The new SeaWorld theme park opening in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday will feature the world’s largest LED display, according to Holovis, the British business behind the cylindrical 227-metre display.
The Abu Dhabi complex is the NYSE-listed entertainment operator’s first new SeaWorld park in 35 years and its first international expansion. It’s also the company’s first indoor theme park and the only one not home to killer whales. His colleagues in the US became famous for their orcas and drew the ire of activists. SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is charting a new path for the company, showcasing its conservation work and emphasizing modern attractions.
It has deep pockets as the 183,000 square meter park is owned by Miral, the Abu Dhabi government leisure operator. With an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, the park is part of a strategy to reduce the local economy’s dependence on oil reserves. “It’s about improving Abu Dhabi’s tourism sector and, of course, more than that, diversifying Abu Dhabi’s economy,” said Mohammed Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral. “This will be the next generation of SeaWorld.” It is not an exaggeration.
Anyone who has visited the SeaWorld parks in the US knows that they look more rustic than their competitors from Disney or Universal Studios. There are no glowing globes at the entrance, just a street that would look right at home in the Florida Keys. Shops are housed inside quaint-looking houses with porticoes and pastel-colored clapboards. Rather than being neatly trimmed, the trees hang over many of the park’s winding paths, looking as if they were carved out of the countryside.
Navigating the parks can often be an adventure in itself, as guests often stumble upon attractions rather than the pre-planned schedule necessary to make the most of a day at Disney World.
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi takes this essential ethos and gives it the same sparkle you’d normally find at Disney or Universal. Nowhere is this more evident than at the central hub, where guests can access the rest of the park. A term called One Ocean that SeaWorld has been using in its stories since 2014, the loop is like an underwater cave with rocky arches marking the entrances to the park’s eight realms (it wouldn’t make sense to call them “lands” at SeaWorld).
A five-meter LED ball hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the loop and looks like a drop of water falling from above. Completing this theme, a cylindrical LED wraps around the room and displays underwater scenes to give guests the impression that they are in the depths of the ocean.
“The main display there is currently the largest LED display in the world,” said James Loder, director of integrated engineering at Holovis, one of the world’s leading experiential design firms. The company was responsible for the innovative Mission Ferrari attraction at the neighboring Ferrari World park, and has also worked with other industry giants including Universal and Merlin.
“SeaWorld Abu Dhabi has a hub and a radius, and in the middle they have One Ocean, which is a giant plaza. It is a circular square 70 meters wide and from there, you can reach any other range. So, it’s like your central hub of the park, and there’s a bunch of cafes, animal exhibits and science stuff, cafes, and it’s 21 meters above the ground. It has a width and circumference of 227 meters. So that’s absolutely huge. It is 5. millimeter pixel height, and it’s a special product that we assemble.”
Guinness shows that the record for the world’s largest high-definition video screen dates back to 2009 and is an LED screen in Beijing measuring 250 meters x 30 meters. However, Guinness stresses that it actually consists of five (still very large) screens arranged in a line to create one continuous image. In contrast, the display at SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is a single unit formed from an LED grid. It serves an important purpose.
“We went with a perforated screen. It’s acoustically transparent, and there are two reasons for that,” Loder explains. “One is that we didn’t want this to look like an indoor pool. So with all hard surfaces, if you’re standing in the middle of the circle, you can imagine it’s going to resonate with you. As a visitor. So we only have about 22% clearance in the perforation, but that allows enough sound energy through that acoustic foam, the absorbent foam attached to the wall behind it will absorb enough energy to kill the reverb. So it completely changes the feeling of being in the room.”
In traditional movie theaters, perforated screens are used with speakers placed behind the screen to localize sound transmission, and Loder says this was also a driving force. “The second reason, of course, is that we can hide our speakers behind the screen. We have 10 big d&b audio equipment hanging in the back.” They come into their own at the end of the day.
The nighttime spectacular, also created by Holovis, takes place not outside, but with fireworks, because Abu Dhabi is so hot that even at night the temperature can reach 100 degrees. “At the big end of the day, you’ll find yourself at the One Ocean hub in the center of the park, where the audio system kicks in and the story is played out on screen with 140 drones launching and connecting. They are synchronized with the media. We have a 5 meter diameter LED sphere hanging in the middle of the roof. It is a 5 millimeter pixel pitch LED. Same pixel pitch as the main screen, and Holovis also created the content for it. The globe is a sphere, so there’s a technical side to delivering content.”
He adds that “we’ve outsourced the programming of the drones. We supplied and installed all the antennas for the site, all the cable configuration, all the mapping and we always make sure there is a representative there. There will be 140 drones in the air. There are a few dozen more in the fleet, but there are 140 in the air. I’d like to think that once people see it and the feedback starts coming in, maybe we can add another 140.
Loder says the screen was originally supposed to be powered by projectors, but that would have meant the loop’s lights had to be dimmed for guests to enjoy the show.
“We showed Miral that by switching to LED, we could keep the same resolution and the same color space, but we could increase the light level by 50. This means you can increase the overall ambient lighting in the space. When I’m there with my kids in strollers and I want to see their faces, or I’m there with friends and I want to have a shared experience, I want the light to be bright. fan, great space and LED so good that even in that very bright space it will always pass.
“For me, what we really delivered was the guest experience. But how did we do it? Well, first of all, we have the biggest screen in the world. Then there’s the LED screen rather than projectors and ambient light. Then there’s the globe, the drones, and the audio system. And it all comes together.
“Rather than being in a kind of movie environment where everything is very focused on video, it’s kind of a friends and family environment, and we’ve focused on the overall experience. The video is there and it looks great, but it’s laggy. you, it’s not the center of attention, it’s your family.” It really is a happy ending.