Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Merlin ‘sponsors’ London Eye

Merlin Entertainments has revealed the second part of its three-year upgrade plan for the London Eye. The leading attractions operator now lends its own name to the ride, which visitors can enjoy together with a complementary 4D cinema experience.

“For Merlin it makes perfect sense to raise our own profile in our home market, and overseas, by publicly linking ourselves with one of our key global attractions at this time,” says Merlin CEO Nick Varney.

Now known as The Merlin Entertainments London Eye, the new identity will be backed up by the observation wheel’s first ever television commercial. Earlier this Merlin also took out TV advertising for its new Annual Pass, as it seeks to build its brand in the mind of consumers familiar with its individual attractions but not the parent company.

British Airways, which sponsored the Eye since its unveiling in late 1999, withdrew its support at the start of 2008 and since then Merlin has been seeking an alternative sponsor. The company says it is confident of finding a replacement in time for the 2012 Olympics in London, but in the meantime is comfortable using the ride to boost its own profile.

“Since Merlin acquired the London Eye in 2007 we have come to appreciate what a powerful brand it is in its own right,” says a Merlin spokesperson. “We have therefore become very selective about the nature and kind of sponsorship we feel is appropriate for the brand, and to date while we have had many partnership offers none of them to date have reflected in our opinion the unique opportunity the Eye presents.”

Now open alongside the Eye is a new £5 million ($8.2m/€5.8m) 4D cinematic experience, a pre-show of sorts, included as part of the standard £17.50 ($29/€20) ticket price. The theatre was installed by SimexIwerks and, refreshingly, the accompanying four-minute film features live action, rather than CGI, 3D footage combined with 4D sensory effects like wind, snow and smell (see panel opposite for more details).

Installing the 4D cinema in County Hall, a grade 3 listed building, presented several challenges for Merlin, its architects and construction team. However, it used the opportunity to refurbish the ticket hall and information area in the same building and highlight the ride’s new identity as The Merlin Entertainments London Eye. The improvements are part of an ongoing three-year upgrade that will be finished in time for the Olympics. At present, each of the wheel’s capsules is being removed one at a time and taken away for refurbishment.

The Making of… The London Eye 4D Experience

Created at Pinewood Shepperton Studios, the 3D film now offered as an integral part of the London Eye experience has been described by one of its creators as, “the most significant live-action 3D movie produced in the UK to date.”

The four-minute production features the first ever real life 3D footage of London landmarks such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and of course the Eye itself. Guests can enjoy the film as a precursor to a ride on the Eye in a custom-built 4D cinema next to the ride in County Hall.

The movie was written and directed by Julian Napier and produced by Centre Screen Productions in association with Principal Large Format (PLF) and Pablo Post. Stereo 3D production was by PLF’s Phil Streather.

The storyline involves a young on a New Year’s Eve visit to the capital, whose view of the city’s many tourist sites is constantly obscured by crowds, other buildings and the general hubbub of the city. Just when it seems her trip is destined to end in disappointment, she is whisked away by a friendly seagull for a view like no other – from The Merlin Entertainments London Eye.

“The story needed to be told very quickly and be non-dialogue dependent as many of the Eye’s passengers are foreign tourists,” explains Napier. “It was also paramount to set this apart from the typical adrenaline-pumping 4D theme park experience as the Eye is visited by infants, pensioners and everyone in between.”

“Having a purpose-built theatre for a 3D/4D film is perfect,” says Streather. “The distance of the audience from the screen and the size of the screen itself have an enormous impact on the experience.”

“Among the many firsts on this project,” he adds, “ are the amazing aerial views over London. We worked with Jeremy Braben of Helicopter Film Services to design and build the world’s first gyrostabilised 3D helicopter camera mount, and we think the results speak for themselves –simply breathtaking.”

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