The world’s first Immersive Tunnel from Simworx has opened in Germany as part of an elaborate new attraction that plunges passengers deep into a dinosaur encounter. But will they escape? Owen Ralph reports from Movie Park.
“We have created something that you cannot find in any other theme park,” announces Movie Park general manager Wouter Dekkers. “At the heart of the attraction is a two-minute 3D ride film, comparable in length to a coaster, but we wanted to build a unique 360° experience around it. The Lost Temple takes visitors on a 15-minute journey into an amazing prehistoric world they will never forget.”
Visitors making their way over to the former Movie Magic Hall just off the park’s entry plaza will find a relatively discreet looking entrance leading them towards an apparent excavation site over an abandoned mine. Here the English archaeologist Dr Jeffrey Carter has made an amazing discovery: an ancient temple filled with the amazing artefacts of a lost civilisation. Movie Park guests can join him by taking an elevator “700 metres” down into the depths of the mine. In fact they remain at ground level, but an impressive simulation effect convinces them otherwise and when they exit into the next pre-show area they find that the temperature has plunged along with the elevator (actually they have only moved a few metres to the left).
Dr Carter can be seen on screen as he relays a report to mission support. But soon all communication is lost as a rumble is heard in the background, and rocks begin to move around the guests, or “explorers”. It’s almost as if someone, something, is making footprints overhead. There’s only one way to find out what is causing the disturbance, and soon explorers are ushered towards one of two expedition vehicles as they prepare to embark on an action-packed adventure to find the Doc.
Movie Park general manager Wouter Dekkers at the entrance to the attraction
The attraction uses the latest 3D animation and large screen projection techniques combined with a ride system from Simworx to immersive audiences in the action as fierce prehistoric creatures surround the vehicles …non too happy that Dr Carter and his colleagues are driving around their forgotten surroundings. Then, just when they think the experience is over, guests are given one last dinosaur encounter as an animatronic T-Rex roars at them from behind a cage as they make their way out of the ride building!
So why a media-based attraction? “Originally we looked at a rollercoaster,” reveals Dekkers. “but in these uncertain times coming out of the financial crisis we decided to go a little bit safer on the investment side. We looked last year to our sister park Tusenfryd in Oslo, which had just done a Thor-themed dark ride, but when the guys from Simworx came to us with the Immersive Tunnel we realised that we could create something really unique. It’s all about going back to storytelling, which is in our DNA as a movie theme park. We did it with Nick Land, Van Helsing and last year with the Ninja Turtles driving school. It doesn’t always have to be film-related, but it does have to have a strong story and media-based attractions are one way of delivering that.”
More than just a simulator
The Immersive Tunnel that is integral to The Lost Temple comprises two 30-seat simulator units, themed as Jeep-style vehicles, each of which sit upon a 3-DOF motion base. Once passengers are on board, safely seated and equipped with 3D glasses, the vehicles crawl forward along a short track and into the main show area, which features a large 5m-high, 46m-long horsehoe-shaped surround screen. Once the film is over, the vehicles reverse back into the loading area. In addition to the 3D film content, passengers experience the dynamic movement of the ride vehicle, together with 4D-style special effects, surround sound and dramatic lighting. Theoretical hourly capacity using the two ride vehicles is 900, but the park is currently running at about two-thirds that as it masters the experience.
“The Immersive Tunnel is a dynamic, totally immersive attraction that takes sensory and physical simulation – and stimulation – to a new level,” declares Simworx managing director Terry Monkton. “Combined with the superb theming that has been created in The Lost Temple, this first installation provides a hugely entertaining adventure. Seeing guests’ reactions when the vehicles are ‘attacked’ by the T-Rex creatures is just brilliant!”
For Dekkers, one of the biggest acknowledgements that he has created a compelling attraction came last month in an overheard guest comment: “There were two brothers sat in front of us,” recalls the Movie Park boss, “and they were arguing whether or not the dinosaurs were real. That for me was the greatest compliment!”
Dutch-born Dekkers, who has been at the park in Bottrop-Kirchhellen, North Rhine-Westphalia, for the last decade, has been very actively involved in the development of The Lost Temple. Working alongside him was long-time project manager Wiebe Damstra, who also oversaw the creation of Van Helsing’s Factory, the park’s themed indoor rollercoaster experience introduced in 2011. As well as Simworx from the UK, contractors included Rocas & Design from Spain, responsible for most of the theming, UK Loco, which produced the elevator simulation and Yessian of the USA, which created all the music and sound. AV was split between Simworx and Nightlife from the Netherlands. The CGI media was produced by Tau Films from Kuala Lumpur for Riva Digital (Dubai) and Super 78 of California, whose president Brent Young acted as the project’s ceative director.
Bringing the dinosaurs to live
“Movie Park had already approached Riva Digital with the idea of creating a fun and thrilling ‘dinosaur encounter’ and committed to the Simworx Immersive Tunnel as the ride system for the main show,” recounts Young. “Our our primary tasks were to create a story, physical experience and media experience that would work best with the park’s wishes. We initially pitched two concepts. One leaned more towards a fantasy that would appeal to a younger audience and the second was more thrill-oriented, for a slightly older, more teenage demographic. Ultimately, we found a ‘sweet spot’ that isn’t too aggressive, but is engrossing enough for teens and adults. The experience is Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park.”
“The Immerisve Tunnel is a new and technically demanding format,” continues Young. “The two-car ride vehicle is so long that we had to create plenty of creature encounters so that no matter where a passenger is sitting, there is action taking place. To create the 3D imagery in the proper scale and perspective, we used Super 78’s Mushroom, a virtual reality pre-visualisation tool for the Oculus Rift. The technology allowed us to troubleshoot every aspect of the show before any construction began and saved us a huge amount of time and money.”
Rocas & Design, menanhwile, had just three months to complete its theming work. The results are impressive, including an animatronic roof located in the pre-show area, many themed items in the waiting rooms, plus archaeologically-authentic, rust, dirt, neglect and destruction. Based in Alicante, the company has worked on several previous projects for Movie Park owner Parques Reunidos, including the new Nickelodeon Land at Parque de Atracciones in Madrid.
“I prefer to talk about partners rather than suppliers, because we all came together as a team,” notes Dekkers. “It was extremely enjoyable, energetic, tiring at times, but I can only applaud all parties involved that they kept up with our demands to build to this quality. All of the companies wanted to be on this project, and I think they will be happy to attach their name to it. I am certainly proud of what we have achieved.”
Hollywood comes to Germany
The inspiration for the Immersive Tunnel was arguably King Kong 360: 3-D, a tramcar simulator featured at the end of Universal Studios Hollywood’s studio tour. It too features a dinosaur encounter, brought to life with the aid of a motion base and large screen media. Inevitably, Movie Park has done it for less (the Lost Temple budget was approximately €5 million/$6.5m), but nevertheless the finished product was enough to convince the German magazine Euro Amusement Professional to declare “Movie Park tops Hollywood!”
“The Lost Temple is an incredibly exciting, incredibly immersive ride – with original IP – that was created on a budget that every regional park can afford,” notes Young. “It’s a perfect example that you don’t need $100+ million dollars to build something unique and first-rate. Guests will enjoy this ride every bit as much as anything they will find at a destination park.”
Dekkers adds that it he is particularly pleased with the results given the project’s remarkably short development time – less than 12 months from idea to opening. “I wanted to wait until I had seen Thor at Tusenfryd before making a decision,” explains the Movie Park boss. “That opened in June last year, and then we got the budget approval from Parques Reunidos on 8 August. We opened The Lost Temple at the end of July. We do not have the six year lead times that maybe some other parks do, however we have learned as a park and as a group that for such a highly complex project, the lead time needs to be longer.”
“I have to say I was extremely happy with budget allocation on this and the last few attractions at Movie Park,” continues Dekkers. “Maybe the only other thing I would have spent money on if we had it was putting in some dropping ceilings in the pre-show area, but it all came down to time. We have done a lot; we’ve got the elevator, some animatronics, a great soundtrack, lighting and effects. How many parks do you know where you have big balls of fire in the waiting area? Could we do it again for five million? Perhaps not.”
For many parks the appeal of media-based attractions, or at least one of the benefits claimed by those trying to sell them, is that the film content can be changed “at the flick of switch”. Due to the extensive theming on The Lost Temple that is not quite the case, however the park does not rule out adapting the experience for special events such as Halloween by adding a cliff-hanger. “For now there are so many things to see to see I would say you could easily go for five or 10 years with the same film,” believes Dekkers.
Does he expect to see similar attractions rolled out at other parks? “I know that besides Simworx there are at least two other companies now offering ride systems like this, so I think it will become a product category, like you get with an inverted coaster or an interactive water ride, etc. But ours was the first Immersive Tunnel! I can’t imagine too many more within our region, but I can definitely see other parks, either inside or outside our group, launching a tunnel in the future.”
“We’re very hopeful that this format takes off,” concludes Brent Young, “and that people have the same vision Wouter had: a highly themed experience from beginning to end that takes guests on a one-of-a-kind adventure. We would love for every park to have a ride like this, a signature attraction that is theirs and theirs alone. And they can; that’s the beauty of it.”
Turn-key or not turn-key? That is the question!
Creating The Lost Temple required a varied set of skills from manyl different suppliers. Movie Park chose to assemble the team of vendors itself, rather than relying on a single company to deliver the project on a ‘turn-key’ basis.
“In my opinion, turn-key is a difficult concept because at the end of the day there is only one person in control of the project and that is the park itself,” notes Dekkers. “Here there you have so many interfaces, between the ride system, between the motion bases, between the projectors, the pre-shows areas, and so on. With respect to Simworx, who were also able to help us with the film, one company cannot do it all. You always need to use the relevant professionals in each area and Wiebe Damstra, our project manager, brought them all together perfectly.”