Case Study:
4D Theater
Bellewaerde Park

Regional theme parks face the same challenge as the major national parks: it takes new attractions to bring more guests through the front gate. But the regional parks operate on tighter budgets, and this makes the process of attraction design particularly challenging. The problem is compounded now that so many individuals have excellent audio/video systems or even theatres in their homes.

How can a park offer guests an experience they can't get at home, without breaking the bank? One very popular solution has been 3‑D theatres. For only a little more than the cost of a high definition home theatre, a theme park can install a high definition 3‑D presentation.

Client
Name Bellewaerde Park
Contact bellewaerde.be
Contractors
Installation Alcorn McBride sarl
Programming H. Corrado
Equipment
Audio Binloop
Video DVM/HD
Lighting DMX Machine
Show Control V16+

The 3‑D experience is a novelty that guests of all ages can enjoy, and that can't really be experienced in any other way. It's also possible to change the presentation throughout the season or even during the operating day. A growing library of 3‑D films available from companies such as Showscan makes this alternative particularly attractive.

With the debut of Disney's "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" at Epcot's Imagination pavilion in the early 90s, the major theme parks took 3‑D to a higher level, equipping the theatre with effects such as water spritzers, lighting effects, and even "leg ticklers."

Now smaller parks can also explore the possibilities of 4‑D theatres.

These shows, dubbed "4‑D", were a big hit with guests, and "Honey " was soon joined by "T2‑3D" at universal, "A Bug's Life" at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and many more. 4‑D theatres consistently earn some of the highest guest rating of any theme park attractions, at only a fraction of the development cost for a major new ride.

Now smaller parks can also explore the possibilities of 4‑D theatres. Since the effects used in the theatre tend to be the same regardless of the show's content, smaller venues are discovering that it's well worth the expense of installing this extra equipment, because it will be useful in show after show.

Bellewaerde Park is an amusement park in the southwest part of Belgium. For the 2006 season, the park decided to extend its operating season to take advantage of the Halloween and Christmas holidays. With a longer operating calendar, the park wanted to add a family indoor attraction that could be easily adapted to seasonal events. Bellewaerde quickly settled upon a 4‑D show, because of the wide appeal and relatively low installation cost.

For the 4‑D film itself, Bellewaerde went to Showscan. "As we are a combination of family theme park and animal park with large amounts of landscaping, we searched for a film that met the same spirit,” explains Filip Dewitte, Bellewaerde's General Manager. ”Showscan's 'Forest Adventure' is both family‑oriented and full of action. It tells the story of forest animals endangered by a man‑made fire. We couldn't imagine a more educational story.”

The next step was to tour other theme parks, to see what suppliers' equipment had been successfully used elsewhere. Austrian manufacturer Kraftwerk was awarded the seats and special effects contract. Barco I‑con H600 projectors were selected as the 3‑D delivery mechanism.

Bellewaerde went to Alcorn McBride Inc. for the high definition playback and control equipment. A provider of equipment to all of the previously mentioned 4‑D shows and many more, Alcorn McBride probably has more experience in 4‑D theatres than any other audio/video manufacturer.

"Designing an A/V system for a theme park is quite different than a board room system, for example,” says Henry Corrado, director of Alcorn McBride's French subsidiary. "4‑D theaters need fairly complex systems with perfect reliability and stability, while often being run by non‑specialists.”

At Bellewaerde, the heart of the Alcorn McBride system is a V16+ show controller connected to an IO64 input/output module. The use of a scriptable show controller means it's possible for non‑technical users to change the theater timing if the show changes.

The Alcorn McBride Digital Binloop is used as a 6‑channel discrete audio reproducer, a master time‑code source, and as a backup for the main video sources. The Digital Binloop is a modular, Compact Flash‑based audio/video player used in the majority of the world's theme park attractions.

The main video sources for the show are two Alcorn McBride Digital Video Machine HD (DVM/HD) high‑definition video players. The DVM/HD is one of the few pieces of HD gear designed to run in perfect frame sync, a necessity for the 3‑D effect to work.

"The selection of a single manufacturer for all of the audio, video and sourcing equipment made the installation much easier,” says Steve Alcorn, president of Alcorn McBride, Inc. "When the programmer from our French subsidiary, Alcorn McBride sarl, showed up at the site, he already knew that all of the system components were designed to work together. This allowed him to focus on the aesthetics of the show, such as guest flow and timing.”

Because Compact Flash sizes aren't yet big enough to hold a full‑length high definition show, the Digital Video Machine stores its video on hard drives. As any computer user can tell you, hard drives sometimes fail, and the maintenance staff at Bellewaerde can't be expected to service equipment at that level. To maximize attraction "up time” in the event of a failure, a pair of video reproducers are installed in the Digital Binloop frame. These reproducers hold a backup copy of the show (in standard definition format) on Compact Flash. If a hard drive failure is detected, the show control system automatically switches the projector video feed from the DVM/HD to the Digital Binloop and alerts maintenance.

An Extron sync generator is used to feed all video players, Digital Binloop and Show Control system with a video sync signal. This guarantees left and right eye sync of the 3‑D video and tight coupling of audio to video.

A Peavey X‑Frame and 8 x 8 expansion box is used for audio processing. The speaker configuration is close to a conventional theatre. Biamped JBL 4675 are used as screen speakers, with associated 4645 sub‑woofers. Because water effects are used in the theatre, waterproof control 30 speakers are used as surround speakers. All amplifiers are Crown, and each surround speaker has its own amplifier channel to allow careful level adjustment.

The theater lighting is controlled by an Alcorn McBride LightCue. The Light Cue is a DMX Recorder. It allows a lighting designer to create the show using any lighting board. Then the DMX data is recorded into the LightCue, and the lighting board can be removed. The LightCue locks to the timecode provided by the Digital Binloop.

The project was completed in just a few months. Stefaan Lemey, Bellewaerde's technical manager explains, "As we worked only with the best technical skilled suppliers and manufacturers, we had only minor problems that could be solved in a small timeframe, without extra costs.”

The theatre can also be configured for corporate events. The presenter can even trigger physical effects during his presentation. There's nothing like a good dousing of water to perk up even the most boring meeting!

Regarding the success of the project, Filip Dewitte added, "More than half of all our guests visit the attraction, and we expect this percentage to rise considerably. Guest satisfaction is unanimously very good.”





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