An inspirational story in the time of COVID-19 comes from The Land of Legends theme park in Turkey.
Construction on The Land of Legends’ new expansion, featuring popular IP Masha and The Bear, has continued, despite the pandemic and resulting lockdowns and movement restrictions. Finding solutions has meant the new ‘lands’ were able to open in July.
Blooloop spoke to Ahmet Çolakoğlu, Director of Construction Rixos Group, Hande Tezerdi, Business Development Director Rixos Group and Chris Lange, Creative Consultant, to talk about themed entertainment construction during a pandemic and the challenges inherent in completing an attraction under these conditions.
Franz Friedl of Mack Rides also told Blooloop about the issues around overseeing a construction remotely.
The Land of Legends
The Land of Legends, the biggest leisure and entertainment park in Turkey, opened in Belek, Antalya, in July 2016. It is a joint venture by Rixos Hotels, Emaar Properties PJSC and Dragone Productions. In its initial stage, Land of Legends featured a 280,000 square metre waterpark, Land of Aqua.
Chris Lange outlines the background: “The Land of Legends is a theme park, which started with a water park here in Antalya. It is now establishing more themes and creating more immersive themed environments. There is a plan to build further hotels and to extend the theme and water parks.”
Ahmet Çolakoğlu says, “At the beginning, we had a master plan that was prepared by JRA.
“Once the master plan had been done, we preferred to start construction not with the theme park, but with the hotel, and then the waterpark, because these were areas in which we were experienced. In the process, we became familiar, with the help of consultants, with how to build a theme park. We paid lots of visits to theme parks as part of this.”
Having completed the retail and hotel elements, and the waterpark shortly afterwards, the ‘dry’ sections of the theme park needed to be added to dispel the idea that The Land of Legends was primarily a water park, albeit a world-class one.
“This is what we are doing,” says Çolakoğlu. “Once we’re done with 670,000 square meters of land use, this is going to be a complete theme park with more hotels, a waterpark section, a dry park section, a themed dry park section, and so on.”
New water rides
“When I joined the project, the decision had already been made to buy two water rides,” says Lange. “One that was supposed to be a storytelling boat ride [that would become the focus of Masha and The Bear Land], and one a typical splash pad where you shoot water [that would become WaterMania.].”
“In Turkey, from time to time, we follow different methods from the rest of the world,” says Çolakoğlu. “We buy the rides first, then do the development afterwards. There is a joke in Turkey: in former times, if we wanted to build a road, we would release the goats or the donkeys, then follow them to see where to build it.”
“It’s something like that. First, we procure the rides.”
Water rides are, Lange says, the best possible types of attraction for the climate. The project that The Land of Legends team contrived to continue through the coronavirus lockdown is centred around a boat ride with a popular and compelling IP based on a Russian folk tale from the oral tradition: Masha and The Bear.
Masha and The Bear at The Land of Legends
The choice of IP was a decision made by Hande Tezerdi, Rixos Group’s Business Development Director, and the Board of Directors.
“Masha and the Bear is a very strong IP throughout Europe, and all over the world,” says Tezerdi. “It is among the top five brands in Turkey, for most watchable episodes and for consumer brands. We met with Animaccord Animation Studio, and explained our vision about what The Land of Legends wanted to create as a themed zone.”
The studio was, Tezerdi says, impressed: “They were also extremely cooperative throughout the construction time, over all the details.“
The Antalya region attracts a large number of Russian visitors. Masha and the Bear, Lange points out, is in their DNA.
Expanding the experience
The existing Land of Legends park has a 200 ft hypercoaster by Mack Rides, and an Intamin water coaster, the ‘Typhoon.’
“They are very much thrill-seeking rides,” says Lange. “They are also relatively short; you queue for a while, go on the ride, then you’re done with the experience, which is typical for an amusement park.
“To push The Land of Legends into the theme park category, we wanted to have a longer experience. We wanted to create some dwell time. That was the task.”
It was a task that grew. The project evolved during the development process, Lange says:
“It has been added to as we have gone along. For example, we later added food and beverage. I started by playing around with the layout, using an almost triangular piece of land to squeeze in a boat ride. It was quickly clear that we would need to go inside to tell the story. Here, with the bright sun, it’s very hard to create different environments.
“A third of that ride experience just lends itself to indoor spaces. A light-controlled area allows us to tell a story in a different way; there is a scene using UV, there is projection, and a lot of media effects. This all enhances the storytelling.”
Creating an engaging narrative
Working out how to turn countless hours of episodes into an engaging narrative that remained true to the IP was a challenge. For this, Lange worked with a colleague, David Weiss of Flying Doghouse Productions, Inc. in Los Angeles on the storyline. It was he who came up with the concept of a journey through the year’s seasons:
“You start in Masha’s house, which is the queue line,” says Lange. “Then the boat arrives. The first scene is the fall. We have added big artificial trees, with orange and yellow leaves, mixed in with the real landscaping, and lots of pumpkins.”
The static and animated figures of Masha and her friends throughout the new land at The Land of Legends are made of fibreglass, by MK Themed Attractions.
“It was tricky to find the right scale so that they wouldn’t look too big and scary,” says Lange. “The animation is very simple. With the prevailing climate conditions here, it isn’t possible to have complex animatronics with a silicone skin.”
Building a show
The journey progresses to the show building:
“Masha has a magic wand and is flying through the air; there is a moon projection – and lots of pumpkins,” says Lange. “I won’t detail all the scenes, but there’s a winter scene. It’s Christmas. That was also very hard to create.
“It is really truly a journey through different seasons. We meet Masha, the star, and the Bear in every scene, having fun with their friends. We have recreated what Masha’s environment looks like. There’s an indoor playground, the Bear House, where children can climb and play and be active. Again, it’s about creating dwell time.”
There is a station – Lange, Çolakoğlu and Tezerdi did the interview from it – with a shady picnic area, and a train, which doubles as an air-conditioned dining experience.
“We like to integrate media as much as possible,” says Lange. “On one side of the carriage, you can look outside into the real land. On the other side, we have media screens, where there is constantly something happening. Masha passes by, and waves, for example.”
Bringing the story together
“One of the key players here was Mycotoo Europe,” says Lange. “Victor Arco was the show producer, for integration with the construction and theming and also with all the media and sounds in the background.”
The big Masha and The Bear expansion at The Land of Legends includes a restaurant. Existing rides such as two carousels and a coaster have been drawn into the storytelling to feature the characters in what is, effectively, a third Land showcasing a circus show featuring Masha and The Bear.
“The Bear used to be in a circus,” says Lange. “He still has all his posters up in the Bear House. We wanted to do a little funfair, which is more carnival-based. It’s in the forest, and it looks like they just came to town, and they’re going to leave and move on to the next town tomorrow.
“That gave us the opportunity, also, to integrate more food and beverage: there’s cotton candy, popcorn, hotdogs, and so on. There is the live show, where we have Masha and The Bear, and seven or eight other actors and artists on the stage with them.”
Expanding The Land of Legends during COVID-19
The Masha and the Bear project was proceeding smoothly when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Çolakoğlu says:
“When coronavirus started, we had to make a strategic choice. We could put the project into lockdown until everything was clear. Or, carry on what we were doing, taking the necessary actions to be safe, and to provide the workers on the site with a safe working environment.
“In the end, we decided that instead of sitting and waiting to see what was going to happen, we would carry on with the construction.”
“A couple of things drove that decision: first, we had already started. Secondly, we thought that the fact everybody was putting their projects on hold throughout the world might be a good opportunity for us to negotiate with the vendors. So that encouraged us to carry on.”
There were inherent challenges in going ahead, he says:
“Of the vendors we were dealing with at that point – of fibreglass, animatronics, sound equipment, and so on, I would say 60% were overseas. We needed to install equipment, and the installation teams, normally, would have come from elsewhere – Germany, in the case of Mack Rides. The travel restrictions meant they couldn’t come.”
The solution was innovative, says Çolakoğlu:
“We had to develop skills with our local teams to install the rides. We did that, with remote support and supervision, from Mack Rides and the other vendors as well.”
“It was the first time for Mack Rides that a complete ride had been installed remotely, too,” says Lange. “Obviously, they came to inspect and approve it at the end of the process. In terms of the entire installation, they sent all the parts, and then local workers and the local speciality team installed them.”
“It’s a boat ride so it is not super complex. But I think it was a big learning curve for them as well as for us. It shows that it can be done. We realised, we just did something fantastic here, and I think we need to share this with the world.”
“They were more than cool operating within the process,” Çolakoğlu says. “This was something none of us was used to. At the very beginning when I suggested the solution, that we could install it with our own teams and their support, it was unprecedented, and kind of surprising.
“There was a lot of back and forth, lots of discussions, negotiations, and they were very supportive. They came over for the handover, and they approved what we have done. They were so pleased, but without their help, we couldn’t have done it.”
Pioneering remote support at The Land of Legends
“With this kind of simple boat ride, it will probably save money for future customers and for future clients,” says Çolakoğlu. “Ultimately, if they can do more on their own without needing to have those international construction companies building them.”
However, it was not a straightforward or easy process.
“We used remote support, with live cam support, from time to time, and lots of virtual meetings, over months. Chris and his team were able to join those meetings virtually. Without those Zoom meetings, we wouldn’t have been able to develop the skills of installing the rides ourselves.”
Franz Friedl, Deputy Head of Installation at Mack Rides, responsible for the online support of the mechanical installation, added his perspective:
“When The Land of Legends theme park started this project with Mack Rides to realise two themed boat rides, my role was to support the customers. Throughout the process, my role is to answer all the customer’s technical questions during the commissioning and installation.”
“A typical situation might be where the customer can’t find specific tools or components are missing; I help them. I also talk the customer through the installation report that has to be filled out.
“My job also includes sending all technical drawings and information needed for the installation and commissioning of the ride. My supervision of the project makes sure everything goes through correctly-every step is performed properly.”
The importance of teamwork
It was the first time Mack Rides had given remote instructions on the installation of a ride. Friedl says:
“It was only possible through the staff on-site and their mechanical and electrical knowledge and experience. We sent the technical drawings, caught up on progress and any problems through the installation reports, and participated in a weekly conference call to address any issues.”
“By analysing videos we were able to tackle any problems found or adjustments that needed to be made during installation.”
“Email was the main means of communication. Attached photos or video were really helpful in order to understand the questions. There was also specific software that was installed for online support, with documents giving a guideline for the installation.”
A triumph of cooperation
“It didn’t always go as planned. For future projects like this, we would have to look further into the network structure.
“The new software required the set-up of a firewall, which took time. Supervising the project without actually being present was also a challenge, in terms of recognising and resolving problems quickly.”
In the end, the installation was a triumph of cooperation.
Çolakoğlu says: “In the end, it shows that anyone can do this, with the help of the designers. We did it, while every other project globally went on hold, staying in the position they were in at the beginning of the coronavirus process. We achieved the target.”
In terms of safety, Çolakoğlu says:
“We have had, thank God, no incident of coronavirus among the workers, the managers, the directors. Apparently we’ve done a good job on the safe working environment as well.”
The achievement sends a positive message to the whole industry:
“Instead of interrupting the work and causing hundreds of people to lose their jobs, if you follow the necessary safe working disciplines, then you can keep going. It’s that simple. The workers were able to continue to work, to draw their salaries, to look after their families. We’re happy to have made that possible.”
Seeing The Land of Legends expansion come together from a distance
Lange says: “One great advantage here was that a lot of the hard construction was done before March. My last day here in Turkey was 13 March, the night when they closed down the borders, almost two weeks since the start of the project.
“As Ahmed said, we were talking for hours almost every day with the construction team and reviewing drawings. They took a lot of pictures, a lot of videos. Judging things like colour and the right degree of ageing remotely by photo or video was difficult. Everything was ultimately doable, but it took a little longer.”
“It takes a constant back and forth; a lot of meetings and a lot of online coordination, good documentation, drawings and mocking up of pictures, to achieve something and nurse it along as we built it here.
“When the trees come onto the site and the landscaping starts to shape up, it’s always the most exciting time for a creative person, because you see your vision begin to come to life. It was almost hurtful to see that happening, and not to be here. As soon as it was safe to come here again, I did.”
Working with local suppliers
The fact that a decision had been made, pre-pandemic, to source as far as possible from suppliers and vendors in Turkey was also an advantage, says Lange:
“It meant that, for the most part, there wasn’t too much delay.”
Çolakoğlu says: “Where there were things we were supposed to buy from outside the country but couldn’t, because supply chains were interrupted, we developed the skills to manufacture them, in the case of artificial plants and trees, or commissioned some of the manufacturers to make things they hadn’t done before.”
It is, he says, effectively a microcosm of the gradual move away from globalisation:
“Industries are now shifting back to the local markets, the smaller manufacturing companies. These might be two cents more expensive, but are, in the end, more reliable. And, of course, you are then supporting your local economy.
“Back in September, at IAAPA in Paris, we had the first meeting with Mack Rides. Nine months later, the Masha and the Bear project is completed.”