded and the doors were thrown open, so we found our way to our tables, where we found a magical surprise waiting for us, courtesy of the nice people at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour.

We used them on Death Eaters later in the evening. Dinner was great and the company was even better, including the spectacular folks who do the spectacular podcast The Season Pass Podcast!

The show is often described as “The Oscars of the Theme Park industry”. Yes and no. There’s no envelope-opening going on; the recipients know ahead of time, as does everyone else – and they give presentations about the winners, how they did it and why they won, over the course of the Summit. So, it’s not just industry people patting each other on the back or making bets on who’s gonna win – it’s a study of what is excellent in the industry, and recognition for that excellence.

I’ll talk more about my experiences at the Gala after Jim does his piece, as I don’t want to double-up. Then, I’m going to give an in-depth look at the way TEA is ensuring the future of the Theme Park industry, the “Next-Gen” initiative.

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