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Oscar winners & nominees apply their craft to cutting-edge theme park attractions for Falcon's Creative Group

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Oscar winners & nominees apply their craft to cutting-edge theme park attractions for Falcon's Creative Group

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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 the globe.

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 parks.

"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 later."

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 the
set 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 a story.

"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 for
Pandora : 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

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