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Technology 10 Min Read

Extending the World Ocean

March 14, 2024

Christie projection expands the horizon for Holovis at SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Recognized as a symbol of excellence, TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) Thea Awards  honor the outstanding achievements of individuals, projects, and technologies in themed attractions and experiences worldwide. And we’re thrilled to be the projection sponsor for this year’s Awards Gala, which takes place on Saturday, March 16, as well as a sponsor of the Inspire the Night event during TEA INSPIRE

Read about SeaWorld® Yas Island, Abu Dhabi – one of this year’s award recipients – a next-generation, indoor marine life theme park that uses Christie®projection solutions, in this article republished with permission from InPark Magazine. 

SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, one of this year’s (2024) recipients of a TEA Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement, accomplishes its goal of taking guests on a journey through the world ocean with a combination of physical sets, live animals, and cutting-edge media. The mostly indoor theme park, developed by Miral Group in conjunction with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment (now United Parks & Resorts), is multi-level and designed with multiple corners and turns to convey a sense of discovery. As laid out by PGAV Destinations, which designed the park and animal habitats, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is built upon the concept of a single world ocean, or “One Ocean,” with each of the park’s realms showcasing a different facet of its shores and the animals that live upon them. 

Holovis, an experiential design company specializing in media-based attractions, was one of the many design firms involved with the development of the park. Holovis collaborated with Thinkwell Group, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi’s Executive Producer for entertainment, on the production of a number of projects within the park, including the centerpiece “One Ocean” show, which features one of the world’s largest LED displays.

For three other notable projects at the park, Holovis employed projectors from Christie, a leader in visual technologies. They are:

  1. The Armillary, located just off the One Ocean central hub, is a digital dome that acts as the gateway to the polar realms – Arctic and Antarctica, and showcases historic voyages to the poles as well as ambient presentations of the auroras above both Northern and Southern landscapes, projected by eleven Christie D4K40-RGB pure laser projectors, at a combined brightness of up to 495,000 lumens.

  2. Endless Ocean is one of the world’s largest multi-species aquariums, housing approximately 5.5-million gallons of water in a 43-meter tall structure. Its vista is extended beyond the physical realm through the addition of underwater projection with content featuring sea animals, such as whales, swimming past the underwater sea base, projected by sixteen Christie Crimson WU31 laser projectors.

  3. Two Christie D4K40-RGB pure laser projectors illuminate the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis, within the Antarctica penguin habitat.

Three headshot. L-R: Headshot of a man in front of a post for Christie RGB pure laser projection, A headshot of a man wearing a safety vest and glasses, Headshot of a man wearing sunglasses

Left to right: Joe Graziano, Director of Sales, Entertainment, EMEA, Christie | James Lodder, Global Head of Products, Holovis | Mirko Totoni, Project and Construction Manager, EllisDon

To learn more, InPark’s Joe Kleiman spoke with Joe Graziano, Director of Sales, Entertainment, EMEA, Christie; James Lodder, Global Head of Products, Holovis; and Mirko Totoni, Project and Construction Manager, EllisDon, a global construction service firm based in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, which served as project manager on the park for Miral. Totoni and his team worked closely with Holovis and other show and attraction producers to determine the best equipment for each portion of the project and the best methods for mounting equipment, including lighting and projectors.

Why were Christie projectors selected to meet the creative vision of Miral and Holovis for the three projects?

Totoni: Our choices were made mainly based on the installation location and trying to satisfy the creative intent. The selection is based on an attentive evaluation of the projection study against the most cost-effective solutions.

Lodder: Holovis has excellent relationships with all of the world’s high-quality projector manufacturers. We select which manufacturer and which model of projector we will use according to the specific needs of each client project. That means balancing the raw lumens outputs with the quality of color reproduction, the availability of lenses in the throws and focal lengths we need, the projector resolutions and form factor, and of course pricing. We are very familiar with Christie hardware and we trust the company and their products. For SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, we found that the Crimson WU31 and D4K40-RGB projectors in the Christie range ticked all of our boxes.

Graziano: The D4K40-RGB projectors were chosen for the Armillary and Southern Lights, Aurora Australis because they offered the power needed, the light output (45,000 lumens), and state-of-the-art RGB pure laser technology [see “Screens to fill, markets to disrupt,” InPark Magazine Issue #77].

Penguins swim in water with snow-covered rocks and more penguins in the background.

Caption: Christie projectors illuminate the Aurora Austr penguin habitat. Credit: Miral Experiences

Reliability and longevity were also considerations. The maintenance requirements of the D4K40-RGB pure laser projectors and the Crimson WU31 laser projectors in Endless Ocean are minimal. The projectors need to run for long periods of time without interruptions for maintenance due to the high number of visitors in these popular attractions.

The park is not just an indoor theme park, it’s an indoor marine life park with lots of water, both freshwater and saltwater, and a variety of temperatures. Was this a factor in working with the client to determine the best projectors for each venue?

Lodder: The vast saltwater aquariums mean that the air in the park is highly corrosive, reaching C5 rating [very high risk of corrosion on the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) corrosivity scale] in various places. Under the leadership of our Senior Technical Director, Dave Reynolds, the Holovis engineering team commissioned and installed custom air-conditioned enclosures in these areas to protect the projectors from corrosion and humidity, and to keep them cool.

Graziano: For comparison, the installation at Al Wasl Plaza dome at Expo City Dubai features 252 Christie RGB pure laser projectors, which are installed in 42 projector ‘pods’ around the inside perimeter of the dome. Because of the heat, sand and dust in Dubai, the pods – which are large enough to hold a compact car – are air conditioned. The pods maintain a consistent operating environment for the projectors.

At SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, which is indoors, there’s still some sand to contend with, but much less to worry about than Al Wasl Plaza. Humidity is an important consideration – it’s as close to being ‘outdoors while indoors’ as you could probably get – so the projectors are in air-conditioned environments.

How were the projectors mounted for the Armillary, considering it’s a walk-through dome-theater with entrances and exits to the polar lands, the hub, retail, and dining? How was ambient light controlled?

Totoni: Armillary is a projection dome that starts at 6-meters from the ground floor. It is a hub in which guests can circulate and pass from one environment to another. The projectors are installed along the horizon of the dome in a separate room surrounding the screen. The lighting system is very minimal and guarantees only a very low level of diffused ambient light.

Aurora borealis and two foxes are projected onto a domed ceiling.

Arctic foxes appear on the Armillary above the entrance to the Arctic realm. Projector housings are just beneath the dome screen. Credit: Holovis

Lodder: Holovis designed and supplied custom optical mounting rigs to support the Armillary projectors and to allow precise fine-tuning of pitch and roll angles, while hiding the bulk of the projectors behind the theming to give the guests a clean uninterrupted view of the curved blended dome screen. Right at the beginning of the project we raised the important issue of ambient light, and the need to select and control show lighting fixtures carefully to minimize spill on to the screen, and to choose the correct dome screen gain to optimize image contrast. We were delighted to find that EllisDon had considerable knowledge and experience in projection, which made it very easy to coordinate the best solution.

How does Christie technology support blended projection projects like this?

Graziano: For the SeaWorld Abu Dhabi project, it came down to the quality of the projectors’ electronics platform, their 360° orientation capability, and the lensing options so that we were able to place the projectors where they’re needed to create an image that can be overlapped at the appropriate blend zone.

In general, the nice thing with Christie 3DLP projectors is that Twist, our warping and blending software, is built in. Twist allows pixels to be mapped more easily onto any projection surface, maintaining proper geometry and accurate pixel-to-pixel alignment so that we can create those blends without seeing where the overlap is.

With Endless Ocean’s projected images being seen through water and glass, how did you overcome the challenge of image refraction?

Lodder: Our secret weapon here was our Holovis Pix-Control camera-based projection auto-alignment system, which is able to calculate and compensate for the complex lightpath deviations due to the refraction of light as it passes through the high-pressure acrylic porthole windows, and the further refraction as it passes through 2.7-meters of saltwater to light the underwater screen, to create the perfect warp and blend solution that allows 16 projectors to combine to form a single, seamless image.

Our Holovis senior projection specialist Dr Luan Le Ngoc and his team successfully installed the Pix-Control system at all projection scenes, giving the client operations team a simple, fast and reliable way to automatically re-calibrate the blended projection screens each morning.

 A shark swims in an enclosure.

A live shark swims in front of projected whale in Endless Ocean aquarium. Credit: Michael Giskin (themeparX)

Graziano: In the underwater area, Endless Ocean, the Christie Crimson WU31 3DLP projectors produce sufficient brightness (31,500 lumens) to create an impact from a distance and help mitigate the tremendous amount of glass in front of the viewing area.

As the name of the attraction suggests, when you look at it, you feel you are looking into an endless ocean. The way that the content has been created gives the impression of looking into the depths of the ocean through the eyes of a diver. To that end, the nice thing about 3DLP (three-chip DLP) projection is the depth of field it offers.

Were there any unique mounting or rigging issues with the projectors due to the design of the park?

Lodder: Yes, every one of the projectors in the park is custom rigged or mounted to ensure that they are easily serviceable after installation. At the Endless Ocean, the projectors are mounted on a 20-meter tall steel gantry with an integral hoist system to lower them to the ground for service. In Antarctica, the area housing the projectors is protected by custom enclosures mounted 20 m above the floor on a custom steel structure.

Totoni: In addition to having to use some enclosures to protect the projectors from corrosion due to the humid conditions, the installation of the platform was sometimes challenging because it was also designed to guarantee future access for maintenance.

Any final thoughts?

Graziano: We’re extremely proud of our efforts and collaborations at SeaWorld Abu Dhabi and we applaud Holovis for their attraction design and systems integration expertise. It’s exciting to see that the themed entertainment industry at large applauds the quality of the venue and the project by recognizing this unique indoor marine park with a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement.

We are thrilled to have a strong partnership with Holovis. Our collaborations have produced several world-class attractions. And the projects that we’ve worked on in the region, including Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, have resulted in a very positive relationship with Miral. We’ll be honored to continue to support both Holovis and Miral in their future endeavors.

A family looks at penguins in an a replicated Antarctic habitat

The Aurora Australis shines above the penguin habitat in the Antarctica realm. Credit: Miral Experiences

In addition to SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, both Holovis and Christie have previously contributed to Thea Award honored projects. Most recently, both companies contributed to Universal Beijing. In 2019, Christie received the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in Technical Innovation for the Christie Eclipse 4K RGB pure laser projector.

SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi will be honored at the 30th Annual Thea Awards on March 16, 2024 in Hollywood, and also speak on the project at the TEA INSPIRE conference March 14-15.

About the author: Joe Kleiman

Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry.

In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. His writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat. His blog, ThemedReality.com, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry.

Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost. Follow on X @ThemesRenewed