How to design attractions

How to design attractions

26 September 2020 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

Valerio Mazzoli tells us about some lesser-known aspects of the work of designers alongside the more purely creative ones /

As already covered in some of my previous articles, designing a theme park is very complex. It is not enough to have an innovative idea, you also need to know all of the technical and constructional aspects of everything you design, otherwise you run the risk of being stopped by the first technical problem! What does this mean for a designer who intends to work, for example, on a dark ride? It implies that in designing the adventure, the storytelling and the settings, the designer will also need to think about the ride vehicles, the duration of the ride cycle, the movements of the vehicles in the various scenes, etc. 

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

One practical example I can give you concerns me personally, and is the La Valle dei Re attraction, opened in Gardaland in 1988. The idea I had was to let visitors experience the thrill of an adventure together with the explorers who uncovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen. A treacherous journey through temples and ruins of ancient Egypt, a very articulated dark ride full of sets, animatronics and special effects. 

The duration of the ride was set at a maximum of 7 minutes. This is where the design of the transport system comes into play: I did not want to make an Egyptian-style themed vehicle, because it would have been ridiculous and tacky, inadequate compared to the settings, which were very faithful to the originals (almost museum-level). So I opted for a simple, anonymous and completely black vehicle. 

Since it was necessary to have a high hourly capacity in the attraction, I began to study a route that would adapt to the structure we were building, that is, a 3,500sq.m part-underground industrial type building with an irregular shape and 7 metres high. Initially I imagined a course on water, to recall the idea of the Nile. Subsequently, I studied a canal but instead of water I put underground tracks so the vehicle could run silently at the same level as the ground. Boarding and disembarking were to take place with the vehicle moving, since alongside the route, in the embarkation/disembarkation areas, we put treadmills alongside the course so that riders could get onto the vehicle as if it were stationary. 

Among the companies consulted to make the cars, we chose Pinfari, a company with an important history. I dealt directly with one of the owners: Dario Begotti, a person of considerable experience. Clearly this was a new type of vehicle, never made before in Italy. Sixty vehicles with 60 seats each, on a 300m long course, vehicles 230cm apart, the visible areas between one vehicle and the other closed with an openable hatch and a series of side skirts at the base of each vehicle so as to conceal the channel and above all for protection. 

La Valle dei Re was an undisputed success that became a milestone in the history of Gardaland and changed its future. Without being presumptuous, I can add with pride that the whole world talked about it for its grandeur, its originality and its technical solutions. The attraction is still operating and in more than 30 years has undergone various changes. The first was my design: in 1999 I was asked to refresh the story a little and with my company I added a series of special effects. Regarding the later changes, I prefer not to give my opinion. 

I am very attached to La Valle dei Re also because it was my first major experience on an important attraction. That experience taught me a lot and in the following years I have always been interested in the technical aspects of my projects, both at the constructional level of the structures and in terms of the robotics and mechanics in general. 

One of the latest projects I worked on for a new type of attraction is 360 Fly Adventure, now in the Intamin and Project-Syntropy catalogue. Always looking for something new, years ago I was fascinated by a great Disney attraction at Epcot, the Soarin’ flying theater. A wonderful experience that simulated a glider flight. As always happens, Disney leads the way with its exclusive novelties; the attraction was so successful that many other theme parks around the world wanted it. Various ride and roller coaster manufacturers then began building various versions of Soarin’, with different technologies and budgets. 

After various considerations, I decided to find an alternative to Soarin’: let people fly without seeing the mechanical part and enjoy an adventure simulating a real flight aboard an ancient balloon. I proposed the project to the CEO of Intamin, sending a preliminary study with various layouts of the mechanical movements. He liked the idea and put me in contact with his engineers. After various studies and meetings, Intamin 360 Fly Adventure was born. But the attraction was not complete, as the important part of the show was missing: the balloon ride! I conceived an adventure story to be shown on the largest screen ever built in the world.

Thanks to my dear friend Giulia Barbero, who deals with entertainment concerning simulators and projections on large screens, I met the company she works for, German firm Project-Syntropy, which was enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to collaborate. They designed a concave 360-degree screen measuring 25m in diameter by 10m high, with a cross-projection system featuring 20 self-calibrating projectors, a series of special effects synchronised with the film and a sound system in each vehicle. The most challenging part was the projection of a 360 degree CGI film where the parallax calibration had to be synchronised with the movements of the vehicles (9-seater balloons). Several tests were carried out and in the end we succeeded: a new type of attraction was born, with an hourly capacity of 1,250 people, as many as the most important roller coasters on the market today. In 2018 360 Fly Adventure was officially unveiled at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando, much to my delight. Designing an attraction from A to Z and seeing it come to life is I believe the greatest satisfaction for a creative.

Taken from Games&Parks Industry September 2020, page 88

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer /