Fans of the “Fab 4” can enjoy their music as never before in a brand new 3D film laced with special effects, and there’s only one place to see it – the Beatles Story in Liverpool, where else? Park World goes behind the scenes of the latest 4D experience from Simworx.
Fab4D opened this summer and is the highlight of the new Beatles Story annex at the Pier Head ferry terminal on Liverpool’s renowned waterfront. The original Beatles Story, just a 10-minute walk away at the Albert Dock, is already one of the British city’s most popular visitor attractions. Located on the first floor of a new £10.5 million ($17m/€12m) terminal building, the new outlet is a “Beatles Story Light” featuring the 40-seat Fab4D theatre, Fab 4 Store and an exhibition space, currently hosting the world premier of White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon.
The idea for Fab4D came from Beatles Story managing director Jerry Goldman: “Someone once said we should make a film of the song Eleanor Rigby; it’s such an amazing story,” he explains. “Then I was at an exhibition [Leisure Industry Week] and came across Simworx. I went into their effects theatre on the show floor, saw what they were offering, and thought ‘just a minute…’”
A bespoke computer-animated 11-minute movie was commissioned from Red Star 3D, the same studio that produced Curse of Skullrock and other attraction films sold by Simworx. Fab4D tells the tale a Mike, a young roadie at the Cavern Club taken on a magical mystery tour through the music of “the world’s greatest band” to meet Anna, the girl of his dreams.
Mike must make his way to a concert that night if he is to capture Anna’s heart, but how should he get there? Sergeant Pepper is his guide on a tram trip to remember, travelling along Penny Lane, into Strawberry Fields, through a lonely graveyard (cue Eleanor Rigby) and on a Yellow Submarine voyage beneath the River Mersey. When he arrives at the gig, Anna gives Mike a longing stare as the band plays She Loves You.
“There’s so much Beatles music to choose from, the challenge was to narrow it down to the five songs we have,” says Goldman, “but I think it really works.”
“For the Beatles Story an off-the-shelf film simply would not have worked,” says Simworx managing director Terry Monkton. “By commissioning Fab4D they get an exclusive, custom-made movie for the equivalent cost of a typical three to four-year licensing deal, plus they can benefit from spin-offs like merchandising.”
“For me, it’s hard to choose a favourite part of the film,” adds Goldman, “but I think the whole Yellow Submarine sequence, where the tram turns into a submarine, you are splashed with water, and then there are all these fish and bubbles, is fantastic. In fact,iIt’s hard to work out what is real.”
As well as bubbles and water, other 4D effects include leg ticklers (simulating octopus tentacles), scent (the strawberries in Strawberry Fields), smoke (during the graveyard sequence), wind, seat drops and psychedelic special effects lighting.
As with the rest of the Beatles Story, Fab4D’s creators had to be careful how they addressed certain aspects of band’s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but ‘60s kids will appreciate the 3D strawberry hallucinations and Sergeant Pepper’s rolling eyeballs.
More explicit are the links throughout the film to Mersey Ferries. The tram, meanwhile, is a nod towards Liverpool’s ill-fated light rail system, which should have been installed in time for European Capital of Culture 2008, but never got funding.
Fortunately, money was found for the new ferry terminal, where the Beatles Story forms part of a “tourism triangle” comprising one attraction at each of three ferry terminals. Liverpool has never been shy when it comes to exploiting The Beatles’ legacy, so it seems only fitting that the Pier Head should host this latest attraction. At Seacombe, guests can visit Spaceport, a hands-on interactive journey through space and time, while at Woodside terminal in Birkenhead they can enjoy the U-Boat Story, a fascinating exhibition featuring a German submarine dissected into four pieces.
Dock ‘n’ Roll
Founded nearly 20 years ago at the Albert Dock, the Beatles Story currently attracts around 200,000 visitors a year, around 60% of whom come from overseas. The venue was acquired last year by Merseytravel, the public body that runs Mersey Ferries, and tripled in size with the addition of an interactive children’s discovery zone, new exhibition area and themed Starbucks. Visitors can now enjoy both Beatles Story outlets for £12.25 ($20.20/€14.20). Currently there are no plans to offer a separate ticket for the Pier Head, or indeed Fab4D.
The hardware that accompanies the film includes high definition 3D Christie projectors, a custom-sized screen and seating configuration, plus 5.1 surround sound.
The new installation is in fact Liverpool’s first 4D theatre, so is it possible some visitors may think the “4” in the film’s title relates simply to The Beatles’ four band members?
“We’ve had some great reactions to the whole experience,” reveals press officer Jamie Bowman, “but you know, no one’s ever asked what 4D means!”
“We like to say that it’s 3D animation with special effects,” adds Goldman. “We want people to be curious enough to go in, but not know really what to expect inside, and I think we are achieving that. If we get enough people to go in, I think word of mouth will spread like crazy.”
Fab4D gives tourists to Liverpool another great reason to visit the Beatles Story, and so far the new outlet at the Pier Head is helping it stay ahead of last year, when the cachet surrounding European Capital of Culture boosted attractions throughout the city. And you know that can’t be bad.
Due to rights issues, the music that accompanies Fab4D is not performed by The Beatles. Instead it was recorded specially for the attraction by local artist Karl Lornie. “We could have attempted to license the original recordings,” says Beatles Story managing director Jerry Goldman, “but it would have delayed us tremendously.”
Although they have tended to turn a blind eye to the attraction, Goldman adds that he does now have a dialogue with the group’s rights holder, Apple Corps: “Originally there was never any relationship between us and Apple, but since their new management, we do talk. If we’re going to do something we get in touch with them first and if they say they are not comfortable with it, we back away; and we totally respect their trademarks. However, there is no official Beatles attraction anywhere in the world, and I’m not sure there ever will be.”