The Making of IOA: The Lost Continent

The Lost Continent is that rarest of theme park venues–one with no tie-in to any films, books, or comic strips. It is divided into three very different zones: The Lost Continent, which has an Atlantis theme, Merlinwood, which evokes the world of King Arthur, and Sindbad’s Village.

The main attractions in the Lost Continent are Poseidon’s Fury: Escape From the Lost City, a walk-through attraction, and the Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, a stunt show. Not for the faint-hearted is the Dueling Dragons ride, a pair of intertwined roller coasters guaranteed to terrify anyone who just looks at it.

According to island producer Amelia Gordon, the Lost Continent’s singular nature offers both opportunities and challenges. “When you do Spider-Man, you have a great deal of information about him. When you want to create some mythic story, you have many choices to make. That’s a wonderful palette of freedom, from a designer’s perspective, butit also means that many, many people can have opinions about what’s going on and it makes the decision-making process more difficult.”

If the conception of the Lost Continent is a bit diffuse, the execution of it is detailed in the extreme. Adirondack Scenic, Inc. built a number of sculptural pieces for the island, including two griffins which greet guests at the entrance gates, a winged lion, a sleeping lion, an octopus cartouche, and, most spectacularly, the two giant Dueling Dragons found outside the roller coaster of the same name.

The creation of these creatures, says Tom Lloyd of Adirondack, provided the company with one of its biggest–and lengthiest–challenges. “Using the drawings we got from Universal,” he says, “we created the dragons in maquette form–they were very, very detailed, basically at 1” scale. When the maquettes were approved, we digitized them, bringing them into the computer, where we developed our engineering calculations. Once we had them in electronic form, we could develop the skeletal structures that would withstand 120mph winds.

“Once we had those calculations, we developed the skeletons, then went to the metal shop, where they welded the steel framing for the dragons, then covered them in a metal lath. At this point they looked like outer-space creatures. Then we sprayed foam on them, and carved them down to a level of detail that pleased Universal. Then we went in and coated them with an especially formulated cement–in some cases, an inch of it.

“Once the cement and the final detailing–which went on in the cement process–was done, we painted and aged them, gave them a little more shading and toning.” Most of the creatures were built at Adirondack’s studio in Glens Falls, NY, so then, Lloyd says, “We put them all on flatbed trucks” in various stages of assembly “and shipped them down to Florida.”

One singular example of close cooperation between designers is the preshow queue for the Dueling Dragons ride, where guests are told about two dragons locked in mortal combat. Speaking of the project, lighting designer Marilyn Lowey says, “Catherynne Jean, the set designer, who’s brilliant, and I walked through every inch of that venue. Each time I placed a light, she was aware of it and we built it into the set. It was literally hand-designed, and, when they built a cove for lights, she made sure it was enough. We went through every area and selected color together. It was a terrific process.”

For the Dueling Dragons walk-through, Lowey chose a mixture of architectural and theatrical fixtures. The line included custom chandeliers, pendants, surface mounts, and wall mounts from Arte de Mexico; retractable elbow accents from Lightolier; recessed downlights from Halo; Steplites from Cole; 220 CandleLite electronic candles from City Theatrical; MicroEllipses, MicroFloods, and MicroStrips from Altman, Wavelights from PPS (Precision Projection Systems); Custom Crackle Flow Neon fixtures from Fluid Technologies, and over 180 ETC Source Fours.

Bob McCrobie, Universal’s audio/video engineering manager, who worked with Christian Hugener of Thomas Gregor Associates on the sound design for the Dueling Dragons queue, echoes this theme of collaboration. “Christian and I wanted to keep the sound in there as indirect as possible, so we hid speakers up in the rockwork.” The audio rig for the attraction includes a number of NEAR (New England Audio Research) 1.6 speakers, as well as Apogee AE 4s, AE 8s, and one AE 11. Control is via a Peavey MediaMatrix, which speaks to the attraction’s Anitech control system.

The sound design for the entirety of The Lost Continent involved painstaking work of another sort. “We wanted the music to be as important as the art direction,” says audio producer John Rust. According to Rust, the first task was to find music that was appropriate for each of the park’s three zones. For the Atlantis section, the approach was New Age music.

For Sindbad’s Village, Rust says, “We wanted to come up with an authentic sound of Old Baghdad.” But the real thing, he notes, “isn’t very pleasant to our Western ears, so we created a romantic, 1940s feature film version. It’s filled with authentic instruments–finger cymbals, gongs, and all kinds of local musical instruments.”

For Merlinwood, Kidd wrote Celtic-style music which, Rust says is “happy, but on a bed of uneasiness. There’s something foreboding in it. As you come in from Jurassic Park, there’s a drum track done with ancient rack drums, which evoke the Celtic time.”

All park-wide audio is created via Fostex hard drives–one per land–and broadcast on speaker systems designed, built, and laid out by Bose, working in association with Baker Entertainment Integrators. “There’s a bed of music in each zone,” says Rust. “Then, hidden in each zone are about 10 point-source speakers broadcasting specific effects–frogs croaking, a peacock call, people trading camels in Arabic. Any time there’s a backstage wall, we put speakers behind it, implying there’s another street down there.”

Obviously, the Lost Continent was an unusually complex project, more like three parks in one, with three times as many challenges. Also, says Gordon, “I think because it wasn’t tied to an existing property, it took the longest to get a consensus on what it was going to be. Because of that, we were very late beginning construction. Fortunately, we had a leader who wouldn’t take no for an answer–Tom Gibb, our land director. He made it OK for us to take risks; he insisted we think out of the box. We got everybody together every day and said, ‘What do we need to do now?’ ”

Poseidon’s Fury: Escape From the Lost City packs thrills, including some never-seen-before water effects, and a climactic moment that has to be seen to be believed.

Realized under the supervision of creative director Dale Mason and designed by staff architect Phil Randall, Poseidon’s Fury is a three-part attraction, built inside what looks like the ancient temple of Poseidon. The experience begins in the Portal of Panels, a 50′ x 50′ chamber room where visitors encounter an old man, the Keeper, who sets up the attraction’s back story, involving a longstanding feud between Poseidon and Zeus. Lighting is used to highlight various panels on the ceiling that illustrate the Keeper’s story.

Speaking of this room, lighting designer Marilyn Lowey says, “We exaggerated the soffit and placed some [High End Systems] Technobeams(R) in it.” She added some custom gobos to the fixtures to heighten their effectiveness. A number of PAR-38s are also built into the room for area lighting.

According to McCrobie, who worked with Christian Hugener of Thomas Gregor Associates on the attraction’s sound design, the Keeper is miked with a Countryman Isomax cardioid headset, with Vega wireless transmitter and receiver units. The room also features four 8″ Radian speakers placed above the pedestal where the Keeper stands, providing a point source for his voice. Eight Sound Tubes are built into scenic columns distributed around the room; from these emanate supporting show music and the voice of the Oracle, who leads guests on to her chamber.

In this room, the Oracle continues the narrative of the Poseidon-Zeus rivalry. According to Monty Lunde, president of Technifex, Inc., the Oracle “is an effect we’ve done before.” An impression is made of an actor’s face, which is turned into a translucent bust. “The audience sees the concave side of the bust, and we rear-project an image on the convex side. When you’re viewing it, the face appears to be looking at you, no matter where you’re standing in the audience.”

In this room, says Tim Linamen, a Universal staff lighting designer who worked closely with Lowey, “There are PPS Wavelights shining down into the audience, to provide a water effect. There are pools at the four corners of the room, with underwater fixtures uplighting the walls.” Many of the lighting effects are focused on a cartouche door, in which lasers and Wildfire UV lights with Robert Juliat dousers play an important role. High End Systems Dataflash strobes are also used to accent the sound of thunder, with a lightning effect.” Lowey’s programmer, David Arch, played a key role here and elsewhere in the attraction.

The voice of the Oracle, says McCrobie, is supported by two 8″ Radian drivers. “They’re relatively small, but they give you the point-source effect,” he says. The rest of the speakers in the room are four McPherson Monoliths, chosen because “We only had a total of 9″ in which to put speakers in the wall.” The final touch is an Apogee AE 15 subwoofer placed high above the guests.

All of this leads to the big moment, when the cartouche doors open to reveal the Vortex, also by Technifex, a tunnel of water through which the guests pass without getting wet. Naturally, lighting the tunnel proved to be a challenge. Lowey and Linamen settled on MR-16s placed at either end of the Vortex, providing edge light to guide guests through this spectacular effect.

Guests next enter the Temple of Poseidon in Atlantis, where he and Zeus have their final confrontation. Poseidon appears, courtesy of an animated film projected on a high-definition water screen created by the French company ECA2. In fact, it is made up of nine screens placed at various depths which, put shoulder to shoulder, would measure nearly 100m (109 yards) wide. The projection system for the computer-generated film, which ECA2 coproduced with Universal, uses five projectors–four at 35mm and one at 70mm.

This room has the most complex lighting design in the attraction. “The final room has about 230 or so Hydrel underwater fixtures,” says Linamen, “as well as various PAR-64s and 56s. There are some Altman outdoor PARs that uplight the columns and, again, a bunch of PPS Wavelights that provide some additional wave effects. There are Source Fours in the catwalk to highlight different architectural elements as well, including the fish heads that spew water [courtesy of Technifex].” Lowey adds, “When I laid out the light plot, I had to figure out where the angles were so I wouldn’t be crossing the water screens.”

The latter is necessary for the climactic destruction sequence, as Zeus and Poseidon stage their ultimate battle to the accompaniment of lighting cues, over 200 flame effects, water cannons (also by Technifex), and exploding 25′ fireballs. The final torrent of special effects overwhelms the guests, then subsides, revealing that they have returned to the Oracle Chamber. It’s a completely confounding effect, “and I’m not going to tell you how we did it,” laughs Gordon.

The sound rig in the room consists of a cluster of two Apogee AE 9s and one AE 11 placed on each of six columns, along with four AE 15 subwoofers in the lower center of the temple. For point-source effects there are AE 7s placed on each of the fish heads, with two more placed high behind the rain screen, says McCrobie, “to provide a center dialogue channel for the 70mm screen.” Soundelux Showorks produced sound effects for the attraction. He also says that, on all the Lost Continent attractions, “sound was mixed on site in each venue. Soundelux brought in a ProTools rig; we’d patch it into our PAs and they would mix the effects. It’s a great way to do it; it keeps all the guesswork out of it.” The design, build, and installation of the system was handled by Thomas Gregor Associates, with SGA Audio Design and Services acting as subcontractor.

The lighting and effects on Poseidon’s Fury are controlled by an Allen-Bradley Programmable Logic Computer, which speaks to an ETC Expression and to Anitech lighting control modules. The overall control system was supplied and implemented by Maida Engineering. The PLC alsodeals with the audio system, which is controlled by four Level Control Systems Super Novas with Wild Tracks hard-disk playback. The latter provides 32 tracks of playback, ranging from continuously looping soundscapes to various sound effects, and music and dialogue tracks. It also features LCS’ proprietary SafetyNet(TM) backup system for fault-tolerant playback. Dynamic control of all sound playback and disribution is performed simultaneously for all rooms by LCS’ Embedded Dynamic Automation system, which, in addition to regulating the levels of live performers’ wireless mics and the prerecorded sounds, also manages a complete paging system throughout the attraction. JBL Smaart Pro(TM) was used to EQ the rooms.

Sindbad, we are told, was famous for making seven voyages. But in the theme park world, more is always better. Thus Universal presents The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, a stunt show located in a 1,700-seat amphitheatre, designed by Catherynne Jean to look like the interior of a grotto, “the Graveyard of Ships, ” says Universal staff lighting designer Tim Linamen, who worked with lighting designer Marilyn Lowey on the project. The plot involves Sindbad, the princess Amora, and his trusty sidekick Kabob, in a struggle against the villain Miseria, that involves six water explosions, 50 pyrotechnic effects–including a 10′-tall circle of flames and a 22′ burning high fall.

Because of the enormous stage area, says Linamen, “It was a challenge to remain within the budget, yet cover the stage area and provide all the effects needed for the show.” Most of the lighting, he adds, is found in the enormous overhead catwalk, “with just a few set-integrated fixtures.”

The lighting plot, says Linamen, consists of “approximately 350 conventional units, mostly [ETC] Source Fours and ellipsoidals with 22 [High End Systems] Cyberlights. Marilyn created some really beautiful looks across the set with them–they also help the audience follow the action. Even though the set is massive, there aren’t many acting areas–but they’re all over the place.”

“Sindbad was an enormous task,” says Lowey. “They kept telling me, ‘You don’t need so many lights.’ I kept saying, ‘This proscenium arch is 150′!’ ” The Cyberlights, she says, were originally intended to replace followspots; however, management later decided that followspots were necessary. Fortunately the designer was able to keep the moving lights anyway.

The show is controlled using SMPTE timecode, which speaks to a Flying Pig Wholehog console from High End Systems. “Originally, it was going to be MIDI-controlled,” says Linamen, “and, at the last minute, we changed to SMPTE. Marilyn wanted to program the moving lights and the conventionals independently, so she could make some quick changes. We programmed the conventionals on an [ETC] Expression 2X and the moving lights on a Wholehog II, which we had purchased for the venue. The idea was that, after we programmed the conventionals, we would move that over to the Anitech system and keep the moving lights on the Wholehog II. But as the show progressed, I decided to use the DMX In from the Wholehog, to record the looks directly off the Expression and into the Hog. We merged the show, after it was completely programmed, onto the Wholehog, so it ends up controlling the entire show.”

Because Sindbad takes place in an outdoor amphitheatre with a noisy roller coaster next door, getting the right sound design was no easy task. Bob McCrobie, Universal’s audio/visual engineering manager, says the actors wear Sennheiser 104 cardioid lavaliers. Built into the set are a dozen Apogee AE 7s to provide point-source effects, with four Apogee AE 15 subwoofers located in a wrecked ship at stage left and four Apogee AE 11s built into rocks near an exit. Overhead is a left-center-right system consisting of Apogee AE 9s and AE 11s. Sound designer Christian Hugener also says he used a BSS Soundweb “to time-align the main speakers back to each one of the effects speakers. We wanted the onstage explosions to have a pointsource, but we wanted to support them with the main PA. So we time-aligned individual paths.” Thus, an effect directed to a point-source speaker at the rear of the stage would have no delay, while the signal would go through the main PA system at a slight delay of, say, 18-20 milliseconds. Again, the sound system was designed, built, and installed by Thomas Gregor Associates, with SGA Audio Design and Services acting as subcontractor.

As in Poseidon, sound is controlled using a Level Control Systems Super Nova(TM) matrix mixing system, with Wild Tracks(TM) hard-disk playback. Overall control is provided by an Allen-Bradley PLC, with a slight twist, says Hugener: “The Anitech system handles lighting and effects, but it also reads timecode, telling the PLC to execute those cues. Anitech deals with timecode a bit better than the PLC alone.”

Oddly enough, this attraction went through many more changes than some of its more technically sophisticated neighbors. Both the look and equipment on this project went through many evolutions. Nevertheless, The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad provides stunt action on a wide-screen scale for anyone willing to enter into its spirit of adventure and amusement.

From Entertainment Design, Nov 1, 1999

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