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Themed AV

Feb 9, 2012 12:29 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

How the role of pro AV in location-based entertainment is changing.

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Next month, the Themed Entertainment Association marks its 20th anniversary and its 18th annual Thea awards—celebrated with a gala on March 17 at the Disneyland Hotel. The day before, at the THEA Summit, members of each of the winning project teams will present a case study, detailing the design and installation for a wide range of attractions (and budgets) including a spectacular live show in Singapore that combines enormous animatronics with digital screens, a 4D film in France directed by renowned filmmaker Luc Besson, and a cruise ship restaurant that allows diners to watch their placemat doodles come to life and interact with Disney characters onscreen.

The majority of the Thea award-winning projects incorporate AV systems—some like Disneyland’s Star Tours retrofit and the Crane Dance at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore represent AV at its most elaborate. It’s a culture of one “upsmanship” that is as old as theme parks themselves. Digital technology has allowed designers at the high end to offer immersive and spectacular experiences. But there is a dual trend in digital technology: on the one hand dramatic edge-blended 3D extravaganzas, on the other, smaller scale and interactive digital technologies, including those that tap into visitors’ personal devices. This personal trend affects AV for projects across the budget spectrum, reflecting our digital-savvy culture at large.

The challenge for integrators, says Gene Jeffers, executive director of the TEA, is to understand the many overlapping threads of digital content and experience that make up the modern guest experience—in the themed environment and before and after the visit. It’s an increasingly complex web of digital communication that challenges design teams and technical teams to work together to discover what is possible. This is something that themed entertainment professionals have always excelled at—themed environments are by definition one-of-a-kind, and the dialogue between art and technology has always taken place just over the horizon of what has been done before.

“AV has been relevant to themed entertainment from the beginning, since the first 36-projector slideshow,” says Jeffers, who was past VP of public affairs and communication for the National Association of Broadcasters and has led the TEA for the past 10 years. He has seen the analog-to-digital revolution play out both in the world of media and of location-based entertainment. He says now the next frontier is mobile.

“Mobile devices are allowing venues or projects to engage with their guest long before they come to the park or the museum, while they’re in the park or at the museum, and then after they go home,” he says. “That ability to connect with the audience makes the total AV package, from big projectors down to what’s being presented on a mobile device, increasingly relevant.

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