The Thea Awards Honor the Best Themed Attractions of 2012

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This past Saturday, members of the themed entertainment design community met at the Disneyland Hotel to honor their peers for the best themed attractions of last year at the 2013 Thea Awards. Presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), the Theas are unlike any other awards show. There are no nominees and there are no winners or losers. Awardees are announced almost six months in advance during a short ceremony at the largest event in the industry, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Attractions Expo.
For the second year in a row, the ceremony took place in the Grand Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel – a very apropos location as four of the ten awards went to Disney projects. The Thea Awards ceremony is the culmination of a three day event, which includes master classes, case studies presented by the award-winning project producers, and a NextGen breakfast, where veteran designers share their knowledge with college students preparing to be the next generation in themed entertainment.
Before the black tie ceremony began, attendees walked the red carpet to a reception and dinner. Each dinner was served with a Harry Potter wand as one of the Theas went to a Harry Potter attraction – and it’s not in Florida.
As most readers will be more familiar with attractions than the people who design them, I’ll be including popular projects each person worked on in the descriptions. All photos are by InPark Magazine’s Martin Palicki unless otherwise noted.
The ceremony was hosted by eleven year old Valin Shinyei, who took the stage accompanied by a singer. He then introduced 2013 TEA President Christine Kerr of BaaM Entertainment (who in the past worked on developing the LEGOLAND parks in Windsor and California). The theme for this year’s ceremony was “Pure Imagination” and the award-winners were being seen through the eyes of a child.
The first award, OUTSTANDING TECHNOLOGY, went to Tait Towers for their Pixel Tablet, a 5” square device holding nine LED’s. It can be handheld or temporarily attached to seats in a stadium or theater. It was the Tait Pixel Tablet that made animations sweep across the stadium crowds during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
In accepting his award, James Fairorth, the CEO of Tait Towers, made special mention of TEA member Jeremy Railton of Entertainment Design Company, whose credits include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics and numerous attractions and shows for casino resorts in Macau and Singapore, calling him “an ambassador for the themed entertainment business.”
Many of Railton’s projects involve fountains, and so did the next Thea recipient, for EVENT SPECTACULAR, Aquanura, the new nighttime water show at Efteling theme park in the Netherlands. With Aquanura, Efteling expands on its fairytale and storytelling traditions that have been part of the park’s thematic foundation for some 60 years. Four giant frogs, based on a historic fountain feature (the Frog Prince) in the park’s Fairytale Forest, mark the corners of the lake. The Frogs serenely open the show as they shoot jumping water sprays to the center of the performing area. At this point, larger fountains begin to take over. Aquanura features 200 fountains in all, including the largest in Europe. Receiving the award, Efteling’s Bart de Boer shared the inspiration for his show – he was impressed watching the famous fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and how the crowds were all applauding wildly – all applauding the guy who pushes the button.
Bonny Hunt, the voice of Sally in the Cars movies, introduced the next two awards. Cars Land was awarded for OUTSTANDING NEW THEME PARK LAND and Radiator Springs Racers for OUTSTANDING ATTRACTION. Mater worked his way through the ballroom and onto the stage, where John Lasseter and Imagineer Kathy Mangum accepted the award.
Cars Land is about taking a pretend movie world and making it tangible in the real one. But how about creating something that’s never been seen before? The creators of the Big-O Show, winner of a Thea Award for OUTSTANDING EVENT SPECTACULAR, did just that. Master Planner of Expo 2012, Bernie Jo, was joined by Jean-Christophe Canizares of ECA2 (BraviSEAmo at Tokyo DisneySea) to accept the award for this centerpiece of last year’s worlds fair in Yeosu, South Korea.
For those of you familiar with North American theme parks, it’s pretty much what you would get if you mixed World of Color with Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular and Terminator 2 3D.
Then there were cheerleaders.
Which made sense as the next award went to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary for OUTSTANDING MUSEUM. The museum features more than fifty state of the art interactives with the goal of making everyone an athlete, even if they’re not athletic. These exhibits provide rare opportunities for visitors to shadow-box with Lennox Lewis; interact one-on-one with Kerrin Lee- Gartner asshe coaches them through a virtual downhill race; sit in a racing wheelchair and race against Chantal Petitclerc; and join a Formula 1 race with Jacques Villeneuve. Two of the museum’s immersive 3D exhibits, “Be a Goalie” and “Be a Catcher,” offer visitors a unique opportunity to put on a mask and block shots from the Calgary Flames or experience the physical impact of various pitches striking a catcher’s mitt.
Imagineer Joe Rohde (Animal Kingdom), Disney Legend Marty Sklar, and Bob Ward (co-founder of Universal Creative, the attraction design arm of Universal Studios) took the stage to present the BUZZ PRICE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD to Frank Stanek of Stanek Global Advisors.
Stanek spent 25 years at Disney as Director and then Corporate Vice-President of Research and Planning, providing background and analysis for Walt Disney’s Epcot vision, the original development of Walt Disney World, expansion of Disneyland and the birth of Epcot.
In the 1970s, he was assigned by Disney management to analyze whether the first international park should be in Europe or Japan. He recommended Japan and then became “the dealmaker” between Disney and OLC (Oriental Land Company). He then headed the Imagineering team that developed Tokyo Disneyland and handed it over to OLC and Disney Operating teams. Next corporate assignment: Where in Europe should the first Disney Park be built? Some argued in favor of the coast of Spain; others for the south of France. Stanek recommended Marne La Vallée to take advantage of French “new town” incentives.
When Stanek left Disney in the mid-1980s, he became the strategic planning advisor to the City of Osaka, Japan Harbor Authority in the business/marketing and planning for the world renown Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan with its “Ring of Fire” theme. Joining Universal, Stanek became President of International Business development for Vivendi-Universal. His success with the aquarium project opened the doors to making Universal Studios Osaka happen. He also recommended and made the joint venture deal for Universal Mediterranea near Barcelona, Spain (now known as PortAventura).
The next award brought the ceremony back to the Disneyland Resort and the winner of the Thea for OUTSTANDING THEME PARK RESTAURANT – the Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure. Mickey Mouse came out with the Buena Vista Street newsboys to sing the praises of this upscale eatery while Phil Hettema (Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Miami Vice Action Spectacular) presented the award to Imagineer Ray Spencer.
Half-way around the world, the Mack family has been moving people for eight generations. Starting with upscale horse-drawn carriages and now a leading provider of rides to parks worldwide, including the recent Manta coaster at SeaWorld San Diego, Mack has been operating Europa-Park in Rust, Germany since 1972. Initially, Europa-Park was a showcase for Mack’s various mechanical rides. But over the decades, by alternating innovation and adaptation, applying the world’s best practices together with their own brand of creativity, Europa-Park has grown into one of the most important theme parks in the world. The Europa-Park Resort is also brilliantly themed with world class thematic detailing extended deeply into common areas and hotel rooms, a Tipi Village and campsite, the campsite bathrooms and more. Michael Mack accepted the THEA CLASSIC award for the park.
“You’ve got to be kidding me . . . a Hawaiian beachfront resort?” And thus began Bob Rogers’ (Robot and the Bird, Mystery Lodge) introduction to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, winner of this year’s Thea for OUTSTANDING THEMED HOTEL RESORT. Imagineer Joe Rohde accepted the award for this unique hotel that celebrates Hawaiian culture, history and traditions. While other resort hotels in Hawaii may give a nod to Hawaiian culture, the entire Aulani experience is centered around it.
It’s hard for any single person to follow Joe Rohde, but not so hard for two giant robots. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee appeared to announce the OUTSTANDING ATTRACTION award for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Transformers: The Ride – 3D. Chick Russell (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Tokyo DisneySea) accepted the award.
George Wiktor (Space Center Houston, “Back to Neverland” at Disney/MGM Studios) and Monte Lunde (Test Track, Revenge of the Mummy) presented Judy Rubin, a public relations specialist and journalist in the themed attractions industry for almost thirty years with the 2013 TEA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD for her years of service to the organization. Judy is co-editor of InPark Magazine and all of us our very proud of her achievement.
There’s more than one kind of magic. Judy has her style and Harry Potter has his. The show ended with a Harry Potter attraction receiving the Thea Award for OUTSTANDING STUDIO TOUR. This isn’t a theme park attraction, but rather a walkthrough tour of the actual sets from the eight films at the studio near London where the films were actually shot – Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter. Representing the attraction were Sarah Roots, the Studio Tour Vice President, and Thinkwell’s Craig Hanna (Men in Black: Alien Attack).
As a finale, Deatheaters attacked the stage, threatening to take the lives of all those in the ballroom. But then host Valin appeared dressed as Harry Potter and saved the day.
Because of the size and complexity of many themed attractions and events, its easy to think that the themed entertainment design industry is huge, like with motion pictures or music. In fact, it’s a rather small and close nit community. Groups like the TEA and events like the TEA Summit and the Thea Awards provide opportunities for networking, discussion, and for the industry to progress.
Look for next year’s Thea Award winners to be named this fall at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando.
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