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Special Effects at San Diego Air & Space Museum, Part 1

Nov 11, 2010 10:19 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

In attracting younger patrons, museums all over the country are installing small theaters with 3D video and 5.1 sound, but the experience goes beyond sight and sound to motion, aromas, and wind blasts. Dan Jamele from MediaMation is here to give us the low down on his company’s project for the Zable Theater at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

SVC: Dan, welcome to the SVC podcast from MediaMation in Torrence, Calif.; it’s fascinating all the gear and gizmo’s that you use. What all is MediaMation into?
MediaMation’s basically an interactive specialist with audio, video, and control systems for theme parks, amusement parks, museums, exhibits, and family fun centers, so we specialize doing audio, video and control systems specifically to those kind of entertainment venues. [Timestamp: 1:17]

And there’s a huge amount of things that can go into that with all of the things that technology can provide for museum theaters, in this case at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. How did you first get into the project at the Zable Theater there?
San Diego had reached out to look about putting in a new attraction, something that they could not only do presentations in but would be a draw for other things and that they could use as just part of their whole client base. Zable funded it and that brought that in. And we were recommended by one of the film manufacturers that they had contacted, and they contacted us as well as several other companies, and we then went through and visited them and went through the whole process of proposals and everything else and they saw our seats and they said, “Wow, we want to have those seats in our theater because we want the best seats and the most fun we can do in the space provided.” [Timestamp: 2:10]

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Now when this project came up, was the theater complete with your work going on, on top of that or was it during some stage of construction?
Oh, it was a classroom. So we went down there, and they had to try and point out, “Well, we’re going move these tables out of the way; we’re going to put this over here,” so we had to go start drawings and envisioned it and figure out what rooms were going to be torn down and everything. So it became a construction site, but it started out it was just an existing classroom that they said we could stick something in here and actually bring people in. [Timestamp: 2:40]

OK, so that was a conversion project. It looks like in the museum in this case was interested in quality over quantity. This is a fairly small theater. How many does it seat?
This is a 36-seat theater. [Timestamp: 2:52]

And this seems to be a big trend for museums now in starting these theaters for smaller crowds and shorter productions, so bringing a lot of people through in small groups [and] maybe running 10 or 12 shows day.
Oh well, a lot more than that; sometimes they’ll get over a 1,000 people a day through there. Most of the movies are somewhere in the four minutes to 10-minute range for the show, and depending on what the crowds are like, they’ll pick different versions of it; they have long versions and short versions as well. So if it’s a crowded day, they’re going to play the short versions anyways and get them through. They decided rather than charge an extra admission price for the theater that they would just bump the general admission price and not charge for it so people don’t have a problem moseying around the museum and just coming in when they can get in the line or waiting a few minutes. They try to keep the lines as short as possible, but on busy days it gets a little crowded there. [Timestamp: 3:43]

Looking at some of the show titles, it’s obvious that this is mainly to shoot for the younger crowd. Is that the plan or do the parents get into the entertainment too?
Well, the movies are definitely aimed at the kids; we’ve got talking flies or we’ve got a talking cat and kids are flying around, but, I’ll tell you, the parents love it because they get in there and they’re yelling and screaming and just happy as anybody else. And on the days where it’s not so crowded, they’ll let them ride a second one, and every time I’ve been there I haven’t seen a single person say, “No, I want to get out.” They’re like, “Yes, show me another one.” [Timestamp: 4:13]

Yeah, at all the tradeshows now you hear so much about 3D, but you’ve taken it to what I’ve heard described as a 4D experience with the seats doing things and working sort of a tactile aspect to it. What are you doing with theaters like this to introduce an added dimension?
Well, there’s a lot of marketing terms going on and floating around the Internet. Originally 3D was like, “Wow, we’re looking at 3D!” and that was a big thing. The next thing people started to do was put effects into the seats and into the theaters themselves. Things like fog, overhead rain, and then air blasts, water blasts, and things poking you in your seats, etc. And so they started marketing that as 4D. Well, we took it upon ourselves to start making our own seats after being in the simulation control business for 20 years practically here. We said, “Well, we’re going to make our 4D seats, but we’re going to make them have full motion as well.” And we kept calling them 4D, but there are people out there that would now say, “Well, 4D when you have theater effects, 5D is when the seats move, 6D is when you do this, and 7D is when you throw fog at them.” And it all becomes marketing terms; the general term for 4D means there’s some kind of other experiential event happening that is aimed at the audience to draw them further into the film and most of the time when the seats move people are referring to them now as 5D. [Timestamp: 5:32]

So at any rate, it’s designed to be an immersive experience, going beyond just sight and sound.
Right, we try and get the audience in there; the movements to the seats are all synched up, an elephant sneezes on a screen and bam, you’re covered with a fine mist of water in your face, etc. [Timestamp: 5:47]

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