The Dome Box is a cutting-edge 360° theatre created by innovative development company Meraas. It was created in response to the increasing demand in Dubai for more diverse and quality-driven amenities for people of all ages.
Themed on a Jules Verne-style time-machine, the venue features steampunk-inspired decor including giant illuminated gear cogs in the ceiling, rusty pipes and metallic doors.
Blooloop spoke to Jean-Marc Bled (left), General Manager of the Dome Box Theatre, about the value and impact of the 360° edutainnment experience to both tourists and local residents, and the need for more top-quality full-dome content.
Bled will be speaking at DEAL Live by blooloop on April 18th 2016.
“Meraas’ mandate is centred on delivering innovative and unique experiences to the region, ” says Bled, who is currently responsible for developing and managing several multi-site entertainment venues.
“The idea of The Dome Box was to introduce a distinctive experience that can be enjoyed all year round by both adults and their children.”
Theming is Integral to the Experience
Bled has been in the leisure and entertainment industry for 20 years. He says that the ‘mechanistic environment’ of the venue’s interior theming is integral to the overall visitor experience.
“Design motifs strategically built around the notion of the ‘time machine’ dominate both the interior and exterior architecture of The Dome Box. We wanted visitors to experience what time travel might actually feel like.
“Each step of the journey – from the moment they enter The Dome Box to the moment they exit – was carefully planned and themed to augment the time travel experience. The glazed front façade of The Dome Box ensures that even before they enter the concept, visitors can visualise the time machine in the form of a giant dome.”
The theming was created by Dubai-based consultancy firm Bluehaus Group.
“At specific intervals throughout the day, visitors can also witness The Dome Box signage on the front façade come to life. They see the cogwheels spinning and the pipes spewing steam. All aspects of the theming, including these subtle details, make for an enticing atmosphere. It gets visitors’ minds buzzing with curiosity and fascination for the excitement under the dome.”
The content of the films shown at the Dome Box reflect what Bled describes as Meraas’ belief in ‘a natural synergy between entertainment and education. In other words, it allows you to learn, discover and explore while having fun at the same time.”
Beanbags and Leaning Bars Replace Traditional Seating
Guest view the giant domed screen reclining on beanbags or relaxing against the cushioned leaning bars. These replace traditional cinema seats. This sense of immersion is further enhanced by sensory effects including wind, haze and scent.
“We aimed to create a very immersive and engaging audio-visual experience, ” confirms Bled.
“The Dome Box delivers images in stunning detail and lifelike experience in 4K resolution. Not only on one rectangular screen on one side of the room, but literally all around the audience. With its shape and size, the screen overwhelms the field of vision. It allows viewers to be fully immersed in the storyline.”
Full-dome films typically run for between seven and thirty minutes. The venue is currently rotating three on a half-hourly basis: Life of Trees, Astronaut, and Africa.
All are animated adventures about nature, science and environment. ‘Africa’ is an exploration of the continent offering stunning encounters with wildlife. ‘The Life of Trees’ offers insights into the microcosmic world of the tree. It also raises awareness about their critical part they play in the health of the planet. ‘Astronaut’, narrated by Ewan McGregor, is a realistic account of the gruelling impact of space exploration on the human body.
Both Astronaut and The Life of Trees are shown with both Arabic and English soundtracks: Africa has a soundtrack, but no language.
The films are aimed at both residents and tourists alike. The educational/entertainment mix appeals to locals of all ages while the short format fits easily into tourists’ busy itineraries.
The Search for High-Quality Full-dome Content
“We are also looking at adding two or three new movies in the coming weeks. These will complement our existing movie line-up, ” says Bled. However, he admits that sourcing high-quality full-dome content is a challenge.
“The demand is limited around the world with very few Dome Theatres. Projecting images on a full dome is very challenging and requires dedicated media distribution servers. These use cutting-edge digital masking and blending technology to distribute the image seamlessly over the dome screen.
“Creating these 360° movies is also quite expensive as many of them are completely animated. The movies currently playing at The Dome Box have been sourced from some of the leading 360° content production houses around the world.
“A dedicated team at Meraas is tasked with continuously scouting for new content. This is through an exhaustive vetting exercise. This ensures all movies screened at The Dome Box meet the expectations of our audience in terms of content and quality.”
Dome Box and thejuice
The theatre accommodates eighty visitors at a time. The films currently featured have been outsourced from international markets. They were supplied by UK-based studio thejuice, distributor of award-winning films, key media partner and creator of interactive films/media attractions.
Bled says that the immersive nature of the 360° format encourages viewers to interact with it in a more physical way than they would to a flat screen offering.
“With the action happening all around them on the 360° screen, viewers are inspired to move with it. This is facilitated and encouraged by the fact that they are not seated on traditional seats as in a conventional cinema. Instead there are leaning bars and beanbags. Guests can follow the action as they turn their heads and bodies on the 360° screen while the storyline unfolds all around.”
There are plans to continue to introduce new content on a regular basis. They will also investigate the possibility of expanding the platform.
“We are looking forward to adding more captivating journeys ranging from science and education to popular culture over time, ” says Bled.
“At The Dome Box, our current focus is to create inspiring and engaging content. This will be both fun and educational, aimed primarily at children.
For the time being, we are very excited about our current line-up. However future content will be added. This will diversify the offering to feature more captivating journeys, including other topics such as entertainment and popular culture.”
More Dome Box Theatres A Possibility
Bled confirms that Meraas is open to new ideas. He doesn’t dismiss the possibility of expanding the innovative concept to further theatres. However, for the moment the main focus remains on maintaining the continuous success of The Dome Box.
In order to address the specific needs of The Dome Box’s target audience, Bled confirms that two movies are in the process of being created for the theatre locally in Dubai.
“We are also in the process of creating a third video. This will have strong cultural content about Dubai and the UAE which will appeal to both residents and tourists.
All the movies are created locally in Dubai as turnkey projects from concept to production.”
The venue is a valuable addition to Dubai’s BOXPARK Development. This is an up-and-coming, hip destination for both residents and tourists. it has refreshingly innovative retail, dining, and leisure and entertainment offerings.
“A unique concept like The Dome Box fits right in, ” says Bled. “It adds an exciting indoor entertainment option for the whole family to BOXPARK’s broad amusement provision. It places Dubai at the forefront in entertainment facilities.”
Dubai’s leisure industry continues to grow. A number of major developments, including malls and theme parks are planned over the next few years.
The Dome Box is just part of Meraas Leisure & Entertainment division’s rapidly growing portfolio of attractions which also includes The Green Planet, the region’s first bio-dome, Mattel Play! Town, a themed ‘eduplay’ attraction for children, and Hub Zero, an indoor gaming theme-park, all of which will be located at CITY WALK.
So, how does Bled view the company within the context of the region’s current boom?
“Meraas is right in the heart of it, ” he says.