Tonight, all eyes will be on the Dolby Theatre as Hollywood
comes together to celebrate the craft of movie-making.
Mind you, as entertaining as the Academy Awards may be to
watch, it's important to remember that those who receive Oscars don't
necessarily limit themselves to just working on movies that then show up at
your local multiplex.
Take - for example - Mark Lasoff, the veteran visual effects
artist who, along with Thomas L. Fisher, Michael Kanfer, and Robert Legato,
took home 1998's Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for his work on James
Cameron's "Titanic." These days, Lasoff applies his Oscar-winning skills to the
various theme park attractions that Falcon's Creative Group is building around
James Cameron directs Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet on the set of "Titanic."
Which shouldn't be all that surprising. Given that - during
the time that Lasoff worked at Digital Domain, the ground-breaking visual
effects and digital production company that Cameron founded back in 1993 with
Scott Ross & Stan Winston - Mark worked with James on the Thea
Award-winning "Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time" for the Universal theme
"Jim did a very good job with that attraction," Lasoff said
during a recent phone interview. "He was among the very first folks in
Hollywood to realize how important it was to be hands-on when it came to
translating the characters that you created to a theme park setting. And all of
the care & attention he paid to 'Battle Across Time' clearly paid off.
Because that 'Terminator' attraction opened back in April of 1996 and it's
still entertaining visitors to Universal Studios Florida more than 20 years
Mind you, when "Terminator 2" (the movie) first opened in
theaters back in July of 1991, Cameron had 2 hours and 3 minutes of screen time
to tell his tale of time-traveling cybernetic organisms. Whereas when
"Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time" debuted at USF less than 5 years later,
between the pre-show portion of this theme park attraction and what then went
on inside of its 700-seat main theater, Jim only had 27 minutes total to spin
out his story for this "Terminator" mini-sequel.
Stan Winston adjust a Terminator puppet as James Cameron sets up a shot on theset of "Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time."
"And the 3D movie portion of 'Battle Across Time' was 12
minutes long. These days, you're lucky if you get six minutes of screen time
with which to tell a story in a theme park setting," Mark continued. "And it
can be really challenging to tell a coherent, entertaining story in that short
span of time."
It's at moments like this that Lasoff relies heavily on his
colleagues at Falcon's Creative Group. People like Rick Morris, who was
nominated for an Oscar for his sound effects work on 1997's "Face/Off."
"And when you're doing sound design for a theme park
attraction ... Well, it's very different than when you're working on sound design
for a feature film because - when you're working on something that's going to
be released to theaters - there's a standard set-up. You know that this film is
going to be released to a theater that's at least going to have 5.1 channels of
high quality audio. Maybe 7.1 Surround or Dolby Atmos. Which all have very
specific placement when it comes to the speakers they use," Rick explained.
"But when it comes to doing sound design for a theme park attraction, almost
every one of these projects is a custom build. Which means that - when you're
working on a new theater-based film show - the speakers for that show each have
their own unique placement. Which means - when you're doing the final sound mix
for that show - you then have to go to the field to do it."
IMG Worlds of Adventure theme park towards the end of its construction phase.
Which - I know - sounds kind of glamorous. Sort of like the
great Hollywood tradition of shooting on location. The only problem is that -
when someone like Mr. Morris goes to a theme park to do the final sound mix on
a new attraction - he typically finds himself in an active construction site.
Take - for example - "Hulk Epsilon Base 3D," the CircuMotion
theater show that Falcon's Creative Group created for IMG Worlds of Adventure.
Which is this massive project that opened in Dubai last August. "How massive?,"
you ask. IMG Worlds of Adventure is the world's largest indoor theme park. With
a construction price tag of $1 billion, this 1.5 million square-foot structure
is the equivalent of 28 football fields all under one roof.
But when Rick traveled to Dubai to work on "Hulk Epsilon
Base 3D," IMG Worlds of Adventure still had heavy equipment rolling through it,
sending clouds of dust & dirt everywhere. Which then made fine-tuning the
sound mix for this one-of-a kind, state-of-the-art stereoscopic cinema dome
show a challenge.
"Given the stage of construction the park was still in when
I arrived onsite, the working conditions weren't great. And then - when I
actually got into the theater to try and do my final sound mix - I found that
certain speakers weren't working yet or hadn't even been installed," Morris
laughed. "But that's just the nature of the beast when it comes to the final
phase of theme park construction. So I found other attractions to work on
onsite while they got all of the speakers installed and working correctly in
the 'Hulk' theater. And in the end, the show turned out great in terms of sound
because they came in after the fact and installed additional acoustics."
Rick wound up spending nearly seven weeks working in the
field on the various rides, shows and attraction that Falcon's Creative Group
designed for IMG Worlds of Adventure. But that sort of attention to detail --
making sure that the sound inside of each attraction is perfect - is crucial,
given the limited amount of time that you have in a theme park setting to tell
"That's why we always try and make the stories we tell
immersive. In a traditional film, the audience is just a spectator. Which is
why it's great to have two hours of screen time to tell your story. Because -
when you're not an active participant - it can sometime take that amount of
time for an audience to actually get caught up in the story that a movie's
trying to tell," Morris said. "Whereas with a film-based theater attraction,
you only have a few minutes to introduce your audience to the characters, explain
the predicament they're in and then resolve your story. That's why creating an
immersive environment - which then makes the audience a character in the story
you're trying to tell - is crucial. That's what ultimately gets them engaged
that much more quickly. Really raises the stakes for those people who are
experiencing that attraction."
James Cameron. Tom Staggs and Joe Rohde look over a model forPandora : The World of AVATAR.
"That's why I can't wait to see what Jim (Cameron) did with
Disney on their new 'AVATAR' attraction for Animal Kingdom," Lasoff concluded.
"Given what he did with Universal with the "Terminator' characters back in
1996, I'm betting that Pandora will be even some spectacular."
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, February 26, 2017