Themed Entertainment Assocation Recognizes Imagineer Kim Irvine, ‘World of Color,’ TRON ARG and More

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) today announced the fifteen recipients of its 17th Annual Thea Awards with nearly a quarter of the coveted awards going to The Walt Disney Company and the Disney family.

“The annual Thea Awards, presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) recognize and honor excellence in the creation of extraordinary visitor experiences, attractions, exhibits and places,” says incoming TEA president Rick Rothschild of FAR Out! Creative Direction. “Storytelling and teamwork are the heart of the Experience Design Industry and its projects. 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. The Thea Awards also 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. Also, this year we commemorate the late Harrison “Buzz” Price, who at the very first Thea Awards in 1994 was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In his honor, we’ve renamed it the ‘Buzz Price Award, recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements.’

This year, the newly renamed “Buzz Price Award” went to Walt Disney Imagineer and Art Director Kim Irvine who began her career at WDI in 1970. Working alongside her mother Leota Toombs (recent Disney Legend for her Imagineering contributions) Kim was able to learn her skills under such greats as Mary Blair, John Hench, Mark Davis, and Claude Coats. John Hench would become Kim’s mentor, as he relied on her more and more for her color expertise, a skill for which John was the undisputed master. This skill would serve Kim well over the ensuing decades that she would lead the art direction at Disneyland, always finding new pallets of color and emotion to keep the Park appealing to the ever evolving demographic. Kim contributed to many of the early attractions at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot including: Small World, interiors for the Contemporary Resort, The Land, Universe of Energy, Germany and Mexico pavilions. In 1980, Kim joined the Disneyland Design Studio and pioneered the development and evolution of that team as a model for the branches that exist in Disney’s resort locations around the world.

In her long held role as Art Director for Disneyland, Kim has been responsible for such projects as the Disneyland 50th celebration, most notably Sleeping Beauty Castle itself, and color schemes and symbolic designs representing each of Disneyland’s five decades. Kim was entrusted with the redesign of John Hench’s classic Plaza Inn Restaurant, the creation of Rancho Del Zocalo Restaurant in Frontierland and most recently, the complete concept for the magical Disneyland Dream Suite in New Orleans Square. While Disneyland has kept Kim busy, she can always squeeze in time for projects elsewhere when her expertise is keenly needed. As an example, the Disneyland Paris Castle interior and its Carrousel benefited from the loan of Kim’s talent. During the last year, Kim led the effort to reimagine “it’s a small world,” bringing new life to the 45-year-old classic, design of the new Disney Gallery and interiors for the new Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln exhibit on Main Street U.S.A., along with a variety of highly themed merchandise experiences.

Disney California Adventure’s “World of Color” took the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement (Nighttime Spectacular). This nighttime fountain spectacular is a visual and technical marvel, and an important focal point in the reimagining of Disney California Adventure theme park. World of Color comes in the form of nearly 1,200 fountains, some shooting higher than 200 feet. Mist screens that can become 380 feet wide; as wide as the 15 million gallon Paradise Bay Lagoon itself, are the background palette of the show. A wide range of other elements includes Disney and Pixar animated film scene projections, lighting, lasers, fog, fire and music – adding up to some 18,000 points of show control. Five years in the making, the 26-minute show takes its name from the 1960s television series “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” A sense of the size and scope of this attraction can be further conveyed through a short list of the eight types of fountain attachments used: Four butterfly fountains, six dancer nozzles with intertwining dual nozzles, ten 200-foot geysers and 12 flower spouts, 76 water whips with heads that can turn in any direction, 400 chasers and 600 grid fountains at eight foot intervals complete the list.

The Walt Disney Family Museum was awarded the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement (Museum). Celebrating its first anniversary on October 1, this museum was built, owned and operated by Walt Disney’s own family, with no direct connection to The Walt Disney Company. It is located in a series of historical buildings at The Presidio of San Francisco, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area of the National Park Service. The Museum is easily a half-day experience even for casual visitors, because it houses so much original material — drawings, artifacts, models, photos, three dimensional objects, etc. – created by Disney staff under Walt’s direction for films, television and the Disney theme parks for over 40 years. There are one-of-a-kind presentations (i.e., a model of Disneyland, supervised by Tony Baxter, that includes ideas Walt imagined but never built in the Anaheim park), audio and video recordings on over 200 video monitors exploring the Disney creative process during the Walt years, inclusion of many Disney creators that make clear Walt did not do it alone, and a balanced explanation of Walt’s darkest time: the Studio strike in 1941. There are artifacts unique to the Museum; for example, a brand new Multi-plane Camera rig, two stories tall, built for the Museum by Thea Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Don Iwerks. Also on display are the 32 Academy Awards presented to Walt Disney. The Walt Disney Family Foundation regularly presents special programs including screenings of films made during Walt’s time and has embarked on an ambitious program to engage school children in weekend creative activities.

Finally, the “Flynn Lives” Alternate Reality Game (ARG) took the honor of Outstanding Achievement for a promotional event during San Diego ComicCon 2010. The ARG combined elements of promotion, puzzles, game play, scavenger hunting and location-based entertainment into a completely new kind of guest experience. To promote the upcoming TRON LEGACY (a sequel/reboot of the groundbreaking original TRON film), this ARG created an experiential groundswell of interest in the film over nearly two years, leveraging social media and online connectivity to tell a compelling, immersive story that feels inherently part of the digital world of the film, filled with labyrinthine computer networks and competitive video games.

Starting with influential online bloggers and fans, the game created a “resistance movement” themed to the film’s mysterious digital-world storyline, told through numerous interconnected websites and real-world puzzles. This created a parallel story to the film, both online and within the real world – the characters from the movies would affect the player’s real lives with media, events, and rewards. All of the game’s events encouraged global collaboration – many puzzles could not be solved by a single player, and were played by people all over the world. Each step of the game would result in a real-world event; players were often rewarded with game “swag” mailed to them from the resistance movement, keeping them engaged. Certain puzzles led to secret real-world “drops” or phone calls with clandestine clues. Each step of the ARG progressed in scope and scale to include more and more of the real world. In particular, major real-world events like ComicCon included giant location-based attractions as part of the ARG, such as a full-size arcade recreated from the film at ComicCon 2009, and the futuristic “End Of Line” nightclub at ComicCon 2010 – a themed environment with wrap-around HD projection to create the feeling of flying inside the computer world.

Recommended by the Thea Awards Nominating Committee, the current slate of 15 Thea recipients were approved by the TEA International Board of Directors and will be honored at the 17th Annual Thea Awards Gala on March 12, 2011. Sponsored by Economics at AECOM, the event will be held at the Globe Theatre, Universal Studios Hollywood. The Awards Gala is an elegant, black-tie dinner event and is open to the public. Tickets/more information are available via the TEA website.

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