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Special Effects at San Diego Air & Space Museum, Part 2

Nov 24, 2010 11:51 AM, With Bennet Liles

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I noticed some of these shows are just a few minutes long, and I guess there are some pluses and minuses to that. You’ve got to get your audience’s attention right off the bat, and you don’t have a lot of time to create the mood or anything, but at the same time, I would figure that the production time is less so it would be easier to handle.
Yeah, well, I think that’s one of the draws for a lot of these people that have the capabilities to create 3D movies, and it’s almost all computer generated at the moment. We don’t get very much live action 3D at all, which I think is something that will be the next step, in my opinion, is live action production because you go so far with 3D and then people might get a little tired of it. But yes, having that short film, our seats allow you to do the ride films with the motion. People are excited. They’ve had a great time. They’ve just had a nice little experience as if they were at an amusement park, maybe they’ve learned something if they’re at a museum. So it makes for a very nice little presentation. [Timestamp: 8:47]

And in most of the museums doing this, the general idea is the same, but is there a lot of customization that’s done on these depending on the subject matter or do you just stamp these things out and leave it to the local users to make their mark on it?
Well it’s a little bit of both. It really depends on the theater. In Detroit, we worked for the Detroit Science Center, and their’s was very customized because they were good at making their own content. So we’ve definitely chose the effects, the placement of all the fans, and everything else. They had scents there because they had very specific things they were doing, and it was a three-screen blended. They had a large-format viewing angle as well, so it was a very specialized theater. The basic seat is a standard thing. It comes with the standard effects, and from there, we work it up. One of the most custom things that we usually end up doing is the audio seat transducer file because we have to actually create a sound effects file that runs the entire length of the movie to play the different sound effects underneath that shake from underneath the seat. Each seat has a transducer in it, so it’s one of the more fun things for me to do because the results are very exciting, and I’m an old sound and engineer guy so it’s makes a good thing for me to say, “I’ll do that.” [Timestamp: 9:59]

You’ve got so many moving parts on all these things. How is the maintenance and up keep on it? Do you have to come in and make some tweaks every now and then?
As with anything, there are a few things at the beginning of the project. Typically you go in and you find a few things that might have happened—a screw might have popped out that we didn’t put in correctly or something like that. Once they get going though, then the theaters are pretty long term. We do everything. All of our motion is created using pneumatics, and that’s just air-driven systems, and those are so easy to maintain. Practically in every city, in every country, that we go to, there’s no problem finding parts or people that are familiar with those systems. And they’re very energy efficient. They’re the most compact way of providing energy to a small area, and you’re using a single motor, so you’re using a lot less energy than you are with electric-driven actuators and such like that. Most maintenance people can get underneath there, and if there’s a problem, we have remote log-ons that we do with web cams, and the guys can take a camera out there into the thing and point it at a seat and say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” We can usually just walk them through anything they need to do. [Timestamp: 11:03]

Oh yeah, that would be great with a remote camera and everything so you can actually see what the situation is on video.
Yeah and it’s great. We’ll just give them a Skype account built into the computer that because all our systems have a computer in them, and then we’ll say, “Here’s a camera with a long extension cord.” And if they need to get out there, we have a conversation with them. We just log on with them. Plus we have a remote log in so we can actually operate the computer and make changes and do things remotely as well as upload and download files. So 99 percent of everything we have to do after the initial installation we get to do remotely. [Timestamp: 11:36]

Yeah, testing a show like this would be really something to see. Do you just add one thing at a time or do you just put everything in all at once and give it a go and see what happens?
Well, the first thing is we have to build the benches. Whe seats are configured in benches of four seats each, and the bench moves as a whole and everything happens at the bench. So at our production facility, we have a separate mechanical production facility where we do all the building of the benches. They will lay them out up six benches at a time; they’ll have them all laid out; they’re all moving and testing at the same time. We try as best we can, because these things are all being installed in some remote location, to set up as much of the theater as we possibly can at our production facility so the installation onsite goes easier and it is quite a lot of testing, I’ll tell you, because you’re involving computer systems, audio systems, video systems, synchronization systems, control systems; we have air, we have mechanics, and we have all of that stuff that has to be integrated together, so it’s quite a wide range, and sometimes finding people that have skills in all of those areas is an interesting search. [Timestamp: 12:42]

Yeah, just put an ad in the paper saying, “Wanted, man behind the curtain.”
Yeah, basically.

So what’s on the horizon for MediaMation? Do you got some things in the works right now?
Yeah, we’re working on several different things right now. One of the exciting things we’ve been doing is we’ve been working with a company called Games2U who has an unbelievably great franchise situation. They are one of the fastest growing franchises in the United States. They produce these game vans that go around to kids’ parties and special events, and they have found that putting in a small 4D theater. We’re the exclusive supplier of 4D theaters to them and we’re working exclusively with them. It’s been a huge hit, so we’re cranking out these little mini theaters that go in these mobile vans that go all around to kids parties and kids are just having the greatest time on them all over the country. We’ve got a couple of theaters going in. We’ve got guys flying off to Saudi Arabia next month as well as we’ve got to go over to Hawaii; have no problems getting people to go on that job. [Timestamp: 13:38]

I can imagine.
So big and small. We do a lot of fountain control work too, so we’re pretty much getting ourselves all over the world right now. [Timestamp: 13:47]

All right; moving fountains, wafting scents, vibrations, and all sorts of stuff coming at you. Dan, thanks for being here and explaining how all this stuff works. I am still just wowed by good old video and sound so this stuff really just knocks me over. Dan Jamele of MediaMation. It’s a fascinating business and I’m glad to have you here to tell us about it.
Oh it was my pleasure and I appreciate you taking the time to run through this with me.

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