by Maury Fredricks | Dec 12, 2022 | Themed Entertainment Design
Last month, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, also known as IAAPA, held its annual Expo in Orlando, Florida. IAAPA hosts this expo to “spread successful ideas and practices. We also provide valuable tools and resources that make all of our businesses smarter, safer, and more profitable while delivering guest experiences that surprise and delight.”
On the first day of the expo, November 13th, I had the opportunity to play in the 19th annual “Give Kids the World” golf event at Shingle Creek Golf Course. This event has been a highlight of my time in Orlando for the past several years. The weather cooperated for most of the outing, with scattered rain and cloud cover into the afternoon. We were called back into the clubhouse twice as a caution for thunder strikes, and then we finished the round and enjoyed a brief lunch to celebrate another sold-out event.
My first day at IAAPA began with a guided tour of the Universal Studios Velocicoaster ride. Along with the golf event, this tour also sold out quickly, and for a good reason. As it turned out, it was another highlight of my trip to Orlando. While waiting to board the bus from the Orange County Convention Center to the park, I met Doug Akers, VP of Operations, with Universal Studios. Doug recently returned stateside from assignments in Asia. I greatly appreciated our time together during the tour.
Overall, the Velocicoaster ride was such a wonderful experience! If you have not yet experienced the coaster, take a calculated risk and queue up for a quick burst of adrenaline. I will spare you any spoilers other than to say it is worth the wait. I look forward to my next trip to Universal soon to enjoy this experience again.
We wrapped up the tour with a lunch presentation by Universal Creative, Technical, and Operations. It was an intriguing story about character and IP-based ride development delivered by passionate professionals. The team did an incredible job facilitating this excellent experience and learning event!
As karma or luck would have it, I met Jakob Stahl, incoming CEO of IAAPA, in the elevator at our hotel after lunch. I offered him congratulations on his promotion. From there, I continued the brisk stroll to the show, and Hal McAvoy and I met on the way to the convention center. Hal led our organization as CEO through the last year and the challenges presented by the pandemic. It was a bit of serendipity to meet the outgoing and incoming leaders for IAAPA over a 15-minute walk! Right place at the right time, as they say!
The IAAPA event kicked off with an update on the state of the industry and a motivating presentation by Abigail Posner with Google. She delivered a passionate presentation and story about following our unique gifts and building networks with different talents. I’m not sure how IAAPA found Abigail, but she had set the tone for the wrap-up of the kickoff event! From there, we launched onto the show floor for day one of the exhibit space.
On the exhibit floor, I reconnected with many old friends and even made a few. Thanks to Sean Reish with TAIT for taking time out of your busy show to provide insights and guidance about design and engineering opportunities. I also visited WhiteWater and met Matt Regan during a standup conversation with Claudio Barrera and Jesse Crawford. I briefly toured the Brunswick Bowling exhibit. We have worked with Brunswick on numerous projects, and it’s always great to gather insights about our work through interaction with consumers.
Attendance at the show totaled 37,000 attendees. This data point is encouraging and points to the accelerated return to profitable performance for the parks, museums, and other attractions. We look forward to the next expo in this dynamic industry, as well as a return to Universal to enjoy all of the entertainment and attractions that the theme park has to offer.
by Maury Fredricks | Nov 1, 2022 | Company Insights, Events, Themed Entertainment Design, Uncategorized
Over the past several decades, the team at Fredricks Design has worked with demanding design and engineering teams in diverse industries. While industry standards vary depending on the project, product, and intended use, the team has developed the capability to come up to speed and adapt to new projects quickly. Whether it be working with unique project teams or different cultures, we never fail to deliver excellent work under tight timelines and budgets. As our capabilities grew, Fredricks Design identified a fit in the themed attraction industry – specifically in rides, animated props, and special effects. Our deep experience in vehicle development, cockpits, interior systems, and seating for cars, trucks, and heavy equipment fit this industry’s needs well.
Entry Into The Themed Attraction Industry
Low volume production of custom build projects is a key requirement of success on entertainment projects. Rides and props are produced in quantities of less than ten units. The projects perform for decades under rigorous conditions. The team at Fredricks Design wanted to learn more about this industry, so we set about the hard work of presenting the firm and pursuing the first few projects.
Since that initial entrance into the entertainment industry, Fredricks Design has worked with prime vendors for entertainment brands. Our skills in design and studio engineering fit perfectly with concept development projects. Many Clients requested manufacturing capabilities for the outsourcing of turn-key “prime vendor” projects. After exploring several manufacturing suppliers, we had the good fortune to connect with Prefix Corporation based in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Like Fredricks, Prefix is a second-generation, family-run, and Michigan-based company. We began working on projects together, and by October 2018, we had framed and finalized a strategic partnership. This partnership allowed us to pursue and develop projects from concept development through fabrication, assembly testing, and installation of rides and animated props. Our partnership continues to thrive, and we are excited about the future for our Clients and diversified growth for our partnership and team.
We have learned many things over the past decade working in the Themed Attraction Industry. Our team has worked on multi-axis motion rides, animated props, advanced concepts, and full-scale mockups. Our portfolio of projects includes work with the largest and best-known entertainment brands in the world. We have also worked with innovative startups on projects from research, sketch, and concept development through production engineering deliverables. It’s been a wild ride and a wonderful adventure with fantastic friends! A big thanks to our Clients, partners, suppliers, and design and engineering team!
These are a few reasons we are driven to continue working in this unique and demanding industry:
- We grew up watching cartoons and animated movies. We feel humbled and thankful to help bring stories to life from sketch through the installation of the guest experience.
- Families and friends build lasting memories in the theme parks we help create.
- We work with some of the world’s most demanding creative and technical teams.
- We are challenged with performance and technical requirements to ensure the safety of park guests and protect the long-term investment of every project.
- Our engineering team adheres to rigorous technical and performance standards to ensure the function and long-term durability of the systems.
- We are challenged with tight budgets and timelines.
- Working as an extension of the Client’s creative and technical team, they task us with delivering complex rides and props. These will run for 18-hour days over years and decades with scheduled preventive maintenance.
Attendance At IAAPA
We are now preparing for the annual Themed Attraction industry event in Orlando. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is an opportunity to connect with friends, make new contacts, attend educational events, and tour the show floor to experience emerging technologies for future application.
Emerging and evolving themes for the industry will include the blend of VR and physical experiences. It will also host motion control technologies, character-based attractions, scaled rides for small footprints, and the application of advanced materials and assembly methodologies. Stay tuned for a recap of our insights from IAAPA in a future post.
Before attending the show, I will play in the golf event on Sunday, November 13, 2022. This special event will benefit the Give Kids The World Organization. Hosted right before IAAPA, the event speaks to the spirit of community and giving that thrives throughout the industry. It is an opportunity to relax, play golf, and reflect on why we love this industry!
Please reach out if you would like to connect at the show or set up a review of findings and insights. We are ready to help with your future projects, big, small, or medium in scale. Thanks for our past and future projects!
by Maury Fredricks | May 4, 2022 | Automotive Design, Company Insights, Product Design, Themed Entertainment Design
Project Management insights…
We apply phased methodologies with milestone reviews to develop projects from research and ideation phase, into feasibility and through concept development. In many instances, our concepts are handed off to an internal Client team or supplier to further develop production release deliverables. The overall project timeline and costs can be compressed when the concept deliverables are robust, accurate and developed with production constraints in mind.
As many companies and technologies work to develop less siloed approaches to design and development the traditional phased approach still leaves much to be desired. We have focused our time and resources to develop a design team focused on bridging these silos to digest the key information from one phase and get a jump start on applying it in a fashion that is digestible to the next phase or team.
The ongoing pandemic has forced companies to reduce headcount to contain fixed costs. In addition, there has been a widely reported exodus of experienced talent entering early retirement. These two conditions have resulted in a significant talent exodus from core teams at a time when smart and seasoned project management is needed to develop innovative solutions.
To compound the challenges, inflation is eroding the buying power of corporations and increased competition demands reduced costs to develop products and services. We are, indeed, living in interesting times!
During a recent project review, we sparked a discussion about different ways to improve team performance. An initial comment led to an impromptu workshop about our role with Clients and different ways to improve team performance. We work as an extension of the Client design and engineering team, and we are all accountable for our deliverables. We win only when our clients win.
We identified several key features of a successful project that should be applied to all innovation initiatives with creative and technical teams. Here we go…
Take the time to write a well-defined project brief…
Work diligently with your cross-functional team to construct a clearly written design, engineering, or project brief. This key document will guide the team through the twisting journey traveled to take an idea through feasibility and proof of concept and physical property development.
Our experience with leading companies in diverse industries has shown that most teams rush through the design brief to start moving on the project. This is especially true of lean teams working with reduced headcount and erosion of experienced management.
Teams get stressed when unrealistic budgets and deadlines are shared with little planning or rationale for the demands. This leads to attrition and ultimately the challenges of recruiting new talent in a hyper competitive landscape.
We provide a guide on how to develop a well-defined project brief on our website. This can be found here: Fredricks Design Step by Step Guide to Building a Realistic RFP
Plan the work and work the plan…
After all members of the team have provided input to the brief and approved the document, an equal amount of energy and focus should be dedicated to the plan for key phases of the project.
In many cases, the early phases of the project are compressed to reflect a short timeline for ideation, feasibility, and concept development to make room for additional time and capital to complete production engineering and tooling.
It is our belief that if sufficient time is planned for the early phase of any project, the investment will be returned in later phases via reduced iterations, leaner design and an enhanced end-user experience. A lack of well-informed planning in early stages of development begins an uphill battle that leads to increased iterations due to unexpected feedback from production and engineering teams. This effect snowballs throughout the program forcing delays in timing and headaches for all parties involved.
Team growth and flexibility…
CEOs and leadership teams are now beginning to consider options for growth. Do we recruit and hire for our core team, engage with external resources, or pursue a hybrid model blending incremental growth to the internal team while working with flexible resources?
We have found success through turbulent times in the hybrid model. Our core design and engineering team is lean, and we engage with proven, flexible resources to scale up for sold projects.
We have also forged a strong partnership with Prefix Companies to offer turn-key solutions from sketch through manufacturing, assembly test and installation of vehicles, rides, animated props, and furniture. This flexible offering provides our clients with a wide range of services scaled to the unique requirements of each project. We are liberated to identify the best materials, processes, and methodologies for each project.
We welcome your comments on this article. Please visit us at www.fredricks.com and download any of our content offers. We look forward to working together when the time is right!
Best wishes for future success on all of your projects!
Mobile +1 616-402-2300
by Maury Fredricks | Apr 19, 2022 | Automotive Design, Company Insights, Fredricks Design Review, Furniture Design, Product Design, Themed Entertainment Design
Work as a collaborative team to reduce iterations and improve project flow.
Our work with marketing, design and engineering teams over the past several decades has been an interesting and challenging journey. We have been lucky in our work with diverse teams in different industries.
There are common challenges and goals for all teams working on concepts for innovative products and services. Whatever business you are in, there are a few fundamentals for application in the planning and execution of your projects.
The Design Brief is the project roadmap.
Every project begins with a design brief including constraints on time, budget, and performance metrics. These guidelines, of course, are established after an agreement is reached on the design or project brief with key stakeholders. The problem statement, resources, assignments and measurable goals must be included in the brief. A well-written brief will help guide the team from research through production release and market launch.
by Maury Fredricks | Jul 1, 2020 | Company Insights, Events, Themed Entertainment Design
Field notes from Orlando November 2019…
My travels last year included numerous trips to Orlando for client visits and a few days at IAAPA, the annual themed attraction trade show. Little did I know that my travels in 2020 would be eliminated by a global pandemic. Looking back on November 2019, it seemed like a simpler, easier time…
I attended a presentation by George Walker, Creative Director with Universal Creative. George launched into his presentation with a story about his youth and the theme park he built in his backyard in upstate New York. He followed his dreams and has worked on creative projects around the world and back to join the growing and innovative Universal Team based in Orlando.
George’s message resonated with me before the pandemic, through the shelter at home period, and even more so now as I think about the future for our business and the challenges every company faces…we are living in a dramatically changed landscape. A few of his key points are paraphrased below:
Key Points from George Walker at IAAPA 2019
Achieve Authentic Reality
A theme park is a story place. Themed entertainment is built on emotion and emotion comes from experience.
An experience is an event or occurrence that leaves an impression.
“When experience is the commodity, authenticity is the currency.” Authenticity is key.
These simple principles can be applied to any business, product, service delivery, or organization. Now, more than ever, we are all seeking authenticity in our personal and professional relationships. There is now no tolerance for bullshit or shoddy delivery on brand promise.
We all need to take a reality check on what our client’s problems are and how we will deliver a differentiated and memorable experience on every engagement. It is an opportunity to improve ourselves, our teams, and our products and services.
Tell Your Story From the Heart
Our work with leading entertainment companies has sharpened our storytelling skills. We’ve been really lucky to participate in creative reviews with some of the world’s best talent and we have been inspired to up our game by their work.
The best stories are delivered with passion from the heart using simple language and high impact, clean images.
All companies and organizations are now confronted with the reality that budgets are tight and talent will be stretched thin while working in different ways. It seems like a great time for clear thinking and straight talk. We are all uncertain, a little on edge, and curious about what the future will look like as the economy begins to ramp up.
Deliver an Excellent, Emotional Experience
There is an old saying that “we are only as good as our last project”. Brand promises are kept or broken through every client touchpoint and relationships are built over time.
Our experience with cross-functional teams has proven that straight talk communication is essential in building trust. Thanks to our clients and diverse project experience, we have developed clear and simple project management tools to track progress on creative technical and commercial issues. Weekly updates are shared with key stakeholders to ensure we are tracking to plan with no surprises along the way.
In many instances, we act as a designated or de-facto catalyst with the creative studio and engineering team to help keep everyone aligned on the established storyline and moving towards our project deliverables and deadlines. Authenticity and delivery on our promises have been a big factor in our success over the past few decades.
The overall experience with any firm, product, or service is a sum-total of touchpoints and the end deliverables.
Back to the simpler and easier time of November 2019…little did I realize that so much of what George Walker shared would be applicable as we step into our new and weird landscape! Relationships, trust, and follow-through on our commitments will be even more important as we fire up the economic engines and get back to work.
Thank you for sharing George — we look forward to working together when the time is right!
by Maury Fredricks | May 20, 2019 | Themed Entertainment Design
Themed attractions are consistently trending towards immersive, captivating experiences that take park guests out of the everyday and transport them to another world. From The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to new, immersive Jurassic Park attractions, guests are looking to be entertained and thrilled all at once. As the industry embraces and invests in emerging technologies, we’re able to create better, more immersive attractions that entertain and delight. Here’s a look at some of today’s themed attraction trends making rides and experiences more immersive and entertaining:
Dark rides have been around since the late 1900s, when they were called “old mill” rides and passengers would sit in a small boat as they were transported through wooden canal systems. In 1928, the first single-rail dark ride (The Pretzel, by Leon Cassidy) was patented, and since then new technological advances in video quality, sound, and capabilities of the attraction properties themselves have taken these rides to the next level.
Dark rides have a unique ability to remove guests entirely from the natural world and take them somewhere completely new with immersive features like lighting, video, and even actors and live performers moving throughout the experience.
This new dark ride by California’s Legacy Entertainment will be the world’s first dark ride to integrate both live performers and stunt shows. Produced for the Trans Studio Bali theme park in Indonesia, this ride will feature all the aspects of dark rides guests love — attractive, immersive video and an exceptional original music score by Benoit Jutras — plus additional features like motion base vehicles, and most notably, live stunt performers and actors that will make the ride, called Road Rage, one of a kind.
This new trend of dark rides offering both a ride and a show is one furthering the immersive entertainment aspects of themed attractions, and we’re excited to see where it goes.
Audio and visual technologies have been used for years to transport guests to another world. New trends in themed attraction development are now incorporating all of the senses, taking themed attractions to the next level. Incorporating touch, smell, and sound with dark ride technology, new sensory experience attractions are gaining much popularity.
Right now, Disney’s Avatar: Flight of Passage ride may be the most notable multisensory attraction in a park, though BBC and Sega’s collaboration, Orbi, an experimental natural history theme park in Japan, offers another impressive multisensory experience. Orbi invites visitors to step into 12 different natural zones that look, smell, feel, and sound like the real thing, from Yellowstone to the polar ice caps.
Multisensory experiences are just finding a foothold in themed attraction, but when they deliver an exceptional, realistic experience like these examples, they’re sure to keep growing, resulting in longer guest stays at the park and repeat visitors.
In an increasingly impersonal world, personalized experiences in themed attractions are gaining popularity. While this technology is still developing, the idea of personalizing a guest’s experience in a themed attraction or at a park has certainly taken hold.
At the National Comedy Center, for example, guests are offered an RFID bracelet to scan. With the bracelet, they are able to tell a kiosk what types of things make them laugh. From that point on, their entire visitor experience is personalized for their sense of humor.
This type of personalized experience is what today’s consumers are looking for, and we won’t be surprised to see themed attractions take on the concept of personalization to offer guests a unique, one-of-a-kind experience, every time.
Virtual reality has been in development for quite some time, but it only continues to improve themed attraction experiences for guests. VR has the unique ability to totally transform a guest’s experience, and it offers the immersive ride qualities that today’s consumers are looking for.
The versatility of VR ensures that themed attraction parks can recreate old experiences, or reprogram an attraction space for a new experience, with a significantly smaller investment. As VR technology improves, the themed attraction experience also improves.
Though VR still presents some tricky development aspects — motion and images must be timed perfectly to ensure guest comfort — it’s a themed attraction trend we know will be sticking around for quite some time.
There’s a lot happening in the world of themed attraction, and we’re always excited to learn about design and technology trends making rides and attractions more entertaining and immersive.
Fredricks Design is a leader in themed ride and animated prop development, and we’d love to help you develop concepts and properties that complete and enhance the immersive qualities of your ride’s experience. For more information about our work and past themed attraction projects, give us a call.