By: Erik Morris, PMP, Senior Project Manager at Quince Imaging
On Thursday, January 11th, 2024, I had the privilege to attend a TEA event at Universal Studios Orlando, Florida, where we had a private showing of The Bourne Stuntacular and special access to Villain-Con Minions Blast, followed by two expert panels led by Universal Creative leadership and partners for these projects, closing with a panel featuring some of the vendors responsible for bringing these unique attractions to life!
The Bourne Stuntacular
If you have yet to have the opportunity to visit these two new attractions, you most certainly should! The Bourne Stuntacular is a fantastic achievement, technically, creatively, ambitiously, and athletically! There is a lot of technology on stage and tons more under it, moving in harmony with the stunt performers, media, and projection mapping that genuinely blurs the lines between imagery and real life.
Suspending your disbelief as a Guest is supremely easy, starting with the first fight scene; even as players move in front of the giant LED screen, you are still easily surprised by someone you thought was media shockingly coming forward or props, scenic elements, and characters moving seamlessly between and during scenes to great visual success! To achieve this safely and repeatedly is a significant technical achievement as well. 5000 4K LED panels running media at 60fps over 20 million pixels get you an impressive $7M wall and set the new minimum bar in playback required to blend virtual and reality in a live show setting. Completely seamless projection mapping on dynamic show decking, show action equipment, and performers made even the most seasoned themed entertainment professionals in the house surprised and celebratory of the genuinely incredible experience we all could watch.
Keeping the show in sync required immaculate blocking, skilled performers, and the technological driving force of TAIT Navigator and Christie Mystique 3D hardware and software systems. RFID tracking ensures that every piece of potentially hazardous equipment is where it needs to be, not only to be perfectly mapped for the greatest of impacts across the house to ensure that every actor is safe and stunts can be executed precisely.
The costumes, lighting, and front projection mapping are the unsung heroes in putting these final pieces together. The lighting equipment was driven by ETC’s x7 Color System to brilliantly fill the stage with practically perfect color matching to the media from the high side and front positions, building an immersive show experience. One effect during a police chase had me guessing (wrongly) about how it was achieved because it was so perfectly subtle and world-building that it was both technically marvelous and completely immersive simultaneously! Even when you can see the facility and equipment in your sightline (a necessary evil for any stage show), the marvel of what is happening in front of you immerses you throughout the whole show. Having the original IP holders as part of the team helps immensely.
I learned this firsthand when I was part of Universal Creative, working closely with the Kung Fu Panda team from Dreamworks for Universal Beijing Resort. The labor of love at Bourne feels very similar here as a Guest. What’s impressive is how far technology has been pushed to make the technology disappear during the show. As with any technology, as the envelope gets pushed and more widespread, we as an industry must push not just in hardware, digital media, and software development but also must creatively use it in its most effective means. The Bourne Stuntacular is an excellent example of 2021’s current technology being pushed to the limits. The ever-changing, rapidly improving technology out in the world and in development in just a couple of later years (including some bleeding-edge tech and applications on projects with Quince Imaging in the field) reminds us that there are still places for this technology. It will make live shows and events more spectacular, not just virtual production but also live shows and events!
Villian-Con Minions Blast
Immersive and fun in a completely different way is one of the newest attractions at Universal Orlando – Villian-Con Minions Blast. This attraction is intended to be a family-fun interactive gameplay experience, bringing the Guests into the world of Illumination’s Minions and Despicable Me. Around the outer edge of the building and into the queue, there is a lot of fun placemaking signage that lets the Guest into the whimsy and pun-derful world of freeze rays, bananas, and fart guns. Many villainously iconic characters romp through this attraction where Guests use “their one-of-a-kind, only one out there, ray gun – that everyone else also gets” to earn their way into the bad graces of the Vicious 6. Media and mayhem rule the day at Minions Blast, and the result is a fun and repeatable experience that feels like something the whole family can enjoy. The ride is slow moving, and the ride vehicle is unexpected at Universal – but without giving anything away, you’ll have to withstand it. A mobile tie-in experience to this attraction wasn’t working this evening. Still, it appears to be a collect-and-capture style of tracking gameplay that I imagine contains a global leaderboard.
Driven by Unreal, the experience can be modified to meet Guest experiences once Universal collects data showing how Guests want to play. This information, aligned with guest surveys, will give Minions Blast much-staying power. Special overlays for holidays and events may be something in the far future for this attraction, too, making it a potentially unique experience for returning Guests and new ones. Immersive gameplay and experiences is something I am genuinely passionate about bringing to theme parks and museums. There are opportunities to bring group and global gameplay to themed entertainment. Along with my personal experience in themed entertainment, Electronic Arts, eLearning games, and immersive game design, Quince Imaging has a whole slew of highly technical subject matter experts, creative leaders, and a wealth of AR/VR/MR, previz and Unreal development experience, through our work with League of Legends, Riot Games, professional and collegiate sporting venues and broadcast support, we are uniquely positioned to bring the whole experience to the forefront for the next level of immersive gameplay attractions to life at any venue around the world!
Expert Panels Discussion on Technology
The final part of the evening featured two expert panels related to these two attractions.
In the first, moderated by Universal Creative’s and TEA Eastern Board Member Shelby Honea (whose vivacious spirit would make for an excellent host or moderator in any number of venues), attendees learned more about the creative vision and producer-level experiences and partnerships that were required to make both attractions a success. Before the panel started, one of my favorite moments of the whole event was returning to the Bourne stage while catching up with Blooloop Power 10, newly-elected TEA Board Member, and all-around good guy James Anderson of FORREC. I realized that the work lights were on. We could see the catwalks and technological systems at work after we took our seats and pulled out our phones simultaneously to capture the impressive amount of lighting and effects gear overhead for posterity (one of those images is on the first page). The first panel was also joined by Lux Machina and covered some lessons learned from the virtual production world of TV and movie magic and how that can translate to the stage and attractions in the world of themed entertainment. It was adorable to see Lux Machina’s and Quince Imaging’s collaborative efforts at League of Legends 2020 called out as one of these exemplary moments in their presentation to the esteemed colleagues in attendance!
Vendors Panel Moderated by Ernest Bakenie
Some vendors followed this panel Universal partnered with to bring Bourne to life, including our friends at 7th Sense, TAIT, and Christie. This panel was moderated by Ernest Bakenie of Christie, with whom we are recurring partners, including most recently during last year’s Attractions Technology Lab in Orlando, where Quince Imaging provided creative direction. Once again, Quince Imaging projects were part of another awesome sizzle reel, this time for our work with Christie at the University of Houston for their court projection system at the Fertitta Center. Jim Shumway of TAIT did a great job explaining some of the fine details of showpieces and stage decking for Bourne, along with the operational requirements of TAIT Navigator. We also learned about the show’s entertaining pitch process to Universal and how Mystique 3D brought the fine-tipped brush to the front projection mapping with Ernest and Bryan Boehme of Christie Digital Systems.
Overall, this was a great night full of awe and insight into two of the newer attractions at Universal Orlando. Projection Mapping, LED, and immersive media and experiences took to the front and center of both of these attractions in unique and successful ways, and both will serve as excellent guideposts to the next generation of immersive attractions and experiences for Guests around the world. It is truly an exciting time to work in themed entertainment. I am excited to see what the future holds, not just on projects we can’t yet talk about at Quince Imaging but also for where the technologies and creative visions of so many highly skilled and passionate people in our industry will allow us to continue to go and grow. One of my favorite phrases of the night was that companies can’t just be creative or technically savvy; they need to be technically creative. I love that sentiment, and it makes me appreciate what we are doing as an industry and at Quince, where I have a new term to explain the quality of the team here and the work we are bringing to the public over the next few years and beyond. I’m proud to be in an industry and here at Quince Imaging with many strong, talented, and passionate professionals. We all strive to be technically creative and bring unique experiences to guests worldwide!