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Innovative media on an unprecedented scale at Yas Island SeaWorld Abu Dhabi – InPark Magazine

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Joe Kleiman interview

Media is an essential part of the new era Yas Island Sea World Abu Dhabi Park, open from June 2023.In this exclusive interview, InPark explores the role and accomplishments of an executive producer Xinwei Group, how Thinkwell’s global team interacted with developer/operator Miral Group and SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, how they collaborated with the other creatives on the project, and Thinkwell’s impressive track record in the Middle East. Respondents:

  • Amin Rashmani – Managing Director, MENA, TAIT and Thinkwell
  • Cory Asrilant – Project Director, Thinkwell
  • Cynthia Sharpe – Senior Principal and Executive Creative Director, Thinkwell
  • Cory Watson – Executive Producer, Thinkwell Media
  • Cindy Tsujimura – Producer, Thinkwell Media
  • Tina Blakeney – Thinkwell Principal, Montreal
How did Thinkwell get involved in this project?

Rashmani: Over the years, Thinkwell has developed a strong relationship with Miral through the delivery of several projects on and off Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Miral Contact us to review by Hepatitis C virus And complements this by serving as executive producer of live performances, media and soundscapes around the park.This is especially important for One Ocean [the central hub featuring a cinematic spectacle on a 360-degree LED screen of unprecedented size]as our responsibilities include directing the vision and development of the One Ocean show and integrating this work into other creative content and development with other partners across the park.

What is Thinkwell’s role at SeaWorld Abu Dhabi?
InPark’s Joe Kleiman meets one of the many residents of Yas Island SeaWorld Abu Dhabi

Asri Rand: Thinkwell was responsible for the design and implementation of all park entertainment, media and soundscapes – from early Blue Sky development, through procurement and production, through to creative integration, rehearsals and pre-opening operations. Our in-house teams across all Thinkwell locations around the world contributed to the project across media, creative, technology and more. The largest areas in the park that we focus on are One Ocean, Armillary Sphere [the gateway to the two polar realms, featuring a projected fulldome presentation]Hypersphere 360 [a simulator ride through the World Ocean in a 360-degree LED sphere, located in the Arctic Realm] There’s also pearl diving and live entertainment (buskers, performers, magicians, etc.).

Please tell us about some of the external team members.

Asri Rand: Thinkwell has contracts with various consultants, contributors and suppliers. Costumes were designed by The Costume Connection and produced by Limelight in Hong Kong and Custom Characters in Los Angeles. Some of our larger props and sets were made by Def Lab and Adirondack Studios, and Animax did the puppets and animatronics. Some of our media suppliers include MacGillivray Freeman Films, Filmworks in Dubai and Mousetrappe. Much of the media is also produced by our own Thinkwell Media team.

Tell us more about creating One Ocean, Hypersphere, and Armillary Sphere.
V·E·R·N·E introduces Hypershsphere 360 ​​to guests during ride preview

Tsuji Village: It took us many conversations with SeaWorld to get to the heart of the One Ocean story. The hardest part was determining what to exclude, since there is a wealth of information about the importance of the ocean. Ultimately, SeaWorld determined the key elements of the display.

It was then our job to make sure it was told in the most engaging and immersive way possible on the massive One Ocean screen: 360-degree surround, 4.5 stories tall (60% the size and proportions of the Statue of Liberty!) over 22K resolution – the world’s first screen of this size and scale. 360-degree capture can be immersive and magical, but it can also turn simple tasks like changing lenses into a massive challenge. You really have to consider the benefits and challenges – such as cost, safety, equipment, potential natural elements – especially when shooting in the ocean and some of the most technology-unfriendly regions in the world. We had to invent our own camera rigs and systems to do underwater shooting in this format, which is a feat of its own. Led by Thinkwell Media, all live action footage on set was shot by MacGillivray Freeman Films using custom drones and underwater rigs.

The purpose of Hypersphere 360 ​​was to create an original, visually stylized animated film to be used in conjunction with a unique ride system to fully engage and immerse visitors. We keep the show fast, fun, and full of amazing facts about an ocean on our planet. The experience is hosted and facilitated by the intrepid Captain Jules and her lovely sidekick V·E·R·N·E. V·E·R·N·E is actually not only the original animated character in the film, but also an animatronic character that visitors can interact with in the park.

Armillary sphere transitions between scenes

Blakeney: The Armillary Sphere is a fully immersive 360-degree dome walk-through multimedia experience that celebrates the natural contrast and diversity of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The theming and visual design of the physical environment is intended to represent the ancient Armillary Sphere – an instrument designed to demonstrate the motion of the celestial sphere around a centrally stationary Earth. The animated armillary sphere ring is shown as an extension of the physical armillary sphere structure and serves as a key storytelling and transition device between scene modules and themes.

The dynamic content lasts a total of one hour and includes environmental segments and four story modules: Constellations, Global Currents, 24 Hours of Light and Darkness, and Polar Life. The environment modules showcase the beauty and unique phenomena of Arctic and Antarctic landscapes and the Northern and Southern Lights.

How can media complement the animal experience?

Watson: The wildlife shots in this project add vital colour, context and texture to the animal experience and bring viewers closer to the ocean’s end. Our goal is for the media to tell a more emotional and personal story, so guests feel more connected to the ocean that connects us all around the globe.

Kelp Forest for One Ocean by MacGillivray Freeman Films
How did Thinkwell ensure the authenticity of this mission-driven park?

Sharp: Start by identifying each area where we may need subject matter expert (SME) guidance or input and rank these resources. Getting the science right is important, and SeaWorld is a great partner in this regard. We’ve also connected experts at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and partnered with some of the top minds in marine photography and videography. In history and culture, we work with a range of SMEs, from textile design and puppets to music and history. The work starts from the earliest creative stages to ensure we are accurate and respect every detail. We are constantly revisiting our SME talent pool to see if we need to add more expertise.

Why is this a good match for Thinkwell’s capabilities?

Rashmani: Four main reasons: 1) multidisciplinary teams, 2) our technology solutions, 3) project delivery, and 4) our strong regional presence. Our large interdisciplinary executive production team oversees creative development and is responsible for aligning with SeaWorld’s requirements. During the challenging first few years of the pandemic, we effectively managed our diverse, globally dispersed teams and suppliers to ensure successful project delivery. The strong leverage between our team in Abu Dhabi and our network and talent pool in the region helped us through the entire project life cycle.

You have other successes in the region, including the US Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. How does this complement Thinkwell’s existing Middle East product portfolio?
Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

Rashmani: We are very proud of our success in the region and even more proud of the various types of projects we have been involved in over the past decade.Our work at SeaWorld, and our commitment to warner bros world and Ferrari World, highlighting not only our expertise in themed entertainment, but also our strategic partnership with Miral to create a world-class multi-day entertainment destination on Yas Island. We have also built several snow parks, museums, fairs and city attractions in the area over the past decade. We are committed to delivering exceptional experiences and maintaining a strong presence in the region, aiming to push the boundaries of guest experience in this dynamic MENA market.

What aspects of the project are you most proud of?

Asri Rand: The scale of the media elements in the park is amazing. When guests walk in, their jaws drop as they see the size and scale of everything from “A Piece of Ocean”. Our team devised and invented new ways to capture and deliver the epic media this epic park required.

Tsuji Village: There is authenticity and sincerity in the live entertainment, all media, and the spectacle of “One Ocean.” On every level, it helps people create a real connection with the ocean and its incredible creatures. Everything from the finest detail on the puppeteer’s costume to the biggest gesture in One Ocean has been thought out.

Watson: The entire team at Thinkwell Media along with a host of technical specialists, underwater filmmaking experts and filmmakers helped us make this landmark creative and technical achievement a reality. We’ve built a world-class team. We’re also very proud of the fantastic work we do with our Miral and SeaWorld clients and all the media vendors.

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