The Making of IOA: Jurassic Park

A paleontological pit stop on your excursion through the Islands of Adventure, Jurassic Park converts one of Universal Studios’ prime movieland properties into genuine real estate in Orlando. Its pace is set by the sweeping scores John Williams composed for the monster hit of 1993 and its 1997 sequel, The Lost World–slowly rising crescendos of wonder and excitement, alternating with stings of doom and danger, played throughout the venue on loudspeakers as carefully hidden among the rockwork and foliage as the rest of the attraction’s technology.

“We are the oasis,” explains island producer Bob Shreve. “By the time guests get to us, we figure they’ve done half the park, they’re tired, they’re hungry, and they need to refuel. It’s subdued and comfortable–but we don’t want you to get too relaxed.” As if you could, what with an occasional growl from unseen fauna emanating from the flora.

Shreve described his four-year involvement with this island from a table at the saurian-themed Thunder Falls Terrace restaurant, which overlooks Jurassic Park River Adventure, the action highlight of the island’s entertainment components. As what he calls “the keeper of the story,” his task was to bring what previously existed only on print and celluloid to living, breathing life, drawing from the resources of Universal Creative, dinosaur experts, and key subcontractors. “I identified what the story was at each individual attraction to make for a cohesive guest experience, ensured that the design and engineering processes supported what we needed, and oversaw the installation to get the quality and value we were supposed to.”

From the Pteranodon Flyers that soar 60′ above the ground to the thematically paved footpaths, which swarm with the fossilized imprints of bygone animal life, Jurassic Park is a playground for paleontologists of all ages. “This whole place was basically a swamp when we got here,” Shreve says, adding, “We brought in and planted every stick” of the island’s lush tropical vegetation, sourced from as far away as New Zealand and South America. Themed set and architectural elements that recall the various sites from Isla Nublar from the first film were contributed by companies including Piper Productions, Themeworks, and Scenic Productions Inc., with rockwork by Cost of Wisconsin and Valley Crest, and themed painting by Cinnabar.

Bearing a passing resemblance to director Steven Spielberg (“guests would sometimes ask for my autograph”), Shreve was well cast as producer. Joining him on his journey were entertainment technologists including A/V engineering manager Brian McQuillian, who worked closely with firms including Signal Perfection Ltd. (SPL) and Soundelux Showorks on suitable audioscapes for the park, and lighting designer Lisa Passamonte Green of Valencia, CA-based Passamonte Lighting Design, who by day added shadings to reinforce the island’s prehistoric grottoes and hideaways, and by night introduced shades of blue that dapple the island to ensure a cohesive walk-through for guests reminiscent of the evening scenes in the movies.

Camp Jurassic is Jurassic Park’s most unforgiving environment, as its clientele is largely made up of children known to extend their play to include lighting and sound equipment. “Anything you put on the ground, they’re goingto try to destroy,” adds Shreve, so here, even more so than on the rest of this island, it was imperative that equipment be concealed from view to strengthen the guest experience (in this case, from the guests themselves).

This attraction is a smoldering volcano whose churning activity formed Jurassic Park eons ago. It is encircled, from above, by the Pteranodon Flyers, pterodactyl-shaped ride vehicles that take visitors on flights above the campground, where kids romp through the caves and quarries of a lava pit and amber mine.

Sound gags prevail. A Soundelux Sound Designer was used to create an effects-heavy soundtrack loop, with SPL supplying the hardware. Tactile transducers are used at the camp’s Thunder Lizard Trail to create dino-sized rumblings when children step into large prehistoric footprints; a Peavey MediaMatrix routes the sounds to the appropriate prints. “The transducers are placed around the rocks and foliage outside each footprint, so they pick up the vibrations of a footfall,” says Shreve. “It’s simple, just a metal plate laid atop a sensor, nothing complex to replace.”

Ease of maintenance was also of primary importance to Passamonte Green, who worked with a team of lighting designers including John Martin, Kristen Appleton, and Ted Ferreira on a system of islands-wide lighting standards to ease fixture installation and replacement. In the lava pit, whose ridges hide small, weatherproof speakers from Community, she used Fiberstars fixtures from FibreOptics International to create bubbling lava effects, and also stashed them behind amber pieces in the mine “so you don’t give away the source, and because once they’re in place, you don’t have to touch it again. Lighting is very much a decaying art form if you can’t maintain it properly.”

Here, as elsewhere in Jurassic Park, the lighting designer used architectural units for theatrical flair. Lumiere MR-16 and 35W metal-halide accent fixtures are used in the darkened exteriors, with fluorescents from Orgatech Omegalux used in hallways at transition points between environments. Specially made dichroic filters from Hurricane, UT-based Special FX Lighting, her favorite brand throughout the island, helped allow the LD to “play with color and space and texture” with Hydrel fixtures in this attraction, and obscure light sources from the roving eyes of the park’s youngest and most discerning critics.

Triceratops Encounter

Shreve says those commentators suspend their disbelief just long enough to believe in the three stars of Triceratops Encounter, each housed in its own compound, which guests enter in groups after a back-of-house tour of some of the island’s facilities. “Kids are pretty skeptical, but after a minute or two they ask, ‘What does it eat?’ ” Even more skeptical were Universal executives, who after the problems encountered with lifelike animatronic dinosaurs on Jurassic Park: The Ride were not keen on what Shreve says is “an up-close-and-personal, five-minute walk around a full-scale creature. We’re not shuttling you on a boat, or a car, so we had to have all our bases covered before proceeding.”

The executives saw an animated Triceratops head and neck at a successful tryout. The completed beasts, 23′ long and 10′ tall, are filled with a complicated set of hydraulics. Their “diet” is a series of logarithms which feed their 34 articulated joints, animating their heads, tails, and musculature for the duration of the visit, during which actors portraying veterinary assistants probe them for signs of a cold. A bellows system installed within moves the animals’ ribs and expels their final watery sneezes.

Despite the Triceratopses’ size, “Space inside was zilch. Plus, for sound effects, the designers were not crazy about having speakers in there that could vibrate the creatures apart,” Shreve says. But he and McQuillian found creative ways to explore point-source positioning of audio with the animals, built by Toronto-based Spar Aerospace (which created the robotic cargo arms for NASA’s space shuttles), with art direction by dinosaur expert Hall Train.

“Putting speakers in figures is something we’ve always tried to do,” says McQuillian. “With Triceratops, we had to find a way to get it to point source as if it was really vocalizing. Instead, we installed a Community Professional Loudspeakers driver inside the figure, and had the company design a special horn that goes inside the mouth; we then tossed the audio over into a subwoofer concealed from view.” Touches like these reinforce the notion that the creatures, painted a reddish brown for a “not alien, but not classically reptilian look,” says Shreve, are reacting to guests and their surroundings.

Passamonte Green’s lighting inside and outside the compound is understated, highlighting the mystique of the animals and the maze-like course guests follow to where they are penned for observation. “It’s not forced, or theatrical,” she says. Equipment from Abolite and Lumiere MR-11s provide interior illumination that focuses attention on the dino-stars and enhances their credibility.

Many of the more than 2,400 fixtures the LD specified for the three attractions on this island are used on Jurassic Park River Adventure, which uses refinements in technology to enhance credibility over its predecessor in Hollywood. Heightened illumination, spruced-up sound, and 17 animatronic beasts that move less haltingly than the notorious “repair-asauruses” that Jurassic Park: The Ride opened with contribute to the mayhem.

Once again, boatloads of unsuspecting passengers are knocked off course by the park’s biggest residents, as a placid river ride takes a turn into terror and guests ascend from the grim outdoors into the spooky ruins of a power station, where hungry predators lurk. A surprise appearance by a 30′-tall T-Rex ushers in the climax of the ride, a record-breaking 85′, 55-degree-angle plunge into a lagoon. Special effects by Show Technologies, including 30′-tall geysers that erupt at the beginning of the ride, and explosive water cannons to accompany dinosaur attacks, add to the swirling chaos.

“But this time, we focused on advancing the story and not letting it get confused. Every time I put people on that boat it’s important they understand what’s going on and get a good show,” Shreve says. “If I only relied on an animatronic figure to pop up out of the water and it never came up, you’d never know what was going on.”

In Orlando, the figures relied upon to pop up come from three sources: Baltimore-based Oceaneering Entertainment (which, as its name implies, contributed the water-going dinosaurs), automotive testing gear manufacturer MTS Systems Corp. of Minneapolis for the marauding meat eaters (says Shreve, “They make products that shake the crap out of a car for 10,000 miles,” a durability factor important in a themed environment), and Universal’s Technical Services Department, which fabricated some of the wildlife. If the figures poop out, a strengthened sound system, supplied here as in Hollywood by SPL, more seamlessly kicks in with an improved narrative track and booming effects that augment the action.

“It’s not a black-box environment,” Shreve says. “We have to tell you where to look, via speaker placement.” Adds McQuillian, “This is a very challenging, wet, high noise environment that needed durable equipment that could be hidden from guests in the rockwork and foliage, while at the same time adding impact to their experience.” Gear concealed in crates, boxes, and the animatronic animals themselves, positioned near the ride track, offers movie theatre-type audio.

About 80 EAW KF 600s, New England Audio Resource (NEAR), and three-way Community Wet 228 speakers are powered by Crest amplifiers, and run off a Peavey MediaMatrix. They are used for the outdoor portion of the ride, where clarity and intelligibility are crucial in conveying the storyline. The interior rocks and rolls with eight house-shaking subwoofers that Shreve says “popped the bolts out of the building and cracked the pipes” and 13 EAW speakers that announce, loudly, the intrusion of T-Rex. These are placed near (and inside) the figure, and are driven by Crest amplifiers, with the MediaMatrix processing the beast’s unforgettable roars. “We ha ve 25,000W of power in there,” Shreve exclaims.

Jurassic Park is the only island bathed entirely in its own stylized theatrical wash, a moonlight blue reminiscent, Passamonte Green says, of the opening Raptor attack in the first film. This stems from the cinematic lighting treatment developed by lighting designer Dan Flannery for the Hollywood attraction. “It works on you subconsciously,” she says. “The shafts come from the trees. It’s tranquil, almost like a resort, but the sudden appearance of flashing beacons, as in River Adventure, changes the psychological rhythm as you explore at night.”

The quality of the hues she ascribes to Special FX, which designed compartmentalized filters with four different colors of dichroic in the required outer blue range. Using them off of Altman PAR cans and Phoenix fixtures with high-powered CSI lamps on the island, “I found they played up the landscape quite nicely, and tied the whole area together. There’s not just one blue or one blue-green, but variations that guests wander through. The filters are very durable, too, and I must say the company made miracles supplying this job.”

Hell breaks loose at the 30,000-sq.-ft. show building, which has an exterior (and some interiors) put together by Tampa, FL-based KHS&S Contractors. Within, what the lighting designer calls a “hardcore, industrial” melee of lighting, including ETC Source Fours and Source Four PARs, Diversitronics strobes, and Fiberstars illumination, breaks out. Altman weatherproofed PARs that can withstand the Mee Fog that supplier Atomizing Systems pumps into the facility and other parts of this Island are part of the action.

Passamonte Green says that thanks to the efforts of the lighting standardization team, the fixtures here and on each island should be easier to maintain than at other theme parks. She notes that for energy efficiency, all incandescents and other dimmable sources throughout the islands are put on dimmers, and dimmed a minimum of 10% to extend lamp life. On each island, 130V A-lamps, as opposed to 120V A-lamps, are used to obtain longer life; an interface with Strand Lighting’s ParkNet system “wakes it all up in the morning and turns it off at night.” She adds, “I really believe in empowering the people left behind when we depart by giving them all the information we have.”

All the information in this ride is processed through a Maida Engineering Inc. show control system, which has Anitech control modules for lighting (hooked into Strand dimmers and relays) and sound playback. Orlando’s ITEC Entertainment Corp., which designed and implemented a park-wide attraction monitoring system, handled animation control for River Adventure. “The control system here is idiot-proof,” Shreve says. “I can walk up to a panel while the show is running, punch in a code, and make changes on the fly without affecting anything else that’s going on. We had the show’s critical elements up and ready for guests in a week, which no other island can say.”

The producer tested the appeal of Jurassic Park’s attractions the old-fashioned way: “I pulled people aside and asked them, ‘How’s it working?’ ” Given that most of its star performers were out of commission for several million years until Universal thought to build them a new home in Orlando and find them steady employment in the theme park industry, one would have to conclude this island is working pretty well.

Sourced from Entertainment Design, Nov 1, 1999

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