IAAPA has long been a show as big as Texas. Now, it's even bigger. The 80th anniversary edition of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, held November 18 to 21, sprawled like a cattle drive through the Dallas Convention Center, occupying every square inch of the building and then some.
A number of the more than 1,100 exhibiting companies were corralled in the nether regions of the second-floor exhibition space (with the jugglers and the cotton-candy makers), and a few more were segregated in something called the Arena Theatre, off the main show floor. These lone stars, however, were not lonely for long--a total of 26,244 attendees tromped through the building to source everything fromchocolate chip cookie machines to the climbing walls and full-scale rides demoed inside and outside the center.
Overall, show floor sentiment was that many of the attendees were there to browse, not buy. That they came at all, though, and in near-record numbers for IAAPA, was a testament to the power of entertainment in times of economic languor--the show must go on. And indeed, with the heavy hitters at Disney and Universal putting up major new parks through 2001, and projects popping up in Europe and Australia, the fear of recession that hung over IAAPA 97 seemed largely dissipated; companies hardest hit by the Asian crisis downsized their booths for the 98 show but did not fade away altogether. Of greater concern is what happens once the big park makers put the finishing touches on their current projects in 2001 and new builds dry up--and how to contend with a graying world population, less thrilled by thrill rides, as the millennium commences.
But, for the immediate future at least, a rising tide lifts all boats--or maybe, a sinking boat raises all tides. James Cameron's movie megahit Titanic is going the themed route, in at least three different directions. With scenic and effects work on DisneyQuest under their belts, Lexington Scenery & Props and Technifex are collaborating once more on Titanic--Official Movie Tour, a 42,000-sq.-ft. attraction co-produced by Hollywood-based Special Entertainment Events and Messe Dusseldorf of Germany. The tour, which started in England last December and navigates through Europe, Asia, and South America this year, combines movie sets and costumes with interactive adventure areas.
One of the most grandiose projects announced at IAAPA 98 also involves Titanic and Technifex--the production and effects company has set sail with designer Gerard Howland's aptly named Floating Company for a $50 million, movie-themed adventure that will be the centerpiece of Fox Studios' Backlot Sydney in Australia. Titanic in setting--a full-scale mockup of the ship, mounted on giant motion bases--and length (a whopping 24 minutes), the ride casts guests as movie extras swept away when the prop boat plunges into watery chaos. (Americans, meanwhile, will have to be content with a 33'-long Titanic Adventure Slide, from Cutting-Edge Creations--send your friends and neighbors to the top, and make them shout "This is it!" as they careen down like the unfortunates in the movie. Perfect for your next kids' party or cookout, and a steal at $14,000.)
Scenery West is another company with water on the brain, so to speak; the company has created scenic elements that can withstand immersion in saltwater for Bahamian czar Solomon Kershner's Atlantis, the $750 million resort that opened last December. The company has also assumed design development of all future Sega GameWorks from Universal Creative. And Landmark Entertainment Group is finally bringing its fantasy playland to life--several years in the planning, its Wonderful World of Oz theme park has been greenlit on a site outside Kansas City, KS. No word yet on how the wizards of this Oz will render the rest of the state black and white, so their work will shine even more radiantly by opening day in 2002.
The park that's on everyone's mind at the moment is Universal's Islands of Adventure, and its accompanying CityWalk, opening later this year in Orlando. ED will take a closer look at this in future issues; suffice to say, seemingly every company represented at IAAPA had a hand in it, including the audio designers at Soundelux Showorks Productions and the audio/video hardware team at Thomas Gregor Associates (TGA). Many of these firms are members of the ever-growing Themed Entertainment Association, now under the stewardship of John Wright, a principal of Lexington Scenery. The TEA now has more than 600 member companies, four chapters in the US, and one in Europe, coordinated by Peter Ed of Electronic Theatre Controls.
Thorburn Associates demoed a pre-engineered, digital A/V system said to run the show for any themed attraction (though smaller facilities are specially targeted) at IAAPA. Ken Bell of Richmond Sound Design shuttled between the Thorburn and TGA booths, but found a spare moment to talk about RSD's Showman NT/32 show control software for Windows NT. Imax and Hitachi, meanwhile, will jointly market their interactive, six-passenger simulation system, which has an electromechanical motion base and a spherical wraparound screen. It will be available for themed attractions by midyear.
SpectraF/X has changed its name to Spectra Entertainment, reflecting a broadened array of design services. And ITEC Productions has found religion: One of its big projects for 99 is Zion's Hope, a park with a worshipful bent, opening in Orlando (this in contrast to the godforsaken world of Franz Kafka, the subject of a Czech themer it built last year). John Langrell has been hired as a lighting designer at the firm.
Jack Rouse Associates and Berlin-based Arthesia are revving up for the $400 million Autostadt "corporate theme park" at Volkswagen's world headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. The 100-acre attraction, covering the history of "automobility" from a Beetle's-eye perspective, is set to open in June 2000, and a number of potential subcontractors crowded the JRA booth looking to put the rubber to the road.
JRA took home one of IAAPA 98's exhibitor awards, for its Kellogg's Cereal City USA attraction [See ED January 99]. Additional award winners included Imax's Race for Atlantis at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, plus best booth accolades for Lexington Scenery, Rhythm & Hues, and Soundelux. UV/FX Scenic Productions, one of the companies that managed to exhibit both at LDI and IAAPA, took home an honorable mention for best product in the displays and sets category for its efforts.
With the "Big D" now too small to accommodate it, IAAPA moves to Atlanta for a two-year stint, beginning this November 17 to 20.