Just in time for the 2001 summer season, Busch Gardens Williamsburg unveiled Ireland, the newest of the amusement park's six zones, each themed after a different country (Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Italy, France). The Irish flavor is sustained with landscaping and scenery, strolling musicians, retail stores, an Irish pub, and various shows, rides, and attractions. Across the Brittany Bridge, in the hamlet of Killarney, guests step inside a castle for a first-person journey into the land of Irish myth, via Corkscrew Hill: a new, high-tech attraction in which motion simulation, stereoscopic 3D video, and in-theatre effects combine to make what is known as a 4D experience.
Corkscrew Hill guests are magically miniaturized by a sprinkling of fairy dust thrown on them by a character in the preshow. Next, they are set inside a box (the main theatre). Two boys find the box on a beach and carry the mysterious wee folk around with them to various locations, including a pub and a witch's lair. It's a POV story as seen, heard, and felt by the inhabitants of the box. The entire experience lasts about eight minutes; the main ride is four and a half minutes long. Ride capacity is up to 1,200 guests per hour.
The Corkscrew Hill venue and theatre are retrofits. The building began life as an English castle; changing its nationality to Irish was accomplished by Lexington Scenery & Props, which did extensive scenic work throughout the Ireland zone, about $1 million worth of it on Corkscrew Hill. Under the supervision of project manager Patti Mondana, the Lexington crew installed rockwork, trees, a new fountain, and entry arches, painted and installed murals inside the building, and added chimney pots to the chimneys. Exteriors were textured, aged, and painted to give the place a dungeon-like feel, somewhat the worse for wear. Carved plaster gives the look of rotting stucco. An 18'-long tinker's wagon helps provide that village atmosphere. Lexington worked to specs provided by designer Suzanne Sessions, whose color palette tended toward green and purple tones.
The two 59-seat motion bases, provided by CAE USA (formerly Reflectone) had been installed in 1990 for the old Questor attraction. “We already had the best motion base in the industry sitting right there,” notes Larry Giles, VP of design and engineering for Busch Gardens Williamsburg. “What we needed was a better visual side of the ride.”
The twin theatres had originally been set up as large capsule simulators, with screens set into the vehicles that enclosed the motion bases. Busch decided to remove the capsule enclosures. “We took the top off to allow great visibility and put in a screen 30' high and 44' wide for a spectacular image,” says Giles. “We went to Kleiser-Walczak for the story and visuals. The next job was figuring out how to make the experience work in the existing building, with the new screen. We went to Electrosonic, who convinced us that digital video was the way to go.”
“The roofline of the building didn't allow for a projection booth,” notes Jim Bowie, general manager of Electrosonic's Burbank office. “We would have had to build it on. On the other hand, the screen size was very large for digital imaging, and 3D added an extra challenge.” Because the audience is sometimes only 12' from the screen (when the motion base moves forward), good picture resolution was important. The solution was to suspend, from the ceiling center, four Barco ELMR-12 projectors, rotated 90° and outfitted with .8 custom short-throw lenses designed by Coastal Optics. The image is tiled into four vertical sections, with edges blended using Electrosonic's proprietary software. Two projectors each create the right- and left-eye views. Resolution is 1,900 by 1,280 pixels and the projection rate is 30 frames per second. “Larry Giles made us prove it would work,” remarks Bowie. “If he hadn't, our technical enthusiasm might have run wild.”
This digital projection setup is touted as providing something that approaches large-format film image quality, at least for animated ride simulation. Notes Electrosonic chairman Robert Simpson, “This display system still has a way to go before it is comparable to film contrast levels, but it works well in this application.” A purist would probably not propose to substitute it for a full-scale Imax or Iwerks film system at this stage. But Ken Wheatley, Electrosonic's project manager for the Corkscrew Hill theatre, indicates that it has generated quite a lot of interest for additional special-venue applications.
To give an authentic impression of how the world would appear to a miniature person, Kleiser-Walczak distorted the perspective and used severe lens angles. “We actually shrunk the [virtual] camera down in our digital mockup, and shot the whole thing with a narrow interocular distance,” explains Kleiser-Walczak's Molly Windover, who produced the animated film, which was written and directed by Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak. The storybook look of the settings and characters was created by scene illustrator Ruth Sanderson. Executive producer was Patrick Mooney; production designer was Kent Mikalsen. Music is by Kubilay Uner.
The 3D characters were digitally sculpted by Kleiser-Walczak using FreeForm haptic software from SensAble Technologies, which uses an input device called the Phantom to give the sculptor a tactile interface that simulates physical sculpting.
It's customary in creating a ride experience of this kind to first program the motion and provide the motion data to the filmmakers, who will animate the show to match it. But in this case, the motion programming was done after the animation. Interim mockups helped Kleiser-Walczak keep the visuals compatible with the abilities of the base and the desirable degree of motion. “One thing that makes Corkscrew Hill different from most ride simulations is that there is no vehicle,” Windover points out. “The box containing the audience stands in for a vehicle, but it isn't self-propelled. Its movement is dependent on others and varies from one situation to the next.” The producers dealt with this by animating the virtual camera itself to create believable POV sequences. “For instance, there's a scene where a boy carries the box up some steps,” says Windover. “We rigged the camera with a pair of legs and animated it walking upstairs. In another scene, the box is being carried on horseback. We did a separate rig, with horse's legs, for that. Whatever or whoever is moving or grasping the box that holds the audience becomes the rig at that particular moment.”
Motion programming on the six-axis, aviation-quality motion base was done on-site in real time by CAE USA's Marty Quire and Giles. “One of the original installers of the base, Ed Templeton, came back out to work on it,” remarks Giles. “They're all very proud of the machine.” According to Giles, the base can rise as much as 5' at its center and 10' at its edges. “The front nose can be put on the floor 9' or 10' down,” he says. “Because of the size of the base, to a certain extent each seat gives a different ride — those who want a more extreme experience learn to sit near the edges. The 3D looks pretty good from anywhere on the base.”
Along with the animation, motion, and visual cues, Frank Serafine's audio production and the 7.1 channel surround-sound system go a long way toward creating a boxed-in feeling. Speakers are clustered behind the perforated screen and in the house. The final mix was done onsite. Audio system designer John Louis Schrooten of Electrosonic Systems arranged the speaker clusters left-center-right plus left surround, right surround, left rear surround, and right rear surround, plus subwoofers, all channels discrete. Two each of the left-center-right clusters were installed behind the perforated screen to cover the full motion envelope of the simulator. The left-center-right speakers are three-way, tri-amped with discrete amplifier channel for high, mid-range, and low frequencies. The main left and right speakers are JBL VS 3115 three-ways. The main center is JBL VS 3215-9. The surrounds are JBL SP212As; the subs are SP128S models. Audio processing is handled by eight JBL DSC260 units, four per side. The entire audio system is controlled by software using BSS SoundWeb networked to the show control system, two on each side. Audio amplification is provided by 37 QSC CX series amplifiers for the left and right sides of the theatre, in addition to the preshows and queue line. Audio is stored on a Fostex D824 hard-disk-based digital audio playback device.
Guests wear linear polarized glasses to watch the 3D presentation. At first there was some concern about image ghosting, especially with motion involved. “Ghosting happens when you tip your head and see both images separately,” says Giles. “But we did some tests and observed that people will keep their heads upright without thinking about it. When you tilt them one way, they unconsciously compensate by tipping their heads the other way,” says Giles.
Peckam, Guyton, Albers & Viets, Inc. (PGAV) of St. Louis, MO, coordinated the Corkscrew Hill lighting design and Available Light of Boston did the lighting design for the village. Available Light and Sue Session Inc. (SSI), also of St. Louis, specified and positioned the lighting in the entry cave.
Corkscrew Hill audience members are automatically routed from the preshow holding areas to the next available motion theatre via the guest routing function of Electrosonic's proprietary ESCAN (Electrosonic control area network) networking show control software, which interfaces with an AMX system. Everything that goes on in the theatres is monitored from the main show control booth, run by interactive touchscreen. The control system ties into the E-stop and other safety systems. The show is MPEG-encoded and takes up 30 gigabytes on hard drives, stored on 14 Electrosonic HD video servers and controlled via TCP/IP network. Other show elements are also integrated into E-Scan's control, such as the high-speed doors that open from the preshow into the motion theatre, the motion data, and the in-house effects (wind, water spray, etc.)
One of Giles' favorite moments in Corkscrew Hill is when an onscreen character pokes a fork at the audience. “We programmed the machine to surge forward into the fork. It really gets a rise out of the guests.” Giles joined Busch in 1988 and was “the first simulation guy” there, overseeing the Questor installation.
“Larry Giles is very hands-on and everybody worked closely with him,” says Ken Wheatley. “He put together a good subcontractor team to handle the work and made sure everybody had the information they needed. Busch was very focused on getting a high quality product, making sure the experts were in place to get a good show up with a minimal level of stress. Toward the end, these things can get tense. That didn't happen here. Working with Busch was a very pleasurable experience.”