» More Information on Theme Park Audio Systems
When asked if he has finally tamed his T-Rex, Jim Schmidt, Manager of Sound & Video for Universal Studios Hollywood, comments, “No way. That was never our intention. We wanted to make him more threatening, ornery and angry sounding, so we could leave a lasting, terrifying impression on everyone who sees and hears him.” Laughing, Mr. Schmidt notes, “I want everyone who visits Jurassic Park to have nightmares about T-Rex after they leave here, and we absolutely accomplished that task.” The Tyrannosaurus Rex Mr. Schmidt refers to is affectionately known as ‘T-2’ by the technical staff of Universal Studios Hollywood. T-2 is the 6 meter tall, animatronics menace who resides in the climacteric indoor section of the newly opened Jurassic Park attraction.
T-2’s hovel is designed to resemble a recently evacuated and dismembered laboratory. When a boat full of spectators reaches a trigger-point on the track in this area, Earth-shattering footsteps from an unknown entity, start to reverberate out of the darkness, drowning out the evacuation klaxon and other equally threatening and intimidating sound effects.
Rapidly flashing strobe and emergency warning lights, shifting ceiling trusses and walls, the clatter of twisting and straining metal, venting mist, steam and smoke from shattered pipes and a contrastingly calm, recorded spoken warning announcement adds to the heightened air of foreboding. After only a few seconds, the boat full of spectators emerges from an obstacle of broken pipes and severed ducts, and is greeted by a series of blood curdling roars that have not been heard on Earth in some 65 million years. T-2 suddenly swings into motion. Lunging down and out of the shadows from behind a waterfall fed by shattered pipes, T-2 angrily cranes his neck out and viscously snaps his jaws within almost arms length of the hapless passengers. Just when the passengers believe T-2 will start severing heads, the boat in which they are riding suddenly plummets down the America’s largest water-ride drop to the soaking wet safety of the splash pool 85 feet below.
Mr. Schmidt notes, “Jurassic Park is really a technological wonder. Universal likes to stay on the cutting edge of new technology to prevent down-time and make sure the visitors are awe struck by the time they head home.”
When the entire system and waterfall is on, dew point in this section of the attraction is 100% for as long as 16 hours per day, everyday of the year, except Thanksgiving and Christmas – the only two days of the year the park is closed. Aside from the waterfall, a substantial amount of water mist and vapor is vented into the atmosphere from ‘broken pipes and valves’, to create a greater impression of damage caused by the T-Rex. Mr. Schmidt states, rather factually, “It’s not the healthiest place for loudspeakers. The mist, moisture and humidity in this part of the Jurassic Park attraction is overwhelming. The former sound system could not withstand this environment, and we were left no alternative but to replace it after only four months of service. It was vital we find a powerful sound system that could survive in this room.”
James Byron, president of Direction Sound/Vision of Los Angeles, was contracted by Universal Hollywood to provide the new voice for T-2. Many variables had to be taken into account aside from just the hostile atmosphere. The background noise from the waterfall, the sound of the boat on the tracks and the chain-pull mechanism, registers at a consistent 100 dB.
“When I first heard T-Rex’s ‘roaring’ sound effect through the former loudspeakers, he sounded a little weak”, notes Mr. Byron. “The waterfall and the sound of the ride were drowning out the T-Rex foot steps and roaring sound effects from the former sound system. Plus, there was a lot of sound cancellation caused by the sound of the falling water. Not only did the new system have to stand up to the hostile atmosphere, it had to overcome other sounds that could not be controlled or dampened.”
Technomad WeatherTech loudspeakers were demonstrated to Richard Ales, Senior Manager, Technical Response, and Ed Carri, Sound & Video Foreman, both of whom quickly determined they had found the solution to their dilemma. Mr. Carri is quick to point out, “The musicality, dispersion and projection of the Technomads is all very, very impressive. But it was the fact that Technomad loudspeakers are designed to meet military specifications, and survive in situations worse then the Jurassic Park installation. That’s what made them the obvious choice for the job. If they are good enough to be mounted on M-1 tanks for battlefield simulations, then they should withstand our theme park.
” Mr. Schmidt wryly points out, “Universal is really the proving ground for new products and technology. We burn it up, blow it up or try to drown it. If a product can survive this environment, it can survive just about anywhere.”
For an initial quick-fix, “and evaluation purposes,” stated Mr. Carri, two Technomad full-range Berlin model loudspeakers were ordered prior to tearing out T-2’s original sound system. Originally, the left Berlin speaker was hung in the waterfall. A huge cascade of water was pouring over this cabinet every day until it was repositioned two weeks later. The Berlins are now suspended in the huge mist cloud, only one meter in front of the huge, three story tall waterfall that recirculates hundreds of thousands of liters of water around Tyrannosaurus Rex, every day. Each speaker is approximately 8 meters above the floor, and approximately 18.5 meters from the spectators. When the two Berlins were powered up, they immediately penetrated the overwhelming background noise and projected the ‘T-Rex roaring’ sound effect at a level of 110 dB, 18.5 meters from the source.
According to Mr. Schmidt, “We’re lucky here in the respect we see all of the new technology first, but we are also pretty jaded by all of it. Granted, it takes a lot to impress us. It was really a sight to see all of the technical staff, and then the executives, with such broad smiles on their faces after they toured Jurassic Park with only the two Technomads plugged in. I was very impressed with the sound when I toured the attraction the day after the installation, as well. So happy with the results, we replaced the remaining T-Rex sound system with a distributed subwoofer system consisting of eight Technomad Chicago subwoofers and an additional four Berlin full-range cabinets.”
“Since the Technomad loudspeakers are so small and extremely powerful, a redundant system of two flown Berlins per side was the obvious way to go,” states Mr. Schmidt. “This assures that should a single Berlin loudspeaker stop working, for whatever reason, the other loudspeakers in the array would still function and deliver the high-impact voice of ‘T-2’. The additional two Berlins are kept as spares, but the system is performing so well, these spare units will probably find a home in another attraction before long.”
As a replacement to the original large subwoofer cabinets, Technomad suggested a distributed system of four Technomad Chicago model subwoofers, per side. By distributing the Chicago subwoofers on the platforms, on each side of the boat track, and position them to within 6 to 10 feet of the spectators, the effective sound pressure level is increased by 3 dB to 6 dB, doubling the actual volume experienced by the audience. T-2’s footsteps have become even more all-encompassing, menacing and ominous to the audience.
“After what we experienced with the old, large format subwoofers, a redundant subwoofer system, such as what Technomad offered, made the most sense,” said Mr. Schmidt. “Our old subs were positioned within the mist field, and I am sure that contributed to their early demise.”
The failure of a single large subwoofer cabinet greatly compromises an attraction’s overall impact, and disappoints many visitors, for many hours – or even days – until replacement parts can be acquired and the unit repaired. Mr. Byron of Direction Sound/Vision notes, “A user in this type of application does not realize just how dependent he is on a single large subwoofer until it fails. When the unfortunate happens, 75% of the low end extension of the sound effects is gone, severely limiting the impact of the attraction.”
Each Technomad Chicago sub consists of a 15″ and a 12″ driver per cabinet and they are very small, measuring in at only 83 cm high, 53 cm wide and 27 cm deep and they weigh only 42 kg. Should a single Technomad cabinet, or driver within a cabinet fail, the remaining 7 subs or 3 full-range loudspeakers within the system will keep SPLs high. “While the attraction is still functioning,” says Mr. Carri, “I can have two technicians come out of the darkness, between boats, switch the cabinets and eliminate downtime entirely. But, I am no longer worried about the Chicago subwoofers at all. All of the new Chicago subs are away from the intense, soaking mist field, thereby assuring they should last forever.”
“I needed a speaker that was bulletproof and could consistently perform while being hit with continuous blasts of water and steam -The Technomads fit those criteria. We’re very pleased with T-2 now that he has his new voice courtesy of the Technomad loudspeakers,” says Mr. Schmidt. “I like being in the position where everyone is asking me to turn down the volume.”