Case Study | Atlantis Sanya
Experience Imagination | Episode 5
Show Host: Abhinav Narain – Project Coordinator
Studio Guests: Chuck Yex - Project Manager/Art Director, Joe Schaefer - Technical Design Manager, Patrick Reilly - Senior Concept Designer, Robb Wilson - Project Manager/Art Director, Stephen Ricker - Associate Creative Director
A Deep Dive into the Design of Atlantis Sanya.
Join us on a behind the scenes look at the design of Atlantis Sanya, China’s premiere ‘Underwater World’ inspired entertainment destination resort, located on Hainan Island. This conversation explores the creation of the fundamental story that drove the overarching design theme of both the Aquaventure Waterpark and the Lost Chambers Aquarium and the intricacies of how the “Atlantean Regal” style was brought to life.
You can find more about the world-class resort here: https://www.atlantissanya.com/
About the Show:
“Experience Imagination” is a Themed Entertainment Podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group, a design studio and media house that works to create immersive experiences around the world.
Case Study | Atlantis Sanya Transcript
Cecil Magpuri: You're listening to Experience Imagination, a themed entertainment designed podcast presented by Falcon's Creative Group. Every episode we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals.
Hi. I'm Cecil Magpuri, president and chief creative officer of Falcon's.
Abhinav Narain: Hey everybody, this is Abhinav Narain, our moderator for the episode.
Hey, Cecil how's it going?
Cecil Magpuri: Real good.
Abhinav Narain: Great. So, for this episode, we're doing something a little bit different. We wanted to kind of do a project study on something that Falcon's recently completed. Could you go ahead and introduce the project for us?
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, sure. It's Atlantis in Hainan Island in Sanya. It's the very first international execution of the Atlantis brand in China, mainland China.
Abhinav Narain: What was Falcon's responsible for on this project?
Cecil Magpuri: We were involved in developing the story and the kind of overarching theme of both the water park, Aqua Adventures, as well as the Lost Chambers, which is the aquarium component to the resort.
Abhinav Narain: And we've got two panels that we're going to be talking to today. In our first panel, who do we have?
Cecil Magpuri: Our first panel will consist of Robb Wilson as well as Stephen Ricker, and Joe Schaefer.
Abhinav Narain: And then we're going to move on to our second panel.
Cecil Magpuri: Our second panel will be Chuck Yex Yex and Patrick Reilly Reilly.
Abhinav Narain: Great. Well, we'll go ahead and jump into that conversation, and we'll circle back with you, Cecil, for some closing thoughts.
Cecil Magpuri: That sounds great. Thank you Abhinav.
Abhinav Narain: Guys, go ahead and introduce yourselves. Starting with Robb.
Robb Wilson: Hi. I'm Robb Wilson, and I'm project manager her at Falcon's Treehouse, and during the Sanya project I was a production designer.
Stephen Ricker: I'm Stephen Ricker. I'm an associate creative director, and during the Atlantis project I was a set designer.
Joe Schaefer: And lastly I'm Joe Schaefer. I'm the technical design manager here at Falcon's, and while we were working on this I was a technical designer.
Abhinav Narain: So, to start how do you craft a story that drives the design of an aquarium, or water park? Robb, you want to start us off?
Robb Wilson: Sure.
I think with this project, especially, we had a client who has an existing brand that's known for their previous installations in the Bahamas and in Dubai. So, we wanted to take an approach that stemmed very differently that went in a totally different direction than their dig archeology based idea and concept behind their previous Dubai and Bahamas Atlantis. So, for this project we looked at a story that could drive all of the elements of architecture, and all of the choices in the tank exhibits, and water park features. That's very different than a modern archeological dig, or ruins. And it lead to this mermaid princess character that we created, who falls in love with a Chinese prince, which is why he built this incredible Atlantean wonderland on the surface to remind her of home.
Stephen Ricker: Which explains why it is a bit of a departure from the existing Atlantis resorts from it being kind of an ancient ruins to this beautiful grand, brand new, elegant space.
Joe Schaefer: Throughout the space there's all sorts of references to aquatic life, and the fact that it is an aquarium, and you're in their realm not the other way around almost as if the fish were looking in rather than the other way around.
Abhinav Narain: The people were the exhibit.
Joe Schaefer: Right. Kind of. And that's kind of like made evident like in a lot of the ... Like the elevations and the details. There's lots of elements taken from like whale fins, and clams, and oysters. There's lots of like scenic elements that reflect those creatures-
Robb Wilson: It's anatomical features that we took as inspiration. Pat started one of those ideas, right? That the shape of the fluke of the beluga whale, which we knew from the client they wanted as one of their main exhibit animals. And we had a couple of those big parameters from the client early. They wanted to have the ambassador tank be this massive almost football field sized tank filled with whale sharks. It's one of the most challenging species for any international aquarium exhibit to house. There are very few that do that. So, we put those as the main focus from both sides, from the aquarium side and from the hotel-
Joe Schaefer: The hotel side, yeah. That's what I'm thinking of.
Robb Wilson: The suite side. That you could have suites directly connected to the massive ambassador tank.
Stephen Ricker: And in contrast to the conceptual storyline and the approach that we took to create this space, we also ... We learned such a great deal about the life safety of the marine animals. We're used to creating spaces for people, and we understand the design of safety and accessibility in those spaces, so we got to learn all about different marine species and what they need to, not only survive but thrive.
Robb Wilson: You had to have lattices for the lobsters to be able to crawl over in the crustacean tank. It makes their lives easier and less stressful, apparently, if they can cling to and climb across a latticework structure. The whole walls of that crustacean tank have these build outs that let them climb and situate themselves, and they can climb actually overhead on yourself-
Stephen Ricker: It's a tunnel.
Robb Wilson: In a tunnel form-
Stephen Ricker: But the sharper and more jagged edges the better for them.
Joe Schaefer: The layout of the Atlantean chambers was so complex, and so detailed that we couldn't stick to a classic style of drawing. I mean, we did, but everything's super hyper organic-
Robb Wilson: Curved rounded edges on every single thing. No wall goes flat, and they all wrap around each other. So, we had to figure out ways to unwrap those elements, and flatten out the data so that people could actually begin to construct the wall finishes, and put the columns wrapped around with a custom fabrication.
Abhinav Narain: The challenge of that Atlantean regal style that you guys were creating.
Stephen Ricker: Yeah. Exactly. Another term we use a lot was Atlantean nouveau. So, it had this art nouveau curved linear feel to it, but really drew inspiration from undersea forms as well.
Abhinav Narain: Are there any challenges beyond the fish life and the pipeline?
Stephen Ricker: Coming from a theatrical background lighting is such a critical element to help create this immersive space, and with the overall layout and the design of the guest experience not having a straight line in it, it became very critical to find opportunities to add texture and color through lighting that, from a practical side, didn't create all of these terrible reflections on these great big glass walls surrounding them.
Abhinav Narain: Let's switch over and talk about the water park for a little bit, because that Atlantean regal style, that narrative of the Chinese prince building this monument out of love. You have one consistent narrative motivating all of this, but you could argue that there are two very different energies in an aquarium space versus a water park space. How do you balance maintaining the same architectural language, the same design, across two very different atmospheres?
Joe Schaefer: Yeah. The big difference between them is the mood you try to set in both places. So, the aquarium is somewhere that's awe inspiring, or somewhere you're going to this aquarium it's a place that you're not normally allowed to go to. You're being invited to go to this mystical, almost, place where you're almost in the same environment with all of these animals.
Stephen Ricker: It's almost spiritual.
Joe Schaefer: Right. Yeah. It's somewhere where you have full light control and we can make it be as dramatic, or exciting, as we want it to be-
Abhinav Narain: As theatrical as you want.
Joe Schaefer: Exactly. As designers we get to decide that. But when you deal with water parks they're normally outside, so you lose the element of light control. So, the other fact is that people go to water parks for fun. They go there to be excited. They go there for thrill rides. They go there for the slides. Whereas, the people are going to the chambers to see something they've never seen before. They'll spend more time in the chambers, whereas with rides or slides it's a quick burn, excitement.
Robb Wilson: The most time you get to capture them in those ride towers is on their climb up-
Joe Schaefer: That's true.
Robb Wilson: So, you try to make a lot of the really exciting features not concentrated on dropping past some big overhanging scenic element, or something like that, 'cause-
Abhinav Narain: Because they'll miss it.
Robb Wilson: Because they'll definitely miss it.
Joe Schaefer: It never works.
Robb Wilson: And it's a waste of resources from a planning perspective. When you have them climbing for half an hour, sometimes an hour, up these six or eight flights of stairs you want to make that experience not super boring.
Stephen Ricker: And it also comes down to the type of experience. It's really an awe inspiring experience versus a thrilling experience. Both are enjoyable and have their own emotional arc, however, they lead almost to a different place.
Abhinav Narain: There's, of course, a different energy as well. It's a little more contemplative in aquarium. It's a little bit more you absorbing something, and a water park, of course, there's a lot of momentum. Is that echoed in the architecture?
Robb Wilson: You can see that reflected really readily in the basic forms where there's not a single sharp point, or edge, corner, or flat in the entire chambers experience. There are a multitude of sharp edges, points, precipices, and different shapes that we're making in the water park that almost has a flora and fauna distinction. Where the aquarium, the chambers, is inspired in form by the underwater fauna, and some of the elements in the water park are inspired by the ground flora, leaves, trees.
Stephen Ricker: There's really a duality to the two experiences an inward and an outward kind of masculine and feminine energies kind of also reflecting being within the water and being outdoors, out of the water in the water park.
Abhinav Narain: You are not only designing for people and or fish, you are also designing for the water itself like as an element. There's water filtration, I would imagine, there's water treatment. How does that influence what you guys are doing?
Joe Schaefer: There's a lot of stuff behind the scenes that guests don't ever see. And, I mean, everyone will always say that. That's the case with every park. There's always back of house, always trade secrets. But the thing that jumps to mind immediately are behind the beluga tank there are two huge holding tanks to hold those whales, and we had to work the passageways for those tanks into the design of the beluga tank. Because they have to be able to ... When they want to get in and clean the beluga tank they have to be able to get the whales out. Or if they need to for medical reasons, or whatever they have to be able to get those whales out of the tank and into a holding tank that's behind the scenes.
Robb Wilson: Without stressing the animal. You don't lift them out. You give them an easy path that they can follow.
Stephen Ricker: And similarly each tank has it's own water filtration system, by and large. That way if there's an issue with one tank it doesn't affect the marine life in the others.
Joe Schaefer: Yeah. Every tank has its own catwalk, and staircase that has to be dedicated for it.
Robb Wilson: There was a few challenges we met early on, and one of the first things we had to coordinate with an outside vendor team, the client, was on the thickness of the glass for each of the tank sizes we chose. When we looked at a porthole style circular aperture, or even a hemispherical aperture that we did to accentuate, what Joe mentioned earlier of the fish looking into us as the exhibit, that we're always underwater we had to change the sizes of what we thought different species needed for their tanks based on what was achievable for glass thickness and water retention and safety.
Stephen Ricker: And also understanding the physics of how light passes through glass, and through water, and understanding the sight lines of each tank.
Robb Wilson: And curved and angled glass.
Stephen Ricker: Exactly. What you can see what you can't see.
Abhinav Narain: That's what I was wondering about.
Joe Schaefer: That last one was really important. There was sight lines-
Robb Wilson: Sight lines is an-
Joe Schaefer: Studies that we had to do.
Robb Wilson: We had to do mock ups constantly to figure out what we were looking at digitally and physically to see what you could actually invest your money in inside of the tank. Some walls don't need any treatment if they're not getting any angle of view.
Joe Schaefer: Right. Exactly.
Robb Wilson: And one of the major scenic ... It's not a chandelier-
Joe Schaefer: Yeah. It is.
Robb Wilson: It's an appendix chandelier.
Joe Schaefer: No. It's a chandelier. I mean, it's like a big chandelier. How do you classify a chandelier?
Robb Wilson: I don't know.
So, it's a chandelier with like octopus arms that connect it to the ceiling. So, it's this cool thing that extends and the lines with the light through it pulse, and then cause this kind of this pulsing heart of the organic energy source that powers the whole chambers. So, that goes through things on the wall, but things that are like gobo lights, or other theatrical lighting that are projected onto the walls of the tanks. It became a big consideration that Stephen had to do a lot of study with to figure where our tank fronts could be faced, and where we had to turn and curve the walls even more-
Robb Wilson: Our take fronts could be faced and where we had to turn and curve the walls even more to make sure that the things didn't reflect across.
Stephen Ricker: As well as where the lights sources could be in relation.
Abhinav Narain: What about plant life?
Robb Wilson: There was not very much
Joe Schaefer: I mean, what do you classify coral as? It's kind of like a half plant half fish.
Robb Wilson: Sure. There was a tank #21 in the upstairs, one of the larger upstairs, kidney bean shaped sort of tanks.
Joe Schaefer: They all got names like that. They got names based on shapes. There's like a liver tank. For some reason we just went with doctor-like anatomical terms.
Joe Schaefer: Kidney tank. Liver tank.
Robb Wilson: This one was a challenging one because the coral. So this large, backdrop wall that the client wanted to put a coral species that needs a time growth. You have to plant different bits of coral and concrete for the coral to grow on, so we had to design the tank in this weird sequence where we would get pieces that had to go into it, that would then be built early and start growing coral on this back wall.
Joe Schaefer: If you remember, we had to design that based on how we wanted it to look at the end, and then basically reverse engineer to account for the fact that the coral is probably not going to look like that when it starts.
Robb Wilson: Exactly.
Joe Schaefer: So you had to build the platforms and the landings
Robb Wilson: And it still looked good enough for the first year, or two, or three, and then it would still be built up right over time as the coral.
Stephen Ricker: That one was, the coral tank was particularly challenging from a lighting standpoint because it had artificial sunlight 24 hours a day and just completely blasted
Robb Wilson: That's part of the life support system.
Joe Schaefer: Another thing I wanted to mention is how to make an aquarium more immersive, more interactive, because at the end of the day, you can go to basically any aquarium and see fish behind plexi. That's a fairly normal thing. I guess the big challenge was how to take that to the next level and how to get that interaction so that the guests feel like they're part of the exhibit. That they're a part of this journey.
Abhinav Narain: How did you accomplish that?
Joe Schaefer: One of the best ways I think that you can get people interacting with marine life, is actually let them interact with marine life, right? So one of the ways we did it; as you come into the chambers, there's the big grand reveal of the Beluga tank, and then as you round the corner right behind it is this interactive tank, where you-
Robb Wilson: It frames you central to the open atrium area when you get to the touch tank, and it's kind of a knee wall high tank that you can reach down in to. One of the cool things we wanted to do from the start, was make the whole thing clear acrylic. Like a sitting bowl ... if you can imagine, one of the old-style bathtubs if it was all made of glass. Just sitting on the surface.
Joe Schaefer: Like a high-end sink fixture.
Robb Wilson: Exactly. So we wanted to make this really compound curvature ... again, almost kidney bean shaped curved glass, but when we got to the glass manufacturer providing all of the acrylic, they couldn't do compound curvature in more than two directions. So we had to figure out a compromise on the structural design of that tank for the viewing of the guests to still see a completely clear, edge-lit, acrylic bowl, while also being able to physically build it and get the piping through for all of the oxygen and life support and water filtration in a concrete base.
Abhinav Narain: For all of you ... What was your favorite moment on this project, or what was your greatest takeaway?
Stephen Ricker: What I really enjoyed about the Atlantis Project was really the complete immersive design that, you know, from the floor to the ceiling to the walls to inside the tanks, outside the tanks, lighting, effects. We got to create this incredibly immersive and magical place. As we kept progressing the drawings and refining and refining, it became sharper and clearer in all of our minds, and we knew that this was going to be something really special.
Joe Schaefer: It was unique because it pushed everyone outside, at least everyone I was working with at the time, outside of our comfort zone for the time. It was a type of project, it wasn't a theme park, but it was, like we've said time and time again in this conversation, it was having to worry about something that you don't usually have to worry about, and that's other living things that aren't guests. I think a lot of times, especially with what I do. I'm an engineer so I love the technical nature of things, and having to deal with access and necessity for filtration systems and all this stuff that makes sure that the exhibit stays good as they can be for as long as they can be. I found that fascinating.
My other favorite thing with any project and I think we're all in the same boat, everybody in this room is, when you start to see things come together. Yeah, Robb's motioning as if on camera.
Robb Wilson: Seeing the pictures come from your head to a piece of paper, even from your head to a written word of story, and then it goes to another member of your team who interprets that into a piece of art. And he goes to another member of your team. Then that goes to another member of your team who interprets that into a plan, and that goes to another member of your team who expands that into colors and materials, and then somebody takes that from your team to the site, to the facility, and they send you back pictures or video in front of a thing you imagined. That's one of the most special things we get to do.
Abhinav Narain: I think that about wraps it up. Thanks guys. We'll move on to our next panel.
Let's start with Chuck Yex.
Chuck Yex: My name is Chuck Yex [Yex 00:19:46]. I'm art direction for Falcon's Treehouse. On the project, I was a field art director. Spent nine months on the project directing the vendors in coordination with the owners.
Patrick Reilly: Patrick Reilly Riley. Senior concept artist. I was basically in charge of the design and the look of the attraction.
Abhinav Narain: To start, how do you begin to conceptualize an aquarium experience like this? What unique factors did you encounter when designing this space?
Patrick Reilly: Well I had to reference a lot of the undersea structures, whether it's pretty much basically natural, and then sometimes we'd incorporate it with manmade, either vehicles or structures that are specifically made to be underwater.
Abhinav Narain: Did some of that reference come from previous Atlantis projects, or was there a new look?
Patrick Reilly: I think there were some undersea projects that Falcon's had done before, and we had used some of the images that we'd done for that as reference, but a lot of the stuff we just tried to grab from everything we could find on the internet. Whether it was a video game, or movie, or you know, we tried to get ideas from everywhere so that we could as get many ideas as possible.
Abhinav Narain: How was this project used as a reinvention of the already existing Atlantis brand?
Patrick Reilly: They want it to be in line with what they had already done for Atlantis, but they want it to be a different experience. They want it to be from the same world, but just a different culture.
Chuck Yex: It's the brand continues with Atlantis insignia, but the details and the finishes and some of the sculptures and structures are different within the peripherals that they set for the aquarium sizes and shapes, and what animals and species would be inside them.
Abhinav Narain: So kind of trying to be an expansion of the lore. An expansion of the visual language of the brand.
Patrick Reilly: Correct.
Chuck Yex: Yeah. I believe we went with, instead of they unearthed an aged and falling apart Atlantis, we unearthed a pristine Atlantis.
Patrick Reilly: Exactly. And actually existing. Like we just discovered a lost world that still exists, pretty much.
Abhinav Narain: What was it like to start defining that fictional architecture? How do you even start a process like that?
Patrick Reilly: I think we pretty much just started even with some nebulous design that didn't even have to be buildings just could be structures, or statues that might be found in their society. It was one of the first key arts I did. It was just I just basically did some organic shapes and started adding shading to it and color to it until a structure formed, and then from there, I just started picking at ideas that I had in my mind as far as things that would apply to undersea designs. Then from there we just kind of started shaving things that we didn't need or, you know, did need and started molding it into the idea that we were looking for.
Abhinav Narain: What it comes to a space like this, how is the process of designing an aquarium different from designing another type of themed experience?
Chuck Yex: I don't know that it's too different. It's just another palette. Just the boundaries and the, you know, we're designing walls and ceilings, an indoor thing instead of an outdoor project possibly-
Patrick Reilly: There were some restrictions on it for the wildlife that was going to be in the tanks, obviously. We had to take that into considerations. You know, we couldn't just do whatever. There were certain things that they felt might be a little too sharp that the animals might harm themselves on that we had to round off.
Chuck Yex: One of those was the whale sharks, nothing in the whale shark tank, which was the really large tank, could be more than three meters high. Because the fish would hurt themselves.
Patrick Reilly: Yeah, and certain things had to be…designs had to be changed, but it was nothing too major.
Abhinav Narain: Is there anything more that comes with the territory of trying to make a visual style feel seamless, but still having to blend it into a living ecosystem space? Any other examples that you can give?
Patrick Reilly: There was a motif in the designs that was reoccurring, which was almost like these gills that had intakes that could almost be used to flow oxygen through different chambers, so I kind of incorporated that into the design. There was a lot of these repetitive looking gill type motifs throughout the design.
Abhinav Narain: That's terrific
Patrick Reilly: That's just one example, but there were other little things in there ... The color palette and textures, and stuff like that.
Chuck Yex: The color palette is ... When doing a aquarium, you got to be able to have the foresight to know that people are going to be viewing this through the water, and the water changes color.
Abhinav Narain: That's a great point.
Chuck Yex: And you have to expand or emphasize your contrasts, otherwise everything gets lost and it looks like the same color. I got a lot of strange looks from the vendors when we pumped up the volume on the contrast ... and it almost looks funny before you put the water in, but once the water came in they realized, oh wow, I see it now.
Abhinav Narain: Speaking towards the relationship from the beginning of the project to the execution at the end of the project, was there any communication that you guys kept ongoing towards the end of the project? You know, Patrick Reilly you did the initial sketches and art to define that style, or was it pretty much just set and definitive that you had everything that you needed to work with?
Chuck Yex: Yeah, I had plenty of drawings and direction, and I spent a couple weeks with the creative group before I went off to China to talk about certain things, and look and feel and make sure I was on the same page as they were. Because they had been working on this thing for a year or more, and I just jumped into the game for two weeks before I went out there. So there was plenty phone calls back and forth at the beginning of the project, you know, when something came up.
Patrick Reilly: I don't think there was any communication between you and I.
Chuck Yex: No, I didn't ... it was Stephen and Joe more than anybody. Just our creative manager because that was his part of the project.
Abhinav Narain: What does onsite art direction involve? What are the steps like to take a concept design on paper and realize it in the real world, and in another country?
Chuck Yex: I think that to understand the project ... the look and feel at its end ... the final look and feel of everything, and to relay that to the vendors and to the owners so they know what to expect at the end of this project, and then just to be there on a daily basis to help guide and answer questions and check colors and finishes ... but being like what we call a creative guardian, we have to understand with the end in mind. As a field art director, it's a daily process and it's cool to see everything come together. You know, evolve.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah, I'm sure everyone wanted to see all the screenshots that you were taking of the actual-
Chuck Yex: You know, look what you drew!
Abhinav Narain: Yeah, right?
Chuck Yex: this came out really great!
Abhinav Narain: What was a common issue that may have cropped up on a day to day basis?
Chuck Yex: Well with an aquarium, the understanding the species and the animal.
Abhinav Narain: In that kind of process, both on the concept side and one the onsite art direction side, who's communicating that insight to you? Who's communicating that natural world expertise?
Chuck Yex: The owners of the project had marine biologists onsite that I worked with often. And if there was ever a question, they would come and look at the sculpture in process and they would help me understand these things, and we would work together to make it safe for the animal yet still appealing and attractive.
Abhinav Narain: What was their input like on the concept side?
Patrick Reilly: Well like mentioned earlier, I mean, every once in a while we do a sketch. Because usually that's it starts how out. We do sketch. We send it. We get approval for it, and sometimes there'd be notes on it. Like I would need to tone some-
Patrick Reilly: ... for it, and sometimes there'd be notes on it, that we need to tell him some down, like you said it was mostly architectural stuff like-
Chuck Yex: The three meters high.
Patrick Reilly: The three meters high and this area right here. This crevice is too small. An animal might get stuck in here, so make it a little bit wider.
Abhinav Narain: Oh, interesting.
Patrick Reilly: Don't make these design motifs so sharp, because they might scrape up against this, so round it off. So, I would have to come up with a way to round off any sharp edges, but still make it look like part of the design on the rest of the attraction.
Abhinav Narain: Was there a particular animal that was the neediest, in terms of what kind of habitat they required?
Chuck Yex: Yeah, it was the Beluga whale. So, I did some reading and research on it, and then working with their marine biologist on site, and that animal itself is ... the skin is pretty fragile. That it can get hurt.
Abhinav Narain: What was your favorite moment on this project, or what was your greatest takeaway? You are free to answer both, if you have an answer to both.
Patrick Reilly: Probably, my favorite was basically finally, after the initial concept sketches and whittling everything down to the look we were going for, was finally doing the final key arts and adding the colors, and seeing ... even doing the elevations for it, and watching all of that become realizing, and actually finally get to see everything, and you have a better understanding of what this would look like, when it finally surrounds you, and it becomes an actual location.
Abhinav Narain: You defined a new visual style and now it's all-
Patrick Reilly: Exactly.
Abhinav Narain: Come together.
Patrick Reilly: Becoming a reality, yeah.
Chuck Yex: I would say, pretty much the same thing. When I got there, there was brick and white walls, and in the nine months I've seen, we built a water park and we built an aquarium. There was finished pieces, and they were starting to put water in some of these, and the colors and the jewels, and everything just coming to life. So, being able to look at what Patrick Reilly and some of the others drew, and then say, "Hey Guys, look at this." Here it is finished in real life.
Patrick Reilly: And then seeing photos come back from you guys, and then seeing it match up with the concept art was pretty incredible also.
Abhinav Narain: What was your role in the development of the water park?
Chuck Yex: We did the detail design for the towers, the two giant slide towers. Some of the other buildings, the entryways. Some of the area development, the shade structures. We did all the rock work for the lazy river. More than half my time was probably spent on the water park.
Abhinav Narain: It's the same narrative, and it's the same architectural, visual style. Is there a different approach that you have to take when designing a water park, versus an aquarium?
Patrick Reilly: It's two different environments. One is theoretically set underwater, so you have more of that underwater feel, just like kind of catering to the style and look of fishes underwater.
For the waterpark, it's more like-
Chuck Yex: You get to really go underwater.
Patrick Reilly: Yeah, right? It's more like a culture of a cross between humans and the sea, so it's a nulling institute, rather than just being 99% ocean inspired. It's more human architecture, and the ocean, kind of a mix of the two, for the waterparks.
Chuck Yex: I don't know that I got too involved in the psychology of it all.
Patrick Reilly: Yeah, I mean that's really odd. It's like a lot of people throwing ideas around, and then they're like, "Okay, let's go in this direction."
Chuck Yex: For the waterpark, yeah. We were just more concerned with shape and color, and texture and you know.
Abhinav Narain: Chuck Yex, is it safe to assume that there are significant changes to the original design, that must be made when you're on-site?
Chuck Yex: Yes, site conditions and that process always bring changes, and every project I've ever worked on, hopefully, they're not too significant, that we can do something quickly, and modify something to fit. Sometimes some sizes or shapes, or corners of a building don't match up like what we thought they would.
There was an incident, or an instance I'd say, looking in from the guest perspective into the giant tank, we had these four giant columns that, they were probably 15 meters high, maybe bigger, with these windows that were next to them, and the vendor didn't field measure correctly, or they were going off of drawings without field measuring, and somebody ahead of them changed something.
So, the spacing was different, and they brought these giant columns that they worked on for a month or two, or whatever, and it didn't fit. So they, without really thinking about it, wanted to just cut the top off. We're like, "No, you can't do that. That's a decorative top. We have to cut sections out of the middle, and then join it all back together." Otherwise, it would have looked funny.
Abhinav Narain: What's it like to work with vendors, internationally?
Chuck Yex: You keep an open mind, it's really cool. It's a learning experience. They are conscientious, the Chinese people. They really want to do a good job. Their mindset and their order is a little different than ours, but what they want to happen is the same. They want the best product they can make.
In all the years of experience and watching people build things, I came to China and we were doing the sculpture for inside the aquarium, and we would wire frame it, and then I came back the next day and they would have slats of wood, shaping the shape.
Abhinav Narain: Really?
Chuck Yex: Yes, and I had never seen anything like this. I'm like, "What are you guys doing?" And then they slapped clay on top of it, and they masked it with the clay, and they detailed sculpt it with the clay, and it's hot there, so clay melts. So, they had to wet it and protect it every day, every night, and we're talking, pieces that were 10, 12, 15 meters long. You know, the giant columns, and those giant crab looking things that were in there.
In America, I've never seen anybody use clay like that. We use clay for small sculptures when you're doing something in bronze, or we use foam or hard coat. So, the process was much different, and then they molded, take the mold off, and destroy everything, and repurpose the clay and use it again.
Abhinav Narain: Really?
Chuck Yex: Yeah. So, they had people that their job was to clean the clay, put it in another pile, so the new artist can use that same clay.
Abhinav Narain: What do you think is the reason for ... cost efficiency?
Chuck Yex: I think they were just taught that way over the years, in the schools. They have theming schools, to teach their sculptors and painters how to do things for the theme parks.
Abhinav Narain: Do you think it was more cost efficient? Why do you think they were taught that way?
Chuck Yex: In the long run, it probably is more cost efficient, because you can repurpose some of the stuff, and reuse it again, and again. With foam and that stuff, it's done.
Abhinav Narain: That's incredible.
Chuck Yex: Yeah. With the clay, you can get some amazing details. Fine line work and stuff.
Abhinav Narain: So, it was a different process that you weren't familiar with, but in the end, it got the results that you needed?
Chuck Yex: Yes, exactly. Their end product was fantastic.
Abhinav Narain: Alrighty. I think that about wraps it up. Thanks, Guys.
I want to thank all of our panelists who joined us in this conversation.
Cecil, I definitely want to hear from you, 'cause you actually had the opportunity to go and visit it, when it was fully completed. You visited Atlantis Sanya.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, I was invited fortunately, and it was very humbling to be invited to the ribbon cutting event, and it was spectacular. Obviously, a big investment on Fosun's part. An amazing presence. I think they had over 400 people come to the event. Very, very high end experience. So wonderful to see our experience being enjoyed by so many people.
Abhinav Narain: Absolutely. One of the most interesting things in this conversation, and the panelists, they were all talking amongst themselves, even before we started recording, about how interesting of a challenge it is, to design something that will involve living creatures, in the aquarium. Having to design with their behaviors, and their health in mind.
Cecil Magpuri: I kind of reflect back on the project. Even as a consumer, I love Atlantis in the Bahamas, and me and my family, we frequent going there, and I just remember walking through, what they call, The Dig, which is the original version of The Lost Chambers. It was spectacular, being able to experience aquariums with a storyline, threaded through the-
Abhinav Narain: With that theming layer.
Cecil Magpuri: Layer ... in the guest area, and so, that was really intriguing to me, and I said, "Gosh, one day I would love to be able to be the one creating the new version of this." And wow, it came true.
Abhinav Narain: Absolutely.
Cecil Magpuri: We were approached, and embraced, by both Fosun and Kersner, to be able to reinvent, which was another challenge, reinvent Atlantis. The way they chose the original Atlantis execution, was the old discovery of civilization-
Abhinav Narain: Ancient ruins, yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: ... ruins underwater, and they didn't want that. The new resort is a little bit more contemporary in style, and so they wanted to reinvent that aspect of it, and we came up with a whole approach, to make it more of a love story, actually, between a Chinese prince, and a princess mermaid.
So, that became a whole new exercise of creating the chambers to be actually built purposely, for the princess mermaid. So, it's intriguing to think about that overlay of story, which influences the waterpark as well, from an architectural standpoint, but also tied back in to the logistics of dealing with marine life and their demands for environment.
Abhinav Narain: There's also the component of actually needing to design for the element of water itself. Chuck Yex had ... they were talking about how they needed to paint the colors to be extra saturated-
Cecil Magpuri: Saturated. Yeah.
Abhinav Narain: Because once the water came in, it was gonna dull the colors. Stuff like that is so fascinating, that you don't think about all the time when you visit these places.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, and if you do visit during the construction process, you look at the color palette, and you go, "Well, who's bad taste is this?" It looks really Gody, and so, ultimately, when you start to see the algae growth, which is purposeful, and the blue water filter that you have to look through, and see the actual color palette, and it's elegant. It's gorgeous. It's beautiful.
I was just so impressed. My phone ... I was just taking photos left and right. It was unbelievable, because I was so inspired by the environment. The other layer of inner-activity that we introduced, with projection mapping on the floor, the touchscreens, that was a huge added value, to communicate in different ways, how to understand and learn about the species themselves. So, guests were really engaged. It was a very powerful experience.
Abhinav Narain: It must be very rewarding to see this thing, that you've worked on for so long, and then you can actually see children reacting to things, and adults pointing at things.
Cecil Magpuri: Unbelievable. It was so spectacular to see the guests engage with it. You do these experiences, and you design in a laboratory, and you just hope that your ideas and visions come to life, not only from a physical standpoint, but from an engagement standpoint, and when it pays off, it's so rewarding.
Abhinav Narain: Well, this was a fantastic conversation, and really educational from a lot of different perspectives.
Cecil Magpuri: No doubt. I think that the panelists did a great job of kind of talking through some of he challenges that we had to overcome, but it all paid off. Caring about the end product at all phases of the project is [crosstalk 00:40:24].
Abhinav Narain: It shows.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah.
Abhinav Narain: Absolutely. Well, see you in the next episode. Thanks, Cecil Magpuri.
Cecil Magpuri: You bet. Thanks, Abhinav.
Abhinav Narain: This has been, Experience Imagination. For more information about this episode's discussion, be sure to visit our blog, at falconscreativegroup.com, and don't forget to follow Falcon's Creative Group on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
We'll see you next time. Thanks.