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Dante underpins Shrek’s Adventure! London and other Merlin attractions

Shrek’s Adventure! London is the first themed attraction to feature DreamWorks characters. Installation recently had the opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at the AV installed at there, and at other linked attractions in the same complex.

Shrek’s Adventure! London is the first themed attraction to feature DreamWorks characters. Installation recently had the opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at the AV installed at there, and at other linked attractions in the same complex. Paddy Baker reports

Visitor attraction operator Merlin Entertainments operates a number of experiences on London’s South Bank in and around the old County Hall building, including the Coca-Cola London Eye, SEA LIFE London Aquarium and Shrek’s Adventure! London.

Designed in co-operation with DreamWorks Tours, Shrek’s Adventure! London is “one of the ‘heaviest’ attractions that Merlin has created in terms of AV,” according to Simon Casey, show services manager at the Coca-Cola London Eye. It is also the first themed attraction anywhere in the world to bring DreamWorks characters to life.

The attraction transports visitors into Shrek’s Far Far Away Land, where they encounter various characters, both animated and played by live performers. Technology plays a big part both in creating the scenes and in ensuring that all the interactions between live and animated characters run smoothly.

“Throughout Shrek’s Adventure! are a number of projected scenes – there are approximately 20 projectors in there. The performers interact with the media that’s being played around them – so that all needs a large amount of show control to run those interactions,” explains Casey.

The projectors, all from Epson, are used in for projection mapping in a number of key areas: these include bringing Puss in Boots to life in a bar; animating the designs on a magical door in response to a spell cast by the visitors; and projecting onto a model of Shrek to create the illusion of him talking, and then knocking down a stone wall in front of him. Other animated content is shown via NEC displays: in all, 10,000 frames of projected content appear throughout the attraction.

In order to create a seamless experience, the actors can drive the narrative of the show. Hidden buttons, lights and sounds cue them in with other elements of the exhibit, so they can open doors and trigger audio, video, lighting and gag cues.

Sound also plays an important role – with multichannel audio designed to make the different settings more lifelike, as well as drawing on the sound scores from the Shrek movies.

Networked solution
Design and installation of audio, projection, show control, 4D effects – which include wind, fog and scent – and lighting was carried out by experiential technology studio Seeper, working in conjunction with SSE Audio Group as well as Merlin’s in-house AV team on the installation. To help keep infrastructure costs down and to simplify future upgrades, they designed a networked solution, deploying 12 AV racks throughout the attraction so that each zone is served locally.

The equipment racks all contain the same kit (in slightly varied combinations): 7th Sense media servers, BSS Soundweb BLU-326 I/O expanders, Crown amplifiers and Medialon Showmaster show controllers. The media servers all feature Audinate’s Dante Virtual Soundcard, outputting audio to the Soundweb BLUs. For redundancy, a spare media server has been installed. “We can shift audio tracks between servers without any hassle,” says Casey.

Nearly all the loudspeakers in the attraction are from Vue Audiotechnik – “the whole guest experience, through the ticketing hall, into admissions, then into Shrek’s Far Far Away Land, all the themed experiences, they’re all Vue Audiotechnik,” he confirms.

The only exceptions to this are some Bose ceiling speakers, used for background music and effects in rooms with false ceilings. For instance, the ‘Magic Portal’ features a 16-channel surround sound set-up to create a spinning vortex effect with 360˚ video content.

Casey continues: “The media servers are perfectly syncing audio and video through Dante Virtual Soundcard – for example, when you get to meet Donkey, a performer interacts with that character on a display on the wall. So a good sync is needed for that interaction.”

There’s a bigger synchronisation challenge too: “In Shrek’s Adventure! There are a number of scenes where syncing and show control are very important. You’ve got moving scenery that’s projection mapped with an actor interacting – so you need perfect video, sound and movement, all tied in at the same time. The Medialon show control and 7th Sense media servers offered that reliability for us.”

Separate from the above is an interactive Kung Fu Panda game in the ‘Valley of Peace’ at Shrek’s Adventure! London, where visitors can meet characters from other DreamWorks movies. Installed by Leslietec, it uses an Optoma ZU650 6,000-lumen laser-phosphor projector with a short-throw lens and Kinect V2 sensor.

Eye sound
Dante Virtual Soundcard is also at the heart of the audio distribution at the Coca-Cola London Eye. Background music – supplied by Imagesound – is played from a custom-built PC, outputting over Dante Virtual Soundcard. “A Focusrite RedNet One networked audio interface handles a lot of physical outs from Dante into Symetrix Prism. We chose that product because it has DSP and Dante built in,” says Casey. “We’re also sending Dante audio over to the ride where the same background music source is playing, and we’re using Attero Tech break-out boxes over there.”

Unlike Shrek’s Adventure!, which uses a dedicated AV network, the Eye (and also SEA LIFE London Aquarium) uses a shared network for AV and IT. “Dante saved us a lot of cabling headaches that we would have had if we had run analogue cables everywhere. It was great that we could just plug and play Dante over the existing infrastructure,” says Casey.

He also appreciates the simplicity of the Dante networked approach. “It’s plug and play: you plug any computer into the network and access it, and make the changes you need to.” Virtual Soundcard runs on Mac (popular with AV technicians, he says) as well as Windows.

Finally, Installation readers may remember that we previously reported on the London Eye 4D Experience, which had a major audio upgrade at the start of 2014. This is still entertaining visitors before their ride on the London Eye, and, says Casey, is due to get an upgrade to Symetrix Prism DSP and Alcorn McBride show control.

Audinate Dante virtual soundcard
Vue Audiotechnik i-4.5 surface mount speakers
Vue Audiotechnik i-6, i-8 speakers
Vue Audiotechnik is-15 subwoofers
Vue Audiotechnik is-26 surface mount subwoofers
Bose DS40F ceiling speakers
Crown DCi2|300, DCi4|300 and DCi8|300 amplifiers
AtteroTech unDIO2x2 break-out boxes
BSS Soundweb BLU-326 I/O expanders
Focusrite RedNet One networked audio interface

Epson G6900 6,000-lumen WUXGA projectors
Epson Z1005U 10,000-lumen WUXGA projectors
Epson EBZ9875U 8,700-lumen WUXGA projector
NEC P403 40in LCD displays
NEC P463 46in LCD displays
NEC P553 55in LCD display
7th Sense Trio, Duo, Nano, Nucleus (6-head), Infinity (8-head) and Nano Audio Delta media servers
Medialon Showmaster show controllers