The Power of Digital Media and Technology in Theme Parks

Since the days of Disneyland theme parks and attractions have centered around one thing; storytelling. The whimsical 2 dimensional worlds of the cinema could now be experienced in real life through innovative technology and engineering.

Today that is still true, however modern digital technology is changing the game for many theme parks and attractions. Projection mapping, VR, and AR are all leading the way in the convergence between digital media and 3D “theme park” storytelling.

In the early days Walt Disney’s Audio Animatronics were groundbreaking in transporting audiences to places never before possible. In a Disney park guests could battle with pirates, dance with ghosts, and even visit a princess in her fairytale castle. All of this made possible through detailed storytelling and advanced mechanical technology. 

Modern advancements mixed with these early mechanical innovations have allowed theme parks to tell even more immersive stories, and the next wave of digital media and technology is on the verge of furthering that front.  

 Walt with the Audio Animatronics from the "Enchanted Tiki Room"

Walt with the Audio Animatronics from the "Enchanted Tiki Room"

Virtual reality is a hot subject right now, it is a technology that can transport guests to places often too elaborate or impossible to build in the real world. This is good news for theme parks as it means that more immersive storytelling is now possible. It also means that through the production of quality interactive VR content older attractions with less guest traffic can be given a new life.

At its best VR will become an addition to the traditional theme park landscape and will transform the guest experience for the better. It makes sense that the first place we would see the implementation of virtual reality is in theme parks. Well before today’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or OSVR Hacker, Disney was displaying the early possibilities of VR in the 1990’s at DisneyQuest and EPCOT. 

Well before today’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or OSVR Hacker, Disney was displaying the early possibilities of VR in the 1990’s at DisneyQuest and EPCOT. 

In fact Disney’s first VR experience came in around 1998 at the now defunct Disney Quest. It was called “Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride.” In contrast to modern day CGI the images do not compare, but for 1998 they were cutting edge. These early attempts at VR were just the beginning of something much bigger.

 Ride the Comix attraction at Disney Quest

Ride the Comix attraction at Disney Quest

Since then the technology has come a long way. In late 2016 Universal Orlando was one of the first parks to implement a VR experience into a Halloween attraction. During their annual Halloween Horror Nights event they unveiled “The Repository” a limited time interactive experience that involved the use of virtual reality. The goal was to solve a mystery as you experienced the story unfold. It was considered an augmented themed experience because parts of the experience involved human actors while other aspects were in full VR. This experience was a great example of the storytelling power of VR. 

Mixing the digital and physical world allow for an incredibly rich experience never before possible with solely mechanical systems. The beauty of theme parks has always been that instead of watching a story behind the “fourth wall” of film and stage you are a part of the story. VR enhances this experience by convincing your brain that your are in a completely different world. 

Epic-Games-Supports-Virtual-Reality.jpg

Projection mapping is another digital technology with virtually limitless possibilities in the world of theme parks. It can literally transform a space to anything one desires, not through the build out of a set, but through the manipulation of light and imagery around physical objects.

 Cinderellas castle lights up each night with projection mapping

Cinderellas castle lights up each night with projection mapping

The result is a breathtaking experience that transports the audience far beyond anything mechanics can ever pull off. Unlike VR projection mapping is a more traditional “group” experience. VR is a communication channel of one to one, Projection mapping much like film is a channel of one to many. The benefits projection mapping has in the world of themed entertainment is that it enhances storytelling through the transformation of space

Unlike VR projection mapping is a more traditional “group” experience. VR is a communication channel of one to one, Projection mapping much like film is a channel of one to many.
— Christopher Settineri

It can change a ride or show dramatically with relatively little change to the existing elements. It can also be updated and refreshed relatively easily because only the media needs to be changed and produced. With modern laser projectors even the maintenance of bulb replacement and heat issues have gotten easier. Integrating interactive elements with projection mapping also opens up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to personalized guest experiences. 

This is something most parks and attractions seem to be after, and it makes sense, not only do people want to experience a park with other guests they want to feel special and want experiences tailored to their individual tastes. Disney's Magic Band system is the first step in AI and personalized integration within a Disney park. 

 Disneys Magic Band system is the first step in personalized theme park experiences

Disneys Magic Band system is the first step in personalized theme park experiences

Ultimately all of these technologies will converge as we develop the next generation of themed entertainment. As creators in the production and entertainment business is it up to us to use technology in a way that furthers storytelling and guest experience. As an industry we should welcome these technologies and explore how we can implement them in entertainment, production, and attractions.

To learn more about anything in this article and to find out how video, VR, and AR can help tell your story contact us today!

 

-Christopher Settineri