Joe Rohde, Disney Parks Attractions Among TEA Industry Award Recipients

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) today named its recipients of its 18th annual Thea Awards, for which Disney Parks and Resorts received a number of accolades for its contributions ot the industry over the past year. According to TEA president (and former Walt Disney Imagineer) Rick Rothschild, the award sets out to ‘recognize and honor excellence in the creation of extraordinary visitor experiences, attractions, exhibits and places. As this year we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of TEA, we can reflect on how much has changed: the tools and techniques our industry employs, the use of digital media and interactivity, the sophistication of themed environments and the international expansion of the business, especially into Asia. At the same time, storytelling and teamwork remain the bedrock of the Experience Design Industry and its projects.’ He adds, ‘the Thea Awards honor teamwork at its very best — the creative handshake between the visionary project owner and the multidisciplinary collective of designers, artisans and technicians who realize the vision. TEA’s Thea Awards celebrate storytelling across the globe — educational and entertaining stories of heritage, history, fiction, fantasy, magic and even hard science — delivered with artistry and the appropriate use of technology at museums, theme parks, world expos, special events and other settings. TEA looks forward to the next 20 years of leading the visitor attractions industry.’

The lifetime achievement award, now named after Disney Legend Harrison ‘Buzz’ Price, will be bestowed upon Joe Rohde, Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative for Walt Disney Imagineering, in recognition for his 30 years with The Walt Disney Company. Beginning his career as a model designer for EPCOT Center, Rohde has been influential and an integral part of Disney Parks and Resorts projects worldwide. Notably Rohde led the team that conceptualized, designed and built Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort and, most recently, he was responsible for the creative design and content of Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, at Ko Olina, O’ahu, Hawai’i, which debuted in August 2011.

Star Tours [2.0] at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort won the Thea Award for the category of ‘Attraction Refresh. According to the nomination committee, tThe refreshed attraction has succeeded both operationally and with the extremely loyal Star Wars fan base. For the guests, the most compelling feature is the variable content that affords multiple storylines, locations and characters. This element of surprise is driving multi-generational audiences to return again and again to get a shot at exploring different vistas into many realms of the Star Wars Galaxy. Today’s audience expectations for a high tech science-fantasy world as renowned as Star Wars far surpass the analogue entertainment world that existed back in1987 when Disney originated this granddaddy of simulators that became an industry template. To achieve a breakthrough experience, all new ‘state of the art’ 3D digital media systems were a given, but what really brings Star Tours: The Adventures Continue to life is a unique branching story structure employing multiple destinations and characters. This non-traditional storytelling device evokes curiosity by providing 54 potential show experiences resulting in a dramatic increase in attraction repeatability. To bring a layer of personalization and relevance, image capture systems are used to integrate riders into the varied story branches. All of this is fed into multiple motion programs designed for each random sequence, creating a multiplicity of kinetics for the 54 distinct profiles and unique real-time guest integrations. While the major components create the guest ‘wows’ every nook and cranny along the pre-show queue likewise received new story elements and advanced special effects. This has extended the experience of this ‘galaxy far, far away’ way beyond the doors of the Starspeeder 1000 and repositions the total experience firmly in a new century.

‘The Magic, The Memory and You’ at the Magic Kingdom has also been recognized by TEA, earning the award for ‘Show Spectacular.’ According to the TEA, this show demonstrates excellence for the artistic and creative way that technology was utilized to create a memorable and compelling experience. Impressive as the technology is, the show is ultimately successful because it uses that technology, along with visual creativity, adept directorial pacing and showmanship together with a stirring musical score in an innovative and compelling way to create a most memorable, unique and emotionally fulfilling experience for its audience.

And although it won’t be seen by guests until 2012 (save for a demonstration at the 2011 Disney D23 Expo), the Animator’s Palate restaurant aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Fantasy took the honors for ‘Ingenious use of Technology,’ a major understatement if there ever was one, in this site’s opinion. TEA notes that delightful image capturing and video magic have made it possible for a guest’s sketch to come to life moments after being drawn. The amazing animation, from a simple face expression to a complicated dance step, is made possible in this ingenious use of technology. Every one from Grandpa to a child can be an ‘animator’ and see their drawings come alive. A refreshing new take on ‘interactive’ without the typical monitor screen.

All of the award recipients have been recommended by the Thea Awards Nominating Committee and were finalized by the the TEA International Board of Directors. The Awards will be formally presented March 17, 2012 at the 18th Annual Thea Awards Gala, a black-tie dinner affair, open to the public, at the Disneyland Hotel at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA. Visit for more information.

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