January 1, 2012 arrived. And Terminator 2 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood never opened its doors. It’s closed, kaput, gone forever. Tears were shed. Never mind the attraction still operates in Florida and Japan, it is the Hollywood version that will be missed the most. For the attraction is truly a product of LA’s filmmakers and themed entertainment designers working in tandem.
I thought of writing an homage to T23D, but those can be found all over the net. Besides, those with the proper laserdisc or DVD set can read Cinefex’s rather thorough 1997 article on the making of the attraction. I thought of writing about its sequel, Aliens 3D, which was to appear in a South Korean theme park, but you’ll find the script and conceptual artwork for that one on the Alien Anthology blu-ray set. And if you’re cool, you have that set. Then I thought about the unofficial sequels – the Star Trek attractions in Bremen and Las Vegas. But those are now closed and thinking of them made me sad as I recalled many an afternoon at Quark’s bar. I thought of the less successful Terminator 2 corporate-presentation-in-an-auditorium-gone-wrong clone, Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, as well as some strange European and Asian concoctions, before finally settling on writing about, of all things, museums that, because of the approach of two designers that worked on the LA version of T23D, carry forth ideals of the now closed attraction.
There’s a film coming later this year by Guillermo del Toro called Pacific Rim. In this film, according to the official synopsis, giant robots “are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge.” If this were real life, those pilots would be named Dave Cobb and Adam Bezark. I quote Adam here: “Dave Cobb is one of my best friends in the industry, and one of my favorite creative talents. Our creative interests and career paths seem to be inextricably linked; so much so that we often refer to each other as ‘twin brothers from different mothers.’” When I told Judy Rubin of my idea, her reply, and I am quoting directly, was: “I want to combine Cobb and Bezark into something like ‘Brangelina:’ Bobzark…Cobzark…Bocezark…Zarkobb” Judy Rubin. The TEA pays her to write professionally.
DAVE COBB – MAKING THE IMMERSIVE PERSONAL
Dave Cobb was 26 and just starting out as a themed entertainment designer when he left his indelible mark on the LA version of T23D. He wrote the queue video. But years of working with the creative leads behind the attraction, Gary Goddard and Adam Bezark, as well as countless others, would prepare Cobb for one of his first major roles – as the Creative Director for Men in Black: Alien Attack.
What made T23D unique in the pantheon of theme park attractions was that it took different genres of theater presentation and, instead of placing one in a supporting role to another, made them all compliment each other on an equal footing. Traditionally, in-theater effects had been used to extend the illusion of 3D film farther into the audience (Captain EO); actors had appeared in front of the screen during 3D films for the same reason (Muppetvision); and film had been used as a backdrop (American Adventure) or as an interstitial (EFX) to live and animatronic action. In T23D, the auditorium takes on three roles. It starts as a live stage show with animatronic supporting cast, morphs into a 3D cinema, and ends in a live-action battle with a filmed animation on three contiguous screens. Because the show starts off by collapsing the fourth wall, the audience is deceived into believing they are part of the story, so much so that when the show switches to being a third-person 3D film, the audience is still invested on a personal level.
Men In Black takes the same psychological approach. Starting with a small preshow area, guests are rushed down to MIB headquarters, where the queue takes them through familiar locales from the film. But rather than being visitors, they become recruits. A shooting range leads to actual street combat and, in a surprise maneuver, sets one car of riders in direct combat with another on a parallel track. I’ll lay it down right here. Men in Black: Alien Attack is my favorite theme park attraction of all time. The reasoning is simple. It takes three distinct elements – a walkthrough, a dark ride, and a shooting gallery – and combines them seamlessly and symbiotically together. You can take any of those elements by themselves and you’d have a pretty great attraction. Combine all three and you have a blockbuster. Now try riding Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters without guns. Just try it. It becomes nothing more than a toy themed version of the old Superstar Limo. Because of the attention to detail and the variability of the arcade element, Men in Black has one of the highest levels of repeatability in the market. I even rode it three times in a row with the Creative Development and Marketing executives from Busch Entertainment back in 2001 when they were scouting out Universal’s Hollywood Horror Nights. But that’s a story for another day.
So what lessons have we learned so far?
1. Speaking directly to the visitor creates a feeling of personal investment.
2. Combining disparate formats into a single attraction leads to a stronger overall impact.
3. Interactivity takes the personal investment from one being perceived to one being tangible, and creates variability and repeatability.
In 2002, Dave became a Creative Consultant for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where he took on the roles of Creative Director, Show Producer & Writer for this:
So what does the Toymaker 3000 have to do with T23D, other than robots? Let’s look back at the three precepts I discussed earlier:
1. The automated toy line is just one part of this exhibit. The overall theme at stations throughout the hall is to compare human abilities to the computational capacity, speed, and agility of robots. Even if one is viewing, rather than participating, in the various activities, he or she still takes a vested personal interest as a member of the species. More importantly, visitors are given a role in the exhibit – CEO for the day of Ball Enterprises.
2. The exhibit combines fun interactives with displays on the use of robots in various facets of manufacturing. Showing the agility of the robots in an entertaining manner creates a deeper appreciation for their jobs in an industrial environment. The exhibit also goes beyond being simply about the mechanics of robotics as it combines various disciplines. A climbing wall helps guests consider various business decisions that must be made before automating a plant.
3. In addition to the various interactive stations, guests have the opportunity to purchase a top from the assembly line. Although an upcharge, this option changes what would be a passive experience of watching an assembly line in action into one in which the guest has a vested interest, culminating in a physical and tangible souvenir linking the guest personally to the activity, even after its culmination.
These days, Dave’s a Senior Creative Director for Thinkwell Group, whose Jurassic Dream indoor theme park in Daqing, China is one of the most anticipated themed experiences of 2013.
Read Dave Cobb’s story on “gamification” over at InPark Magazine, where Judy’s the editor. Yes, that Judy. And make sure to visit the fine folks at Thinkwell. They’ve done everything from the award-winning Harry Potter tour in the UK to the Pussycat Dolls Lounge in Vegas. It’s my new Quark’s.
ADAM BEZARK – EXPANDING THE SCOPE
The concept of the triptych dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, where they were often used as altar paintings. The concept itself is quite simple, a painting is derived of three portions hinged together. They can be folded together, or extended to make a wider work of art. In cinema, one of the earliest uses of triptych was with the Polyvision method developed for French film director Abel Gance’s 1927 silent film Napoleon. As demonstrated last year during an exhibition of the restored print in Oakland, CA (overseen by Chris Reyna), an additional screen was added to each side of the main screen for the final act, converting a flat image into scope. A later example would be the 1952 film This is Cinerama, where as Lowell Thomas concludes his on-screen discussion on the history of film, the curtain opens wider revealing a full three-strip Cinerama image.
Adam Bezark is what I like to call the “Master of the Triptych.” As one of the project leaders on T23D, he was responsible for much of the finished product. At a certain point in the show, the side walls of the stage open up, transitioning from a 3D theater environment (and the corporate auditorium of the first act) to the futuristic environment of Skynet, the show’s third act. Three 3D screens in synch create an expanded environment, with film creating the set piece.
More than a decade later, he was involved in another film project, one that would take the idea of 3D and create it without stereoscopic projection. Adam was responsible for the concept presentation that solidified the award-winning Beyond all Boundaries as the flagship attraction of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Beyond all Boundaries was unique in that it utilized scrims and multiple projected images, along with physical props, to create an immersive 3D (or as some call it, 4D) environment. The film’s producer Doug Yellin, who had previously worked with Adam on a 4D attraction for the LEGOLAND parks, hired him to direct the film for his next museum project – Northern Light at Ft. Edmonton Park in Canada.
Fort Edmonton is a historic outdoor museum park in Edmonton, Alberta, that tells the story of the city from First Nation settlements to the 1930′s. The times are interpreted through historic buildings, costumed docents, and appropriate vehicles. As part of a multi-million dollar reinterpretation of the property, Ft. Edmonton built the Capitol Theatre, a smaller version of the historic auditorium that hosted downtown crowds for decades. In addition to hosting live stage shows and historic films, the Capitol is also home to Northern Light, a short production telling the history of Edmonton. What starts as a newsreel immerses the audience as side panels open to reveal a triptych screen configuration. Scrims, props, lighting, sound, and in-theater effects all combine to create a 4D experience surrounding the film directed by Adam and lensed by Reed Smoot, whose credits also include Bob Rogers’ Rainbow War from Expo 86 and numerous giant screen films.
These days, Adam’s busy bringing Disneyland to mainland China. Visit his company at www.bezark.com to learn more about his various projects and go in-depth into the creation of the Capitol Theatre and Northern Light at InPark Magazine.
The concepts behind Terminator 2 3D can be found in the darndest places, from a robotic assembly line in Chicago to a multi-screen production in Edmonton. The most important thing to remember is that Dave and Adam didn’t create these productions on all their own. They’re team efforts, including hundreds of people directly and indirectly involved in the creative and assembly processes.