Animation for the Masses
How Affordable Technology Is Changing the Attractions Landscape
At one point, only tourist attractions and parks with major money could afford animated shows and attractions, or they knew so little about it that they would probably consider it impossible.
But as technology has advanced and prices have dramatically dropped on animation control systems and CD-quality digital audio repeaters, you don’t have to be Disney World and Universal Studios to offer visitors memorable animated experiences.
While theme parks certainly offer more animation than other attractions, you are likely to find animated entertainment in museums, waterparks, miniature golf courses, haunted houses and more.
Doug Mobley is one of the reasons people are having more fun with animated projects around the world. As the owner, founder and president of Gilderfluke & Co. Robotics & Sound Systems in Burbank, Calif., he has created products that can control animated puppets or other objects that can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars.
While his more technical and costly devices have been used in films including “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Team America: World Police,” Mobley’s technology can also likely be found in your local restaurant and haunted farm.
“The bottom line is that it’s simple and easy to do,” Mobley said. “Our most-sold controller is around $200. It runs all of Disney’s electrical parade. It’s in R2-D2 at Disney World. It’s just all over the place. A lot of them are being used in the haunt market.”
Mobley is referring to lucrative haunted houses, farms and every other Halloween-themed attraction that features simple animation such as shaking skeletons, animated scary creatures popping out of walls and other characters coming to life.
“You have to separate animation and movement,” he said. “It used to be where something was a motor and crank. That’s not animation. Animation is bringing something to life. There’s a difference between bringing something to life and making something move. There was a time when a group of farmers would set up a maze and doing animatronics was completely unheard of. Now, there’s a guy who can get off a tractor and program an animated show.”
If you’ve been to a theme park or a Las Vegas casino or have seen movies including “Life of Pi” and watch TV and commercials, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the work of Animal Makers President Jim Bouldon and his team. The Moorpark, Calif., company’s intricate and gorgeous designs of animatronic animals, birds, reptiles and insects are stunning creations, and most of it features Gilderfluke’s technology that puts them over the top.
“What we have seen now is how animation has spread out well beyond traditional edges of entertainment,” Bouldon said. “Animated shows and attractions are in everything from restaurants to casinos to vineyards to convenience gas stations.”
Bouldon said while many business owners want to use his products for a “wow!” factor, many of them really want to do it for the excitement of a the project.
“I think many see things in movies and games and places like Disneyland, and when they come back from that experience and look at their world, their world doesn’t seem as exciting,” he said. “They were just in Something Land, which spent $50 million entertaining them. And they go home and say, ‘How can I do something similar to get more customers in?’ So if they build something interesting and can attract every amateur photographer with an iPhone or tablet to take a picture of their attraction and post it on social media, that’s the promotion they are looking for.”
That social media, Bouldon said, could be way more valuable than traditional advertising as patrons who are entertained share it with their friends.
Bouldon has seen this happen at projects over and over, including animated Chinese Dragons at Bellagio casino in Las Vegas and a Noah’s Ark display at the Cornerstone Church campus in San Antonio, Texas.
However, sometimes getting businesses to go that extra mile can be a process. According to Bouldon, he was hired by Bellagio in 2006 for the Chinese Year of the rooster to build a giant, 12-foot tall rooster. But it originally wasn’t going to have animation.
“It was a hard sell because they don’t want to be Disneyland or anything like that in Las Vegas,” Bouldon said. “But I said to them, ‘Let me put a controller in there and you don’t have to pay any extra.’ It had four moves and greeted people ‘Happy New Year’ in Mandarin Chinese. So we got it operating and they seemed to like it. I was exhausted and went to dinner and then to my room. I logged onto my computer and there were already a bunch of YouTube videos. There were all these things up about it and it wasn’t even operational for two hours. And Bellagio also saw people taking videos and texting their friends. And none of that would have happened without the Gilderfluke controller. Otherwise, it would have been one big statue.”
Bouldon said Gilderfluke allows him to “freeze” his performances.
“When a venue wants a performance that is basically the same and want it to start at the same times every day, they like what we do because they don’t have to have expensive actors doing it every time yet it’s still a big draw,” Bouldon said. “So Doug allows me to freeze a performance on a disc and call it up whenever we want. In the case of our dragons at Bellagio, we have 40 moves there and six of the moves are 30-feet-plus above the floor. And I can’t put on that show without a Gilderfluke system. I need a brain, and they are the brain and the easiest brain to operate. I can get an eight-axis Gilderfluke controller for under $300 with full support and free software to download. That’s a no-brainer.”
The $5 million Noah’s Ark display at Cornerstone Church features 17 animals including a full-scale elephant, giraffes, lion, ostrich, zebra and more.
“Every single animal in there has a Gilderfluke box in it,” Bouldon said. “They thought it was going to be something they opened up every Sunday morning for three or four meetings. Now it’s open 18 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Animal Makers’ latest project is a 12-foot-long, animatronic velociraptor suit he just built for Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, Calif.
“It’s off the hook,” Bouldon said. “The head turns, the neck is very flexible, the tail whips around and I have a Gilderfluke SD-25 (stereo audio playback system) with 50-watt amplifier in there so the actor can cue breathing and other sounds.”
Fountain Supply Co. deals with an entirely different kind of animation. The Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company custom fabricates fountains with synchronized light and sound shows, many using Gilderfluke technology.
Co-owner Dan Richardi said while musical fountains are complicated considering the technological and moisture considerations, Fountain Supply Co. uses Gilderfluke because of ease and quality.
“Fountains are like iceburgs; everything is below the ground and hidden,” Richardi said. “From an outsider, it looks pretty simple with jets, lights and music. That’s all you see and hear. But the beauty of Gilderfluke is that we are able put choreography and music on the same media so we don’t end up with any timeline problems. And Doug’s stuff is just amazing when it comes to quality.”
Fountain Supply Co.’s fountains, using Gilderfluke boxes, can open and close relays, turns lights on and off and also control analog devices.
“So it makes it special because you can control a lot of different devices using one show control,” Richardi said. “You don’t need a lot of in-between material.”
While Richardi’s fountains can be found all over the world, including vacation resorts in Mexico, the Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C., and other tourist attractions, the affordability of Gilderfluke technology has helped convert fountains into attractions in developing countries such as Nigeria, as well as at malls and even for an upscale assisted living community.
As far as trends, Mobley said theme parks are moving more toward video displays than ever, which are so good that they can easily replace full sets.
“And it’s also much less costly,” said Mobley, whose company distributes video displays from BrightSide Technologies. “There is just a whole lot more video going on right now. Places like Universal have figured out they don’t have to build sets. They recently retrofitted all of their screens in the ‘Spider-Man’ ride because technology just offers more pixels to make everything look better and realistic than it used to.”
Bouldon said he thinks the hottest trend in technological advances is the use of Global Positioning Systems.
“Everything is tied into a GPS anymore,” he said. “You can have a tour bus driving a bus and he gets sick and a stand-in has to do it and can’t do as good of a job. Anymore, if you’re doing a tour, you can have GPS cue audio as you go along so it says this star’s house is here and this was filmed here, and all of that is done with a Gilderfluke brick. And they are relatively inexpensive, probably around $1,200.”
Richardi said he sees trends moving to wireless.
“It’s a permanent part of our world now,” he said. “People who are purchasing fountains from us want to operate them from a smartphone or tablet so they can access shows that way. And that will only continue.”
So whether you’re a theme park, gas station or local restaurant looking for a memorable edge, the best advice may be to just do it.
“That’s the important thing,” Mobley said. “Some people ask, ‘Where did you go to school to learn all of this?’ There ain’t no school. It’s hard knocks. You just do it. The parts you use in animation are very inexpensive and widely available. You can get them in most farm supply places.”
Bouldon agreed: “Think of it this way: the entire Tiki Bird Room at Disney was set up like a series of refrigerators in a row with a $1.2 million control system,” Bouldon said. “I can run a room like that for under $5,000 with Gilderfluke systems. And I can have it managed by a kid I handed a manual to last week. Gilderfluke has made it easier and more affordable to do things like this than I ever imagined.” –
(For more information on Gilderfluke Robotics and Sound Systems, call 800-776-5972, email firstname.lastname@example.org or circle 220 on the reader service card. For more information on Animal Makers, call 805-523-1900, visit www.animalmakers.com or circle 221 on the reader service card. For more information on Fountain Supply, call 661-254-4448, or email email@example.com.)
A Future Built on a Long History of Innovation
To the layman, the work of Gilderfluke & Co. Robotics & Sound Systems in Burbank, Calif., can sometimes sound complex. As the company commemorates its 30th anniversary and a long history of excellence in the industry, Doug Mobley, the owner, founder and president of the business, had short and simple words to describe the milestone.
Mobley said the company is known for its excellent customer service, and his future goal for Gilderfluke is: “To stay in business. We are trying to build the best systems and the easiest to use systems,” he said.