Inside Gringotts Wizarding Bank: bringing the magic of Harry Potter to life

Earlier this year, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter unveiled the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. This is the attraction’s biggest expansion to date.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank opened to the public on the 6th of April 2019. Visitors to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter can now walk through the iconic wizarding bank. The experience includes the Lestrange vault, a gallery of goblins, destroyed Gringotts and much more. The expansion is a collaboration between the Tour and the Harry Potter filmmakers.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is a must for Harry Potter fans. Built at the location where most of the films were shot, the tour includes sets such as the Great Hall, Platform 9 ¾, Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest. There are also several sets from within Hogwarts, as well as the latest addition, Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

The tour features iconic props and costumes from the movies. There is a chance to take part in a green screen scene, Butterbeer is available to taste, and merchandise is on sale.

Sarah Roots, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Tours, Warner Bros. spoke to Blooloop about the new expansion.

A background in hotels and visitor attractions
Roots has always been drawn to the attractions sector.

“One of the most informative things I did was to take an office job for six months,” she says. “What came out of that was a clear understanding that I did not ever want to work in an office again. So, I started my career largely in hotels and catering. I loved it, but was always intrigued by visitor attractions.”

Roots grew up in Kent. As a child, she often visited Sissinghurst Castle Gardens with her family.

“I was as interested in the people and the set up of the beautiful garden. I remember saying that I’d love to go and work somewhere like Sissinghurst, one day, and I did actually go and work for the National Trust later on.”

Tourism and heritage
Roots moved from hotels and catering to what was then the Tussauds group and Chessington World of Adventures.

“I had a great start there,” says Roots. “Following that, I moved towards the heritage side. I worked for the National Trust and two different stints at the National Maritime Museum.”

It was from the Maritime Museum that Roots joined Warner Bros. “I came from the cultural sector to the commercial one,” she says. “Often, it tends to work the other way.”

“An interesting fact about my career is that I’ve had lots of particularly lovely offices. At Chessington, I was in a fairy princess tower. At the National Trust, I had a meeting room where the Queen Mother spent her honeymoon. Then, at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (Maritime Museum) I had a Wren designed office – the only Wren designed building aside from St Paul’s in London. And now, I sit within the fire-breathing distance of a full-size Ukranian Ironbelly dragon!”

The Making of Harry Potter
Speaking about The Making of Harry Potter, Roots says: “It was a brilliant time to come on board. To be part of the setup of an experience which has become so immensely successful.

“We were in a very privileged position to have these incredible, original handmade film assets. And also, to be working with Harry Potter, which has a global fan base.”

“We were able to create this experience from scratch. There’s a science behind delivering the best possible visitor experience. We were able to plan around that in consultation with the Thinkwell Group.

“Emotionally, the visitor takes a journey that begins with an amazing ‘wow’ moment in the Great Hall. This is when you’re welcomed to Hogwarts at the start. You go right through all the authentic sets and then to the model at the end, which is a very emotional space. We’ve had wedding proposals there, and fans in tears.”

Features and events
“The starting point is a fantastically good, high-quality experience,” says Roots. “It is well designed with a global IP. But the longevity and the excitement of the success is all down to the execution. It is because of our amazing staff and how they bring the films and the sets and props and costumes to life.”

The tours are kept fresh by ensuring there is always something new. The features programme means several events run through the year.

“We usually have something where the filmmakers will come in, perhaps introducing the art department or a behind-the-scenes event, or the talent who actually worked on the film offering an authentic experience of that film making process.”

For the Halloween season from the 27th September to the 10th November, there is Dark Arts. Christmas sees Hogwarts in the Snow.

The expansions, such as Gringotts Wizarding Bank are also a major highlight.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank
“The expansions have really helped to put us on the map, to grow our audience from a PR and awareness point of view. They also give something new for our returning visitors.”

The first, in 2015, was Platform 9 ¾, from which the Hogwarts Express famously departs. In 2017 it was the Forbidden Forest.

The most recent expansion is Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which opened in April. “It is absolutely breath-taking. It’s beautiful,” says Roots.

The sets were restored by many of the film franchise’s original crew using the techniques used in production. The filmmaking talent oversaw the process including Oscar and BAFTA-winning production designer Stuart Craig, construction manager Paul Hayes and head prop-maker Pierre Bohanna. The 16,500 square foot expansion comprises Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the Lestrange vault and destroyed Gringotts.

The Gringotts banking hall features tall marble columns. It is finished with brass leaf and decorated with three enormous crystal chandeliers.

The goblin tellers’ desks are heaped with ledgers, quills and inkwells. They also hold the sickles, knuts and galleons that are the currency of the wizarding world. The costumes and prosthetics of the goblin bankers are also featured.

The Lestrange vault holds the treasures of Bellatrix Lestrange. Here, visitors can find the Sword of Gryffindor as well as a Horcrux – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup.

A world-class attraction
“We were reaching a point where we were being restricted by the space,” says Roots. “We are very conscious of our customer experience. So, it gave us an opportunity. Not just to add Gringotts bank but also to expand some of our core facilities for our customers.”

The expansion features an all-new lobby, housing the information desk, digital guides and toilets. Owls and Hogwarts acceptance letters decorate the walls.

“It really feels as if you’re arriving at a top-end, world-class attraction.”

The Studio Tour Hub also offers many prime Instagram opportunities. “We’ve got an amazing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon hanging from the foyer ceiling. It’s stunning; we’re thrilled with it. Our customers hang out there, taking selfies. The filmmakers are immensely proud of it.

“Stuart Craig, the production designer, looked at the early picture of a dragon hanging in the space. He said: no, it needs to look like it did in Gringotts bank; as if it’s trying to escape, and the dragon is too big for the space. It’s a big space, so the dragon is really very special.”

The dragon in the 2011 film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (II) was created with CGI. This sculpture has a wingspan of over 64 feet and dominates the space.

Magical food and beverage options
“We have expanded and refreshed our F&B,” says Roots. “We introduced our Chocolate Frog Café, where we’ve got some exciting treat products. This includes unique ice cream flavours and a really magical hot chocolate.”

The Chocolate Frog Café is themed around the iconic confectionary. Mirrors recreate the moving witch and wizard cards contained in the original chocolate frog packaging.

A worldwide fanbase
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997, and the first film came out in 2001. Since that point, the popularity of the wizarding world has continued to grow.

“Harry Potter fans are so engaged and passionate,” says Roots. “They’re an amazing audience, and also very tech-savvy. So, we can engage with them through our social media channels.

“Harry Potter is more popular than ever. The development of the wizarding world and the introduction of Fantastic Beasts has continued to build the brand. There has been so much activity in the franchise, and we are part of that wizarding world.”

“In the UK, we are the key touchpoint, the physical place where the fans can come and celebrate all things Harry Potter.”

According to research done by Warner Bros., people who grew up with the books and films are now introducing their own children to them.

“Many of those original fans are coming back to celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries and so on at our special events. For example, coming to the Great Hall, perhaps, for a dinner.

“The fans are very engaged, genuine people, and it is a genuine brand. Everything we have is authentic to the films, and to that magical world. I think that’s why the model is so emotional: we’ve had people kiss the floor in the Great Hall.”

The magical world of Gringotts Wizarding Bank
The Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion is the biggest that Warner Bros. Studio Tour London has done, to date. Roots says it has already proved phenomenally popular:

“The set, with the marble columns, props and hand-applied brass leaf, is stunning.”

“We also have a Destroyed Gringotts, so visitors can compare the sets. It includes digital technology where the dragon thrashes about like it did in the film. This particular entry into the digital world was a new development for us.

“The Wizarding World is continuing to grow. For example, with the filming of Fantastic Beasts at the adjoining studio. This will definitely provide further opportunities. We will continue to develop new features and to think about how we can expand the attractions as the magical world grows.”


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A Light Safari in Wine Country

Public light spectacles by artists like Bruce Munro herald a movement that infuses culture in valleys of viticulture (and blazes new trails in cities, too).

PASO ROBLES, Calif. — This state is rife with roadside attractions, from the colossal drive-through redwood trees off Route 101 to the historic Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in San Bernardino.

But there is nothing quite like the mind-bending spectacle now on display at dusk in the hills of Paso Robles here, a popular wine destination. That is the witching hour when thousands of solar-powered glass orbs on stems, created by the artist Bruce Munro, enfold visitors in an earthbound aurora borealis of shifting hues.

Since it opened in May, “Field of Light at Sensorio” — the 60-year-old British artist’s largest such installation to date — has drawn thousands of tourists and become an Instagram phenomenon. The subtly changing patterns of this light safari, activated by a nebula of fiber-optic cables attached to hidden projectors, seem to inspire a cathedral-like awe among ticket-holders, who pay $19 to $30 for an evening stroll along 15 acres of illuminated walkways. (A V.I.P. dinner on a terrace with killer views will set you back $95.)

“It’s like Pandora in ‘Avatar,’” said Marc J. Zilversmit, a criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco, referring to the lush alien world with bioluminescent species in the James Cameron film. “It’s a beautiful CinemaScope of an alternative universe.”

The arrival of “Field of Light” in “Paso,” as Paso Robles is commonly called, is perhaps fitting. A four-hour drive from San Francisco and Los Angeles, the area has morphed from a folksy cowboy outpost with cattle drives to a grape mecca with some 300 vineyards and perfect rows of lavender spilling down hillsides. Mr. Munro’s work, on view through Jan. 5, is only the first phase of Sensorio — an ambitious, 386-acre attraction on a former turkey ranch owned by Kenneth Hunter III, a real estate developer and founder of an oil and gas company, and his wife, Bobbi. Plans for Sensorio include themed interactive exhibits, a 4,000-square-foot wine center and a resort hotel with a conference center.

With its time-sequence ticketing and Sensorio-branded hoodies for sale, “Field of Light” joins a coterie of art entertainments at wineries and related establishments seeking to infuse culture into viticulture — what has been called the Vine Art Movement. Some, like the Donum Estate in Sonoma, already have serious permanent collections.

It also heralds a global wave of experiential light displays — such as Leo Villareal’s “Illuminated River,” which lit up four bridges across the River Thames in London, and “Vivid Sydney,” an annual extravaganza in which multimedia light projections, sculptures and other installations reimagine the city’s architecture.

Mr. Munro, who works out of a 16th-century barn in Wiltshire, England, has become the Christo and Jeanne-Claude of fiber-optic light environments. He created his first “Field of Light” in 2004, when he “planted” 15,000 stems in the field adjoining his studio. The otherworldly display prompted a Royal Air Force helicopter to circle around to get a better look, at which point the waggish artist turned the “E.T.”-like installation off.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Munro worked in the illuminated sign business, steeping himself in manufacturing and production processes. “I put aside all my artistic aspirations and learned how things got made,” he said. “That’s an important lesson for any young artist.”

Mr. Munro committed himself to light as an artistic medium after his father died in 1999. To commemorate their relationship, he created “CD Sea” in 2010, a shimmering inland ocean of 600,000 discarded CDs. At Salisbury Cathedral the same year, he animated the nave with a “Light Shower” of teardrop shaped prisms that appeared to float in space; it was accompanied by a series of lit “Water-Towers” in synchronized colors crafted from recycled plastic bottles and other materials.

“I’m not trying to make art that’s complex to understand,” Mr. Munro said in a Skype interview. “I want to express what it means to be alive in a genuine way.”

His installations have appeared at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Jegu Light Art Festival in South Korea and elsewhere. “There is a pleasing handmade quality and playfulness to his work,” said Alexander Sturgis, the director of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, which commissioned “Impression: Time Crossing Culture,” a digitally animated sculpture inspired by a clock dial.

Mr. Munro conceived of his best-known scheme in 1992 while camping near Uluru, a sandstone monolith in Australia also known as Ayers Rock, which is sacred to Aboriginal people. He envisioned a dreamlike work that might bloom at night — like dormant desert seeds responding to rain. “It felt like there was energy in the ground,” he recalled. “Your body picks up on these things.”

Twenty-four years later, “The Field of Light Uluru” opened at the Aboriginal-owed Ayers Rock Resort. The feverish reaction has led to camel tours and “Field of Light by Heli” tours. (The site is open until December 2020.)

Mr. Munro’s installations are temporary, underscoring their ethereal, magic-mushroom quality. Their ephemeral nature “allows the landscape to be itself and recover and hopefully inspire other artists,” Mr. Munro said. His goal is to connect people with nature — a bond he compares to “the root systems of trees talking to each other,” though he is quick to add that he doesn’t want to sound like a flake.

Mr. and Mrs. Hunter had planned to build a golf course on the property, but shifted focus after encountering Mr. Munro’s art in Australia. “I was attracted like a bug in a candle,” Mr. Hunter recalled.

For Mr. Munro, the site offered the opportunity to “light a valley,” as he put it. The existing landscape was redesigned to block views of industrial buildings. During a recent visit, waves of light cast the gnarled branches of blue oak trees into relief. Visitors strolled the trails with hushed voices. “I like how the lights gently go up,” Allison Dufty, a museum audio tour writer in Oakland, observed. “It’s big enough to feel you can get lost in it.”

The stillness is apt to be short lived. The coming Sensorio project is being designed by Thinkwell Group, a Los Angeles-based firm known for immersive attractions like Ski Abu Dhabi, an indoor ski resort, and expansions to “The Making of Harry Potter” Warner Bros. Studio Tour near London. It will include five digital and analog garden zones, tree houses with rope bridges and a light-controlled underground tunnel. Although Sensorio is not a vineyard or a tasting room, it hopes to tap into the region’s wine tourism industry. Some 1.8 million pleasure-seekers visit San Luis Obispo County; Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, is just up the coast.

The melding of wine and art is a hallmark of venerable European institutions like Chateau Mouton Rothschild near Bordeaux, France, which pioneered the artist-designed label craze in the 1940s by commissioning Chagall, Miro and Braque.

Since 2015, the Donum Estate in Sonoma has placed large-scale sculptures in the landscape, including works by Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Keith Haring and Yue Minjun, whose bronze “Contemporary Terra Cotta Warriors” commune with grapevines. Allan Warburg, the Danish businessman who owns Donum with his wife, Mei, lives in Hong Kong and works closely with the artists.

“The placement has been quite an obsession,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know how to make wine or art so it’s the only contribution I can make.”

Mr. Warburg added, “Walking around the landscape with a couple of glasses of wine, objects become more beautiful.”

The Hess Collection, on the steep slopes of Mount Veeder in the Napa Valley, was assembled by the Swiss wine producer and businessman Donald M. Hess. It has a museum director and includes works by Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Goldsworthy, among other artists.

“Art is a calling card,” said Tom Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator. “Can it be commercialized? Yes. But so can museums.”

Some are dubious of the so-called Vine Art Movement. “Equating wine with art flatters the people who buy wine into thinking they’re participating in something larger than they are,” said James Conaway, the author of “Napa at Last Light.” And there have been some spectacular busts: Copia, an ambitious museum dedicated to wine, food and the arts, opened to much fanfare in 2001 then closed in 2008.

But as public light spectacles flourish at places like the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago — where some 183,000 people braved subzero temperatures last winter to experience an interactive light show by the design firm Lightswitch — they cast their spell wide.

Images on social media have difficulty conveying the works’ subtle, hypnotic spells. People assume that “light is about brightness,” Mr. Munro, the wizard of Wiltshire, said. “You just need a whisper of light.”


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Thinkwell Appoints Hugues Sweeney to President of Thinkwell Studio Montréal

The hiring will further expand Thinkwell’s interactive, technical, and media practices in Montréal under Hugues’ strategic leadership and creative expertise.

Montréal / Los Angeles (September 10): Thinkwell Group, a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Montréal, announced today the hiring of Montréal-based creative executive Hugues Sweeney as President of Thinkwell Studio Montréal. The appointment reaffirms the organization’s commitment to Montréal, Québec, and Canada for long-term growth and continues Thinkwell’s focus in the development of cutting-edge creative technologies for brands and businesses around the world.

“Our global projects demand the highest level of both creative execution and technology-driven design and development, and we believe that Montréal is a strong differentiator for Thinkwell in these pursuits,” said François Bergeron, Chief Operating & Financial Officer, Thinkwell Group. “Bringing Hugues into the organization will allow the company to strategically implement our long-term vision in Montréal.”

In this role, Hugues will bring in new creative projects for museums, attractions, corporate brand experiences, and hospitality clients through Thinkwell Studio Montréal.  He will also oversee the research & development initiatives of Réalisations-Montréal, which was acquired by Thinkwell Group in early 2019. Réalisations will continue its commitment to the conception and development of new projects using technologies like artificial intelligence, real-time generative projection technologies, and big data integration systems under Hugues’ leadership. 

“This appointment signals the next chapter for Réalisations,” said Roger Parent, founder of Réalisations-Montréal. “Hugues’ creative leadership and expertise will build upon our existing foundation as a boutique creative technology firm.”

Last month, the team in Montréal delivered the interactive and captivating nighttime nature experience at the Parc Omega safari park in Montebello, Quebec, Canada (pictured above), which follows the team’s significant role in the design and execution of the award-winning Jacques-Cartier Bridge illumination project in 2017.  Thinkwell and Réalisations also collaborated on the Warner Bros. Cinema Spectacular, which introduced a patented auto-calibration projection system for the world’s-first 360-degree immersive indoor plaza show at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi in 2018.

Thinkwell Studio Montreal President

Hugues Sweeney is an award-winning digital media executive who has produced trailblazing interactive experiences for more than 20 years. Formerly head of Bande à part (CBC’s digital native music platform) and a founding member of National Film Board (NFB) digital studio, his experience connecting large audiences through new media platforms and interactivity has led to the development of multiple projects and partnerships across Europe, North America, and South America. His productions have received more than 150 global awards and distinctions, including SXSW, Webby, Japan Media Arts, Creative Review, and NUMIX. As an active member of the arts and culture community, Hugues serves as vice-president of Montréal Arts Council (CAM) Board of Trustees and co-president of Culture Montréal’s Digital Committee. He also advises the Montréal Symphonic Orchestra (OSM), XN Québec and La Piscine and is an active member of the Acquisition Committee of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC).

“I am honored to contribute to the new life of a studio that has been a pioneer in crafting interactive environments,” said Hugues. “Thinkwell’s presence in Montréal will play a key role in redefining collective experiences around the world through the creative application of technology, and I am excited to lead the Montréal teams into this next chapter.”


About Thinkwell Studio Montréal:

Thinkwell Studio Montréal is Thinkwell Group’s newest Quebec-based creative studio that is focused on expanding and integrating creative technologies at the earliest stages of design for guest experiences around the world. From creative content development to the design of integrated technical solutions, the capabilities of Thinkwell Studio Montréal will build upon the research & development initiatives of Réalisations-Montréal.

Réalisations-Montréal operates and collaborates with Thinkwell Studio Montréal to develop and deliver cutting edge interactive experiences that seamlessly blend art and technology. Founded in 2000 by Roger Parent, Réalisations conceives, invents, and perfects new technologies, including big data, artificial intelligence, real-time generative projection technologies, recognition systems, and more.  

CAVU Designwerks, Thinkwell Group and Framestore to develop new rides for Lionsgate

CAVU Designwerks, the media-based attractions specialist, Dreamcraft Attractions, the integrated ride specialist, Thinkwell Group Inc, the global experience design and production company, and Framestore, the visual effects specialist, have announced a new collaboration to work on two next-generation rides to showcase Lionsgate film properties.

The four companies, are proud to be working with Lionsgate on two new projects. This innovative partnership will lead to two exciting new attractions, based on fan favourites The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

The unique rides are set to launch this year at Lionsgate Entertainment World in China. This much-awaited destination is a new concept, blending the theme park experience with some of Lionsgate’s most popular film franchises. The indoor immersive entertainment venue includes state-of-the-art VR, AR, and multimedia attractions, performances, dining, and exclusive retail experiences. The rides will be called The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Flight Rebel Escape.

Action-packed rides

Fans can experience the world of The Twilight Saga in a hyper-reality VR ride, The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride. “Midnight Ride is a VR motorcycle simulator that features real motorcycles, avatar embodiment and proprietary Predictive Ride TrackingTM. Dreamcraft has created a world’s first virtual ride path with real-time virtual motorcycle physics matched with real-world motorcycles and motion bases,” says Terry Sanderson, VR Producer at DreamCraft Attractions.

Mark Stepanian, VP Innovation & Engineering at CAVU describes Midnight Ride as a “first-of-its-kind” attraction. “Guests can move throughout the Twilight world and interact with friends, family and familiar characters from a highly responsive motion base. Coupled with force feedback haptics, wind and scent, it is designed to fully engage all the senses. This ride makes for a truly ground-breaking experience.”

Visitors can also enjoy the world of the successful Hunger Games franchise as they are taken on an exciting escape from the Capitol. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Flight Rebel Escape is the first enclosed motion simulator in mainland China. The state of the art simulator is entirely electric and runs

silently. The 6DOF (degrees of freedom) motion base supports a 30-person cabin.  It features a digital presentation for a vivid and realistic experience.

A scene from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Flight Rebel Escape.


A unique experience

The collaboration will provide the focused expertise that Lionsgate requires to provide an entirely new experience. CAVU and DreamCraft provide ride systems engineering talent, Framestore provides media expertise and Thinkwell adds creative and production leadership.

“CAVU and DreamCraft are excited to have collaborated with Lionsgate, Thinkwell and Framestore to introduce these revolutionary attractions to the industry at Lionsgate Entertainment World,” says Peter Schnabel, CEO of CAVU.

CAVU recently announced it is continuing to expand in the Middle East, with a new office servicing Riyadh, Beirut and Abu Dhabi. Dreamcraft Attractions is a connected arm of CAVU launched in 2016.

Thinkwell has just brought the latest expansion, Gringott’s Bank, to life at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.

Framestore showcased a revolutionary new genre of rides, Game Changers, at IAAPA Expo last year.

Article first appeared on Blooloop.


Michel Bérubé Joins Thinkwell Studio Montréal & Réalisations-Montréal as General Manager

Following the acquisition of Réalisations-Montréal, Thinkwell is bringing Michel Bérubé on board to guide management operations for Thinkwell’s growth plans in Montréal.


Thinkwell Group is pleased to announce the appointment of Michel Bérubé as General Manager of Thinkwell Studio Montréal & Réalisations-Montréal.  In this role, Michel is responsible for the operations and administration of the company’s studio and its research & development efforts in Montréal. This includes attracting and retaining talent to support the growth of both regional and international opportunities.

“Our team is eager for Michel’s operational focus and expertise as we further establish Réalisations as a global leader in the development and design of new technologies in line with our focus on guest experience,” says Roger Parent, President, Réalisations-Montréal.

Michel brings more than 20 years of experience as a dynamic leader in management operations within the entertainment sector. Prior to joining Thinkwell Studio Montréal, Michel was acting as General Manager and Director of Finance at the Phi Centre in Old Montréal where he was a critical part of the Institution’s growth over the last four years.  During his tenure, the Phi Centre more than tripled its number of annual multi-disciplinary events and became an inevitable location-based entertainment attraction in Montréal through the presentation of interactive exhibitions and immersive experiences. His management expertise in the entertainment sector prior to Phi Centre includes previous roles at Deloitte and working for internationally renowned artist Celine Dion.

“I am very excited to join Thinkwell and Réalisations in this new role,” adds Bérubé.  “I look forward to contributing my experience, knowledge, and personality to this unique journey.”

“Bringing Michel onboard will help manage our growing presence and creative studio extension in Montréal,” said François Bergeron, Chief Operating & Financial Officer of Thinkwell Group. “His strong leadership and operations experience will be an asset to the organization globally.”


About Réalisations-Montréal

Réalisations-Montréal develops and delivers cutting edge interactive experiences that seamlessly blend art and technology.  Founded in 2000 by Roger Parent, former Executive Producer and VP of Production at Cirque du Soleil, Réalisations conceives, invents and perfects new technologies, including big data, artificial intelligence, real-time generative projection technologies, recognition systems, and more.

Thinkwell and Réalisations collaborate in the earliest stages of design, conceiving of and rapidly testing and developing, immersive, custom interactive elements that are seamlessly integrated into the guest experience as a whole. Réalisations-Montréal is a Thinkwell Group company.

For more information visit:

Thinkwell Growth Announcement

Thinkwell Group Achieves Significant Growth with Purchase of Réalisations-Montréal and Appointment of Louise Murray to President of Thinkwell’s Los Angeles Studio

Acquisition of Réalisations-Montréal Will Expand Thinkwell’s Interactives Practice While Louise Murray Will Run Thinkwell’s Design & Production Team in LA.


LOS ANGELES: Thinkwell Group announced today the purchase of Montréal-based creative studio Réalisations-Montréal as well as the hiring of ex-Delaware North executive Louise Murray as President of Thinkwell’s Los Angeles studio. Both moves are in response to the organizational growth and continued expansion of Thinkwell globally over the past year. “Our projects continuously demand the best in state-of-the-art interactive technologies and design, which we will meet with expanded creative capabilities and technical agility in Montréal,” said François Bergeron, Chief Operating & Financial Officer, Thinkwell Group. “At the same time, bringing Louise Murray into the organization means she can focus on the management and growth of our Los Angeles design and production group to best serve the evolving needs of our clients.”

Réalisations-Montréal, founded in 2000 by Roger Parent, former Executive Producer and VP of Production at Cirque du Soleil, conceives, invents and perfects new technologies, including big data, artificial intelligence, real-time generative projection technologies, recognition systems, and more. These interactive breakthroughs are prototyped in Réalisations’ studio and put to use in cutting edge creative projects for museums, attractions, corporate brand experiences, hospitality clients, and more. Thinkwell and Réalisations worked together on a number of projects before forming a strategic alliance in 2018 that led to Thinkwell Group acquiring the company.

“This is a major step for Réalisations,” said Roger Parent. “We have always been a boutique creative technology firm developing high quality, unique interactives and media. I have known François for more than 25 years, and now that we are a part of Thinkwell, we can continue to refine our innovations and develop new ones while closely collaborating on projects in Thinkwell’s pipeline.”

Louise Murray joins Thinkwell’s Los Angeles design and production studios as President, overseeing the strategic growth and operation of the Los Angeles organization. Louise has an MBA from HEC Montreal and most recently served as Senior Vice President, Operations for Delaware North’s TD Garden group. Prior to that, she was Vice President, Creative Entertainment Parks & Resorts at The Walt Disney Company and was Vice President, Tour Planning & Partnerships at Cirque du Soleil. “I’m extremely excited to be joining Thinkwell at a time of such growth and expansion in the organization,” Murray said. “Working in a creative studio like Thinkwell is something I’m very passionate about and it’s exciting to be able to facilitate strategic growth and change at such an innovative company.”

“These initiatives are significant for us,” said Joe Zenas, CEO, Thinkwell Group. “Louise comes at an important time in our expansion to strategically manage and operate our largest studio. With more than 230 people in the organization worldwide we need the rigor and focus she will bring to our employees and clients.”

Lionsgate Entertainment World to open in 2019

Asia’s first movie themed indoor interactive experience center to reinvigorate the Greater Bay Area, based on Lionsgate’s blockbuster movie franchises The Hunger Games, The Divergent Series and Now You See Me.

HENGQIN, CHINA (December 13, 2018) – Today Lionsgate Entertainment World held its first preview event in Zhuhai and offered a sneak peek into its key offerings, immersive entertainment experiences and innovative designs. Breathing new life into the Greater Bay Area, Lionsgate Entertainment World is a highlight attraction in Novotown Hengqin and Asia’s first movie-themed indoor experience center. The indoor center is based on exciting film properties from global content leader Lionsgate and will open in first half of 2019.

“The development of Novotown and Lionsgate Entertainment World is a testament to the great potential of the Hengqin New Area, as well as its role as an economic driver throughout the Greater Bay Area,” said the spokesperson of Administrative Committee of Hengqin New Area Zhuhai. “Along with the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge earlier this year, both Novotown and Lionsgate Entertainment World are poised to play a key role in creating more diversified entertainment offerings for visitors and boosting tourism in the region.”

Spanning 22,000 sqm of premium indoor space, Lionsgate Entertainment World is one of the key attractions in Novotown, an integrated tourism and entertainment destination in Hengqin. Lionsgate is an entertainment studio whose blockbuster films, popular television series, and digital products reach next generation audiences around the world. The studio has won multiple Academy® and Emmy® Awards and has a long track record in delivering world-class products. In addition to being Asia’s first movie-themed indoor experience, this marks Lionsgate’s first interactive indoor experience to open in the world and will feature blockbuster franchises like The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, The Divergent Series, and Now You See Me as well as films like Escape Plan and Gods of Egypt as the story backgrounds of the attractions.
Bringing the captivating stories to life is an eye-catching list of elite partners that helped create Lionsgate Entertainment World, including the design and production agency Thinkwell Group (“Thinkwell”) and the operator Village Roadshow Theme Parks (“Village Roadshow”). A global experience design and production agency, Thinkwell is known for delivering experiential design in major theme parks and resorts around the world. Partnering with Thinkwell is Village Roadshow, a world leading theme park operator with footprint across Australia and America. Other notable global partners behind Lionsgate Entertainment World are the Australian construction services company Cockram, international show contractor Scenario, Oscar®-winning visual media producer Framestore and many other world-acclaimed companies.

“Lionsgate Entertainment World aims to become a multifaceted destination by engaging guests through story-telling, as well as encouraging participation and social activities with opportunities for plenty of personalization,” said Selena Magill, General Manager of Lionsgate Entertainment World, at the event. “By working closely with our international partners, as well as creating immersive entertainment attractions featuring blockbuster movie properties, we expect guests in the Greater Bay Area to enjoy sensational experiences with their friends and families at Novotown.”

Leveraging on the latest state-of-the-art technology, Lionsgate Entertainment World offers an entertainment experience like no other, one that is designed to transport guests into the world of film where they are free to create their very own theatrical stories. Visiting guests will be able to look forward to several world-class attractions, including Hunger Games – Mockingjay Flight, The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride and The Divergent Series – Fear Simulator, and Gods of Egypt – Battle for Eternity. The application of technology has been carefully incorporated into the designs to ensure a perfect guest experience, while also allowing room for constant update on the contents.

While the attractions invite guests on a mesmerizing journey in the movie world, Lionsgate Entertainment World has a lot more offerings that will create a total immersive experience. There are themed dining outlets such as the opulent Hunger Games-inspired Capitol Club; the homey Peeta’s Bakery; and the modern and stylish Lionsgate Cafe. The entertainment center will also boast a wide selection of retail options, including Capitol Couture, Dauntless Ink and Gods of Egypt market-place.
With over 30 groundbreaking attractions to look forward to, Lionsgate Entertainment World leverages on the latest cutting-edge technology to deliver a one-of-a-kind immersive experience. The development is poised to set a new standard for entertainment centers in the region when it officially commences operation in 2019.

“As Thinkwell has been developing theme parks, family entertainment centers and museum exhibits around the world for many years now, we know there is nothing in the market like this and I am confident it will not only grab the attention of people on Mainland China, but internationally as well,” adds Kelly Ryner, President, Thinkwell Asia.

Selena Magill, General Manager of Lionsgate Entertainment World ; Zengqing Luo, Deputy Director of the Administrative Committee of Hengqin New Area ; John Tse, Chief Executive Officer of Novotown; Larry Leung, Managing Director of Novotown; Jerry Sabatini, VP Creative, Franchise Management of Lionsgate; Alistair Bennallack, CEO of Village Roadshow and Kelly Ryner, President of Thinkwell Asia, attended Lionsgate Entertainment World first preview event in Zhuhai.

John Tse, Chief Executive Officer of Novotown; Kelly Ryner, President of Thinkwell Asia; Larry Leung, Managing Director of Novotown.

Gods of Egypt – Battle for Eternity: The world’s first purpose-built VR roller coaster, which sees guests soar like a god on this high-speed, VR roller coaster adventure through ancient Egypt. As an epic battle wages between good and evil, it’s time to prove your valor, strength and devotion. It’s time to fight alongside the Gods of Egypt!

Hunger Games – Mockingjay Flight: Suit up and take flight alongside the rebellion on this action-packed adventure throughout the world of The Hunger Games. Danger lurks around every corner, but hope is in sight on this exhilarating 3D motion simulator attraction. May the odds be ever in your favor!

The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride: Race with Jacob and the Black Pack wolves on a daring VR dirt-bike adventure through the moonlit woods. But beware, beyond these hallowed hills, a different kind of creature roams, and this one is out for blood.

Capitol Club: Visit the Capitol’s most exclusive dining establishment, frequented by the Capitol elite. The Capitol Club offers the freshest and finest culinary masterpieces that Panem has to offer, with breathtaking views overlooking the Capitol.

Peeta’s Bakery: Indulge in a selection of handcrafted treats and delectable bites inspired by 74th Hunger Games victor Peeta Mellark. For those in need of a little pep in their step, enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, tea or other home-grown refreshments while on the go.

Gods of Egypt marketplace: Featuring a wide range of specialty souvenirs, this bustling bazaar offers up exotic treasures, ancient antiquities, and prized jewels admired by Gods and mortals alike.

Capitol Couture: This luxurious upscale clothing store features many of the Capitol’s most celebrated fashion designers. At the Capitol Couture Collection, you can try on a variety of extravagant formal wear inspired by some of Panem’s most fashionable citizens from the world of The Hunger Games to model and take home.

About Lionsgate Entertainment World
Lionsgate Entertainment World, Asia’s first movie themed indoor interactive experience center, is one of the key attractions in Novotown – an integrated tourism and entertainment project in Hengqin invested by Hong Kong Lai Sun Group. Spanning across 22,000 sqm of premium indoor space, Lionsgate Entertainment World is set to bring to life some of Lionsgate’s most successful film franchises, including The Hunger Games; The Twilight Saga; The Divergent Series; Now You See Me; Escape Plan; and Gods of Egypt, with over 30 interactive and immersive attractions and rich entertainment offerings.

Released on behalf of Lionsgate Entertainment World by GHC Asia
For media enquiry, please contact:
GHC Asia (Hong Kong)
Claire Wang  / Ines Yu
Tel:+852 3163 0168 / +852 3163 0155
Email:[email protected] / [email protected]

How Warner Bros. Cast Its Spell On Abu Dhabi

This article was originally published on

We all know how hard it is to build sandcastles. Sculpting the base is the easy part but it usually collapses like a house of cards when it comes to putting the turrets on top. So spare a thought for property developers in the city of Abu Dhabi.
In just three years they transformed a 153,000 square meter stretch of desert into Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the largest indoor theme park ever built. It premièred in July with the kind of glitz and glamour you would expect to find on the opening night of a movie.

Confetti rained down and costumed characters of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck looked on as an over-sized red button was pushed by Warner Bros. Entertainment chief executive Kevin Tsujihara and Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the park’s developer, government-owned Miral Asset Management. Warner’s parent WarnerMedia is the first Hollywood studio to have its own theme park in the Middle East and it took more than the wave of a magic wand to get there.

In a bid to compensate for its depleting oil reserves Abu Dhabi’s government is diversifying its revenue and banking on boosting tourism. It is throwing its weight behind theme parks and has covered the $1 billion cost of building Warner Bros. World. The Prince Charming behind it is Al Mubarak, a graduate of Boston’s Northeastern University and a self-confessed comics and cartoon fanatic.

“I am a big fan of the Warner Bros. movies and their Intellectual Property (IP) whether it is DC, Looney Tunes or Hanna-Barbera,” he told us in an interview. “I watched the cartoons growing up, read the comics growing up, still read the comics today and still watch the movies. They are some of the best movies I have ever watched.”

In addition to being the head of Miral, which specializes in building visitor attractions, Al Mubarak is also chairman of Aldar Properties, the leading real estate developer in Abu Dhabi. With assets of $10 billion and more than 75 million square meters of development land it is an economic powerhouse so it’s perhaps no coincidence that Al Mubarak’s favorite superhero is also a titan of industry.

As he explained to local newspaper The National, Batman is his superhero of choice because his alter ego Bruce Wayne uses his vast fortune as a force for good. “During the day he is a businessman who is making billions and billions of dollars, and he uses that money to strengthen his body and his soul. He gets all the gadgets..and he fights crime for the best of the community.”
His affinity for the caped crusader is one of the reasons that he made a beeline for Batman’s owner Warner. His mission began 11 years ago when state-owned Abu Dhabi Media launched a $1 billion fund with Warner for movie and video game development. It fuelled Looney Tunes games and the 2009 fantasy film Shorts, starring James Spader. This led to the theme park partnership but casting that spell involved more than just money.

Warner is a relative newcomer to the theme park industry. Its first outpost, Warner Bros. Movie World, made its début on Australia’s Gold Coast in 1991, 36 years after Disneyland in California kick-started the industry as we know it. Europe had to wait until 2002 for its first Warner park, which opened in Madrid, and although it is still operating, its sister park in Germany dropped the Warner brand when it changed ownership in 2005.

Unlike rival studios Warner generally doesn’t own its parks so doesn’t need an in-house design division for them. Instead it relies on outside agencies meaning that the styles and standards of the attractions can differ from park to park. Al Mubarak’s aim was to build a park which could compete with the best in the world so he needed a design agency which is as much of an animation aficionado as he is. He found it.

The Los Angeles-based Thinkwell Group was founded in 2001 by former Universal Studios park designers who didn’t want to relocate when the company moved its creative team from the west coast to Orlando. They set up a boutique design studio which has gone on to get a reputation for creating some of the industry’s most immersive and engaging attractions thanks to their passionate approach.

Thinkwell has designed attractions for Universal Studios Singapore and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Hollywood but perhaps its best-known work is across the pond. In 2012 Warner swung open the doors to a backstage tour of Britain’s Leavesden Studios where all eight Harry Potter movies were made. It takes guests deep behind the scenes of them by showcasing concept art for the characters, models of all sizes, costumes complete with video descriptions and of course props.

They range from rows and rows of wands to cabinets containing full-size robotic creatures from the films which move at the push of a button. Then come the actual sets where the movies were made. You can walk past the wonky buildings of Diagon Alley and even step into the famed Great Hall of Hogwarts Castle.

It is manna from heaven for fans whilst anyone else will still be spellbound by the attention to detail. Testimony to this, as we have reported, up to 6,000 guests stream through the turnstiles every day in peak season driving annual revenue to more than $115 million.

Warner produced all of the movies about the boy wizard so you wouldn’t have thought it would need assistance to make the tour. However, such is Thinkwell’s reputation that Warner partnered with it right from the start on master planning, design and installation of the tour. Its success put Thinkwell in pole position to take on the task of creating Warner’s first-ever indoor park.
Thinkwell produced the 29 rides, shows and attractions in Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi which alone involved creating more than 7,000 pages of drawings and 2,300 pieces of production-ready art. In addition it conceived, created and produced all of the media and acted as a co-ordinator by bringing in specialist subcontractors. They included designers GDE Creative and Wyatt Design Group as well as audio-visual experts like Electrosonic, Pixomondo and Blur Studios, which has worked on blockbuster movies such as Avatar and Thor: The Dark World.

Thinkwell was also Warner’s ‘brand assurance’ representative and had hundreds of hours of meetings with the studio as well as monthly trips with its executives to the site and vendors around the world. Then came construction.

In June Miral’s talented chief executive Mohammed Al Zaabi told Construction Week that it will have taken “about 39 months by the time we open the park, and [has logged] 32 million man hours so far, with more than 6,800 engineers working on the project.” It paid off.

In a recent interview, the park’s general manager Mark Gsellman said that “the partnership with Warner Bros. has just been fabulous, they’re have people here in one form or another every day. Every square inch of the park they’ve blessed, approved, given their art direction.” One key decision ensured from the start that it would hit the mark.

Daytime temperatures in Abu Dhabi regularly hit 75 degrees in winter and in summer the mercury soars above 95. The heat comes from all angles and feels like standing in front of a huge hairdryer. It’s so hot that you can’t even cool down with fans which spray mist as the water warms up the moment it hits the air.

It makes outdoor parks impractical so instead Thinkwell decided to house Warner Bros. World inside a giant golden structure which resembles the hangar-like soundstages at the studio’s lot in California. Shelter from the heat isn’t the only benefit of the park being indoors. It also allowed Thinkwell to control all aspects of the environment from the lighting and sound right down to the temperature. It has made the most of it.

Rides themed to Wonder Woman, Superman and co are on a street from Metropolis complete with a Daily Planet newsstand and phone box. Batman and arch nemesis the Joker have their own gloomy home in Gotham whilst the oversized boulders of Bedrock tell you that you’re in the Flintstones’ world. Next door is the Grand Canyon-inspired Dynamite Gulch and the toon town of Cartoon Junction.

Bigger is usually better in theme parks. New lands are added to them to drive publicity and taller castles are built to lure guests in. Not at Warner Bros. World. Less really is more there as Thinkwell took the bold step of drastically reducing the amount of the park which is on show to guests as they walk around. Just 30% of the floorspace is visible with the remainder being the rides themselves which are hidden behind internal walls. It reduces the walking time inside the park and makes it seem even more packed with rides. That’s just the start.

The real magic of Warner’s park is that design isn’t just used to make things look pretty but to immerse guests in a fantasy world which is all around them.

You usually know what you’re in for when you head towards a theme park ride as a hulking building looms beyond the entrance. It breaks the fantasy and spoils the surprise. In contrast, at Warner’s park the elaborate entrances to many of the rides are set into the internal walls which has a magic touch as it means that you don’t know what you’re getting until you step inside. It makes the doorways seem like portals to different worlds.

This is put to great effect in Cartoon Junction, where Hanna-Barbera stars like Scooby-Doo are said to live next to Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny from Looney Tunes. The ride entrances in Cartoon Junction are actually the front doors of a row of brightly-coloured town houses with sloping roofs. Some only have small signs hanging in front so it can be hard to tell the rides from the shops which are also in wonky-walled buildings. Warner says that each brick was individually carved and painted by hand whilst all of the windows are different shapes and sizes. They are just as elaborate inside as out.

The queue for one roller coaster winds through a house which looks like it has been trashed by Tom and Jerry. As you get deeper inside you go under the floorboards and pass the mouse’s bed inside a over-sized sardine can. Every last detail seems to have been thought of. Even the queue railings look like Jerry has made them from ear buds and bits of rope.

There’s hint of things to come on the wall at the end of the line in the form of a huge blueprint which appears to have been scrawled by the mouse. It shows an elaborate contraption for stealing cheese and transporting it back to his den. Continuing this theme, the ride cars are shaped like slabs of cheese and spin as they zip down the track in pitch darkness with giant statues of Tom and Jerry lighting up as you pass them.

At the end of the row of houses is a spooky-looking mansion which is home to a Scooby-Doo ride. Instead of taking the lazy route and just creating scenes themed to the cartoon, the ride makes it seem like you’re on a mission to solve a mystery.
The ride cars look like the famous Mystery Machine van and are trackless so they appear to dart around the spooky set looking for clues. They take varying routes and stop in front of different models of museum pieces which come to life. It encourages guests to ride again to see how it changes.

The climax is a recreation of the cartoon’s classic hallway chase as the ride cars pirouette in and out of doors on a long corridor pursued by a ghost which has taken control of one of them. The cars’ paths are plotted by a computer so they can criss-cross each other in what appear to be near misses but are actually carefully controlled.

So much passion has been put into the land that it even appears to have been designed like an actual town. There’s a theater where Bugs and Daffy perform for kids, shops, the wealthy landowners’ mansion which has been taken over by ghosts, and even a factory where everyone works.

Remember ACME and its wacky cartoony killing machines which injured the user but not the target? There’s a ride here where you work as a deliveryman for it. The queue for Ani-Mayhem takes you through ACME’s offices where Thinkwell’s passion for the product is shown in gags which ACME is famous for.

The queue passes empty awards cabinets and piles of forms in trays with the only one which has run out being the waiver and release of liability. The furniture and elevator-esque music even has a 60s vibe evoking ACME’s origins in the heydays of Looney Tunes.

The ride itself is like Disney’s finest on steroids. Disney parks are home to rides that see you firing a virtual shooter at a 3D screen whilst other attractions are trackless and some allow riders to interact with the scenery. Ani-Mayhem does all that and stars toons like Tweetie Pie and Sylvester who are rarely seen in theme park rides. They help you hit parcels on 3D screens and in the physical sets with a gun in the shape of a barcode scanner.

Kids will go ga-ga at the characters but nostalgia is the lure for adults as Al Mubarak knows only too well. “Here we have lots of IPs so you have people who are fans of Hanna-Barbera and fans of Looney Tunes. You get the fanatics of Superman and Batman and then you have the nostalgic parents or the adults who want to come and relive their childhood when they watched Tom and Jerry or the Flintstones on TV.

“I think a great thing is that it is quite a universal theme park. People have watched and loved these characters whether they are from Europe, Asia or the Gulf. Some characters make sense a lot more here. An example is Tom and Jerry which has much more of a fan base in the Arab world and in Europe than they do in the US so it was important for us to have those characters as part of our park.”

It feels like a shrine to Warner and the homage is much more than skin deep. Above the entrance to Cartoon Junction is a wrought-iron sign featuring the ACME name and motto, ‘Caveat Emptor’ which is Latin for ‘Buyer Beware.’ No stone is left unturned. A cartoony rocket is embedded in the window next to the Ani-Mayhem entrance and the window opposite appears to have been smashed as it was fired through it.

Even the ride names indicate that Thinkwell has mined deep into Warner’s library. An innovative roller coaster winds around the rock formations in the Grand Canyon-inspired Dynamite Gulch area. Called Fast and Furry-ous it isn’t a nod to the Vin Diesel movies but is the name of a 1949 cartoon which was the first to feature Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner he endlessly pursues.

It would have been easy just to slap pictures of the characters above the entrance sign but instead it puts you in the middle of the story. It starts in the queue which passes the coyote’s lair, complete with models of the outlandish weapons he built to try and catch the Road Runner. The coaster itself is meant to be one of them as red rockets cover the wheels of its cars which hang underneath the track so that riders’ feet dangle down.

At the ride’s summit there’s a model of the coyote lighting a rocket and then you’re off. Coming full circle, at the finale there’s a model of the same rocket embedded in the ground as the coyote has failed again. It’s one of many blink-and-you-miss-it moments as the ride races by so fast but that too is done to encourage repeat rides.

You won’t find any movies being made at the park though it often feels like you’re on a set. Being indoors allows the scenery to be more elaborate than if it was outdoors as there is no danger of it getting damaged by wind, overgrown with foliage or faded in the sun. It allowed Thinkwell to create the kind of detailed scenery which many other parks can only dream of.

It comes into its own on the gloomy streets of Gotham. Some of the windows in the building facades are cracked whilst others are boarded up or have curtains which are only partly pulled to. Bricks look weathered and soot-stained, there’s graffiti on the walls and posters are peeling off them. The mock skyscrapers even appear to be taller than they actually are thanks to some design trickery known as forced perspective. The upper floors are only a fraction as tall as the ones lower down the towers which makes it look like they are narrowing at the top as skyscrapers usually would.

Down at ground level, fake manhole covers are embedded in the cracked tarmac, steam billows out from underneath them and shadows of moving people are even projected onto the windows of the train in the station. Sounds of police sirens in the distance and crashing waves play from hidden speakers. Its eerily convincing and the only thing missing is a director leaping out and saying ‘cut.’

The scenery even tells a story. One of the gargoyles above a restaurant in Gotham is missing its head but Britain’s Sun newspaper noticed that it is on display in the shop opposite. It’s no coincidence as the outlet is styled as a Pawn Shop which sells salvaged wreckage from superhero battles (memorabilia to you and me).

“When I walk around in Gotham City, it is Gotham City. The steam that comes out of the sewage holes, the smell, the sounds. The quality of the theming is really fantastic,” says Al Mubarak. The elaborate sets allow guests to get stunning photos which look like panels from comic books. Millennials in particular post them on social media and, as we recently reported, this is known to drive traffic to theme parks. Even the rides in Gotham are photogenic.

A dirty-looking spooky circus tent contains trials set by the Joker including a corridor which seems to be turning and a maze of mirrors that are so polished they seem to be endless. The rides are cleverly based on the beloved cartoon versions of the heroes, not the ones in the new movies which have had a more mixed response.

The highlight is a ride which sits inside a miniature version of  the iconic Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles. It starts out like a planetarium show but suddenly turns into a 3D adventure thanks to the seats being attached to a robot arm so that they appear to float in front of one of the world’s largest domed screens. It is 124 foot in diameter and shows footage in pin-sharp 4K resolution.

Themed to the Green Lantern character, the ride is like being thrust into an ‘80s sci-fi film as you soar over psychedelically-coloured planets and duel with fire-breathing dragons. It’s a spellbinding experience as you get blasted with mist and air when creatures roar whilst smells of pine are pumped in as you skim over alien forests.

Perhaps the biggest trick in the park’s spell book is one which none of its rivals can boast about. In many of the lands, the curved ceiling is cleverly painted to look like the sky complete with projections of clouds and vivid changing colours as the sun sets. It actually appears to be endless and it’s only on standing still and peering that you can see it is painted onto wall tiles.
The sky comes into its own in the main plaza which looks like an old-fashioned square and is lined with art deco architecture. It hosts Warner’s equivalent of a fireworks show where scenes of classic movies from Superman to the Lord of the Rings are beamed onto billboards above the buildings and even the ceiling itself.

During the Harry Potter segment, projections magically turn the ceiling into a night sky before the villainous Dementors fly past the moon and onto the surrounding buildings. The high-tech wizardry then transforms them into the walls of the Great Hall at Hogwarts complete with detailed brickwork and stained glass windows.

“We wanted to develop a world-class experience for our fans in the region and Miral has been the right partner,” says Pam Lifford, President, Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences. “The level of detail they delivered created an environment that truly brings our stories and characters to life and immerses fans into a world where they experience a lasting emotional connection to our brands.”

It gives Warner a flagship which can stand toe-to-toe with the finest from Disney and Universal and, in design terms, it ranks amongst the most significant parks ever built. If it kick-starts high-octane growth in the Middle East theme park sector it could even prove to be the most important park in the modern era. Early signs are encouraging.

According to The National, almost 15,000 tickets were sold before the doors opened. Indeed, the end result is so ground-breaking that Warner is already talking about exporting the model and it is easy to see how it could be just as useful in a cold climate as a hot one.

In a recent interview with Attractions Management magazine, Peter Van Roden, Senior Vice President of Global Themed Entertainment for Warner Bros. Consumer Products, said “it’s certainly possible” to roll the model out. “We have lots of discussions and we have a number of plans in the works.” If they come off they would add even more weight to Abu Dhabi’s status in the industry and that really would be a happy ending.

Diving deep into the detail of Warner Bros. World

Not since Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter has a theme park provided such detailed fan service as Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi delivers through its six themed lands. The creative team that designed this park, led by Thinkwell’s Craig Hanna & Dave Cobb, has crafted immersive environments that effectively sell the illusion that you are standing in iconic locations such as Superman’s Metropolis and the Roadrunner’s American West… leaving you to forget that you’re actually walking around inside a giant box in the Abu Dhabi desert.

Warner Bros. World is able to sustain this illusion because Thinkwell’s design team has filled the park with detail that reflects and reinforces each land’s IP. While casual visitors will enjoy the beautiful views and impressive facades throughout park, dedicated fans of each franchise will geek out discovering all the thoughtful details and Easter eggs on display.

The press event to which I was invited allowed me less than six hours walking around inside Warner Bros. World — not enough time for a geek like me to appreciate the full extent of detail within park, which might take multiple full-day visits. Fortunately, I spent about 90 minutes of those six hours walking around the park with Dave, who pointed out many of the details that I missed on my first lap.

Let’s start with three examples of what I will call “ley lines” in the park’s lands. Next the entrance of the Acme Co. factory in Cartoon Junction, you will see an Acme rocket, crashed into a window.

Acme rocket

But if you look in a straight line the opposite direction, you will see the path that the rocket took through neighboring buildings, leading back to a bundle of Acme rockets, minus the one now sitting in the factory window.

Good designers uses this technique to help remind visitors subconsciously that they are standing within a space bound by the laws of physics. Therefore, even thought it appears fantastic, it is real. (There’s another great example in the exit gift shop of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, which depicts the destructive flight of a cannonball.)

You’ll find another exampled in Warner Bros’ World’s Gotham, up in the second-floor windows of the abandoned subway station building that’s now the Hall of Doom. It’s the charred damage of an explosive blast that carries across the land. But my favorite detail from this scene is the decapitated gargoyle next to the charred window.

Charred damage

Want to know what happened to that gargoyle’s head? It’s “for sale” in the Pawn Shop gift store across the street.

Gargoyle's head

And, oh yeah, the batarang that knocked it off is on display in the shop, too. The entire store is filled with the detritus of superhero battles, depicted in DC Comics and the land. The pawn shop’s owner is making his bank by collecting the remains and selling them to fans. (The store IRL is selling T-shirts and other Batman-themed souvenirs. Again, not enough time to fully document!)

You don’t always need to look up to see these design lines. In The Flintstones’ Bedrock, you might notice a set of Mammoth tracks leading from the Warner Bros. Plaza entrance toward the Bedrock River Adventure flume ride. In the middle of the path, the tracks cross a planter. So what’s posted next to those tracks inside the planter?

Mammoth crossing

My favorite attraction in the park was the Animayhem shooter ride, which is set within the Acme Co. building in the factory town of Cartoon Junction. Above the street, you can see the factory gate, emblazoned with the Acme motto, “Caveat Emptor.”

Acme factory gate

Which is Latin for… “Buyer Beware.”

The queue for Animayhem is a tour of “Mad Men”-inspired, mid-century-styled Acme design studio, where you find fan service gems such as the motivational slogan, “Quality is our #1 Dream!”

Quality is our #1 Dream!

And look what form the company has run out of on its paperwork table.

Missing release forms

Deep in the extended queue of the ride you will find the Acme Co.’s awards cabinet.

Acme Co.'s awards cabinet

Um… not much there except cobwebs, right? Well, there is this:

Caveat Emptor Award

It’s the “Caveat Emptor Award” for “Achievements in Legalese”… and it is adorned with an asterisk. Brilliant.

Dave explained the unpublished history of Cartoon Junction. It’s an old railway town, which made it an attractive site for the Acme factory, which would ship its defective products all over the country from here. The mansion at the end of the town was owned by the railway baron, who filled it with collectibles from around the world. He’s long passed, and now the abandoned mansion is haunted museum, making it the perfect location for Scooby-Doo! The Museum of Mysteries.


The backstory for the Scooby Doo building reminded me of the story of Harrison Hightower and Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror, BTW. But the Scooby-Doo ride is filled wit fan service, as it tracks the story beats and conventions of Scooby-Doo episodes, including a chase across a hallway, Shaggy looking for food, and finally pulling the mask of the perp while he complains about “you meddling kids.” If you’ve never seen an episode of Scooby-Doo, you can appreciate the amusing dark ride. But if you are a fan, you can appreciate that the ride’s designers have shown that they are fans who get what this franchise is all about, too.

One more detail in Cartoon Junction. Here’s a billboard for another Acme product posted next to the portal into Gotham.


Here are three of many moments of fan service within Batman’s hometown. A wanted poster for Joe Chill, who killed Batman’s parents:

Wanted poster

Graffiti from the Court of Owls, who are “always watching.”

Court of Owls

And the take a look at the domed roof on the abandoned subway station building that is now the Hall of Doom, the Legion of Doom’s headquarters. If you watched the Super Friends animated TV series in the 1970s, you might recognize the homage to the Hall of Doom from that show.

Hall of Doom

Next door in Metropolis, the inside of the Hall of Justice will leave you feeling like you are standing within the Pantheon of gods.

Hall of Justice

The queue of the Justice League ride lies on the far side of the Superman statue. Within it you will find boards that explain who all these superheroes are, for visitors not familiar with the IP. But longtime fans might recognize what is revealed later in the queue, that the “villain” the superheroes are fighting in this trackless dark ride is Black Mercy, which first appeared in the Superman comics in 1985.

Black Mercy

Outside the Hall of Justice, note the paper for sale inside the news box on the street. It apparently references a moment within the ride (which I did not get to experience).

News box

And the directory for the office building (facade) next to the Hall of Justice includes names pulled from DC Comics, including Emil Hamilton, Starrware Industries, and Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals.

DC building directory

I didn’t get a photo, but I also wanted to note Dave’s backstory for why the Marvin the Martian and The Jetsons rides are located within the Roadrunner’s Dynamite Gulch. The IRL reason is that these are carryovers from a sci-fi themed land that didn’t make the cut in the design process, but that the developers nevertheless wanted to save. So how to explain their presence in the American West. Well, that part of the land is its “Area 51 1/2,” the secret government facility to house the aliens and time travelers who crash landed here.

Nice. Even that loose end has been pulled tight.

In all, I couldn’t find anything haphazard in Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. There was no surface unfinished (though two rides did remain incomplete in that they were not sufficiently tested to be open for the preview event.) Warner Bros. World offers a thematic consistency in its placemaking that I have not seen on a park-wide level since Tokyo DisneySea.

Right now, based on what I saw in my brief visit, I would place Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi among the top five theme parks in the world for consistently convincing placemaking in its lands, joining Tokyo DisneySea, Disneyland in California, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

This article was originally published here.