Theme Parks and the Golden Baby

queue in communist poland

The mobile phone company EE has introduced a charge for jumping the queue on customer calls.

Maybe they are following the lead of theme parks world-wide with their express tickets; just like visitors to theme parks their customers are likely to feel cheated. EE is already the most complained about mobile company in the UK and the response to this initiative from its customers is indicating that this is unlikely to logo

For EE the charge is an admission that the response time is too long and that the only way to obtain adequate service is to pay extra. Meanwhile those that choose to wait in the queue must have the feeling that they will have to wait even longer.

Sound familiar? For theme parks the queues can be so long on busy days that some visitors will pay significantly more than their price of entry to avoid them. When express tickets were introduced the wait for those who chose not to buy them certainly became longer, but the price of admission didn’t fall. Those who buy express tickets now experience acceptable wait times (although sometimes even express lines can be 30 minutes long). For those who don’t pay the extra, the wait times are longer and the experience is poorer. It didn’t have to be this way.

Look at Disney parks, where a free system gives everyone a chance to skip the long queues and where single riders can virtually walk on to most rides. They chose not to charge extra for better service. For those parks which did there is no turning back. The express ticket systems provide an important source of income, as one Orlando park chief said to me, “It’s a golden baby which we can’t give back.” Along with charging for car parks, express tickets represent a reduction in value to our customers, paying the same price for a worse experience.

No wonder the number of articles criticising the cost of theme parks continues to rise.

The World is not an Eye Chart – A discussion on high resolution Immersive Theaters

Eye Test bear

20/20 vision. Perfect vision. The best that the human eye can resolve. Therefore there’s no benefit in creating a display system that has a higher resolution than that of the 20/20 line of an eye chart. Right?

20/20 vision means that at 20’ (6m) a viewer can identify characters constructed of lines 1.75mm wide and 1.75mm apart. It’s the ability to clearly see this gap and discern the letters of the eye chart that tests a person’s visual acuity. The line thickness of the characters on an eye chart are 1 arc minute (one 60th of a degree) wide when viewed from 20’ away.

Therefore on that premise, a high resolution display in an Immersive theater needs pixels no larger than 1 arc minute wide. That equates to around 10,800 pixels for a dome (180 degrees x 60 pixels per degree), when viewed from the centre of the theater (also assuming the viewer is at the spring-line of the dome), and 4,320 pixels across in a giant flat screen theatre (DIGSS1.1)1 when viewed from the central seat row.

Well, actually that’s wrong. We can ‘see’ objects far smaller than lines that are 1 arc minute wide. Look around you now. How much of what you see is made up of regular shaped black and white lines equally spaced? Not much. The World is not an eye chart.  We can see details far smaller than 1 arc minute across. The leaves on a tree, the fur of an animal. The carpet. A hair on the page of a book. Also consider that we do not need to accurately resolve an object and recognise it to see that it is there, that it exists. In fact we typically enjoy the intrigue of getting closer to an object to discover what it is. Fully and clearly resolving an object is quite different to seeing that it’s there. If 1 arc minute was all that we could see then we would never see the hair on our arms!

It’s a misnomer that 20/20 vision equates to what is referred to as ‘eye limiting resolution’. It’s easy to understand why these terms get mixed up and interchanged. How we see is a complicated subject and one that this short article cannot fully describe. Part of the complication is that the resolution of the human eye is not an absolute. How much we can see depends upon the viewing conditions. The amount of light and the contrast of the image play an important part. Leaving these variables to one side, it is generally agreed that under optimum viewing conditions the human eye can resolve detail as small as 0.59 arc minutes per line pair2 (pair of pixels) which equates to a pixel size of 0.3 arc minutes. This therefore is the generally accepted figure for ‘eye limiting resolution’, more than three times the resolution of 20/20 vision.

Resolution is an important metric for the flight simulation industry for pilot training applications. A level-D simulator (suitable for commercial aircraft) stipulates a display resolution of only 1.5 arc minute sized pixels (3 arc minutes per line pair). Significantly this is because pilots need to be able to resolve the runway lines which are 4 feet apart at 6,876 feet away as they come into land. Fast jet simulators on the other hand are targeting a much more demanding specification of 0.5 arc minutes per pixel. These fast jet simulators are designed as close as possible to eye limiting resolution so that the pilots can identify fast moving objects in the sky.

If we are ever to experience eye limiting resolution in immersive Theaters we would need to capture and display 0.3 arc minutes of resolution. This equates to 36,000 pixels across the centreline of a dome and 14,400 pixels across a 70’ giant flat screen when viewed from the central row of seats.

Furthermore, consider that in a dome every audience member bar one is closer to some part of the screen than the person in the center, and that the front half of a giant flat screen audience are significantly closer to the screen than the center row. These audience members would need even more pixels on the screen to enjoy eye limiting resolution (in fact up to 22,600 pixels wide from the front row of a 70’ wide flat screen).

As of 2014 the current state of the art for domes offers around 6,600 pixel resolution (optimistically referred to as ‘8k’) and for flat screens 4,096 pixels. These specifications are driven by the ‘4k’ projection systems now in the market (domes use an array of five or six 4k projectors to cover the dome surface). Once ‘8k’ projectors come on-line at comparable prices and at the brightness levels required (probably 3 to 5 years away) the capability of flat screens will quickly jump to 8,000 pixels and domes to around 12,000 pixels (assuming that the capture resolution and production workflow can keep up). This may appear unrealistic and out of reach for now, but for those of us who can remember marvelling at 1280 x 1024 resolution at the turn of the century will know that we soon recalibrate to expect higher resolution once we’ve experienced it.

Thus far this only considers spatial resolution (how many pixels). Of increasing importance is temporal resolution (how often), otherwise known as frame rate. Frame rates or fps (frames per second) have been quite stable for many years. 24fps and 30fps have been with us for many years. HFR (high frame rate) 48fps and 60fps are with us now and could quickly be overtaken by frame rates as high as 120fps or even more. High frame rates smooth out the strobing or judder that one can experience, particularly on large field of view screens. With 3D systems HFR can significantly help with edge definition, the means by which we determine the depth of an image using current 3D technologies. HFR can help us see the resolution that is there in the image that is otherwise blurred-out during panning and fast action shots.

The combination of higher frame rates and resolutions approaching eye limiting resolution will help deliver increasingly realistic immersive experiences.

Try this test.  Click on the image below and follow the instructions:

Eye Test Grizzly



Just a Thought… The Promise of China, The Spirit of Cooperation

Keith James, Jack Rouse AssociatesBy all accounts, last month’s IAAPA conference in Beijing was a huge success, with record-breaking attendance and a very busy tradeshow floor.

While delegates to the show came from greater Asia, it was clear that the Chinese market was the focus. This point was driven home in IAAPA President and CEO Paul Nolan’s opening address, when he reported that there are 59 new theme parks currently being developed in China.

IAAPA President Mario Mamon entertains the crowd at the Asian Attractions Expo Opening Ceremony

IAAPA President Mario Mamon entertains the crowd at the Asian Attractions Expo Opening Ceremony

Beginning in 2008 with its hosting of a magnificent Olympic Games, to its wonderfully executed Shanghai Expo in 2010, it became clear that China knew how to put on a good show. It is now apparent that the promise of an equally successful long-term leisure market in China is gaining momentum and quickly becoming a reality.

Coca-Cola Pavilion at 2010 Shanghai World Expo

Coca-Cola Pavilion at 2010 Shanghai World Expo

Iconic Chinese parks such as Ocean Park in Hong Kong and the various OCT parks have continued to evolve and deliver world-class guest experiences, while beautiful new parks from Chimelong prove that domestically developed projects can equal the quality and aesthetic standards of their Western counterparts.

Hong Kong Disneyland continues to grow and can certainly be viewed as a success. Building upon this knowledge and momentum, the eagerly awaited Shanghai Disneyland promises to set a new standard for attractions, while simultaneously localizing a global brand in an engaging and culturally sensitive manner. And, of course, the numerous Wanda projects and those being planned by other major developers are certainly creating a lot of buzz within our industry.

China’s cultural landscape is changing just as fast, if not faster, than the leisure market, with thousands of museums in various stages of development. And while museum construction has sometimes outpaced the availability of experienced curators, researchers and directors, that gap is slowly narrowing due to a variety of new museum programs being offered at Chinese universities, as well as partnerships between organizations such as the Smithsonian and the Chinese Association of Museums to attract and develop a new generation of museum professionals.

Guangdong Science Center

Guangdong Science Center

JRA has had the great fortune to have been involved in several Chinese projects over the years, ranging from theme parks and attractions to science centers, children’s museums and expo pavilions. Over the course of our work in China, we have noticed a positive evolution in the manner in which projects of this type are contracted, planned, designed and realized.

The initial growing pains, accompanied by two very different cultures working with one another, seem to be slowly subsiding, and an era of mutual understanding and respect is apparent. While issues such as how we work, receive payment and protect our intellectual property will continue to be discussed and refined, it is clear that both sides are realizing the benefits of finding common ground.

Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the CNCC

Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the CNCC

Early next year, JRA will celebrate the opening of China’s first stand-alone children’s museum in Beijing, a project we have planned and designed in close collaboration with the Children’s Museum Research Center, China National Children’s Center (CNCC) and Lao Niu Foundation. We are certainly excited about the opening of the museum. But perhaps more importantly, we are grateful to have been part of an enjoyable process through which the project has been developed and for the lessons we have learned along the way. From the outset, both parties placed an emphasis on collaboration, a value on communication and a commitment toward excellence.

More and more, these philosophies are finding their way into China’s growing leisure and cultural industry. This cooperative spirit between East and West will not only result in more productive and enjoyable working relationships, but will also result in a better end product for our guests.

How much land is available for expansion at various theme parks?

flightdeck at californias great america rollercoaster

Once again, if you know where to look on the Internet you might be surprised with what you can find.

The real value lies in knowing where to search, when to search and what to search for.

For instance, once a year, information pertaining to the developed and undeveloped acreage, available at various parks can be found on the web. A few notable examples, provided by Cedar Fair, are shown below:

land available at theme parks by Tracy Kahaner Blooloop

Images: Flightdeck at California’s Great America courtesy of

A Notable Week in Tech

paraplegic with a mind controlled exo-skeleton taking the first kick of the world cup

Image courtesy SBS news

What a week in tech! It started with the breakthrough achievement of a paraplegic with a mind controlled exo-skeleton taking the first kick of the world cup.

Possibly the most remarkable aspect was that it didn’t get a great amount of coverage nor a great deal of reaction. Have we been so familiarised with technology that when these milestones come along they are no more surprising than the latest Android app or smartwatch?

Talking of Smartwatches this latest ‘launching-on-kickstarter-will-be-on-the-streets-at-the-end-of-the-year’ piece of tech called Moment Smartwatch might give Apple something to think about. If they can make it work, and the demos look encouraging, I might just ‘invest’ in one (but really, when has buying a piece of technology ever been an investment?).

Moment Smartwatch

But if I would wear a Smartwatch, I might not wear these.

Meta Spaceglasses

At least not all the time like the inventors at Meta would advocate. They talk about the “notification machine” (Google Glass), the “matrix machine” (Oculus), and now this the “natural machine”. This VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality) combo unit, they suggest, should be worn all the time so that you can meet people in coffee shops and share photos with strangers. I’d have thought the natural machine was not wearing any machines at all! Looks like the world will be divided into two camps, those that ‘wear’ and those that don’t.

If you’re not really ready for all this new tech, then at least your kids can be when you buy them their very first 3D printer.

Mission Street Manufacturing 3D Printer

Mission Street Manufacturing will have these little babies, for your little babies, on the street by October. Just in time for my birthday. I may not be their target market but I do need a 3D printer. I don’t know why but I’ve got a few months to come up with a good excuse to invest in one (there I go again).

And finally HP have decided to do more than just make printers that need frustratingly unintuitive software to simply scan a document. Although they haven’t quite solved that problem they are going to solve this one… they are going to build a whole new kind of computer. Called, unimaginatively ‘The Machine’. It will use photonics instead of electronics to send bits of information around and ‘memristors’ to store the data. Coupled with an entirely new operating system the result is faster and more importantly, more efficient computing (IT now accounts for over 10% of the world’s energy comsumption did you know?).

The Machine new computer by HP

Yes, it may only look like a block of plastic right now (‘cause that’s what it is right now) but by 2019 The Machine will be available as a product as their confidently titled slide shows:

HP's plan for development of The Machine

That’s not very far off. Time flies in the world of computing. In fact Google’s new director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has just predicted that computers will be cleverer that humans by 2029. At the rate that Skynet Google is buying up robotics companies I expect he may be right. Good, no more pulling my hair out to scan a few documents, I’ll just get the robot to do it.

On Robotic Sperm and Shark Skin


I didn’t believe it either. Robotic sperm. Firstly how? And then of course why?

But reading this article on the BBC science pages further revealed a few things. Firstly that it’s not a robot for fertilising, instead it’s to deliver nano-packages, a drug to a very specific part of the body via the bloodstream for instance. Secondly that it combines a wide array of state of the art technologies that have only recently arrived at the same point of time to make this possible.

shark skin 3d printingAnd finally that this is yet another example (such as this 3D printed shark skin above) where scientists are taking their design guidelines from nature; a challenging battleground where only the best prototypes prevail. Perhaps then the future of robotics in our daily lives will be far more familiar than we ever expected, simply digitised copies of the real things.

Smooth and Creative Video

The designers lot is a tough one. Their clients demand ever more iconic buildings, venues and interiors, while new technologies appear faster than you can say “new technologies”.

BMW museum

One such ‘new’ technology tool is not, as such, an invention, but an extension that everybody who has a television sees regularly. It is simply placing a diffusion material in front of LED video displays. Not a big deal? Well, let’s see.

OK, turn the calendar back 15 years – the ‘low resolution’ video displays were about to take hold. Innovative ‘very large’ video screens were introduced by U2 on their world tour of Popmart, with ‘an exploded television screen’ – 50m wide and 15m high, over 100,000 pixels.

Fast forward to today – No television game or competition is without ‘low resolution’ video. Likewise with large concert tours. The advantage is clear – it works well with audience at a distance and also with television cameras, which focus on the performers, making the displays out of focus and therefore soft and smooth.

But using low resolution displays when the viewers are close is altogether a different Popmart U2 tourmatter.

It was the wealthy motor industry that propelled ‘smooth video’ into existence. In 2008, the iconic BMW Museum in Munich (see image above) opened after extensive refurbishment. Berlin designers ART+COM had the idea to define the central Plaza by enveloping it in huge video created imagery. Pioneering company G-LEC bent to the task to develop the first ever ‘architectural’ LED video screen.

A massive 750m2 of white LED video now envelops and towers above the visitor as he or she stands on the bottom of the plaza. The pixels have all been covered by heavily frosted glass panels. The result being ‘black and white’ images, all created as digital video files, swirling, forming and dissolving around the viewer.

The result is overwhelming. The more technical visitor struggles to find out how it has been done – where the hidden projectors are. Most don’t bother, but leaves with indelible memories of BMW car details, sliding across the walls or dates and concepts appearing and blending with astonishing graphic magic, created by ART+COM.

Gradually, the world is following BMWs lead. It takes vision and a generous budget. Letting ‘Creative’ video graphics free to mix with diffusers opens a whole new exciting box of opportunities to create new visual experiences.

What’s the best way to find key metrics for Disneyland Resort Paris?

Disneyland Paris Castle

When searching the internet how would you find the attendance origin, transportation used by guest, hotel occupancy or theme park spending per guest at Disneyland Resort Paris?

It always surprises me how much information is readily available on the web, if you know where to look. Take for example, the amount of data that can be found on the corporate website for Disneyland Resort Paris. Although it might not be the top result of your search engine, the best information for Disney Paris can be found by using the key words “EuroDisney S.C.A.”.

An abundance of statistical data can be found this site and here are a few examples:

Disneyland Paris Revenues Evolution

Disneyland Paris Revenue by Activity

Disneyland Paris Revenues by Country of Origin
Disneyland Paris Transportation
Disneyland Paris Average Spend

Disneyland Paris AttendanceDisneyland Paris Hotel Occupancy
Disneyland Paris Average Spend per room

Explore this website even further and find other great data.

Enjoy …


Zoo Trails and the Juxtaposition of the Extreme

tiger on zoo360 crossing at philadelphia zoo
Two things are on my mind today as I sit down to write this. One, my recent two week jaunt through Japan with my sister and friend, and two, the upcoming opening of the big cat portion of the Zoo360 trail system at Philadelphia Zoo.

Seemingly, they have little in common, but I assure you, they are winding trails leading to the same point: the beauty of contrast.

If, like me in February, you’ve never been to Japan, let me explain something. This is a land of constant contrast. Its five thousand people chaotically scrambling against the clock to cross at the convergence of five streets in Shibuya. Yet, it’s the polite, orderly queue and unspoken coordination of exiting and entering a train. It’s the ornate and historic shrine hidden between the lingerie shop and cell phone cover stand in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. It’s being swept up with the audience in visual and auditory insanity of Robot Restaurant, and the quiet contemplative moment between you and your new feline friend at the Calico Café.

These contrasts serve to highlight the differences between them. They force us to identify what exactly it was that we loved so much about each. As we designers say, it’s the juxtaposition of the extremes that’s so compelling.

Switching gears…the trail system at Philadelphia Zoo is an incremental innovation from the concept of rotational exhibits developed decades ago by the team of the Louisville Zoo and legendary designer, Jon Coe. Slowly, over the years, the idea of moving animals between yards has evolved into… moving animals between yards via longer trails. Philadelphia Zoo has taken the idea to the extreme, optimizing their small urban site by providing larger exhibits in the form of elevated trails, oftentimes above guests’ heads. The success of the trail system is still anyone’s guess, and most criticism extends from the guests’ perspective. Will the guests’ be able to see the animals? Is it better to view the animal far overhead in a tunnel or up-close behind glass? Will the animals actually be more active? But one criticism I overheard recently touched on the aesthetics of the tunnels themselves: They look like steel tunnels.

Today, we’ve conditioned ourselves to expect a certain standard of naturalism in exhibit design. But here’s the rub: exhibits are never natural. We’ve always got handrails. We’ve almost always got visible barriers. Think about the huge new elephant enclosures being built all across the US. They’re big, beautiful, filled with water, grass, sand, topography, even trees. But all of them, every single one, at some point also have massive steel bollards and connecting steel cabling dotting the perimeter. The tunnels are simply another example of this visual contrast.

elephant at the smithsonian zoo

I actually have to disagree with myself. I don’t think elephant barriers and the tunnels are the same at all. Sure, the tunnels were borne out of necessity, much like the bollards and cables. They allow the least expensive, most flexible and secure means of building thousands of feet of elevated trails. But, to me, they are vastly different. For one, they’re sculptural. Their graceful curving lines are visually pleasing. The contrast of ordered steel against natural vegetation draws the eye. Their interruption of the visual field brings focus to the animals inside. The bollards and cables’ interruption of the visual field simply reminds us of the need for barriers, and takes our eyes away from the elephants themselves.

Furthermore, the concept of a restrictive tunnel is in direct contrast to the concept of large, expansive exhibits. But, really, do animals need large expansive spaces? Do they just desire room to roam in any form? And do these tunnels provide that successfully, despite the contradictory experience they bring to what we think of as a typical zoo experience? It’s the unexpected–the juxtaposition–that draws our attention.

But let’s remember this: naturalistic exhibits were once the unexpected, the unique, the thing that stood out at the zoo. And now they’re everywhere. What does that mean for zoo trails?

cheetah cubs at smithsonian zoo

Images: Tiger crossing and video kind courtesy Philadelphia Zoo, Elephant and cheetah cubs Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Unique Visitors and Type of Pass Utilized at Universal Orlando

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort officially welcomes its first guests large

Have you ever wanted to know how annual attendance numbers at a theme park is distributed? Do attendance numbers include one person going twice or two people going once? What is the unduplicated attendance? If so, read on …

In 2003, Universal Orlando Resort filed a prospectus with the SEC that included detailed data on the two theme parks located on the property. As in all fillings of this type, the amount of detailed statistical data is overwhelming. This particular document however, provided an analysis I found extremely interesting and hope that you will too.

The specific section of this prospectus I am referring to analyzes Pass Sales for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. As it is not relevant for this Blog, I have omitted pricing and revenue data from the following table.

passes and attendance at universal studios

What this analysis shows is that a total of 7.1 million visitors frequented the parks an average of 1.45 times, thereby creating the number we see reported – 10.4 million. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of the attendance was comprised of one-day guests and the annual pass holder frequented the park an average of 4.03 times a year.



  1. Reflects effect of “Third Day Free” promotion
  2. Orlando FlexTicket entitled a guest to visit both theme parks over two weeks. The Orlando FlexTicket could be used over those same two weeks at Wet ‘n Wild® and Sea World® Orlando. There was also a five-park Orlando FlexTicket which included Bush Gardens.
  3. Primarily includes VIP tour tickets and length of stay tickets sold at on-site hotels
  4. Reflects weighted average

Image credit : Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort officially welcomes its first guests. © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.