Dragon’s Treasure™ Part I
Experience Imagination | Episode 11
About the Show:
Experience Imagination is a themed entertainment podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode covers a new topic discussion with a panel of creative professionals.
Show Host: Abhinav Narain – Creative Content Specialist
Studio Guests: Cecil Magpuri - President/Chief Creative Officer, David Schaefer - Vice President, and Geoff Benham
Take a look into the inspiration behind Dragon’s Treasure™, a 360-degree multi-sensory media experience at the renowned City of Dreams Casino in Macau. This groundbreaking show combines 360-degree 3D CG media and audio, theatrical lighting, state of the art show action elements, and special effects to create a fantastical guest experience. Find out more about Dragon’s Treasure™ here: Dragon's Treasure
Case Study | Dragon's Treasure Part I Transcript:
Cecil Magpuri: You're listening to Experience Imagination, a themed entertainment design podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode, we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals.
Cecil Magpuri: Hi, I'm Cecil Magpuri, President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon’s.
Abhinav Narain: Hey everybody, this is Abhinav Narain, the moderator for the episode. This episode will actually be part one of two, covering one of the most unique and most challenging projects Falcon’s has ever had the pleasure to work on.
Abhinav Narain: In 2009, Falcon’s completed Dragons Treasure, a full dome theater shell at the City of Dreams Casino and Resort in Macau. We'll be hearing from Cecil and David in this first part, as they talk about what it was like to conceptualize this experience.
Abhinav Narain: We will also be joined by special guest, Geoff Benham, who was Falcon’s client for the project.
Abhinav Narain: So let's just go ahead and jump in. This is our Dragons Treasure case study, part one, creating the vision.
Abhinav Narain: To start us off, let’s do some introductions around the table. Cecil?
Cecil Magpuri: Cecil Magpuri, Chief Creative Officer. I was Creative Director on Dragons Treasure.
Abhinav Narain: David?
David Schaefer: Hi there, my name's David Schaefer, I'm Vice President at Falcon’s Creative Group. At the time of Dragons Treasure, I was the Technical Integration Manager for this project.
Abhinav Narain: Great. To begin our conversation on Dragons Treasure, we are talking about the vision that started this project. Let's start by talking about the context behind this endeavor. What was the goal? What was unique about this guest experience, about the desire for this project?
Cecil Magpuri: Lawrence Ho, who is the owner of Melco Entertainment and Partners of Melco Crown Entertainment, which is the developer who executed this casino, wanted the experience to revolve around dragons. That was the only framework.
Abhinav Narain: That was the only criteria.
Cecil Magpuri: That was the only criteria. We came up with this idea of creating something unique. Instead of something that was passive, that would just happen every 20 minutes, we thought introducing something unique like a pre-show to the casino might be a good pitch of an idea.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: So, it was embraced.
David Schaefer: That criteria of having it revolve around dragons was actually an awesome launching point because that started to give us some guidance from a more story, legend, lore standpoint that I think we all capitalized on and were able to start to dive in and really find that there's amazing lore there, that could support that idea of enriching the visual spectacle.
Abhinav Narain: I think the idea of calling it a pre-show to a casino experience is so mind-blowing. It blew my mind when I first heard that. Can we talk a little bit about how it could possibly play that role? Digging through the lore, where did you find that opportunity to tie it to that experience?
Cecil Magpuri: When I was ideating in my own head, prior to being involved with the greater brainstorming session, I felt like an open forum would have been a challenge to introduce any story because you are distracted by other things. So you have to make such a spectacle thing just to get attention.
Abhinav Narain: There's a competition for your attention.
Cecil Magpuri: Attention. To control that is part of the success. I gravitated to saying, "What can I do to create this where I could dim down the lights and forcefully have guests absorb the story?"
Cecil Magpuri: Then I realized, wait a minute, you know, dragons are like cherubs, they're good luck. I saw, going to these casinos, trying to understand the Chinese aspect of the casinos, versus my experience in the Western casinos. There was a jade dragon sculpture in front of the casino entry that literally, you couldn't decipher that it was a dragon because it had become a natural stone looking thing. Consumers, before they go in a casino, would rub it to the point where you couldn't even decipher that it was a sculptured jade dragon.
Abhinav Narain: Rub it for good luck
Cecil Magpuri: For luck.
Abhinav Narain: Like it was a ritual.
Cecil Magpuri: Exactly.
Abhinav Narain: Of all the consumers.
Cecil Magpuri: This is something we did due diligence on, we learned the fact that the reveal of a jade dragon or a dragon in your dreams or in your path, gives you good luck. That connection with me wanting to be successful with the theater experience, controlling the environment, and knowing that the subject matter actually gives guests the feeling of good luck, the combination of those two made it become a perfect opportunity to become a prelude to you going through the casino experience, where you have a right to gamble in Asia, than it is in the Western, which is more of a vice, than here. But there, you have the right to do so, there's no judgment.
Cecil Magpuri: Having the dragons as a layer to add value to you feeling lucky, became a premise. But also, from a technical standpoint, I wanted to be able to control how the delivery system would be, so consumers could absorb the story properly. Pre-show, main show being casino, it made sense.
Cecil Magpuri: That was almost like an internal conversation, but it was respected quickly.
David Schaefer: I think there was a natural respect already. The casino world spends so much time on psychology of the casino environment and doing everything in their power to drive revenue and guest satisfaction and keeping the guests captured and entertained. It was a natural fit. The client immediately embraced that and respected that because the light bulb went off of, "Gosh, we're already trying to figure out how to do those types of things in the casino, this makes perfect sense. This is another way that we can elevate the guest experience."
David Schaefer: It happened organically and it was cool to see that evolve that way. I think, in retrospect, how revolutionary, because I think it hadn't been approached in that way. Exciting to see it evolve there and something that I think was cool, that it turned into that.
Cecil Magpuri: The fact that the client understood it, got it, gave us the autonomy to execute it, that was a big deal. To have that...
Abhinav Narain: Validation.
Cecil Magpuri: The validation and then the autonomy.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: To change something that they had a pre-conceived idea of what to do and really revisit the whole logic of it and give us the autonomy to execute it, to scale. It is the largest projected dome ever done that we're aware of, even today. Back then, it was definitely the largest edge-blended projection system.
Cecil Magpuri: We could talk about the technology all day long, but ultimately it was just an amazing, immersive storytelling venue.
Abhinav Narain: When did the conversation occur that this should be a 360 degree experience? When did the dome enter the picture?
Cecil Magpuri: Right away. That was part of the pitch.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah, really?
Cecil Magpuri: It was immediate. We continued to push the envelope of keeping the content as immersive as possible. You may not be familiar, for those who don't know about this attraction, the dome almost feels like it's truly a full dome.
Abhinav Narain: It feels like a full sphere.
Cecil Magpuri: Correct. The way we designed it is, the actual dome itself landed on a mirrored surface on the outer perimeter. So the content continued below your feet. Lighting wise, and musically, we created an atmosphere that felt like it was even above you and below you.
Cecil Magpuri: Visually, you would actually see content go below your eye height. I think creatively too, when we started to think about the volume is, if you've been in big venues, it can be very challenging to get intimate in a big amphitheater type setting.
Abhinav Narain: True, yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: The whole story was such an emotional thing, so visually and musically, it had to be intimate. But it had to be epic at the same time.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: This is where I learned a lot, as far as spec'ing the right type of technology, the speaker systems. We went with the Meyer sound system. The design of the layout, we had some of the best in the industry. Jonathan Dean helped us do the sound design layout.
Cecil Magpuri: Ultimately, we were able to screw the brainpower, mitigate the risk and have intimacy.
Abhinav Narain: And the epic.
Cecil Magpuri: And the epic, both.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah.
David Schaefer: I think the intimacy factor was mitigated, not even just by the visuals of the media and the audio, but I think some of the technology with the chandeliers and the water curtain, were another way that we were able to take this large volume of space and bring it closer to the audience and make it a little more tactile or tangible.
David Schaefer: I think introducing real water into the venue starts to cut through the technology a little bit and is a nice reminder from a story and emotional standpoint of some natural beauty and helped fulfill that desire for the intimacy.
David Schaefer: Then at the end of that act, when all those elements tucked up into the roof of the dome, and you were left with this vast void of space, that was another element. The space truly transforms.
David Schaefer: Then as the music kicks back in, instantly it becomes intimate again. I feel like, from a guest standpoint, its an emotional roller coaster that we took them on. I think it's something we intentionally try to do on our traction's, is lead that emotion throughout. It really was successful here because of some of those elements.
Cecil Magpuri: We did a lot of due diligence on Chinese lore and stories revolving around dragons. The dragon kings were one of the ones that we embraced. North, east, south and west dragons were the main foundation for our storyline.
David Schaefer: I think it was cool because each one of those four dragon kings flexes and almost, in a way, wants to show off its own realm and take us there. It's all getting motivated by this humble little carp that you start to realize that its really the carp that is leading.
Cecil Magpuri: Is the catalyst.
David Schaefer: Is the catalyst. The show culminates with the carp transforming to the jade emperor, the most important dragon of them all. Throughout the whole story-
Cecil Magpuri: Of which all four of them bow down and recognize that.
David Schaefer: Exactly. Tying back to our discussion earlier, is all about bestowing that good luck and feeling onto the audience as well too.
Cecil Magpuri: It's the statue that everyone had been rubbing for good luck, to the point that you couldn't recognize it anymore.
David Schaefer: Exactly. And he was there all along. It was until he wanted to reveal himself.
Cecil Magpuri: Yes.
Abhinav Narain: Okay, well let's continue this conversation and invite Geoff Benham, who was Falcon’s client for the project.
Cecil Magpuri: Welcome Geoff.
Geoff Benham: Thank you, it's good to be here.
Cecil Magpuri: Awesome.
Geoff Benham: Thank you for including me.
Cecil Magpuri: You bet, you bet.
Geoff Benham: I'm a fan of your podcast for sure.
Cecil Magpuri: That's great to hear, awesome.
Cecil Magpuri: So Geoff, if you can elaborate a little bit on the initial beginnings of this amazing experience. I know in our industry, this became a big, big milestone, a re-shifting of storytelling. We're excited about being involved with it, but we'd love to hear you, as a client, how you started to sculpt so unique in the marketplace.
Geoff Benham: It's mind-boggling to try and think Cecil back to when you and I met. I had done a globetrotting trip really, to talk to creative groups around the world to see who might be able to help me with this. I remember talking to our mutually, very good friend Norm Schwab about all this. In fact, he was helping me with some, understanding some of the technologies and the lighting aspects and potentials for the bubble.
Geoff Benham: He says, "You know, you gotta talk to my friends at Falcon’s."
Cecil Magpuri: That's right.
Geoff Benham: It wasn't long thereafter that you and I were sitting around a diner table somewhere in Orlando, I think. I'm pretty sure it was Orlando.
Cecil Magpuri: Right. You flew out here.
Geoff Benham: You had laid out the Falcon’s story to me, which is obviously very appealing. Then we just started talking, as I recall it. I laid out what my original thoughts were for it, but was decidedly handicapped from being able to turn it into what it could be and needed someone who was creative genius, in my mind, and able to help me assemble and run the team needed to turn this thing into what it really should've been and what it ultimately became.
Geoff Benham: I think that was one of the main reasons I fell on you guys. Obviously, your creativity and experiences had stood well by themselves, but it was in that meeting where you and I start talking about it, and you were the first group that didn't say, "Alright Geoff, the pros can take it from here."
Geoff Benham: You were like, "Hey, this is a great story, let's start working on it." And the sparks started flying at that table.
Geoff Benham: I sat back and said, "I think we're off and running."
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, I felt the energy. The synergy between us, it was one of those things that was supposed to be a brief meeting in a café, and I think it was over three hours by the time we actually looked up. We were so psychologically, mentally in the creation side that everything kind of disappeared around us and we were literally designing, real time.
Cecil Magpuri: It's like I was in this virtual world. New ideas started to come to play and it was really the synergy of dialog between us became quite spectacular.
Cecil Magpuri: I felt that there was a kindred soul in the creative process when we first started to talk.
Geoff Benham: No doubt about it. Ultimately, that's what lead to such a successful partnership, I believe, between my company and yours.
Cecil Magpuri: Yes, definitely.
Geoff Benham: Along with business and personal friendship with you and David and Yvette and Scott and the whole group there at Falcon’s Creative.
Geoff Benham: Now I won't tell the funny stories about Falcon’s Treehouse.
Cecil Magpuri: That's another podcast.
Geoff Benham: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We'll take care of that another day.
Geoff Benham: You and I have been doing this long enough that you see lots of kooky ideas and do your best to put on a game face and always throw your best at it. I really believe that the peculiar nature of this opportunity and the creative fencing back and forth that you and I had, in a positive way, I don't mean fence like a competition.
Geoff Benham: We were sort of, "Where do we go now? What can we do?"
Geoff Benham: It was just one thing after another, that I had not experienced that before and quite frankly, haven't experienced it since. It's a little bit daunting.
Cecil Magpuri: That's funny you say that because we talked to almost everybody and it was one of those projects that we continue to reference as the perfect job. It was one of those things that creatively, there was no ridiculous framework of logic that wasn't sound.
Cecil Magpuri: Everyone was collaborating and it was like, there was no constraints to elevate ideas to make this thing better.
Cecil Magpuri: I know, David, you were talking a little bit about how the team was incredible, that was formulated.
David Schaefer: Exactly, I think it's just a testament to the team. I think we could go around to every single vendor involved and there was some component of this show that they had never done before, but everyone was, rather than be scared or fearful of that, they embraced that and were excited to push that boundary and take it to the next level.
David Schaefer: From the projection design to the intricacies of the lighting, some of the show action pieces.
Cecil Magpuri: All of it was fresh and new.
Geoff Benham: We assembled the rockstar team, there's no doubt about it. My job, really, was pretty easy once we got up and rolling. All I tried to do was bulldoze for you guys, keep my company out of the way and making a mess of it and the contractor.
Cecil Magpuri: That sounds light, it isn't light and we really respected that, that you really trusted the assembled team to do right by the product and project.
Geoff Benham: I've been there and done that.
Cecil Magpuri: Right.
Geoff Benham: I saw what you guys were doing, so I didn't need to really manage you. A little bit of direction here and there, but it wasn't direction like, "No Cecil, that's wrong."
Geoff Benham: It was, "Hey, let's try and do this, let's try and do that." Or I'd respond to something that you were saying and then we would, more often than not, collectively go talk to either Lawrence or the board or whoever it was that was making the big picture decision.
Cecil Magpuri: The ultimate decision, right.
Geoff Benham: I remember one of those meetings we were sitting in, and you and I were both doing our best shadow puppetry to try and explain something. I think it was the notion that the dragon's emperors lair was beneath the City of Dreams and that was, we weren't getting there. You quickly pulled out a sketch pad in rapid visualizations, sketched City of Dreams hotels and podium with the bubble sort of proudly in the middle and then took it underwater.
Geoff Benham: That sketch that you did in 15 minutes in front of the executives and some of the construction dudes as I recall, that summarized it right there. Everybody went, "Oh, okay, good job, keep going guys."
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, we have so many amazing artists here now that have taken on the baton and taken it to another level, but that was something that I knew, it had to be done in that moment. You looked at me and said, "Well, we're not getting there with dialog, what can we do beyond dialog?"
Cecil Magpuri: That's when we were able to do something visual and it just became clear for everyone. They could actually recognize the logic of the storyline and how it was reflected underwater.
Cecil Magpuri: Great memory.
David Schaefer: I remember a similar experience. I think at one point we were probably mid technical design and I'm sure you were getting pressure on your side, Geoff, to question, "Are these guys really hitting their mark? Are they going to be able to pull this off?"
David Schaefer: I remember there was a gentleman leading up more the construction side and came from that large-scale construction background. He flew out to Orlando with the intent to bang some heads together and really show us how it's done and really try to put the project team in check.
David Schaefer: We all collected here at our office and had all the show team here and basically presented their designs. I think we just completely overwhelmed him. By the end of a day or two of meetings, he was just speechless and he was, from that point on, he was a total ally and advocate because we, as a team, had proved ourselves that we know what we're doing and can actually achieve this.
David Schaefer: I think it all kind of ties back to what you were saying before, it's about that communication, it's not just the technical drawings, but it's the dialog in between.
Cecil Magpuri: And the logic behind it.
David Schaefer: And the logic behind it and the creativity. I think at that point, we had little scale model and things that you could touch and look at and communicate, "Well this is how this is gonna work and we're gonna do this over here."
David Schaefer: I think all of that was just so far beyond what he was traditionally presented with in the construction type role. He was just overwhelmed and ultimately, I think that just put us in a good position because again, it gave us the support that we needed to execute.
Geoff Benham: My company was scared to death of what we were doing. Nobody had ever done what we were doing.
Cecil Magpuri: There was nothing to reference, nothing to say, "It's like this." Right? Yeah.
Geoff Benham: It was just our ability to somehow keep everybody calm and let us keep going.
Cecil Magpuri: It was interesting because we were that rouge team that didn't let other ancillary things get in our way. We were showing that there was no critical path, we set a goal and we were gonna hit it.
Geoff Benham: Well, I think the key word you said there buddy, is team.
Cecil Magpuri: No doubt.
Geoff Benham: Falcon’s and well, certainly my crew within Melco Crown Entertainment, were able to form that team and we operated very, very differently to other groups that were trying to produce different pieces of the project.
Cecil Magpuri: Yes, right.
Geoff Benham: Certainly from my standpoint, it was one of the huge benefits. That we had a very open and candid relationship, you and I in particular, and I could tell you when we had problems and vice versa.
Cecil Magpuri: Oh yeah.
Geoff Benham: Discuss it and come up with a plan, rather than standing toe to toe, screaming and yelling and threatening and this, that and the other.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, there was never finger pointing.
Geoff Benham: It happens all too frequently in projects.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, exactly.
Geoff Benham: You reap what you sow.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah.
Geoff Benham: I'm proud of what Falcon’s Creative Group has become and I feel a little bit responsible for helping incubate that because while you certainly spoke a good story, I knew there was a lot of this stuff that was so brand new. Your internal team were stellar, just from that outset.
Cecil Magpuri: There's no question that Falcon’s brand is 100% benefited from Dragons Treasure, it was incredible for us as a brand. It was our, I think, second Thea award and it won the VES award, which was our first.
Geoff Benham: That's right.
Cecil Magpuri: So to have the visual effects community embrace something that was a special venue instead of a feature film, was huge. Very proud and we're very grateful to have been involved in it. It has elevated our brand significantly.
Geoff Benham: The feeling is mutual. We were trying desperately to help Macau create this new entertainment slice that was different from the game. Falcon’s Treehouse played a major, major, major role in that. I'm so grateful that I met you Cecil. You guys are the best, you know how to get a hold of me, anything I can do to help you guys along to get the word out about doing these crazy projects and having the nerve and making the commitments, I'm happy to help.
Cecil Magpuri: Thank you for that extension, I really appreciate it.
Geoff Benham: My pleasure.
Cecil Magpuri: Alright.
Geoff Benham: Thanks guys, talk to you soon.
Cecil Magpuri: Alright, thanks Geoff.
Abhinav Narain: Well that concludes part one of our Dragons Treasure case study. Part two will be coming out soon and in that episode, we will be talking about how the vision was executed. We'll be joined again by Cecil and David and also by the Director of Sound here at Falcon’s, Rick Morris.
Abhinav Narain: We'll also be joined by two special guests for that episode, including Norm Schwab, who was the lighting designer on the project, as well as Klaus Badelt, the world famous music composer, whose known best for his work on Pirates of the Caribbean and other major Hollywood works.
Abhinav Narain: Don't forget that you can send us an email with any questions or thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abhinav Narain: Thanks everybody, we'll see you in part two, coming soon.
Cecil Magpuri: This has been Experience Imagination. For more information about this episode's discussion, be sure to visit our blog at FalconsCreativeGroup.com.
Cecil Magpuri: And don't forget to follow Falcon’s Creative Group on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.