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NewsParcs is an online trade publication dedicated to theme park industry professionals worldwide.

Since 1998, we work in direct contact with manufacturers, suppliers, consultants, owners and operators to publish only reliable and relevant information.

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EAS 2012 - Sally Corporation CEO John Wood

highlights new dark rides and animatronics

Update : 08/07/13 - 17h21 Published by François Mayné the 23 October 2012, Feature.
Disney California Adventure, Warner Bros. Movie World Australia, Universal Studios Hollywood, Tokyo DisneySea, LEGOLAND Malaysia, Magic Kingdom… All these theme parks have something in common: they all opened a dark ride in 2012! And looking at 2013 and beyond, the list will grow longer with many projects planned all over the world.

Dark rides are still a safe value for theme park operators, and despite the gloomy economic situation, they seem to be once again on centre stage. A trend however not exclusive to the major players in the industry...

One of the key leaders of the dark ride industry is Sally Corporation, the Jacksonville-based company that completed major projects including Challenge of Tutankhamen in Belgium or El Laberinto del Minotauro in Spain. We had the opportunity to meet John Wood, Sally’s chairman and CEO, at the Euro Attractions Show 2012 in Berlin and we talked about the company’s latest news and projects. "There has been a lot of work for us in 2012, and a lot of technology that we had to develop," he said.

John Wood (left) and Fitz-Edward Otis (right, international sales manager) on Sally Corporation's booth at the Euro Attractions Show 2012Nazeer animatronic (as seen in Challenge of Tutankhamen, Walibi Belgium) was displayed on Sally Corporation's booth during the Euro Attractions Show 2012

From Australia to Malaysia: the highlights of 2012

During a previous interview conducted by NewsParcs, John Wood stated that their biggest project was scheduled to open in September, 2012. And Sally Corporation indeed led the design and development of a large new interactive dark ride recently opened at Warner Bros. Movie World Australia: Justice League: Alien Invasion 3D.

Based on the famous super-heroes and villains of the DC Comics universe, the 5-minute ride combines 3D projections on 8 screens (plus a smoke screen) with virtual targets and a hundred real targets scattered around impressive scenery, and attached to 18 animatronic characters...all enhanced by numerous special effects.

We are really proud of this project!” commented John Wood. “Especially because we worked with so many great people to put it all together! There are plenty of projects that we have done from A to Z, but in this application we needed resources from outside. We led the design all the way through and we coordinated the different suppliers: Bertazzon for the ride system, Alterface from an interactive standpoint, Larry Wyatt for scenic design, Sculpt Studios Australia for the scenery... And of course Threshold Animation Studios that helped us with the beautiful 3D high definition rendition of the Justice League universe."

Cyborg is the most impressive animatronic created by Sally Corporation for their newest project Justice LeagueSupergirl animatronic holding up a falling wall in Justice League: Alien Invasion 3DShot of  Justice League: Aliens Invasion 3D loading station with Cyborg animatronic in the backInstallation shot of crew members working on the installation of Starro's spaceship at Warner Bros. Movie World AustraliaAnimatronic citizens in  Justice League: Alien Invasion 3D

He continued: “Everyone in our company was involved in this project. I would like to congratulate our project management team led by Donna Gentry and our senior designer, Rich Hill. He did an extraordinary job, visualizing this ride from day one and Donna did a superb job in shepherding the various different entities that were involved. We are a relatively small company, we custom build everything we do, and I can say that's an art form that we have developed. We are just as proud as we can be of the project."

The second major project completed this year by Sally Corporation is the interactive dark ride Lost Kingdom Adventure for brand new LEGOLAND Malaysia, the first LEGOLAND theme park to open in Asia. The black light ride covers an area of approximately 650 sq. m. (approx 7,000 sq. ft.) and is divided into 10 scenes that feature LEGO animatronics inspired by the “LEGO Adventurers” series. With an increased capacity of over 1,000 people per hour (17 four-seater cars equipped with individual laser blasters and scoring consoles), the ride contains several special elements in addition to shooting targets.

We are very proud of our working relationship with Merlin Entertainments over the years,” said John Wood, mentioning that this is the fourth “Lost Kingdom Adventure” ride that they designed for the global operator since 2008. “Lost Kingdom Adventure has been installed at LEGOLAND California, LEGOLAND Windsor (as Laser Raiders) and more recently at LEGOLAND Florida. We built the ride for Malaysia shortly after the latter, so that was very accommodating for our schedule.” He continued: “We do not have any new projects from Merlin Entertainments at the moment, but we hope - as they continue to expand and we continue to perform well with these rides - that we will have the opportunity to do more for them in the future.”

A fourth Lost Kingdom Adventure interactive dark ride has been delivered in 2012 to global operator Merlin EntertainmentsThe ride has been installed in brand new LEGOLAND Malaysia

Besides designing dark rides, Sally Corporation also has a strong reputation for creating lifelike human animatronics. In recent months, Sally’s artists and technicians have been busy in the workshop working on very specific projects as John Wood explained: “We are building some incredible animatronics for people in Turkey and in India. For our Turkish clients, we realized a second likeness of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (editor's note: the first President of Turkey) for a city government. And for India, we continued to bring a number of revered Hindu devotees and swamis to 'life' for presentations in spiritual and cultural centers. That's a challenging mission for us because we have to replicate beloved people. Last year, we also built one of the founding fathers of Mexico, Señor Morelos. It’s wonderful that these countries would come to us to build their heroes, and for us bringing them to life is really thrilling!"

I think that in the amusement park industry, if you want to put stars in the show, animatronics still play a vital role. Technology has never been the leading component of animatronics, it’s always been an art form, so it’s the way it is presented and the way it is utilized in the show that makes it special,” he added.

Sally Corporation has created a second animatronic of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk for a customer in TurkeyThe company also designed several Hindu devotees and swamis for Indian customersAnother example of Sally's creativity in lifelike human animatronics

Projects and turnkey concepts

While other projects are in the pipeline, Sally Corporation is currently working on two ride systems that they designed for Adlabs Entertainment attractions in Mumbai, India. “What’s exciting about one of those projects is that we actually have a thrilling drop at the end of the ride,” explained John Wood. “The floor will fall out...dropping about 4 meters/13 feet. That’s something we have wanted to do for a long time with a dark ride, even if it just a drop of one floor! It’s really exciting for us; this is a 6 passenger ride system so it’s a pretty good package. We’re working with Gosetto on the primary elements as well as the ramp, and with Premier Rides who’s helping us with the elevator system. We look forward to testing it out later on this year!"

In Berlin, Sally Corporation displayed two models of their latest dark ride turnkey concepts, "Forbidden Island" and "Power Blast"; both waiting for a potential buyer. “I firmly believe in these concepts,” argued John Wood. “They are budgeted to come in under 4 million dollars (editor’s note: approx €3 million) and I hope that someone will explore them further because I think they’re gonna be blockbusters when they get installed. Once we come up with an idea, we keep on putting it on the marketplace until someone decides to move forward with it.” He added, “We develop new concepts regularly, but often the dark rides are shared projects with our clients. We do a design contract and work together to come up with a solution to satisfy their parameters and their plans, which is great for us!"

Forbidden Island is an interactive dark ride turnkey concept developed by Sally CorporationPower Blast in another interactive dark ride turnkey concept proposed by Sally Corporation

Future of dark ride industry

So, what's next step with the dark ride industry? "You know, I am probably the biggest fan of dark rides that there is," said John Wood. "I really believe that the market loves dark rides! If roller coasters are great and have strong value in marketing, dark rides are cross generational experiences with broad market appeal. The whole family can ride together, and when it is a fun competition game, that kind of ride will last for a long time in the visitors' memories and enhance the entertainment value of the park. A dark ride is an important component of the mix, there are too many amusement parks that have been driven by the easy marketability of the roller coaster and have dropped them because it’s not that easy to put together!"

I’m glad to see more and more of the creative resources being developed to create this kind of themed attraction in theme parks because I do believe they are vital. A dark ride in many cases represents the personality of the park, as does the architecture. The most successful theme parks in the world, Disney or Universal for instance, are based on dark rides, and the regional parks need to continue to put them into their offer of attractions for their visitors,” he concluded.

At the time reviewing the 3 days spent at the Euro Attractions Show 2012, John Wood is satisfied: "We have greatly enjoyed this EAS, it's been very busy. We have been involved in this European trade show since IAAPA decided to organize it and we are happy that it is growing and getting better every year.”

In three weeks, Sally Corporation will be exhibiting at IAAPA Attractions Expo (booth #2254), the world's largest conference and trade show for the attractions industry. John Wood and his team will be pleased to meet you to discuss your future dark ride projects.

Note : NewsParcs will focus on the Justice League: Alien Invasion 3D interactive dark ride in a forthcoming article. Register to our newsletter for future updates.

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