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Themed edutainment at FICO Eataly World

The largest food-based attraction in the world utilises a wide range of AV equipment to support themed edutainment rooms, conference facilities and more.

FICO Eataly World is the world’s largest food-based theme park and the only venue to bring together all the stages of Italy’s agri-food chain: agriculture, processing, food service, market and learning. The acronym stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina (Italian Farmer Factory) and is also Italian for fig, an animated version of which is the venue’s mascot. Covering a 25-acre area in Bologna, FICO highlights Italian biodiversity through five acres of stables and fields housing over 200 animals and 2,000 cultivars. The remaining space hosts 40 mini-factories making mouth-watering mortadella, cheese, pasta, sauces and more, which can be tasted in the 45 restaurants and refreshment points; a market space; areas devoted to sport, children and reading activities; six classrooms; six large edutainment ‘carousels’; an arena theatre; cinema facilities; and a conference centre. The park is also a research and culture hub, thanks to the Foundation for Food Education and Sustainability formed by four universities.

The majority of the AV and multimedia design and installation work was by two well-known specialists: content production company Clonwerk and AV integrator VideoWorks. The former was responsible for five carousels (Man and Fire, Man and Earth, Man and Sea, Man and Animals and Man: From the Soil to the Bottle) and the latter the live event arena and conference facilities. (The venue’s PA system, utility lighting and numerous commercial areas, featuring digital signage and AV content, were created by others.)

Family focus

Each hall carousel is a complex set, for which Clonwerk was responsible for the entire audiovisual production and project management, in partnership with Limiteazero, which handled the design. The challenge was to attract FICO’s huge target public of all ages, with a particular focus on families and schoolchildren, as well as taking the demanding world of ‘foodies’ into particular consideration.

Starting out from the narrative core indicated by FICO founder Oscar Farinetti, Clonwerk and Limiteazero developed the various stories, designing the architecture of the carousels, graphics, visuals, visitor routes, multimedia and interactive elements, furnishing and décor, creating every single piece ad hoc.

The dramatic Fire room features 12 Epson 8,000-lumen projectors, deployed to create 360° projections surrounding spectators with dark forests and dancing silhouettes, and a huge hologram flame lit by giant hands in the centre of the area, created by four more 8,000-lumen units. The area features a film projection area and a zone with three Samsung 55in touchscreens installed in a ‘multimedia wall’.

Similar interactive walls are installed in all five carousels and content includes quizzes putting visitors’ knowledge to the test on the various rooms’ themes. A movie theatre screens high-impact short films produced for FICO by students of the Experimental Cinematography Centre, under the artistic direction of Maurizio Nichetti. Each carousel zone has its own Bose speaker set-up.

In the Animals carousel, a sensor measures visitors’ height and tells them their equivalent height in snails, pigs and horses. Two huge wheels offer visitors the possibility of matching animals with the noise they make, while a flock of origami birds fly overhead and life-size pigs, cows and other farm animals are reflected to great effect in a huge mirror. An entire wall tells the history of bees, and cats are the stars of a holographic projection table.

From the Soil to the Bottle takes visitors on a journey through the world of olive oil, wine and beer production. Alongside the centrepiece, two huge millstones which visitors move to change the content on the displays mounted alongside them, giant wooden bottle sculptures tower over the visitors, and real bottles, recessed in a huge wall, illustrate the containers’ history. The projection zone screens documentaries presenting the areas of Italy dedicated to each of the products.

Take the wheel

Man and Sea is the most ecological hall. The ‘Hemingway Lighthouse’ consists of six pairs of stacked portrait-mode Samsung 55in full HD displays with ultra-narrow 3.5mm bezel-to-bezel design for a near-seamless appearance; its beacon is lit by a Robe moving head fixture. An Epson projector creates a backdrop full of fish. The displays guide visitors through the fishing world and the fundamental relationship between man and valuable fish resources. Visitors take turns on a series of ships’ wheels, each navigating his or her own fishing boat round a table-top projection of Italy, discovering the hot spots of Italy’s seas and fish species and breeding zones.

Man and Earth features the birth of agriculture. A dreamlike forest, from dawn to dusk with countless hanging luminous fruits evokes the days in which man depended on his harvest. A field of LED corncobs sways in the air and, like shadow puppetry, the phases of agriculture in neolithic, ancient Roman and medieval times are represented. A pair of Epson 8,000-lumen projectors creates a high-impact trompe-l’oeil effect, in which a robotic arm hoes virtual earth, sows and harvests, showing to what extent mankind’s agricultural skills can be replaced by machines and technology.

The lighting in the carousels consists of various LED fixtures by Italian manufacturer Artemide, controlled by Advantech Ethernet-based controller modules and Lutron HomeWorks QS. The five areas’ compact control rooms are hubs of technology featuring Ubiquiti Networks Gigabit switches and Ethernet routers, Bose signal processors, amplifiers and amp links, Terratec soundcards, Datapath display controllers, Radial stereo line drivers, Intel NUC mini PCs, Lutron processors and keypads and Asus PCs.

The Clonwerk team on the FICO project comprised project manager Michela Di Nardo, creative director Alessio Pastorello and art director Sabrina Fasano. Di Nardo explains: “Since no staff are involved in the five areas, as well as putting such a large amount of equipment together that had to operate people-free, our in-house team also developed software to schedule the events of all the zones’ apparatus, which is switched on automatically shortly before the park opens and off just after closing time.”

Conference facility

Let’s turn to Videoworks’ part of the project. FICO’s main conference facility is its spacious modular auditorium, divisible into three smaller rooms, or hosting 1,000 attendees. Each of its three Screenline 7m x 4m screens is paired with an Epson 12,000-lumen projector, six JVC cameras ensure event coverage or recording and a Crestron 32 x 32 modular multi-format matrix handles routing. The room’s all-Bose sound system includes L/R loudspeakers, subwoofers, surround loudspeakers, stage monitors, amps and processors, while Shure gooseneck and wireless mics at the participants’ disposal are mixed on a Yamaha console; Williams Sound loop amps cater for participants with impaired hearing. A Cisco networking/videoconferencing system is in place and control is via Crestron, an HP touch control panel and iPads for wireless room control.

Out of the public eye, VideoWorks supplied the technology installed in FICO management’s conference room: a Hitachi 6,000-lumen projector with a Screenline screen, Kramer switchers and matrix, Telesystem TS ultra 4K DVB-T/S decoder, Shure gooseneck mics, Biamp Tesira Forté DSP, Tannoy array speakers, REV Amp power amp and a Biamp audio control panel.

Thanks to a collaboration with Bologna’s historic Fonoprint studios (a fixture on Italy’s recording scene for over 40 years), the Arena Theatre’s programme also includes a series of twice-weekly dinner and concert appointments featuring emerging artists and bands and successful artists. Performers use a Bose PA, Yamaha TF1 mixer, Shure wireless mics and a flight-cased control console, all supplied and installed by VideoWorks, whereas show lighting (18 Robe moving head fixtures) was supplied and installed by RM Multimedia.

Lorenzo Ori leads FICO’s three-man team responsible for all the technical aspects of audio, video, lighting and multimedia systems, including all the theme park, background music, PA, multimedia management of the carousels, the arena theatre, and the auditorium/conference centre.

He explains: “The carousels can all be controlled and monitored remotely from Clonwerk’s HQ or from our main control room here in the auditorium. All the audio equipment throughout the park is connected to a Dante network, which ensures complete control of the signal flow, enabling it to be fed wherever required.

“Each company worked on its own areas, treating them as separate compartments, so when I was given the responsibility of technical management of the set-up and realised that it was possible to interface all the systems, as they all used a Dante communication system, I decided to proceed in order that an event in the auditorium for example could be followed anywhere else in the venue. The set-up is thus also constantly monitored as far as data and signal flow are concerned.”