The Top 10 Innovative Entertainment Design Projects of 2013

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Monday, December 30th, 2013

2013 was an exciting year in entertainment design – from  museums transforming the way we look at the intersection of technology and art to aquariums blending theme park rides with animal encounters. Some of the biggest innovations were technological. Other projects stand out for their focus on creating experiences based on human connections. We’ve also seen the continued influence of a trend we identified last year, a move toward cohesive theming and immersive storytelling to delight, educate, and stimulate play. Here are our top ten favorite entertainment design projects from 2013.

Entertainment Design with Enchanted Tales with Belle

10. Disney’s Reimagined Character Meet and Greets

Two attractions from 2013 (although technically one “soft opened” in 2012) show how Disney’s Imagineers have redesigned the Character Meet and Greet. At Enchanted Tales with Belle, guests travel through Belle’s cottage before acting out the Beauty & the Beast storyline with the princess. At the Princess Fairy Tale Hall, simplicity and a striking attention to detail come together as the setting for one-on-one interactions with Snow White and Cinderella that young fans are unlikely to forget. In an age where theme park innovation is largely driven by technology, these attractions stand out for their emphasis on human connection. That focus, along with thoughtful design and creative storytelling, elevate these Meet and Greets into fully themed experiences.

Empire of the Penguins and Entertainment Design

9. SeaWorld’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins

Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins was the much anticipated update to SeaWorld’s penguin attraction. Empire of the Penguins is rich with details that immerse guests in the Arctic, including its themed queue and thoughtful pre-show introduction to the attraction’s colony of Gentoo Penguins. The snowy world within the ride is explored through the penguins’ perspective. Guests choose a “mild” or “wild” ride on the first-of-its-kind trackless, motion simulated dark ride as they are carried through a variety of Arctic environments. Empire of the Penguins stands out for its seamless integration of animal encounters with an innovative theme park ride that both educates and delights!

Entertainment Design at Universal Studios Springfield

8. Universal Studios Springfield Expansion

2013 was a bittersweet year for Simpsons’ fans. After nearly 25 years on the air, the show’s creators and actors have suggested that next year will be its last. But fans got some consolation with Universal Studios’ Florida Springfield Expansion. The project brings the fictional town of Springfield to life with rides such as the Twirl & Hurl, eating establishments ranging from Fast Food Alley to the iconic Moe’s Tavern, and plenty of photo opportunities with favorite Simpsons’ characters. The Expansion project makes our list because of its world building. It’s a great example of a branded experience that speaks to fans, using a bold colorful design approach and a relentless attention to detail (Duff Beer, anyone?) to make guests feel immersed in the setting.

Yas Water World

7. Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi

Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi completed construction in 2012, and officially opened to the public in January 2013. One of the things that sets Yas apart from other water parks is that it’s all tied together by a narrative theme – The Legend of the Lost Pearl. It features the central character of Dana, a girl determined to find the lost “mother of all pearls” to bring her village abundance and prosperity. But Yas doesn’t stop its innovation there, instead also pushing to feature several first-of-its-kind rides as well. Its first year in operation has confirmed that Yas is redefining the possibilities for water parks around the world.

The Thinkery Austin

6. The Thinkery Children’s Museum, Austin, TX

2013 was an exciting year in children’s museums, with The Thinkery leading the pack with its innovative STEAM approach to learning and teaching. The groundbreaking interdisciplinary educational method looks at Science and Technology interpreted through Engineering and the Arts all based in Mathematical elements (STEAM). The goal of STEAM is to appeal to all different types of learners to more naturally engage children. The redesigned Thinkery does this through interactive and hands-on exhibits that include the Innovator’s Workshop, Spark Lab, Light Lab, and many more. We’re excited by the Thinkery as a model institution that shows kids that learning these important subjects can be fun.

Entertainment Design at Mystic Manor Hong Kong Disney

5. Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disney

Hong Kong Disney’s Mystic Manor has received numerous accolades this year, including being named for a 2014 Thea Award. It’s made our list for its strong theming and brilliant use of technology. The Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriage is Disney’s first trackless ride utilizing radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. The Mystic Manor story is brought to life by 36 projectors, include 4 ultra high def projectors. The story follows whimsical Lord Henry and his monkey companion Albert as mayhem ensues after Albert opens a forbidden box. A strange melody escapes the box (represented by an original score from none other than Danny Elfman) and guests are off exploring the Mystic Manor and its many treasures. Mystic Manor is a standout for its tightly mapped projection, audio-animatronics, and special effects used to bring an engaging story to life.

Batkid San Francisco

4. Make-a-Wish Foundation’s Batkid, San Francisco

Earlier this Fall, the Make-a-Wish Foundation made international headlines with its plans to grant a wish to a child that dreamed of being a superhero. The audacious plan posed the question “Can we bring San Francisco together to transform it into Gotham City for one day?” The end result, thanks to thousands of volunteers and a little help from city officials, was a grand success. The five year old leukemia patient (happily, in remission) was guided through a scripted day-long event where he saved a young woman in distress, stopped a robbery, battled classic Batman villains, and received the keys to the city. The sheer creativity of the day, combined with excellent live show planning and its ability to mobilize such a large volunteer base, earned it a place on our list. We hope The Batkid Experience inspires others to think of entertainment design as a tool to make a positive difference in the world.

Gallery One Cleveland Museum of Art

3. Gallery One, Cleveland Museum of Art

What’s the role of technology in the modern museum? The intersection of technology and art has been another hot topic for exploration in 2013. One of the projects getting it right is Gallery One at the Cleveland Museum of Art, an initiative of Local Projects. Gallery One is a suite of interactives that encourages visitors to explore the Cleveland Museum of Art. Guests can digitally explore artwork, learn about history and context, play interactive games that put the person into the art, and more. Information flows seamlessly from touch walls to tablets. Gallery One offers a glimpse of the direction that art museums are moving. It also serves as an important example of technology adding meaning to art, rather than detracting from it in the museum setting.

Disney MyMagic +

2. Disney’s MyMagic+

2013 saw tremendous innovation in behind the scenes technology in the theme park world. Some even declared it the year of a Theme Park in Our Pockets. Some technologies focus on entertaining, while others focus on overcoming theme park logistical challenges. But no project is more ambitious or promises to be a bigger game changer than Disney’s MyMagic+. Through a combination of a smartphone app, an interactive website, and RFID plastic wristbands, Disney plans to reduce visitor wait times dramatically. The program is in beta in Florida, and has received rave reviews from guests. Disney’s focus on the seamless integration of the technology into the park experience sets a high bar for other parks looking to follow suit and we’re excited to see what 2014 holds.

San Francisco Exploratorium

1. San Francisco Exploratorium

San Francisco’s Exploratorium reopened earlier this year at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. More than just a museum, the Exploratorium is a “twenty-first century learning lab” celebrating creativity at the intersection of art and science. The state of the art 330,000 square foot facility was designed by EHDD. With more than 600 interactive exhibits and a glass-enclosed San Francisco Bay Observatory, the emphasis remains on the Exploratorium’s classic values of touch, play, and explore. The redesigned Exploratorium is a model for experiential science learning and we’re excited to give it the top spot on this year’s list.

Enchanted tales with Belle, image credit: Walt Disney Company All Rights Reserved

 

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