Combine the creative designs of an army of top lighting and sound professionals with the know-how from a team of ride and show control experts, sprinkle across several thousand construction drawings, spread generously throughout 110 acres, simmer for nearly a decade, and what is the final result? One of the most technically sophisticated and highly themed projects in the world, Universal Studios' newest project entitled Islands of Adventure (USIOA), which opened to the public in May.
On the lighting side, Universal Creative's management team had elected from the beginning to split up the lighting design effort, citing both the size of the project and aggressive construction schedule, plus a desire to provide each island with a unique design style. Overall concept design of the site lighting was by Daniel Flannery of Scenographic Designs, the LDI Award-winning designer of Universal Studios Florida (USF). Kristin Appleton, formerly lighting design manager for USIOA, supervised an in-house team of six designers, draftspeople, and coordinators--Wendy Thomas, John Martin, Jason Cooper, Lonnie Alcaraz, Robbin Broad, and Jody Vaclav--who were responsible for the execution of the concept design.
In all, over 10,000 fixtures were specified to light the park at night, varying from tiny 50W MR-16 landscape lights, which illuminate directional signage and plants to 40' light poles equipped with 1,000W CSI PAR-64 fixtures to recreate moonlight and wash facades.
As with theatre design, "Every light had an idea," says Martin, senior lighting designer whose work included Port of Entry, the gateway into USIOA. "This was problematic, in retrospect, when you consider the difficulty of applying theatrical paperwork methods to architectural lighting and then try to track those changes in the field; 1"=40' scale means that you couldn't expect the drawings to express the exact design intent, but fortunately, we had 18 months to figure out the details."
Wendy Thomas, project coordinator for the themed lighting fixtures, adds, "Our toughest challenge was the interface between the manufacturers and contractors and determining what was required to develop mounting details." She credits consulting designer Ken Daniel of Connecticut-based Origin Lighting Design with "invaluable" assistance in the process of fabricating more than 1,500 of the 2,500 total themed fixtures under her supervision.
Appleton also contracted two additional LA-based consulting firms, Passamonte Lighting Design and City Design Group, to develop documentation standards, provide engineering support, and design the bid specifications for the park-wide and attraction lighting control systems.
Over a period of months, Universal and its consultants developed a conceptual design which networked each of the islands via 100BaseT Fiber Optics, linking facades, site lighting, restaurants, and other facilities into one system monitored from a central location offsite. Built by LA-based Strand Lighting, the system includes more than 18,000 devices, 6,000 circuits, and seven Pentium II-400Mhz NT computers operating a proprietary software package written to Universal's specifications and designed by Strand.
For attraction lighting, shows scattered among each of the five islands were contracted to one of an experienced group of themed lighting design firms. During construction, Universal also hired lighting designer Dave Bowling to assist with site lighting coordination and lighting designer Tim Linamen to serve as a liaison between contractors and design firms and to address design problems onsite.
For the merchandise lighting plan, Universal and its retail architects hired Illuminating Concepts, whose scope included almost 30 different retail shops ranging from small open-air kiosks to general stores with several thousand sq. ft. of selling space. Ron Harwood, principal of the Michigan-based firm, along with senior designer Kenneth Klemmer and the company's design staff, developed flexible lighting for the stores that utilized a combination of PAR-30 and PAR-38 lamps in a track system manufactured by Steven Frank Studios in Detroit.
Rounding out the list of designers working on the project, restaurant lighting design in the Port of Entry and the Marvel Super Hero area was provided by Orlando-based Robert Laughlin and Associates, in Jurassic Park by LA-based Lighting Design Alliance, and in Seuss Landing by Ruzika & Associates. Specialty exhibit and interactives lighting design in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center was provided by Lightswitch.
On the audio side, USIOA's park-wide system includes 556 discrete audio channels distributed via a fiber-optic network, and some intensive control technology. Designed and installed by Atlanta-based Baker Entertainment Integrators (BEI), the park-wide system distributes all area background music for the entire park. The system also distributes audio effects and is responsible for all paging with backup priority page capability in the event of key component failures.
"Specially selected music is sent to each island to enhance its particular theme," explains Joe Schuch of BEI. "This can be consistent throughout the entire island, or specific to a certain area of that island."
Source devices providing park-wide background music reside at Parkwide Central, the main audio control room. "Our goal was to centralize all source devices for background music in one location," Schuch says. "Theme park systems typically have sources distributed all over the place. This makes it pretty tough to monitor their performance on a regular basis, let alone keep track of it all."
Once the decision to centralize sources was made, focus turned to signal routing and transport. Part of the equation was a fiber-optic pathway; copper or any other alternative would be too cumbersome and lack the necessary flexibility. Other issues included affordability, ease of implementation, and reliability.
BEI evaluated options fitting this criteria including OMNInet, a BEC Technologies product still in final development at that point. "The real advantage of OMNInet is that it is a single-layer system, meaning that the chassis, fiber cards, input cards--everything--is in one package that can be configured by software on an interfaced PC," Shuch explains.
OMNInet hardware starts with a rackmountable chassis with 21 slots that accommodate a wide range of card modules, backplane to create an integrated multimedia network. A diverse group of modules are available, including Professional Audio, Voice-Grade audio, Multi-Standard Video, Slow Scan Data, Control Voltage, Switch Closure, and others. Each chassis accommodates up to 80 individual audio channels.
Audio is routed on six discrete OMNInet systems, one dedicated to each island. Audio source devices providing all park-wide background music--Fostex D90 eight-track hard disk players/recorders and Tascam CD401MK2 compact disk players--feed directly to the OMNInet hardware at Parkwide Central. These source devices are managed, via either MIDI link or serial data link, by an AMX AXF-M/S control system.
All audio channels for a given island are taken off the OMNInet network and routed to a Peavey MediaMatrix MM-950 mainframe. In addition, source devices providing effects tracks for that particular island also feed into the MM-950.
Distribution is supplied via eight to 10 breakout boxes (BoBs) accompanying each MM-950. Audio is either sent on to Crest Audio and Apogee amplifiers or it is put back onto the OMNInet fiber network, where it is transported to the designated sub-electrical room on the island, taken off the network, sent to the amplifiers and then out to the park.
Effects source devices are also under the control of individual AMX AXF-M/S control systems at each main island electrical room. All of these control systems, programmed by BEI's Erik Bozard, are tied back to the main AMX AXF-M/S at Parkwide Central, allowing programming and presets to be handled remotely. Another AMX system, also an AXF-M/S, serves as the "watchdog" for all of these control devices, monitoring and reporting any problems.
Amplifiers feed 1,600+ loudspeakers, many of them custom-designed, covering all primary zones throughout the park. A wide range of Bose loudspeakers are utilized with each selected by the required performance and size parameters. Bose also developed two new products for the project: The Freespace 360 in-ground loudspeaker, and the VAS-4 vertical array loudspeaker. Of particular note is the Freespace 360, a 70V loudspeaker providing 360-degree coverage. Low-profile (about 6" high), painted green, and featuring a specialized weatherproof driver, these are mounted in planters and garden boxes.
Beyond lighting and sound, there is PAM, which stands for Parkwide Attraction Monitoring (PAM) system, providing operations personnel with the necessary data to keep the rides at USIOA running smoothly. Created by ITEC Productions(R), a division of Orlando-based ITEC Entertainment Corporation(TM), PAM allows easy monitoring of hourly ride attendance (actual and average), the number of vehicle dispatches per hour, and tracking of equipment status including faults and downtime events. Information is updated continuously throughout the day and is easily accessed via USIOA's Intranet internal computer network.
With all operations at USIOA up and running, the designers, architects, and project managers at Universal Creative have refocused their attention and are now hard at work on several new projects, including the Universal Studios Japan theme park presently under construction in Osaka. One thing is certain--if Islands of Adventure has set a benchmark standard for the design of theme parks in the future, it may prove to be a tough act to follow.