Creativity and Science Collide Inside Seuss Landing

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Original Article By The Dis Unplugged Blog

Posted on Monday, 7th March 2011 by Aaron DelPrince

No lines here, no lines there, no lines anywhere!  What?  No lines in a theme park?  That’s unheard of!  Well, let me elaborate a little.  I’m not talking about an attraction line where you wait for your turn to ride.  I’m talking about visual lines.  The kind of lines you see with paint covering structures, cement and other materials which physically give a theme park its character and personality.  Let’s not even discuss lines, but curves and twists instead.  Put the usual and typical theme park model aside for a moment and let’s discuss a place where the unusual and different exists.  Clear your mind because we are about to take a journey through a story book setting created by theme park designers and engineers so unusual it took months and even years of painstaking creativity for it to become a reality.

Over at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park there’s a place where straight, 90-degree angled lines do not exist anywhere.  This didn’t happen by accident.  It was intentionally created and built this way to bring a series of books and characters to life.  Seuss Landing was Islands of Adventure’s attempt to create a land for young children to enjoy while living inside the stories and books of Dr. Seuss.  So much detail and creativity went into this land you’ll be surprised to discover what took place to bring Dr. Seuss’s world to children and families of all ages.

Before Audrey Geisel would give Universal Orlando permission to create and build Seuss Landing inside Islands of Adventure she laid out various requirements and prerequisites.  Audrey Geisel was the wife to the late Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel who died in 1991.  She holds the rights to the Dr. Seuss books, characters, and stories.  In order to protect the integrity of the Dr. Seuss series of books and stories she wanted to make sure Seuss Landing was created with the books in mind.  She wanted a place where you stepped right into the Dr. Seuss storybooks.  This was a huge challenge for the Universal Creative Development team.  How would they be able to best bring the storybooks of Dr. Seuss to life?

It All Started with an Idea

After the Universal Creative Design team examined the Dr. Seuss books and stories they realized the new land would need to be “whimsical”, full of color, and visually stimulating.  After all, the Dr. Seuss series of books conveyed those messages to children and families around the world.   Taking those messages and translating them to a themed land was the challenge.  Building and designing attractions for the new land was only part of the equation.  The visual effects were just as important as the attractions to a successful Seuss Landing.  In order to make the land look like the storybooks, 90-degree angles and straight lines had to be excluded.  But how could everything be built with no straight lines?  After all, you needed light posts, signage, cement separators, support beams, etc, etc.  Universal Orlando searched for the right partners to help construct the frame and exterior of Seuss Landing.  The creative team new what they wanted, but now they needed a set of construction partners to bring it to reality.

One of those partners was KHS&S.  They are a design partner in the Orlando area who hand-sculpted many of the facades in Seuss Landing.  Once the steel frames were in place KHS&S came in to apply expanded polystyrene foam (a form of styrofoam) to the structures.  Most egg cartons are made out of polystyrene.  The foam was mixed with a hardening agent so when paint was applied to the material it would exhibit a brighter more whimsical look.  A major consideration for the polystyrene foam was weather.  The foam had to be able to handle the rain, heat, and humidity Orlando dishes out each year.  The foam-like material was hand sculpted to fit the design of the land.  The challenge was to shape the unusual buildings with the material.  Each layer that was applied had to be closely monitored and scrutinized in order to give it the whimsical appearance needed to represent Dr. Seuss’ books and characters.  Specific props inside Seuss Landing took several weeks to complete.  For instance, the 31-foot hat outside the Cat in the Hat attraction took 2 weeks to apply the polystyrene foam and another 2 weeks to shape and carve.

Another contractor who played a key role in the development of Seuss Landing was Technifex.  They were specifically brought in by the Universal creative team to build and install water props throughout the land.  You’ll see several of these props used at the ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’ attraction.  These props have interactive components to them.  For instance, the fish towards the top of the attraction will spit water on your ride vehicle if you don’t follow the instructions of the ride’s vocal narrator.  Make sure to listen to the narrator or else you could walk off this attraction soaked.  Depending on the day’s weather you may or may not want to follow her instructions.

One of the land’s iconic attractions is the Caro-Seuss-el.  Universal’s creative team brought in Dave Morgan of DH Morgan Manufacturing who helped create the “Seussified” carousel.  Just like the rest of the land, the Caro-Seuss-el had to be designed without straight lines and right angles.  The ride vehicles are mostly animals that have appeared in the Dr. Seuss books.  All of the rods that support the ride vehicle characters are curved.   The domed roof of the carousel sports fiber optic lighting underneath it to give riders the appearance of a starry night.  On the top of the roof is more polystyrene foam sculpted and constructed by KHS&S.

Several other contractors played key roles in creating the 10-acre Seuss Landing.  For instance, special contractors were used to install water proof speakers in a few water-based attractions and the special lighting effects used inside the ‘Cat in the Hat’ attraction.  This land was a 5 year project from contractual agreements, to conception, to creation, and finally construction.  The coordination and construction by several creative talents to bring the Dr. Seuss stories and characters to life was nothing short of amazing.

The Bright and Colorful Side

Leave it to the Universal creative team to think ahead.  One of the most important elements to Seuss Landing was color.  The color and paint would be the determining factor if Seuss Landing would be successful.  After all, the paint and color would be completely exposed to guests.  It’s would be the first thing they would see when entering the land and the final impression when they left.  Several tests were conducted prior to construction to determine what materials and paint could be used to best bring the Dr. Seuss books to life.  If you’ve ever looked through a Dr. Seuss book you know the colors are very specific.  These colors carry over to each book in the Dr. Seuss series.  Without the proper color palette Seuss Landing would become somewhat lifeless.

During the concept phase of the Seuss Landing project the Universal creative team conducted several tests.  One of the tests conducted was to examine what material would work well with the Seuss color palette.  As previously mentioned, it was determined a styrofoam based material would project the colors necessary to bring the Dr. Seuss books and characters to life.  However, one big test remained.  If the polystyrene foam was to be used with the paint needed to project the colors the combination would have to tolerate the typically brutal Orlando weather conditions.  The best place to test these conditions was in Orlando where Seuss Landing would eventually be built.  Universal and its contractors molded pieces similar to what would be used inside Seuss landing and left them out in the Orlando weather elements for over 6 months while they worked on attraction concepts.  They also did the same with some other materials to see what would perform best.  A big question was how would the color look after months of extreme rain, wind, the hot sun, and humidity?  Would it fade quickly or keep its bright and whimsical shades?

It was determined the paint and colors chosen worked very well with the polystyrene foam in the rough Orlando weather conditions.  What made the paint work well with the polystyrene material was how the paint absorbed into the foam.  The paint, once applied and mixed with the foam, went layers deep into the material.  If the structures in Seuss Landing lost some of their layers because of the weather conditions the paint would still show through brightly over time since it ran deep through the material.  This was important on many levels.  Universal would not need to continually apply paint throughout the land over shorter periods of time.  Paint would eventually need to be applied, but only every so often versus every couple of months.  If Universal had to continually apply paint ever few months it would be a huge budget consideration.  In addition, the land would begin to look aged with too many layers of paint on the various attractions and structures.  Stripping away the paint wasn’t an option since the structures would lose their shape.  The shape of the structures was just as important as the paint itself.

Like most newly created theme park attractions and structures there is a meticulous science involved.  In some cases there are more failures than successes when it comes to testing new attraction and structural concepts.  The concept and construction of Seuss Landing was no exception.  It took time, patience, and a persistent commitment to bring the Dr. Seuss stories and characters to life for our personal enjoyment.

Fast Facts

Here are a few more additional fast facts about Seuss Landing:

Palm trees that survived hurricane Andrew were used inside Seuss Landing because they were bent and curved from the strong winds providing the land with a more whimsical effect.

There are over 120 ride effects inside the Cat in the Hat attraction.

The Caro-Seuss-el was the first carousel to provide guests with interactive mounts to control their ride vehicle.

Most of Seuss Landing is constructed from recycled materials.

Audrey ‘Seuss’ Geisel was reluctant to let Universal build Seuss Landing because she didn’t think they would do the books justice.  After she saw the concepts and drawings she became interested and excited about the project.

Seuss Landing creators say that styrofoam was blowing all over the area during the construction of Seuss Landing in 1997.

Seuss Landing cannot participate in any of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights activities.  No haunted houses, creatures, or scare zones will ever be located in this land.

Conclusion

Definitely one of the most immersive experiences in any of the Orlando theme parks is Seuss Landing inside Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure.  It’s a place where reality meets the front cover of a storybook.  The moment you walk under the land’s archways to the moment you leave you are part of the Dr. Seuss storybooks.  The effects and visuals give you the illusion of living inside page 16 of the ‘Cat in the Hat’, or page 22 of ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ storybooks.  Not only did the Universal creative team do a great job with the Dr. Seuss theme, but add in some amazing structural and scientific concepts and you’ve got a place that combines all of the elements necessary for a phenomenally themed land.

If it wasn’t amazing enough to experience this land, just knowing how it was constructed, designed, and conceived is pretty amazing in itself.  To realize a good portion of this land was constructed by using styrofoam and other recycled materials is pretty incredible.  After I learned of these facts it gave me a whole new appreciation of walking through and experiencing the attractions inside Seuss Landing with my family.

I’ve always felt Islands of Adventure was one of the best theme parks anywhere.  I’ve also felt this park is not given enough credit for the work, creativity, and detail that was put into it years ago.  Seuss Landing was a great addition to the 6 themed lands when the park opened in 1999.  Just like the other 5 lands Seuss Landing has a story of its own.  The way it was built and came to life is completely unique and separate from the rest of the lands inside Islands of Adventure.  The next time you are at Universal Orlando be sure to head into Islands of Adventure and make a right at the end of the Port of Entry.  As soon as you make the turn be ready to see colors and shapes from the Dr. Seuss books.  Just remember, seeing is believing and you won’t believe what you see inside Seuss Landing…Or will you?

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