When James Sanna, president and CEO of Running Subway, came to the team at Super 78 seeking the design firm’s expertise to help develop an attraction in New York City, little did they know it would take them on a ten-year journey together. Thanks to their tenacity, “RiseNY,” recently opened to acclaim in Times Square.
The attraction tells the story of New York through a series of engaging museum galleries and culminates with a simulated flight above its storied boroughs. It treats guests to sweeping vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9/11 Memorial, and other evocative scenes that capture the city’s grandeur as well as the spirit and energy of its people. Developing “RiseNY” and getting it open, however, has been something of a bumpy ride.
Soon after meeting to get the project going, Hurricane Sandy unleashed its wrath. Running Subway then lost the location on which it had set its sights, causing further delays. The COVID-19 pandemic added additional turbulence. Through it all, the creative partners persevered.
“New York is a city that never gives up. This project speaks to the resolve of New Yorkers like James who refuse to take no for an answer and rise up anyway,” said Dina Benadon, Super 78’s co-founder and CEO. “We’ve been along for the ride since the beginning.”
With a 25-year background in visual effects and attractions development, Super 78 is one of the industry’s leading creators of flying theatre rides. Among the many projects it has crafted are “Wings Over Washington,” located at Seattle’s Pier 57, and “Flying Over Indonesia” for the indoor theme park, Trans Studio Bali. The shop is currently working on two additional flying theater attractions.
But Super 78 brings more than film production capabilities to a client. Inveterate storytellers, they understand the critical role that a cohesive narrative can play–especially one that appeals to an audience’s emotions. For “RiseNY,” they pitched an overarching story built around tipping points, the important and often surprising junctures that led to the city’s preeminence in culture, finance, trade, and more. The theme resonated and led to media-rich exhibit halls that celebrate topics such as the evolution of Broadway theater, the establishment of radio and television with New York as the broadcasting epicenter, and the ascent of the fashion industry.
“There is great depth to the attraction,” said Brent Young, Super 78’s co-founder and president. On average, guests spend 60 minutes exploring “RiseNY,” but some linger longer. “Visitors can access and unpack lots of layers,” he added.
A short film traces the history of New York and sets the tone for the experience. Created by noted documentarians Ric Burns and James Sanders and narrated by Jeff Goldblum, it is presented in a replica of the city’s first subway station. A modern-day subway train virtually transports guests to the museum galleries. In the final room, they enter a 1950s-era television studio and see a black-and-white broadcast of the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.
Unbeknownst to visitors, they are sitting in Brogent Technologies’ 46-passenger, m-Ride flying theater ride vehicles. Designed to pivot 180 degrees, they turn and enter the main theater with a flourish to begin the tour above and through New York City. Directed by Young, the film includes practical footage that is seamlessly blended with CGI to provide a captivating ride experience.
“We’ve made a lot of flying films, and we’ve seen a lot of them. This is by far one of the most unique and special experiences out there,” Benadon says. “It captures the soul of New York.”
Young adds that he was able to commandeer helicopters and fly above the city to capture scenes in ways that may no longer be possible. “The way flight paths are being restricted, there may not be this kind of access,” he says. “This may be the definitive aerial record of New York.”
What is the enduring appeal of flying theaters? They are, perhaps, the most transportive themed experience available, according to Robert Coker, senior show writer, creative development for Super 78. “The sensation of gliding and flying is a primal, Freudian desire. It’s exhilarating and calming at the same time.” It’s also accessible to and beloved by a wide audience.
“Flying theaters are transcending,” adds Benadon. “They really take people into another world. You are completely in the moment flying through New York City.”
During the long production period for “RiseNY,” Super 78 was able to nimbly pivot and accommodate changes by relying on Mushroom VR, the proprietary media review tool it developed. It was also able to keep Running Subway in the creative loop by giving them access to the pre-visualization technology.
Young is amazed that the concepts Super 78 pitched remained relatively intact throughout the decade it took to develop “RiseNY.” He attributes it to a creative vision that stood the test of time.
“The story, itself, is timeless,” he says. “It’s the story of New York.”