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Site visit: Engineers Aurecon create Dubai Motiongate theme park

Engineering consultant Aurecon was given the brief to create the rides and attractions which now bring a slice of Hollywood to the UAE.

Working alongside architects Gensler, the firm was tasked with recreating visions familiar to movie-goers and at the same time transporting them into the centre of the action.

Among the attractions at the park are a Ghostbusters ride where visitors can shoot at spooks projected on screens in front of them, a visit to the eerie Hotel Transylvania, a village from the world of Shrek and simulated sets from Kung Fu Panda and the Smurfs.

For thrill seekers there is a hurtling indoor roller-coaster based on the movie Madagascar.

Old-style Hollywood glamour is also recreated via a 1960s-style New York street, together with a vintage theatre offering live shows.

Motiongate. Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images.

Gensler first approached Aurecon to collaborate on the project in December 2013. The opening date had been set for 16th December 2016 – just 36 months away.

Aurecon explained its project team collaborated closely with the architects in Los Angeles through the placement of members in Gensler’s offices. Aurecon said collaboration with the client, Dubai Parks & Resorts, was also key with Aurecon placing a site supervision team on the construction site to ensure progress could be easily coordinated.

Motiongate. Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images.

The key to the work was to create interiors free of any machinery which detracted from the authenticity of the experience for visitors.

Technical engineer Daniel Whyte of Aurecon said: “Our team realised that by designing buildings with long span trusses and ensuring large, column free spaces that were free of internal structures, we could generate space for the set designers and artists.

“We also came up with solutions that enabled the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems to be located in these roof truss spaces. This gave the set designers more flexibility and freedom to play around with the internal spaces and theming – literally creating a ‘blank canvas’ on which the artists could work.

“The key to a good theme-experience is full immersion into the ‘set’. Back-of-house [staff and actors changing facilities, cooling, lighting boards and controls] need to be kept out of view of the guest so that they only experience the ‘story’ being told by the theme.”

Motiongate. Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images.

Lighting was a key towards achieving this objective according to the designers.

Whyte said: “Foreground areas are coloured exactly as the movies with lighting directed to show just enough detail but without highlighting anything to detract from the experience. Audio in these spaces is not background music, but scripts and sound effects.

Motiongate. Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images.

“The theming is produced by contractors who painstakingly recreate the design intent of the original creative designers. On top of this the movie studios have the final say on everything to ensure that their intellectual property is being accurately represented.

“Everything in the background is painted with fade out colours. There are even colours in this industry named things like ‘go away green’ and ‘no see-um grey’. These act in conjunction with tricks whereby lights are placed in areas which add glare if you look in the wrong direction thus preventing the guest from seeing anything to take them out of the experience.”

This approach was vital in creating seamless environments in which equipment did not visually detract from the overall experience of visitors.

“If it is not located above ceilings or behind walls then as much as possible items are finished with fade out colours and located behind lighting,” said Whyte.

Motiongate. Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images.

“This generally works very well with things that do not need to be on display such as ducts, grilles, sprinklers, emergency lights and smoke detectors.

“If there is no clever trickery available to hide the equipment then the fail-safe method is adopted – ‘paint it black’.”

BIM and other digital technology played a vital part in the creation of the attractions.

Whyte said: “Besides the logistical benefits of collaborating on the same models in real time through Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), the use of 3d modelling and BIM sped up project delivery.

“While most designs are still achievable utilising a traditional 2d approach to engineering, the complex geometry of the buildings and attractions [at Motiongate] would have taken significantly longer to create without digital solutions.”

Motiongate. Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images.

Throughout the project, the architects received hand drawn sketches from the set designers and artists in order to finalise the buildings’ designs. Aurecon’s design team then set about devising engineering solutions for these complex shapes – which included giant mushrooms and ice creams.

“BIM allowed our structural, MEP and façade teams to visaulise in a 3d environment to create effective solutions that achieve the design intent” said Whyte.

“BIM helped us to ‘optioneer’ models that were different in terms of foundation, layout and truss structures, which could still be accurately costed. Digital engineering lends itself well to this type of prototyping and we do not believe that we could have been successful in this programme without the use of BIM. ”