Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Archives

April 25, 2014

A Look Back at the 2014 TEA Summit


The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) is an international nonprofit group of people who work in all fields to create themed entertainment. This encompasses a wide range of projects, from shows to theme parks to museums to gardens--anything that provides an enhanced/compelling guest experience. While it provides a large number of networking opportunities throughout the year for its members, one of its main annual affairs is the Thea Awards Gala, which honors excellence in the field (A copy of the program is online here: Check it out--I found the article on the Tiki Room particularly well-written, hint, hint.) Preceding the gala is the two day TEA Summit: One day of executive-only meetings, and one day of case study presentations from that year's award recipients.

This year's Thea Case Studies Day took place April 4th, at the Disneyland Resort, and included awardees from all parts of the globe and entertainment spectrum. The day led off with Disney Legend and Thea lifetime honoree Bob Gurr introducing the 2014 recipient of the Buzz Price Lifetime Achievement award, Garner Holt.


Garner Holt then spoke on the history of his career, from creating haunted houses and novelties in his garage as a 15-year-old, to his latest projects, like Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor.


His company, Garner Holt Productions, is now the world's largest producer of animatronics, having created nearly 5,000 in the last 36 years. Over 400 were created for Disney parks, and almost 100 for Universal. At this time, virtually all of Disney's audio-animatronic projects are outsourced to Holt's company.



In addition to animatronics, Holt also produces other special effects and props for a variety of businesses, such as the enormous globe seen in Tokyo DisneySea's "Magellan's" restaurant, and over 500 Chuck E. Cheese animated show installations.


Garner Holt Productions website:

Next was a series of presentations by all eleven Thea Award recipients:

Polynesian Cultural Center: Attraction Revitalization

President and CEO P. Alfred Grace, along with Michael Lee and Pat Scanlon from Michael Lee Design, described the various improvements they've recently made to their buffet dining facilities, as well as the repurposing of a theater into the venue for a new 4-D film, "Hawaiian Journeys."


They also touched briefly on the challenges of attracting repeat visitors, as well as the necessary balance between curating versus celebrating the Hawaiian culture.


Polynesian Cultural Center website:

Dutch Railway Museum, De Vuurproef, Het Spoonwegnuseum
: 4-D Simulator, Limited Budget

From Utrecht, Netherlands, Museum Director Paul Van Vlijmen and Exhibition Coordinator Evelien Pieterse described their new 4-D simulator attraction "The Acid Test."


In this combination film/dark ride, guests are each assigned a task to perform during the simulation (Mission: Space, style) and are subsequently ushered into a steampunk-esque locomotive for a high-speed ride through space and time.

(Aside: Recognize one of the narrators? Rutger Hauer, of "Blade Runner" fame!)

The hilarious Vlijmen noted that they have a 60% return rate for the attraction. When asked how successful they were marketing to women and girls, he responded that they advertised in women's magazines and such, but that while women might not be considered to be interested in trains, they felt that most Dutch weren't interested in trains.

Het Spoonwegnuseum website:

The Song of an Angel--Universal Studios Japan: Live Show, Limited Budget

Mike Davis, Executive Producer, Universal Studios Japan, whose history includes producing Fantasmic! and the Lion King Parade at Disneyland, talked about his live Holiday show "Song of an Angel," and the challenges of creating a Christmas show for a largely non-Christian population.


Utilizing the park's New York street facades, the show's cast of almost 50 performers portray a marriage proposal, wedding, and subsequent celebration against changing projection mapping backdrops.


Also involved in the show is an enormous Christmas tree (Guinness Award winner for most lights,) pyrotechnics, and electric candles that they hand out (free!) to guests for each show, and retrieve with only a 1% loss rate.


Universal Studios Japan website:

Michael Jackson ONE™ by Cirque du Soleil®: Event Spectacular

Director of Creation Welby Altidor spoke on his Las Vegas Cirque show, based around the music and performance essence of the titular performer.


The show includes not only the acrobatics that Cirque du Soleil is known for, but projection mapping around the stage and theater walls, and an appearance of Michael Jackson courtesy of Pepper's Ghost.

Altidor also discussed some of the principles he uses in the development process, including factoring in the likelihood of failure, and not fearing dumb questions.

Michael Jackson ONE™ website:{creative}:tks:skg&keyword={keyword}

Oceaneering - Revolution™ Tru-Trackless™ Ride System
: Breakthrough Technology

Bill Bunting, Manager of Business Development, and Dave Mauck, VP and General Manager, introduced their new trackless show viewing system. Battery-operated and free-traveling, these vehicles can be programmed with a number of different variables including ride path, speed, orientation, and loading/unloading process.


This flexibility allows reprogramming and autonomy that increases re-ridability and efficiency, as one vehicle with passenger/mechanical issues no longer has to cause the shut down of the entire ride.


Oceaneering- Revolution™ website:

Carousel des Mondes Marins: Les Machines de L'ile: Unique Art Installation

Director Pierre Orefice and Artistic Director François Delarozière presented the Marine Worlds Carousel--a huge, three-tiered contraption that combines a wildly imaginative aesthetic with steampunk mechanical workings.


Each level corresponds to a different depth of the sea, with appropriate creatures and vehicles. Whether riding a giant squid, descending and ascending in a bathysphere, or working the fins of an enormous fish from the inside, riders can interact with their element of choice adding to the kinetic nature of this mobile piece of art.


Les Machines de Lile website:

Titanic Belfast: Visitor Center

Tim Husbands, CEO, and Conal Harvey of Harcourt Developments/Titanic Quarter displayed Titanic Belfast--the World's Largest Titanic Visitor Experience.


Starting from first sight of the building, which is the same height as the superstructure of the actual Titanic, visitors are engaged in the story of the building, sailing, and sinking of the famous ship. Nine galleries utilize a dark ride and multimedia elements to tell Titanic's tale from the viewpoint of the town that built her.


The Center has succeeded in not only enriching guests' understanding of the history behind Titanic, but in rejuvenating Belfast's tourism and sense of civic pride.

Titanic Belfast website:

The Mind Museum: Science Museum

Philippine's first World Class science museum was presented by its curator, Maria Isabel Garcia.


The museum is largely made up of five major galleries that tell individual stories of different facets of science, from atoms to the Universe, and how they come together to represent our collective wondering and understanding. The essential links between all things are represented in the gallery connections called "Nature's Webways."


Garcia also shared with us some of the lessons and principles she evolved during the long process of creating the museum, and how they can be applied to any creative endeavor.

The Mind Museum website:

Gardens by the Bay: Botanical Garden

Next up was the amusingly wry Dr. Kiat Tan, CEO of Gardens by the Bay, who presented Singapore's amazingly otherworldly botanical experience.


With its two enormous conservatories--Cloud Forest and Flower Dome--and its 18 160 foot tall Supertrees, the garden can be seen throughout Central Singapore.


Visitors to the gardens can enjoy didactic exhibits, projection galleries, and elevated skypaths to gain a different perspective on the carefully designed works of nature. The Cloud Forest boasts a 35 meter tall mountain, with the world's tallest indoor waterfall.


Educational and recreational, from the reclaimed land it inhabits, to the photovoltaic cells on the canopies of the Supertrees, the goals of the Gardens are to showcase multiple levels of conservation, sustainability, and self-sufficiency.


Gardens by the Bay website:

Enchanted Tales with Belle: Participatory Character Greeting

[For the Disney presentations, we were asked not to record or take photos.]


Enchanted Tales with Belle was presented by Chris Beatty, Executive Creative Director, and Jon Georges, Executive Producer, from Walt Disney Imagineering. They spoke on how the combination of straightforward storytelling and character interaction was fortified by state of the art animatronics and special effects to give more impact to what could have been a simple meet-and-greet.

Mystic Manor: Attraction


The last award of the day, Mark Schirmer, Director, Creative Development, Walt Disney Imagineering, Hong Kong, spoke about Hong Kong Disneyland's latest attraction, Mystic Manor. In this ride, many elements celebrated in the other awardees come together to create a truly world-class experience: state-of-the art effects and Garner Holt animatronics; trackless ride system similar to Oceaneering; projection mapping; and a charming story.

Finally, the summit was closed out with a talk by Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering and Lifetime Thea Award honoree, Joe Rohde.


Rohde showed photos and talked about his recent trip to Mongolia, where he painted and used the paintings to benefit snow leopard conservation efforts. It was clearly an amazing journey, which joined what seemed like entire communities together to assist him in his process. He summed up by examining how the smallest act of involvement is a huge step towards an individual claiming their own sense of agency in the world.

The TEA Summit is a fascinating conference for fans of the themed entertainment industry. If you're in the business, or hoping to get into the business, I think it's a no-brainer to attend it, just as if you're trying to get into the animation business you should head to the CTN Animation Expo, for the networking benefits alone. Alternately, if you're more in the interested-spectator camp, I think it affords you an amazing opportunity to see what fabulous projects are being created around the globe--some of which may be small enough that you might not have heard of them otherwise, but which possess dazzling elements.

Whether the exposure encourages you to dust off your passport and book a flight to Japan or Singapore or the Netherlands, or just opens your mind to what ride and show possibilities exist beyond the parks on your doorstep, the TEA Summit presentations can only help deepen your understanding and appreciation for this creative industry. As Joe Rohde might tell us, that incremental change in viewpoint is certainly better than nothing.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Star Wars Rebels is the previous category.

Tokyo Disneyland Resort is the next category.

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