Animation house Super 78 supplied the 3D work for CURSE OF THE DARKASTLE debuting this month at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The next generation attraction, which takes thrill-seekers on an immersive journey through a frozen Bavarian castle, is a dark ride in which patrons travel through the 40,000 square foot castle environment in computer-controlled, motion-based sleighs as rear-projected, 3D imagery appears all around them. Integration of the 3D effects with the rides physical set, the state-of-the-art motion of the cars, 5.1 surround sound and 4D environmental effects is taken to new heights, providing park patrons with a totally immersive experience that is beyond compare.
Super 78 produced all of the stereoscopic 3D imagery featured in the ride as well as the cleverly executed pre-ride film that introduces patrons to the sinister King Ludwig. Attraction architect Cecil Magpuri of Florida-based Falcons Treehouse designed the ride. Oceaneering Ent. Systems, also of Florida, was the project engineer.
The nearly four-minute ride is replete with eye-popping 3D effects. Swords, knives and sundry other objects swoop toward riders heads. The sleighs are jostled by a boulder that rolls out of the screen. Riders are pelted with wind and snow. The ride also features one nerve-rattling drop, although a CG-induced illusion makes it seem as though the sleigh is plummeting farther and faster than it actually is.
Busch Gardens wanted an experience that was world-class, that would blow people away, said Super 78 managing director Dina Benadon, with the best 3D anyone has ever seen.
In order to fulfill that request, Super 78 assembled a production team with A-list experience in location-based entertainment. Benadon and Super 78 creative director Brent Young had previously contributed to such popular attractions as SEAFARI for the MCA Universal theme park in Japan, STAR TREK: THE EXPERIENCE for the Las Vegas Hilton and RACE FOR ATLANTIS for Caesars Palace. Additionally, they tapped as animation director Mario Kamberg, whose previous credits include THE FUNTASTIC WORLD OF HANNA/ BARBERA and JIMMY NEUTRONS: NICKTOON BLAST for Universal Studios in Orlando. 3D specialist Chuck Comisky (James Cameron's GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2-3D) assisted with the stereoscopic effects.
What separates CURSE OF THE DARKASTLE from other rides is the way the 3D effects interact with and occur on all sides of the sleighs. When ghosts fire arrows at the patrons, they seem to whiz right by their heads. A tray of wine glasses that floats across a room seems to hover in mid-air just beyond reach.
The sleighs have complete range of motion, explained Young. They can move forward and back, tilt side to side and spin 360-degrees. You may be looking at one screen, when something hits the vehicle. It turns you in the opposite direction and suddenly youre facing another screen. It all happens very fast. You dont have time to say, I get it. I know how theyre doing it.
Pulling off such heady illusions required especially tight collaboration between Super 78 animators, the rides design team and the vendors building the cars, the track and the ride environment. Before we began work on the animation, the engineers provided us with a ride profile that mapped out the physical environment down to the inch, as well as the precise timing and motion of the cars, explained Super 78 CG supervisor Aaron Powell. We knew the physical parameters of the room and how the cars were oriented at every moment. From there, we went to work designing and executing the animation and dreaming up all of the 3D gags.
The physical sets were built and lit to match up perfectly with the CG so that the edges of the projection screens are invisible to riders. It all blends together, observed Young. As a result, we were able to make it appear as though some of the rooms extend 40 or 50 feet with mountain-scapes appearing in the windows in the background. When you add in the 3D effects that appear to project out of the screens, you get the feeling of being completely immersed. Its no longer a 3D film, its a 3D environment.
In order to ensure that all of the effects worked to perfection, Super 78 set up a stereoscopic projection system in its Hollywood studio identical to those used in the ride. Animators made several trips to Florida for test rides in a prototype sleigh and mock up of the track. In the weeks prior to launch, senior crewmembers visited Williamsburg to assist fabricators in making final tweaks and adjustments.
The pre-ride film appears in an anteroom to the castle where patrons wait before boarding the sleighs. What appear to be tapestries hanging on the wall suddenly spring to life and relate the frightful history of Ludwig and his clan. Although patrons arent yet wearing their stereoscopic glasses, Super 78 created an illusion of 3D by arraying 2D CG elements across a series of receding plains similar to a pop-up greeting card. Animators then used a virtual camera to travel through the tapestry and tour Ludwigs world.
Super 78 credits include:
* Creative Director: Brent Young* Exec Producer: Dina Benadon* Simulation Director: Mario Kamberg* Stereoscopic Producer: Chuck Comisky* Digital Producer: Stephanie Taylor* Digital Supervisor: Aaron Powell* Head Technical Director: Yannick Leblanc* Storyboards: Cullen Blaine and Vinny Delay* Design: Graven Tung* Matte Painting/Pre-Show: Robert McKinnon* Modeling/Texturing: Frederick Gaudreau, Raphael Lacoste, Matthew Lee, Joe Mangione and Michael Meyers* Character Rigging: Frederick Gaudreau, Steve Guevara and Yannick Leblanc* Animation: Jim Richardson, Jason Spike Stellwag and Stanley Woo* Cloth/Hair Simulation: Zack Weiler* FX: Rifat Dagher* Lighting/Compositing: Miguel Bautista, Frederick Gaudreau and Aaron Powel
Super 78 (www.super78.com) is located at 6900 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, California, 90038.