Home › Forums › Imagination Forum – Theme Park Attraction Design & Imagineering › Supporting and structural elements of a themed environment
First, this website is an absolutely incredible contribution for all persuing a future in themed entertainment and anyone who’s curiosity has been peaked by countless visits to it’s parks. Thank you for creating this site and your efforts in providing material that has helped to educate and inspire it’s readers.
Through your website I have learned much of the inner workings of theme parks and an appreciation for the trials involved with their creation. I have one more area of great interest I was hoping you and your colleagues might expand on.
I am facinated with themed environments and would love to have some insight into what behind (and under) the scenes efforts, rigging, fabrications, equipment and other considerations are required to create an indoor realistic environment complete with lighting, audio and trees, especially one with multiple levels as opposed to a flat floor.
Thank you so much for your work and the efforts of everyone involved with Themed Attraction.com in providing understanding and help for all who still believe in magic.
I’m not sure what you’re asking exactly…
Lighting is theatrical lighting, unless you’re just going to have fluorescents or some other basic system.
Levels and such for the ground are a combination of scenic design and architecture depending on the project.
Trees are fabricated and installed into place.
Are you asking how all of that is physically done? Is there a particular project you’re asking about?
Process-wise, someone designs it. Be it a rendering, model, etc.. they come up with an idea and then how it should look. Sometimes it’s firmly defined, other times it’s more of a guideline. From there lots of people work to recreate it. Basically the scenic designer just needs to provide a groundplan and centerline sectional of the set and in theory it can be built. Renderings, models, detail views, paint elevations, etc… are just there to help the other people create it more accurately to their design.
If it’s a big empty room like a warehouse, then a scenic designer will just design the various platforms and levels he wants. If it’s a purpose-made building, then an architect will work with the scenic designer to create the proper space.
Lighting designers decide the way the lighting is to look and then pick the instruments to achieve that effect, choose where they should be hung, then figure out how they’re going to be hung (from a grid on the ceiling, from lighting trees at the sides, sitting on the floor pointing up even) It’s a matter of being educated on the way to draft this plan properly so it can be installed by a trained technician – sort of like knowing a specific language to communicate with. Quality of light, color, direction, etc is all a matter of experience and knowing what works for what.
As for trees and such.. It’s matter of fabrication and what the trees should look like and such is going to define how they’re going to be built.
Really what your question is pointing out is the importance of design itself. Just saying “I want a room full of trees” as a design because it’s too vague and can be interpreted a million ways. It’s the job of the designer to define. Be it scenic, lighting, costume, etc. Vagueness is bad. A good designer provides all the needed details for something to be fabricated and leaves out the useless information – bad drafting is full of useless details like excessive labels, unneeded dimensions, etc.
That’s actually something I learned from architecture and Chinese brush painting – conveying as much information as possible with as little ink as possible.
So – can you be more specific? Are you trying to create moonlight beaming through pine trees? Even then, what sort of pine trees? Is it summer, winter, fall? And where are we talking about? What sort of space?
Short of making things hover in space (which isn’t entirely impossible) if you can dream then it can be done.
What exactly are you asking for information on creating though?
delete (wrong post)
Thanks for taking the time to respond Loric,
To clarify my question, I am looking for a basic understanding of the fabrication of multi-level artificial environments (i.e. E.T. @ Universal). I realize the methods of physical execution must be endless, but I was hoping there existed some kind of general considerations, guidelines, formulas, procedures, terms and equipment that assisted in bringing concept to form. I think a general overview of the post concept, physical process could make a well appreciated and valuable additition to the already vast resources available on Themed Attraction.com.
I do appreciate your time and detailed responce, thank you again Loric. 🙂
P.S. what is the function of a ‘centerline sectional’?
I think I know what you are asking now and rather than typing out a loooong procedural list, below is a link to TEA’s project development guidelines. It is very detailed and contains everything from initial concept thru operations. I hope this answers your questions. That’s what we are here for!
That link looks like the info I was looking for, thanks so much for the time and attention of the people who responded to my question, I’ll probably be back with more :P, thank you.
No problem, and welcome to the boards! You should introduce yourself on the Guest Book forum sometime!
Hey there –
I’ll answer your question in because detailed answers should be posted on the main site. Here are some thoughts:
(By the way, welcome! Thanks for posting!)
* I’ll answer specifically for a ride in the E.T. model of things to break it down a bit. I didn’t develop E.T. but I do know the assistant art director for the ride and he told me a bit about the process when they were creating it.
* In terms of a large, indoor dark ride, the ideal situation is to build a large box such that any sort of scene can go into it, depending on what the attraction calls for.
Nowdays that doesn’t usually work unless you can hide the box because guests will inevitably see the ride building from the outside. If it’s themed it’s either got to look like something else or it’s got to be hidden. At the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, we themed the outside of the Tabernacle show to look like a middle eastern village. We broke the large walls up with themed facades and foliage. At Disney, they hide ride buildings like Indiana Jones, Pirates, Haunted Mansion by placing them outside the berm. (“The berm” is a huge buzzword in Disneyland theming circles. If you don’t know what it is, look it up now.) Or in Universal’s case, you just hide it in plain sight and call it a sound stage.
Anyway, if in the ideal case you’ve got a large space with high ceilings to work with, facility wise… the theming goes in from here. In a ride like E.T. you have a ride vehicle suspended from a track. The track changes elevations throughout the ride, from the loading platform to several hills and dales.
Once the ride is broken down into scenes, which should happen early on, the ride track and track heights are determined. From there, a scenic designer can take into account the ride envelope and develop the sets + scenics around the ride. The ride envelope is dimensions of the ride vehicle plus a little extra for safety (aka the reach of a guest).
The important consideration of this is that the scenics will be developed from a guests’ point of view, namely, from the center of the ride track. Anything outside of the sightlines need not be developed. This may seem obvious, but if a guest can’t see it there’s no point in developing it.
Coincident with the development of the sets and scenic, there’ll be lighting, special effects and sound that will be developed for each scene. Lighting, special effects and sound especially are broken down from scene to scene and a plan is developed for each. Generally lighting is rigged from the ceiling. Speakers and sound equipment must be placed into the scene depending on the necessity of the scene. F/X equipment is usually more customized and not necessary for every scene. Generally you’ll have only a few pieces of effects equipment in the ride itself, so these are even more customized.
On top of that you have the actors in the scene. These can be live actors or animatronics (animation). The animation requires show control / animation control equipment that is generally controlled from a single location. By the way, the control rooms for lighting, sound, effects, show control, etc… should be ideally located in the center of the space such that lines can be run to each scene equally. Coincident with this is the necessity to also give each room easy access to the outside of the building such that equipment can be brought in and out without difficulty.
I actually developed a ton of these things when working on Halloween Horror nights haunted houses. Each one was its own dark ride in a sense with all the elements described above. Each space was different and the attraction had to be developed within whatever space we had. The ideal case was a box, but sometimes we had to go into an existing space like the extended queue for a ride or a restaurant somewhere. Many times the dimensions of the building shaped the guest experience simply because we had to find a way to cram all the scenes into an existing space.
This is a real basic overview, but that’s about it!
Some of the early development that I’ve seen for dark rides also includes a rough script (describing the guest experience POV as they go through the ride), and then storyboards that show various scenes of the ride — again, from the guest perspective. This preliminary work can help nail down what the story is and what the guest experience is… and avoid spinning wheels on the actual design of the set.
Some companies (e.g. Disney) often create a scale model or computer model of the building and ride track before finishing development and putting physical pieces in place. The models can cut work down the line if they are well done (for example, the scale models of the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom were cut apart and scanned into a computer so that the computer could bend the metal superstructure into the right shape… they then took those pieces of metal superstructure, bolted them together and they had exactly the tree that they wanted, only now full-size… I think that the same process was also used for the rockwork on Splash Mountain).
Holly’s right –
Although the one thing I’d say about models is that it especially helps eliminate obvious mistakes that one just can’t see until the space is created three dimensionally. A lot of times people will fall in love with a particular rendering of a scene, but it’s drawn from the perfect angle with perfect lighting and color… and it only works from that single angle. Not to mention and artists tendency to cheat to make something look better. So the model helps clarify design decisions and eliminate mistakes, improve flow and more…
Just a note about sightlines..
Much of the art of sightlines is figuring out to hide what you don’t want people to see as much as it is about knowing what needs to be built because people will see it.
Hiding mechanics, lighting, etc. The art of masking.
A centerline sectional goes back to theatrical design. It’s essentially a view of the theater and design as if you split it in half down the center line of the space/stage. Think of it all as different vantage points which convey different information.
A groundplan will convey only 2 dimensions with notes on a 3rd (labels for heights). A square on the page refers to a box and with the notes you can tell it’s like 3ft tall.
A centerline sectional looks at that from the side, so now you see height and depth, the left/right (I think that’s X axis?) arrangement is gone now and flat in the image.
Both these are important to build things – helping the technical director and shop come up with dimensions for objects – but also with the design.
You mask things using these drawings. The groundplan tells you where people can see off to the sides of a set – you place a point on the extreme POV locations and then draw straight lines. Any continuous line without obstruction from the set will be visible to the audience.
The works for a centerline sectional. It helps you tell where you need to mask up or down. You place a dot on the audience POV (what is it, 3.5 or 4.5ft from ground level for a seated person? I forget) and then you draw lines and block things off just like a groundplan.
Also very useful for lighting design. Lights have a specific beam and field angle that they produce based on the brand, style, bulb, etc.. With those numbers you can calculate the size of the spot the light will make from a surface from the location it is hung.
There are all kinds of ideals in lighting, like certain angles to produce attractive light and certain color combinations (you dont light the right and left side of the face with the same color, otherwise the person will look flat).
The drawings help you determine distance, locations, etc… Essentially you divide a set into circular sections and then focus groups of lights to achieve the effect you want on that section. That goes onto the lighting plot, and then people install the lights at the positions you specific with them point roughly at the focus spot you defined, and then during “focus and adjust” you go in and program the lighting for intensity, shuttering, and tweaking the focus onto particular objects.
Oh, and on a light plot you have to figure out where cables are gonna be run roughly, if lights are run in tandem groups, and color and all that fun stuff. There’s defined iconography that relays this information to the technicians who install it. A string of information next to an icon for a type of light tells your technician where it’s hung, where it will be plugged in to receive information for operation and power, where it’s supposed to be focused, color, any gobos (pattern screens), and any other pertinent information to properly install the light.
Say I wanted to do that neat effect that ET has where the light shines down through the trees in the queue. First off, it’s not really hitting the branches of trees and being broken into small beams as it appears. There are gobos (patterns) on the lights that create that spread of light. You choose the right gobo, then consider the color. Color is a “gel” that the light shines through. It’s sort of nighttime light blue moonlight.
I think, looking at my gel sample book (there are several brands, I just happen to have Rosco brand handy) that #68 Sky Blue looks nice. However, it only has a trans. rating of 14% (they got from 0-100) meaning it can’t really throw the color at a great distance without a really bright light. For ET, those lights are hung really high on that huge box building that Nate mentioned.
So, something with a higher trans. rating like #365 Tharon Delft Blue which is like 36%. Might actually be more blue then what they have, but it works fine for an example of the choices a designer would have to make.
I’d then choose a light fixture that does what i need based on the beam and field angle, note the size spot it will make from the available hanging positions above the queue (having to design all that structure should i need to), and then focus lights at the queue to cover it evenly and to create the right effect.
That’s the vague overview of it, but that’s pretty much the basics.
Um.. did i ramble on a bit…?
actually could you iterate on that a bit more? I dont think you quite drove the point home haha. Im joking, but seriously yeah that was deep man. I have no comments at the time.
Good point, Nate 🙂 I haven’t gotten to see a model in person yet, so I am a bit out of the loop, so to speak…
Silito, if you peek into a basic drafting book, you can get the basics pretty quickly… groundplans and elevations are important to understand. I have seen rough groundplans for some rides on the internet… So if you do a search, you can probably get a feel for the layout of these things. In a similar way, you can get a feel for the conceptual process by picking up some of Disney’s imagineering books. The drafts can get pretty technical… With theme park stuff, the person making the drafts may be a designer, engineer, architect or fabricator (ex. signage), depending on what is being built. Each has their own way of looking at things. If you look at the whole process, there are a lot of people, each hacking out detail, according to their specialty and responsibility for the finished product.
Sightlines for a ride are a little different than theatre, in that, the sightlines (a.k.a. what you can or can’t see from your vantage point) are continuously changing — although the basic principles that Loric described are the same… In theatre, you have to be concerned with the people on the ends of rows not being able to see parts of the set (and thus, the actors on that set), or being able to see all of the way into the wing. Theme parks become interesting because now you have an audience moving *through* the set. You will notice on many rides that if you look behind you, the backs of the sets aren’t always fleshed out because people don’t normally look behind them on a ride. It’s often the same with the ceiling — of you look up, you often see lights, projectors, metal beams, etc. If the lights are within the guests normal sightline, there are some strategies for “hiding” them… but if it’s in a place the guest wouldn’t normally look (e.g. behind them) they are generally left in plain sight.
From what I have observed of rides, the designers seem to create centers of focus — that is, scenes that are significantly interesting. As you turn and twist through the ride, just as you start to pass one interesting scene, another begins to be revealed that sucks your attention in. Because your attention bounces from one scene to the next as you progress through a ride, the designers can often get away with leaving some spaces painted black with no details. Your eyes skim past the black space and go immediately to the next interesting thing that’s coming up. The Haunted Mansion does that quite a bit, as well as restricting your sightlines through the shape of the vehicle — so you can only look in the direction the designer wants you to. Rides like Snow White, and the very beginning of Pirates of the Carribbean (cave scenes) seem to have significant areas that are blacked out… but no one notices. E.T. is a wide-open vehicle, but they seem to cluster the animatronics and attract your attention through lighting and movement, so that your eyes don’t dwell on the parts of the set that are less-heavily themed…
We have probably talked your ear off a little bit with all of the info we’ve given you 😉 Do you have any more specific questions that you want an answer to? Anything that you are particularly interested in?
Rob what you call centerline sectionals, would an elevation be the same thing? I guess centerline sectional is a theater term? Or am I thinking about this the wrong way? I am accustomed to drawing from an “architectural” standpoint rather than theatrical, though im sure they have alot in common. For instance, would it be normal for you to see a plan view of say, building facades that arent arranged necessarily in a straight line…but your centerline sectional would show each facade facing straight on, does that make sense? I’d like to learn more about how you guys do it in the theater world as opposed to the walk-thru style attractions that im used to. Do you have any examples of theater drawings you could post?
Back to modeling, what are all your thoughts on physical models as opposed to CG models? I would think a well-made physical model would convey alot of information and would allow one to see in and around the space very quickly…I like things I can touch and I think that physical models are very impressive when done well…Makes it easier to sell an idea. CG models on the other hand are getting easier and faster to produce yet you are bound by the size of the screen or the paper, but you can do animated fly thrus of an attraction to get an idea from a passengers perspective and how they would view each scene. So I guess each has its pros and cons. I have become handy with google sketchup lately and its a free and pretty powerful piece of software and you can make great models in literally minutes. I highly recommend trying it out.