Don: The Chase. Immersive technology at work in theme parks

The Holovis Immersive Tunnel is a next-generation evolution of the traditional theme park attraction concept, used to create the effect of being in a travelling vehicle using highly immersive surround visuals and sound, SFX and motion to take audiences on a compelling ‘virtual journey’.

Don: The Chase was delivered as turn-key solution by experience design company and immersive specialists Holovis for DXB Entertainments, built in Bollywood Parks Dubai, the world’s first theme park dedicated to the Indian film industry. Based on a similar attraction created by Holovis several years ago, which became an iconic piece of work in the industry, new technological advances allowed the project to be upscaled to offer audiences even higher levels of immersion and provide a viable group alternative to VR without the need, and challenges, of using VR headsets. This has been achieved by moving away from existing immersive simulators on flat or curved 3D screens to next generation fully immersive multi-sensory 4D simulators.

Building the technology

These unique 4D simulators are designed around two 30-seat motion systems, each in their own immersive theatre, which means up to 60 guests can be entertained in the overall attraction at any one time. Specialist 3D media is delivered to the audience on huge concave 3D projection screens designed in a toroidal shape with their elongated dome shapes meaning that the guests are always positioned in the centre of the immersive action. Stretched out, the screens size would equate to 23m wide and 30m long for each theatre!

“The key point to our design is that the audience is completely immersed in this world, they cannot see beyond the screen or visually connect with any real-world physical point in the building infrastructure that would break the illusion of immersion. It was absolutely essential that the design was highly optimised to deliver this in a way never achieved before.”  Matthew Dobbs, Holovis Project Manager.

Audio is provided by the Holovis Hifiniti system, a 7.2 surround sound solution that blends with the visual media. The seven speakers work to separate the audio and can make it seem like the sound is coming from a particular location, or everywhere at once.

The projectors are mounted on a specifically designed system by Holovis called the OptiRig, offering perfect mechanical alignment with seamless projection. “With this AV system, we’ve used nine Digital Projection Highlight Laser projectors, stitched together using our proprietary PixControl software.” says Matthew. “The imagery from these projectors is created using the latest laser light-source technology, replacing the lamp traditionally found in projectors and delivering significant operational benefits to our client.”

He explains that this technology has been a step change for the sector, offering much longer equipment life expectancy – as there is no lamp to monitor or replace. It also reduces day to day maintenance for the park, as the auto alignment system can be calibrated as often as they wish. And the rig housing the equipment is built as a mobile platform that can be dropped down for maintenance work.

The experience is completed with multiple SFX systems and motion control technology that synchronises with the visual media to provide a highly immersive experience. Special effects include fans that blast wind through the vehicle during the car chase through the streets, and heat effects for explosions and flames. Other than the projectors, which were bought in, Holovis has built the rest of the experience from scratch.

Coping with the challenges

One of the biggest issues faced by Holovis was the physical build of the experience. It had to be created as the theme park itself was still under construction, necessitating the need to fit highly complex technology in a building site environment. “Ideally you want a dust-free environment when working with high spec equipment like this,” says Matthew. “And not only were we working on a building site, but it was also in the desert.”

There were also challenges around fitting such a highly technical system and the team worked hard to meet all of the necessary safety regulations for a theme park experience. The whole system has its own programmable logic controller that responds to conditions in real-time to ensure safety.

And while the enormous wrap-around screen does create a uniquely immersive experience for audiences, the fact that the screen is concave on two axis – both horizontal and vertical – meant that the content creation process had to be carefully managed, and was a work of close collaboration between the content and technology teams.

Reaction in the industry

Reaction to the ride since it launched in 2016 has been positive. And the client was also very happy with the end result. Speaking of the collaboration, Matthew Priddy, CTO of DXB Entertainments said, “In creating these immersive environments it’s very important that we work with partners that are as equally interested in producing great product as we are and Holovis have been a fabulous partner.”

It’s also had a positive impact on the sector and Matthew Dobbs believes that immersive action, putting the audience right into the centre of the story, is where interactivity is going – a path that cinema is also keen to follow. Michael Carroll, Director of Media Production, Media Systems, R&D for DXB Entertainments explains that immersion has become an important element of storytelling in theme parks. “In Don, we’ve taken that level of immersion to another step.”

What does the future look like?

The future of theme park experiences for audiences is all about experiencing interaction in different worlds, the team at Holovis believe. And that’s not just sensory experiences, but creating different physical changes on the ride each time.

Communications Manager Emily Burrows says that the post ride experience will also become more important, either through downloading apps or following technology around the park to continue the experience. Gamifying attractions and creating a connective storytelling process will be key, giving audiences a reason to return – to come back and try the rides again for a different experience each time.  Looking into the longer-term future, the experiences will be personal device led and personalisation is the next big trend for theme parks, where participants can build their own adventure.

Pointing to its Ride and Realm technology as a key demonstrator of what’s possible in this area, this next generation concept launched by Holovis at IAAPA 2017 gives audiences the tools to choose their own adventure and personalise the experiences they have based on their interactions. Using real-time technology to present a multi variant ride experience, it combines apps with elements of live action, gaming, Augmented Reality and more.

“Ride and Realm is more than just gamification and non-linearity; this is letting people determine their own destiny while being at the heart of a multidimensional, compelling narrative. We see this concept expanding so that all park wide media, both on and off rides, react differently for every individual, depending on where they are in their game and evolving storyline. This is a true revolution in theme park wide personalisation.”
— Peter Cliff, Holovis Creative Director

The technology developed for the entertainment industry has also allowed Holovis to branch out in new directions and it sees an important future in using its entertainment simulations in other sectors. Teams are currently working on projects in construction, aerospace and transport using the company’s core central skills, wide-reaching knowledge and multi-purpose technology.

Creating super realistic environments is not only attractive for theme park operators, it is also a useful tool for teams working in potentially dangerous environments such as building sites. Holovis’ Near Miss Simulation range allows construction workers to build confidence and experience potential hazards in a safe space. A VR project that simulates fatigue for night-time drivers with its safety message to pull over and rest, has also attracted interest from infrastructure services companies with similar safety concerns.

Words by Bernadette Fallon

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DXB Entertainments, Holovis, Live Experience, Theme Park, Virtual Reality, VR