In addition to master planning and complete theme park design for some of the world’s premiere attractions and destinations, one of Wyatt Design Group’s
(WDG) specialties is providing detailed design for the individual attractions. Show set design is the visioning of the physical environment that creates the immersive world of world-class story-driven attractions.
In essence, the job of the show set designer is to formulate a visual design from the written treatment and scripts and illustrations provided by the Creative Director, digital assets and style guides of the intellectual property (IP) owner (studio), and weave that into tangible storyboards and a set of drawings, a physical product, that can be estimated, bid and awarded, and fabricated.
Two new rides for Six Flags opened May 2015 for which the WDG set design team played a key role. The next generation of the Justice League interactive laser tag dark ride originally created for Warner Bros. Movieworld Australia launched Spring 2015 at Six Flags over Texas and St. Louis – with a new DC Comics storyline, new 3D CGI digital media, and an advanced motion-based ride system.
Sally Corp., with whom WDG worked on the original Justice League ride in Australia back in 2012, invited WDG to work together again on the all-new Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. “For this particular project, we had just over two months to develop two different ride layouts of 10 scenes with a team of five designers. With such a tight timeframe, planning and coordination of the critical path was imperative to success,” observed principaly Wyatt, “as well as a collaborative team spirit between the technical and creative teams.”
Whether launching a new theme park, or a new ride, the design process is equally meticulous. Mark Shumate, Senior Art Director at WDG, has worked alongside Larry Wyatt for 11 years and is the resident expert when it comes to creative show set design. His themed entertainment career prior to joining WDG included major attraction show set design for Universal Creative and Walt Disney Imagineering, and as a result he brings a high standard of excellence to all his projects.
Mark knows that each project has a unique set of requirements and challenges. His first objective is to make sure the critical path elements are handled smoothly. Under Mark’s leadership, Wyatt Design Group has refined their attraction design process to maximize both efficiency and creative content.
Step 1: Facility Project Planning
Without a clear path and expert coordination between all parties, chaos occurs. WDG ensures that the important first step of the critical path, Project Planning, is thoroughly resolved and signed off by the clients before other steps can develop.
Akin to juggling multiple plates in the air, balancing the requirements of the facility, the needs and specifications of the client, the IP owner, and all the suppliers involved, including budget and timeline, requires lots of experience and a solid technique that will result in success – and no broken plates!
The plan must be as clear as possible so that ongoing cost estimates can be provided accurately at different stages of the project design from the ride supplier and the fabricators. This assures that at the end of the design process, the budget targets have been met without costly and time-consuming re-design.
Step 2: Ride Systems Specifications
For an interactive shooting-style ride, the ride vendor must be provided specifications that include capacity of the ride (throughput and occupancy goals), turning radius (logistics and layout), number of scenes and/or transitions (programming), lines of sight and points of view (projection and visual analysis), and dynamics of overall ride interactions (shooting systems and scoring). Once the performance specifications of the ride system are established, it is best to select the specific ride vendor before the design and theming can be considered. This way, the ride vendor can be part of the design team, providing critical detailed specifications of the capabilities of the ride system and full integration with the shooting system. Such details will affect the actual environmental configuration, ride clearance envelope, and timing of the show. The most fun for WDG is when the ride system can be completely custom and we can envision the ultimate experience without restriction. The desired experience drives the design and engineering of the ride system, rather than the other way around.
Step 3: The Show Experience – Storyboards
The show and theme components are often thought of as a theater of sets and digital media that are eventually expressed as storyboards, working collaboratively with the ride designers and the multimedia producers. The true key component to the show is the intellectual property. The most successful ride show experiences involve an IP. It is always exciting to work with a strong IP, but it also comes with creative control and restrictions. Content and overall artistic style is generally dictated by the IP holder, which requires regular design reviews and approvals throughout the design process, right down to the final mock-ups and sculpts, and installed sets and scenery. IP approval at the appropriate stages is a key element to plan for in the critical path.
Case Study: Justice League: The Battle for Metropolis
“Our job as show set designer for this project was to take a fresh look at the Justice League ride we created with Sally Corp. previously, to create a distinct and different immersive experience, taking into consideration new and enhanced 3D digital media visuals, an advanced AVG ride system, and an entirely new DC Comics storyline. The facility floor plans would be different for the two installations, so WDG’s challenge was to design some flexibility in the scenic design, in some cases fit scenes in very tight spaces and still be convincing,” remarked Shumate.
Wyatt Design Group’s involvement came early on in the development of the project collaborating with Sally Corp. to orchestrate the critical path elements: the facility (architecture and facility planning), the ride system, and the show and themed components. Working together with Sally Corp. Art Director Rich Hill, the IP owner (DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Consumer Products), and the requirements of the ride vendor (Oceaneering), the media producer (Pure Imagination), and taking into consideration the logistics of time, space and budget, WDG, within a period of two months, created a comprehensive set of design documents (show set design package) that could be estimated, bid, and eventually built by the fabricator (Lexington Scenic) and all the providers of the installation.
Below is the step-by-step process of delivering show set designs:
- The basic design for the scene comes from the Sally Corp. Design Team.
- Using the Sally Corp. plan view, the WDG team works up a series of POV sketches, depicting the dimensional space and visualizing the physical environment.
- The approved POV sketch is used to refine the plan view of the scene.
- The approved POV sketch is also used to develop preliminary scaled elevations of the scene.
- The plan view of the scene is further refined and formatted for the larger design package.
- The formatted elevation is split into two sheets. The first cross-references a key elements schedule.
- The second elevation sheet indicates the types and extent of the various finishes.
- WDG then creates an Art Director’s Elevation, or color board, to be used in final fabrication. The goal is to provide accurate information for the bid process and subsequent construction documents.
Each step along the way, the IP holder (Warner Bros./DC Entertainment in this case) must approve the visual language of each environment; its details, materials, and finishes. At the same time, the digital media producer must provide accurate storyboards of projected media so that the set design can seamlessly integrate with the digital media. The final result is a convincing, immersive experience that blurs the line between the realities of the physical show sets, show action elements, and 3D digital projection content. Riders must quickly take aim and shoot at targets whether they are digital media or physical show sets without distinction of which is which.
It was only through a close working relationship among the overall project producers and show action designers at Sally Corp., digital media producers Pure Imagination, and WDG’s show set designers that the complex marriage of these diverse elements was possible. We were proud to be part of the team for another groundbreaking interactive ride for Six Flags.