Mist, fog, water, fire, bubbles, wind, snow, confetti, scent cannons, lasers, fiber optics, and light = special effects. Adding special effects such as these to your themed environment can provide your audience with invaluable elements of realism, surprise, and intrigue.
With a background in movies and television, our special effects department has been called upon to create atmospheric effects for everything from space adventures to pirate ships, and from snow-filled Holiday scenes to green slime. For concerts and events, we have designed computer programmed light shows with lasers, bubbles, fire, and fog. Likewise, when we create an attraction, exhibit, or ride, we like to add atmospheric effects add to our guests’ overall experience. However, with so many capabilities to choose from, here’s some good advice from our in-house Yoda impersonator, “Know when enough is enough, one needs to.”
Let’s start with light. We use canned light in almost everything we theme. For dark rides, we hang light in hidden places to guide the attention of the audience to see what story element we want them to see next. We also claim darkness (or the absence of light) to direct their eyes away from behind-the-scenes elements we wish they do not see. We also use darkness to build suspense and anticipation, or to allow them to pause during a contemplative moment or a location change. When projecting light onto a scene, certain color temperatures make us think we are seeing daylight, while other color temperatures illuminate the night. There are black lights which bring out the white and fluorescent colors in a scene and colored LEDs which make vibrant the painted colors of any scene. We dim, flicker, flash, and swirl to amaze, and gently fade as we paint with lights to inspire. Lighting design is so important to the mood of each environment, and when tastefully performed, will separate your attraction from all of the rest.
Most of the other effects we get asked about our what we kindly refer to as WOW EFX. These are the types of effects that when we pull them off correctly, audiences shriek, giggle, and often exclaim, “Wow!” or “Zoinks!” or “Cool!” They usually last only for a moment, but their impact is felt far beyond their initial release. These types of effects include: water, fire, wind, snow, confetti, bubbles, and scent cannons to name a few. Let’s talk about a few of these.
Let’s start here with fire. Though certainly the most dangerous of the bunch, fire can play a big part in both the visualization of a desired effect and the feel of warmth which can reach out and touch your audience for you, without harm. At EPCOT, we feel the warmth of the entire world coming together as one as the fire illuminates the lake during their nightly presentation of “Illumination: Reflections of Earth.”
Fiber Optics, which are quickly becoming a mainstay in themed entertainment, feature an amazing colorful palette that is can be changed in a twinkling. They make great fantasy effects and are safe outdoors in all kinds of weather.
If you are creating a ride or show aimed at children and their families, you would be hard pressed to find a bigger splash than special effects like confetti and bubbles. We have all seen children running around after a sporting event or family concert trying to collect the confetti which has been shot from a canyon at the end of the show. At the end of the the Disney Jr. show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and at California Adventure in Anaheim, they launch paper gold medallions into the air, and you’d think the kids just struck it rich. We discovered the effect bubbles had when we staged a live, children’s show of our own. Whenever the bubble machines went on, the kids were so thrilled that at one point, we thought of cutting the music and just going on tour with a bubble machine. “And here they are… The Bubble Machines!”
Wind, snow, and atmospheric scent cannons bring out the child in all of us. These effects thrill adults too as they are not as commonplace as some of the other effects we use. Individual ride seats can be programmed to release these, and other, effects to provide another sensory experience. Remember the first time you rode “Soarin'” and realized you were smelling pine trees and then orange groves as you zoomed overhead! Impressive and refreshing, wasn’t it? Or, have you ever been in a place where it snowed indoors or in a warm climate? People go “gaga” for this! While air is used primarily to control the direction of these wonderful types of effects, it can also be used on it’s own to replicate the wind in our hair we feel during an adventurous flight or car chase.
In addition, water misters and fog make great illuminators of directional light beams and lazer lights. Audiences are still wowed when we use them as a instant movie screen and project video onto them. They can disappear and re-appear in an instant to provide a curtain like cover while props, sets, and actors are placed “on stage” behind them. There’s also nothing that says “Look out below!” or “Beware of…” better than a bit of fog or water mist to make your vision slightly impaired.
Again, just be careful not to over indulge in special effects. They are like the icing on the cake in most instances. Too much icing will make you sick of the cake, but a thin layer sprinkled on top and maybe a little in the middle is just the right amount. That is our expertise. As storytellers and show producers, we can help you determine what is the just the right amount of spectacle to make your next attraction wonderful.