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Six Degrees of "Star Tours"

Six Degrees of "Star Tours"

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Are you familiar with the game the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"? Where you try -- by using as few films as possible -- to link a particular performer to the star of "Footloose"?

Well, when it comes to the "Star Tours" attraction, you can actually play a very similiar game with a Canadian-based company called Simex-Iwerks. Where you can show how the development of this Disneyland thrill ride -- as well as many other simulator-type attractions -- can all eventually be tied back to this one particular corporation.

Don't believe me? Okay. Then let's play the"Six Degrees of Simex" and I'll show you what I mean:

1. In the 1980's, Rediffusion, which is now Thomson's simulator group, established a company called InterActive Entertainment as a partnership with Maple Entertainment and Helix Investments. Their first operation was "Tour of the Universe" at Toronto's CN Tower. InterActive Entertainment is now known as Simex.

2. Doug Trumbull's company, Showscan, attempted to merge with Iwerks Entertainment in 1998. The proposed merger was rejected by Iwerks' shareholders and eventually Showscan, which provided the 60 frame per second projector equipment and a number of films for InterActive (including "Tour of the Universe"), went out of business. If Iwerks sounds familiar, it should. The company was founded by former Disney Imagineer Don Iwerks, son of Walt's legendary partner Ub Iwerks, and in a way is the other house that the Mouse built. In 2002, Iwerks was acquired by Simex.

3. Guess who led the team which designed the projection system for "Star Tours?" Don Iwerks.

4. Doug Trumbull moved on from Showscan to create Ridefilm, which was merged with IMAX Corporation. Eventually, IMAX sold off Ridefilm in 2001 to - you guessed it - Simex.

5.IMAX entered the attraction market in a big way in 1998 with "Race for Atlantis," an IMAX 3D motion simulator ride at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The animation for the film was composed by computer animation company Rhythm + Hues. R+H animated two other major attractions that year - Disney's "It's Tough to be a Bug" and "Star Trek: The Experience" at the Las Vegas Hilton. Both "Atlantis" and "Star Trek" used McFadden simulation bases, and McFadden is now owned by Simex.

6. On a personal note, at the 1998 IAAPA Convention, I rode one of the first Iwerks 3D simulators with Tony Baxter, a key Imagineer on the "Star Tours" project. I recall that we sat in the front row and were told by one of the attendants that we should sit farther back in order to better enjoy the experience. Neither one of us enjoyed the heads in our way, especially since the seats (or as Tony called them, "moving loveseats") moved individually in pairs rather than all together as one unit and the screen was stationary. Neither did we enjoy the fact that our feet dragged on the ground. When we later ran into some other attraction designers, they mentioned how fantastic it was sitting in the front row. To the best of my knowledge, Tony Baxter has not yet been acquired by Simex.

If you've ever ridden a simulator ride or seen a 3D movie in a Disney, Universal, Paramount, or Six Flags Park, chances are Simex was involved in one way or another. I'll have more on Simex and Iwerks soon, including a look at Cineopolis, Iwerks' attempt at a film-based theme park.

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