Designing a theme park ride for an increasingly CG-literate audience means building a 3D environment. Hollywood's Super 78 did just that.

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According to Busch Gardens theme park in the Williamsburg, Virginia, its new ride is "the most technologically sophisticated, visually rich and thrilling theme park experience ever". 
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Curse of the DarKastle is a spectacular

Integration of the 3D effects with the ride's physical set, the state-of-the-art motion of the cars, 5.1 surround sound and 4D environmental effects is taken to new heights, providing punters with a totally immersive experience that is beyond compare, says the theme park.

Hollywood animation powerhouse Super 78 produced the stereoscopic 3D imagery in the ride along with the pre-ride film that introduces patrons to the sinister King Ludwig.

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Unlike other theme park attractions, Curse of the DarKastle is not based on any existing story or characters. The central figure of King Ludwig is a bloodthirsty ghost bent on recruiting others to join him in the afterlife. For the three minutes and 40 seconds of the ride, he pursues patrons through the castle

3D effects include swords, knives and arrows swooping toward riders' heads, being hit by a boulder that rolls out of the screen and being pelted with wind and snow. The ride also features a nerve-rattling drop, with the CG making it seem farther and faster than it actually is.

"Busch Gardens wanted an experience that would blow people away with the best 3D ever seen," says Super 78 managing director Dina Benadon. What separates this ride from others is the way 3D effects interact with the sleigh. When ghosts fire arrows at the patrons, they fly right by their heads. A tray of wine glasses hovers in mid-air just beyond reach.

"The sleighs have complete range of motion," explains Super 78's creative director Brent Young. "They can move forward and back, tilt side to side and spin 360-degrees. You may be looking at one screen, then something hits the vehicle, it turns you in the opposite direction and suddenly you're facing another screen. It all happens very fast. You don't have time to say, 'I get it. I know how they're doing it.'"

Pulling off the illusions required tight collaboration between Super 78 animators, the ride's design team and the companies building the cars, the track and the ride environment.

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"Before we began work on the animation, the engineers gave us a ride profile that mapped out the physical environment down to the inch, as well as the precise timing and motion of the cars," explains Super 78 CG supervisor Aaron Powell. "We knew the physical parameters of the room and how the cars were oriented at every moment. From there, we went to work designing and executing the animation and dreaming up the 3D gags."
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Designed to make it impossible to tell where reality ends and illusion begins, the sets were built and lit to match the CG so the edges of the projection screens are invisible to riders. 
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"It all blends together," says Young. "As a result, we were able to make it appear as though some of the rooms extend 40 or 50 feet with mountainscapes in the windows in the background. Add in the 3D effects that project out of the screens and you feel completely immersed. It

Technical complexities notwithstanding, animation director Mario Klamberg says the greatest challenge in Curse of the DarKastle was creative. "It's a family attraction and therefore it couldn't be frightening in a way that would be inappropriate for kids," he said. "But it had to be entertaining to adults as they make up half our audience."

Storytelling

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Pleasing both, says Klamberg, was down to good storytelling. "It comes down to the mood, the pacing, the ups and downs, the drama followed by the calm, the sense of

To ensure that all effects worked perfectly, Super 78 set up a stereoscopic projection system in its Hollywood studio identical to those used in the ride. Animators travelled to the theme park for test rides in a prototype sleigh and mock up of the track. In the weeks prior to launch, senior crew members visited the attraction to help fabricators make final adjustments.

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Because the ride has an original story, the pre-ride film assumed greater-than-normal importance. "With most other rides, patrons arrive already familiar with the characters and the plot," explains Young. "Here they are meeting King Ludwig for the first time, so we had to introduce the characters, supply the whole back story and familiarize patrons with the environment."
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The pre-ride film appears in an ante-room to the castle where patrons wait before boarding the sleighs. What appear to be tapestries hanging on the wall suddenly spring to life and relate the history of Ludwig and his clan. 
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Although patrons aren

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"As Ludwig becomes progressively evil, the tapestry

While the pre-show film makes patrons prepared to enter King Ludwig's world, they can not take in everything that awaits them inside the ride. That, too, says Benadon is intentional. "The attraction is so rich that we're hoping when people get off, they'll turn around and get back in line."

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