Last week was the amusement industry’s convention and trade show called IAAPA. It’s back in Orlando now, and will stay here for a few years. As always, this show is a treat to visit. You can see grown adults morph into kids as they sample the latest rides, technology, food, and tricks of the trade. The future of the industry is right there on display for all to see—and there are some changes coming! You won’t find a Disney booth here (or Universal Creative, for that matter), but most everyone else has a presence. Disney folks might be around, incognito, but they are here to “borrow” ideas rather than to share their newest toys.
You’ll find full-sized prototypes and mockups on the trade show, everything from carousels and bumper cars, to roller coaster vehicles and motion simulator theaters. It really is like an amusement park, since much is available to sample. That’s especially true of the free food samples and any games that can be easily transported.
Lots of buyers and sellers find each other at this convention.
At IAAPA you’ll find everything associated with amusement/theme parks and recreation. In addition to the rides, you’ll find the folks who do the decorating and robotics (several booths displayed animatronic figures), as well as the infrastructure. There are companies who do certain kinds of concrete here, or ones who specialize in World of Color style fountains with LED lighting. There must have been 80+ of the giant inflatable playhouses and slides. A whole section of the floor is dedicated to midway type games and even wholesalers who have the midway game prizes displayed. Vendors hawk colored bracelets for special events, and ticket media alternatives. If you’re the owner of a carnival, you have to go somewhere to get ideas and forge networking connections, right? IAAPA is the place.
Clowns, monsters, and shooting targets were common.
Some of the technology on display is not necessarily new each year, but still fairly cutting edge. A fake ice technology makes hockey rinks possible in warm climates, for instance. Patrons could also climb aboard an “adventure course,” where you strap yourself in and climb through multistory obstacles on a rope course, even doing tightrope walking. It’s all safe since you are held by a harness, but it’s fun.
I’m not usually phased by the rotating “dizzy” tunnels,
but this one with blacklight colors got even me.
At a previous IAAPA, I saw a technology to embed lights and music into a waterslide tunnel, and was pleased subsequently to see this in action at Universal’s Wet & Wild. So this year, when I came across a waterslide concept called AquaLoop, I was hopeful that I’ll someday soon get to try that one, too. It’s deployed in 37 places already, just not Orlando. In essence, it’s not quite a full upside-down experience with you on a waterslide, but it’s close. They didn’t have this mocked up, though we got to see video. Looks promising.
We got to see Flogos, a technology I’d read about recently. These are oversized (two foot diameter) structures that float up in the sky like balloons, but are made up of nothing but soap bubbles. We saw them in star shapes, but other shapes are possible. Too bad Disney isn’t jumping on this. I could just imagine Mickey-shaped ones!
Flogos rising out of the box.
I was majorly impressed by the blacklight mini-golf we saw that made use of 3-D paint. I can’t figure out how they did it, but 3-D glasses made the whole thing dimensional. I’m talking about paint here, not a projected image. It was a surreal experience to move my head back and forth watching the painted bricks at my feet “swim” from side to side. You expect 3D movies to work this way, but not objects in actual space (as ironic as that sounds). The trick had to do with two coats of special paint applied in a special way—simply using 3D glasses on a dark ride wouldn’t do the trick.
No photograph is going to capture how weird – but exciting – this technology is.
We saw more than one of those inflatable spheres for running around inside, which propels the ball to move around (such as on water). I think of them as hamster spheres. A similar concept was employed for a virtual reality “holo-sphere”. The player wears a 3D visor and sensors, and as he moves around inside the ball, his avatar moves inside the game. Someday, Star Trek style holodecks might arise from technology like this, but it’s not really ready for prime time yet. In my brief observation, I watched someone fall while walking – apparently the sphere movement may catch people off guard. Perhaps a much larger sphere would be needed to keep any slope so tiny as to be imperceptible.
There’s food at IAAPA. We sampled several uneventful (and essentially uninteresting) pretzels and pizzas, but we did enjoy the Mini-Melts, basically a competitor to Dippin Dots (but with better flavor than Dippin Dots, if you ask me). I was partial to cookie dough and cotton candy, myself. And while the “nitrogen ice cream” came highly recommended, I didn’t get a chance to try it.
Models and mock-ups are common at IAAPA.
A few playgrounds were scattered about, and some buyers brought their kids along to test the products (actually pretty shrewd, now that I think about it). The most unusual playground I saw came from YuKids Earth, by all appearances a Japanese outfit. White vinyl covered all the otherworldly playground pieces, like tiny carousels that encouraged hanging and climbing, or enclosed net rooms with balloons being blown about by fans. It was all bizarre and Japanese… but also really entertaining looking.
Speaking of entertaining, sometimes it’s the simplest pleasures that deliver the best bang for the buck. I was absurdly taken with the four-person air hockey table we saw from Barron Games. Author Douglas Adams once commented that some ideas like the cat door seem obvious only in retrospect, but it took brilliance to invent it when no one else did. Four person air hockey falls into this category for me. I found it hugely entertaining, and I’ll be disappointed if this doesn’t make it into arcades across the country.
Four-person air hockey. Who knew?
It wasn’t all technology and toys. There were press events, too, on an almost hourly basis. One of my favorites came from Garner Holt. In case you don’t know this outfit, they build robotics, and Walt Disney Imagineering is one of their top clients. Oogie-Boogie, for instance, is a Garner Holt animatronic. Garner Holt was announcing a dinosaur “theme park” with two dozen full sized robotics at Howe Caverns (an existing caves attraction) in upstate New York. It will be a walkthrough in what should essentially feel like Land of the Lost, set to open in 2012.
Howe Caverns looks to be like a walkaround Jurassic Park.
While Disney didn’t have a booth, they were there. A panel included Marty Sklar and Mickey Steinberg, the former creative and financial/process heads of Walt Disney Imagineering. Mickey is less well known to Disney fans, but his role was important in corralling the workflow of WDI in the 80s and 90s.
While the talk was about EuroDisneyland specifically, there were universal lessons about working with and in other cultures, and about creating the right culture in your own organization. My favorite moment came when Marty addressed the warning they were given that Japanese girls didn’t want to get wet on rides like Splash Mountain. His succinct reply “That was bullshit” brought laughs, possibly because one expected cursing from the former Army Ranger Mickey, not Marty! I can’t wait for Marty’s book to be done. It will be the must-read book of the decade for me.
Marty, Mickey, and panel host Bob (from BRC). They also gave a tribute for their
third panelist Buzz Price, who died in 2010 and left them one member short.
While IAAPA is always worthwhile to visit and to cover, the convention does have some gaps. This year, there was very little to ride and to sample. The last time it was here in Orlando, the parking lot was a veritable carnival, but there was almost nothing set up to actually ride and jump on (most inflatables were there but listed as closed). But while this is inconvenient, the show is still a must-see for anyone interested in the future of the amusement business.