Design and create an immersive walk-and-ride-through indoor attraction featuring a combination of live performance, a 4D Bus ride, special effects, and DreamWorks animation - seeper’s multi-sensory, immersive special effects and show control creates the magic
Created series of concepts for the attraction presented to Merlin and DreamWorks
Design and install of all lighting, audio, projection, 4D fx and show control for all elements including mechanical gags
Programmed the attraction including driving media and SFX to coordinate with actors and theatrical sequences
The first time the world of a Dreamworks animation has been brought to life in the physical world
- Hundreds of thousands of visitors each year visit the attraction in the central London
- A huge national media campaign continues with television adverts, newspaper and online features
From early concepts, through approvals to starting work on site took 2 years - once on site we completed the attraction within approximately 8 months
10,000 frames of projected content
1,500 inches of LCD Screen
300 speakers, giving 45,000 watts of power
12 projectors giving 66,000 lumens
10 media servers
9 show controllers
8 scent machines
5 fog machines
2 mirror balls!
Shrek’s Adventure: Collaborative Creation of a Magical Immersive Experience
In Shrek’s Adventure London, Merlin, DreamWorks and seeper have created an immersive, story-based live theatrical experience, which transports guests inside the world of the animated movies.
Creating this highly complex attraction required a world class team. The state-of-the-art multi-sensory attraction features interactivity, projection mapped characters and environments, multi-channel audio and animation, responsive lighting and 4D effects such as scent, wind, fog. The attraction also features a series of world firsts including a groundbreaking control system tying it all together.
Shrek’s Adventure has innovation at its heart. It’s the most technically and creatively ambitious attraction Merlin had opened. It’s also the first time DreamWorks characters have been brought to life in a themed entertainment venue.
A Shrektacular Adventure
The journey began when Merlin approached seeper to work on a concept for a DreamWorks attraction. The goal was to pitch for internal board approval before taking it to DreamWorks. Starting back in 2013 our founder Evan Grant worked with Paul Williams at Merlin to push the creative and technical possibilities. After iterating on a series of creative and technical concepts, it was pitched to DreamWorks. They loved the idea and, after DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg visited London Dungeons - they became excited by the idea of bringing their characters to life through live actors, immersive sets and innovative technology.
The project got the green-light in 2014. The script was developed collaboratively in conjunction with the creative technology - this was the story and the technical innovation were able to drive each other. This was a very enjoyable part of the process, with ideas bouncing back and forth. At the same time the realities of budgets and working in an English Heritage protected building right by Parliament on the Thames kept everyone on their toes.
We spent time researching the world of Shrek, its characters, locations and, in particular, the magic of the stories we wanted to bring to life. Because of seeper’s unique background in blending interaction, animation, sound, lighting, electronics, software and industrial design, we were able to conceptualise without boundaries. Our focus was looking through the eyes of the visitors. A good attraction should immerse all your senses and leave you with lasting memories. Those memories shouldn’t be concerned with how things were done, the technology itself should be invisible or, as Arthur C. Clarke puts it ‘indistinguishable from magic’, so we developed our vision for the sound, lighting, animation, 4D effects and control systems; this took about a year from concept to opening as Shrek’s London Adventure.
We wanted to help build on the success of Merlin’s live format as seen in the London Dungeons, but to take it to a new level with a truly integrated and collaborative team driving bespoke technology and creative. This enabled Merlin to achieve something they had wanted to do for a number of years: to create a world-class attraction with a world-class brand like DreamWorks.
Choosing the right technology
Choosing the right technology was crucial. Unlike a theme park where the goal is to have more loops, or go faster, the focus of an immersive live attraction is to get guests in the zone - to make them forget the outside world and be transported, to this fictional land of ‘Far Far Away’.
When developing an attraction, we need the technology to be cutting edge, but also reliable and affordable. Everyone wants to have unique technology - but be able to buy it off the shelf. Balancing the risk and benefit of developing bespoke hardware and software with using familiar systems is tricky. When it came to the animated characters we opted to use a mixture of screens and 3D projection mapping, along with the live actors, to bring the animation to life.
Bringing Screen Animation to Life
Using our experience as pioneers of 3D projection mapping we developed four key ‘wow’ moments.
The fist of the key projection areas brings Puss in Boots to life on the bar of a pub. seeper worked closely with the theming team to design a 3D CAD a model of the pub, before testing and then supplying assets to and directing DreamWork’s animation team to create the scene in the required format. Finally, we installed, aligned and tweaked this content on-site to get the required effect - using virtual shadows so make animated Puss seemingly appear as part of the scene. This scene also includes mechanical gags: one creates the illusion of the animated character spitting out a real furball which an actor catches; the other has the animated character slice through the barrels creating a spurt of real ‘beer’. Synchronising the position, speed and timing of the gags with animation was tricky. Working with DreamWorks in the US and India involved a lot of conference calls as we collaborated to make this work.
A similar approach was used in another part of the attraction where we see an animated donkey (on a screen behind a window) appear to throw a real onion through the window and into the room where the audience is stood. This turned out great and was a good example of the challenge of bringing animated characters into the real physical world. In this scene, we also had to work closely with DreamWorks to get the perspective and lighting of the background in the animation to match and make sense with our lighting design in the real space.
The same room also contains a magical door, which was designed by seeper in 3D and CNC printed. seeper then created a series of 3D animated motion graphics that bring the intricate engraved looking wall to life. Triggered by the actor using a hidden foot switch, the door is enchanted by the spell the audience is creating. As they drop ingredients into a cauldron, 4D effects, audio and the ultimately the 3D projection mapped animation grow in intensity, before the wall magically opens revealing the path to the magic portal!
Another area that used extensive projection was in the ‘magic portal’, where the audience enters a 360º projection space that transports them back to London. This space was very challenging, a small room with a low ceiling, only just big enough for the batch of 40 visitors - achieving a 360º projection coverage in the space was near impossible. It took around 20 iterations in CAD to find a way to position the projectors without the audience intersecting the beams creating shadows that would break the illusion. Again this section includes wind and smell for further immersion.
The final scene focused on bringing Shrek to life as a talking figure. This involved working closely with DreamWorks and Merlin’s in-house theming team to create an adapted 3D model of Shrek designed for projection mapping. This was CNC’d as the canvas for the mapped animation in which a model of Shrek appears to talk. As part of this same scene, seeper designed a medieval-like stone wall. We then created and projection mapped a 3D animation creating the illusion of the same wall collapsing as Shrek pounds on the wall in the end scene of the experience.
Light at The End of the Tunnel
Key to any attraction is lighting, however harmonising the complex virtual lighting used by DreamWorks in their films with physical spaces across a huge site is a whole new challenge. Shrek’s Adventure London is also the first Merlin attraction to dominantly use LED lighting to reduce its carbon footprint and energy usage. In addition to 1,000 LED lights, the installations use 100 km of AV cables (that’s more than 32 times the height of the Shard).
We also set out to make all the lighting controllable and programmable by a single networked system. This enables our lighting designers to program the lighting to fit seamlessly with animation, sound and live performance. It also enabled us to harmonise the physical spaces with the animated virtual environments. Sometimes this is as simple as matching colour tones - but can involve directing lights so reflections and shadows match up between the real and virtual worlds.
The Sound of Far Far Away
The award winning sound score from the movies is an important part the attraction. seeper approached the design and install with one key focus, everything should be multi-channel.
We worked with our partner SSE Audio to create the sense that you are in the world of DreamWorks. To make it believable we pushed for the sound scores to mimic the real world. If you’re in a forest it should sound like one, creatures should be heard around you in different directions, animated characters should be pinned to where they appear and the music should grab your attention.
Controlling The Magic
A single system controls the entire attraction, allowing control of everything from the smell and smoke effects, to the sound and lighting, all from a tablet user interface. The system also means that seeper is alerted remotely if the system needs attention, minimising the risk of any disruptions to the visitors’ experience.
We set to out to make the attraction easy to run, reliable and also efficient. All the technology talks to the central show control system. We designed virtual control panels so the on-site team can walk around the attraction using a smartphone or tablet to monitor supplies, trigger elements of the show etc. In addition, the actors themselves progress the narrative of the show. Using hidden buttons, lights and sounds the actors are cued in sync with the rest of the attraction so are able to do things like open doors, trigger lighting, sound, video and gag cues as needed. For the visitors, this makes for a seamless experience. The level of control over the attraction means we were able to work with the show director to get very precise timings and dramatically change the look and feel of spaces in an instant.
“Quite an adventure... You move room to room on the adventure that includes characters from the movies coming out of nowhere it seems. Great audience participation in most rooms so you have to be in the mood for a laugh. This isn't just for the kids this really is good family fun.” (Trip advisor)
“Yes!!! Was a really fun , interactive experience - have never been to anything like it before! There are excellent special effects throughout the experience and it really immerses you in the story!” (Mum's Net)
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