On July 10th 2016, Shanghai Happy Valley’s new €18 million multimedia night time show ‘Lake of Illusions’ premiered to the world.
Created by leading multimedia show producers, ECA2, the new show incorporates innovative new technology with cultural storytelling to wow guests at the Chinese theme park.
Blooloop was there and talked to the ECA2 team about their latest project: the story, the architecture, the technical achievements, and plans for the future.
OCT has the leading chain of theme parks in China – Happy Valley – with 6 parks and two more opening in 2018. Shanghai Happy Valley opened in 2009 in the Sheshan National Tourism Resort, and has been a great success ever since, consistently ranking as one of the top theme parks in China on TripAdvisor. With three hotels to be built by 2018, and the added pressure of Disney coming to Shanghai, OCT saw the need to create evening entertainment for this influx of hotel guests, as well as enticing more guests to the park and increasing the length of stay.
Shanghai Happy Valley approached ECA2 after seeing their work for the Big O in Korea. The brief was to create an iconic structure – The Icon – for their park that was impressive, modern, visible from a distance, and include a high-tech Multimedia light show. The show was to have a capacity of 1000 people with day-time and evening shows, and be fully automated.
Three years later, and with more than 140 of ECA2’s staff having worked on the project, ‘Lake of Illusions’ has opened to the public with scheduled day shows and evening night time spectaculars.
Happy Valley wanted The Icon to be an eye-catching sculpture by day, and to transform into an integral part of the show at night. It was to be the first thing the guests see upon entering at the end of the avenue to the lake.
“It needed to be contemporary, and match the feel of the inside of the park without hiding any of the attractions” said Julie Moreau, Chief Architect of ECA2. After many designs, the result is a narrow slanted tower symbolising a sword, located on the existing lake in the centre of the park. The tower contains lights, jets and mist sprays all contained within the waterproof structure.
“The Icon slopes to one side, so as guests move around the lake, the perspective of the Icon changes, which is great for repeat visits as the show will look different from different angles. This all ties in with the name ‘Lake of Illusions, ’” Moreau continued.
“The slope of the Icon points to the seating area of the show, subconsciously directing guests in the right direction for the show. The tower’s height was limited at 32m high, so to remain elegant the Icon was made as thin as possible to create the point of the sword shape.”
This shape caused new challenges for ECA2 in installing the large amounts of equipment needed for a multimedia show.
“It was very hard to install all the equipment inside the Icon. The first level is 6.5m wide, but at the top it is only 3.5m wide. We had to follow the plans very carefully as we only had 5cm leeway, if we were out by more than that, we couldn’t put in the equipment, ” said Gael Piquet, Technical Director, ECA2.
“Some equipment was put into 12 pieces and assembled at the top of the tower, ” explained Moreau. “It is a very small place and we needed a lift to carry such heavy equipment to the top.”
The Story – Laws of Physics and Chinese Storytelling
OCT Shanghai Happy Valley and ECA2 finalised the structure design before developing the story and show concept.
“Once this was done, the brief was quite vague, something modern with no cast involved- which was a start!” said Moira Smith, Artistic Director, ECA2.
“In the park there was not a particular theme, identity or symbol of the park that we could use for the story, so the idea was to create a legend that would give a role and identity for the tower in the story of the show.”
The result was a story that follows a boy called Yi, who is curious about the distance between the sky and the earth. He builds a giant sword made of crystal, launches it into the heavens, piercing an opening into the sky. Yi transforms into a magical bird and is an intermediary between these worlds where anything is possible.
“We wanted to create something that was inspired by traditional Chinese tales but was still a made up story. From the initial storyline, we developed a more visual show based more on effects and sensation than a complex narrative.”
After doing several projects in China, including Fountain of Dreams at Wuyishan, ECA2’s research on the cultural and historical background of the country is extensive. “Every project I have learned a little bit, getting a sense of the way to tell a story, the difference between their narrative and ours, and this has infused into every part of the new show, ” Smith continued.
“The audience won’t know it, but every sequence is actually a play on a physical law or concept, eg inertia, gravity, concept of time, infinity etc. This is a way for us to have a definitive objective for each sequence in the show that everyone (designers, composers, technicians) could work together on.”
ECA2 pushes the boundaries of show technology with each new project. Since the company first used a water screen in the late 90’s, ECA2 frequently finds innovative new technological solutions in order to fulfil a show requirement where there is no existing option available.
“The intention of the patented Water Screen wasn’t to make money, the point was we were staying ahead in terms of new technologies, development and innovation, ” said Jean-Christophe Canizares, CEO of ECA2.
“For Lake of Illusions at Happy Valley, we had the first multimedia tower, and we wanted an image to be somewhere high up in the air on either side of the Icon, ” said Canizares. “A Water Screen projects to 17m high, but our tower is 32m high, so what can we do in the gap between?”
And so the company created ‘SpyroscreenTM’ – spiralling jets placed on the tower to increase the size of the image and laser projection.
“The R&D in Paris took almost a year, where we tested the right amount of water, the right rotation, the right direction of the jets before we got the right configuration, ” said Piquet. “The idea was to have the projected light as high as possible and it works well for laser and large images.”
“We can tell the client OCT that they have something that is not existing elsewhere because we have invented specific products for this particular show, ” said Canizares.
ECA2 produced the show control room specifications. “We needed huge windows to see the show, enough space for the equipment, AC to cool it sufficiently, as well as technical floor for cables to run underneath, ” said Piquet.
“We used European suppliers for this show, such as Christie, as the Chinese products just aren’t precise enough for the professional shows yet.”
It was important for the team to control the show, but also the environment around it: including the lake level, the temperature of the rooms, the pump systems, the waterproofing of the tower and the air pressure of the control room.
“The show control rooms are kept at positive pressure, meaning that when the door is opened air is always pushed out. This prevents any dirt or dust from being sucked into the room and potentially messing up the equipment, ” explained Piquet.
ECA2 have programmed the show to begin with a single click on fully automated bespoke software. Once the team have trained the Happy Valley staff, the show only needs two people to run, one for the main show and one to control the flame effect. The team are busy writing Show Manuals for the Chinese team for the handover, 2-3 weeks after opening to the public.
The team have also designed bespoke flame nozzles and mist nozzles on the tower. “For the first time in our shows, we can control the height of the flame, meaning we can create suspense throughout the show, and have higher flames in the finale sequence than in the middle of the show, ” said Piquet.
The partnership between OCT Shanghai Happy Valley and ECA2 has been a collaborative one. Whilst there have inevitably been some cultural differences and challenges of managing multiple teams across different continents, the project has flourished through detailed communication and discussion.
“It is easier to work with theme park people than some of our previous projects, say for real estate development, as they can easily imagine details like crowd management and have the operations and maintenance people in place already, ” said Canizares.
The size of OCT’s operation helped during construction of the Icon and the show, as OCT are used to large-scale construction and have the infrastructure in place already.
At the end of the Lake of Illusions Show, both logos are projected onto the two water screens as a sign of the friendship between the two companies.
Future Projects for ECA2
ECA2 were chosen by OCT Shanghai Happy Valley for their reputation as world-leaders in multimedia shows.
“We have been dedicated to this type of show for 20 years, ” said Canizares, “so we have had a lot of experience and done a lot of shows in order to reach the standard of Lake of Illusions.”
“Our strength lies in our ability to integrate all sorts of elements, whether it be sound, laser, projection mapping, fountains, at this scale and level of complexity. From the beginning of a project, there is a mix and exchange of information, and the creation is driven by having the right tools (or inventing them!) to produce what we have imagined.
“We only work on 2-3 shows at a time, to make sure we can have the same team with the client from beginning to end and have in-depth discussions. If we did 10 shows a year, it would lower the value of our shows and become more of an ‘off-the-shelf product’ when in fact every show is custom made and adapted for the site and client.”
The future is bright for ECA2, with a full year of projects planned ahead of them.
“It is true there is high demand for night time shows, it is clearly a trend within the industry. It is not just the theme park chain’s flagship park that is getting a show, but all of them. We are an attractive investment as you can gather all the people in the park in one place and hold people’s attention for more than a few minutes on a ride, ” Canizares added.
“Shows are also a good tool for tourism destinations too, as one can be developed in a relatively short time of 1-2 years, compared to real estate developments that take 5-10 years to complete.
“For ECA2 our biggest market is in SE Asia. China is huge for us, but it is also interesting for us to try to be different every time so we have an upcoming indoor show in China, an outdoor show in a Vietnamese Park, and a tourism development show in Dubai.”
ECA2’s next show ‘Eastern Sunrise’ will open in Rizhao, in Shandong Province, on 31st August 2016. The show is part of a development phase of the region, including a new domestic airport opened in 2016, which aims to give new life to the former 2008 Beijing Olympic Water Park.