Merlin’s immersive Shrek attraction takes linear experiences to new heights

Merlin Entertainments has revealed new details about its upcoming fully immersive Shrek’s Adventure attraction, which is set to be rolled out worldwide following its July 2015 debut in London’s Grade II Listed County Hall.

Collins-construction is working on the project build, which has been designed not to impact the listed building.

“We’ve built into the rooms so as not to damage the existing building,” said Eddie Saul, creative lead for the project speaking exclusively toCLAD. “Rumplestiltskin’s Carriage used to be (former London Mayor) Ken Livingstone’s office, so it’s changed quite a bit!

“We had to go through English Heritage, which is challenging. But rather than fight that we’ve taken that on board. We go into rooms and think ‘oh its a magical bus depot, let it have columns and let it have that look’. People will go in there and say WOW. To have some of these spaces are amazing. Working with English Heritage, they say we have to conform to X, Y and Z, but they’ve been very accommodating with what we’ve done. If in 20-30 years we need to go somewhere else, we can just take everything out and move it elsewhere without damage to the building.”

Merlin has also enlisted design and manufacture company Scruffy Dog to work on the project, while London-based MDM is working on props and models for the attraction. Merlin’s in-house Magic Making team is overseeing the entire development from start to finish.

Working in conjunction with DreamWorks Animation, the immersive story will follow a similar format to that of the London Dungeon minus the frights. Starting at the ‘Far Far Away Bus Depo’, visitors will be transported to the fairytale world with the help of a 4D experience by Simworx. With Donkey in the driving seat, the immersive flying bus ride combines state of the art technology, brand new DreamWorks 3D animation and multi-sensory special effects. Following a crash-landing in Shrek’s swamp, visitor’s will find themselves in Far Far Away.

From there the walk-through attraction will take guests to iconic locations in the Shrek universe, including Spooky Forest, Rumplestiltskin’s Carriage, the Poison Apple Pub, Game Show Studio Torture Chamber, the Magic Mirror’s Maze and Muffin Man’s House.

After leaving Far Far Away and escaping the clutches of Rumplestiltskin with the help of Shrek, guests will be returned to the DreamWorks Tours Arrivals Hall. Here they will be able to get a look at other popular characters from the DreamWorks realm, including those fromMadagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, with one of the most impressive features of the Arrivals Hall being a nine-meter-long model of Toothless the Dragon and his companion Hiccup.

Speaking to CLAD, Saul – who also operates as creative lead for all of Merlin’s highly popular Dungeon experiences – explained how the immersive Shrek-themed version would be a step up on what was currently on offer.

“To put it into kind of its basic format, we describe them as batch linear experiences,” said Saul. “What that means is they are a way for people to go on an experience and feel like they can influence a story. If you go round a Dungeon, you can go and think that’s the first time the show has been like that and often it is – they’re kind of spontaneous.

“The added layer you’ve got with the DreamWorks experience is that world of content. DreamWorks have created such characters that kind of stick in everyone’s mind. It’s that layer which differentiates it from a Dungeon. We’re pushing that model further and seeing what it can do.”

Saul also said that the script for the experience – which will last around 1.5 hours – was completely new and has been written exclusively by DreamWorks for the multi-million pound project.

“We’re not rehashing anything from any of the films and once they’d nailed out that script, we took those words and developed them into a visual concept for them to sign off on,” he continued. “DreamWorks have been very visual people so for us to have it in storyboard form for them to get by in that way has been very useful. Once that concept was bought into, we’ve then looked at all of the actor elements and all the costume designs done in partnership with them.

“If you’ve got an IP like Pinocchio or Shrek, the context that that’s set in – does that feel right? [DreamWorks] has signed off on things like that. Validation from a company such as DreamWorks is amazing for us. That fact you’re getting that validation makes you want to improve that little bit more so we’re trying hard to do that little bit better.”

In the Q3 2014 edition of Attractions Management Merlin’s chief development officer, Mark Fisher, revealed that the deal between Merlin and DreamWorks would see six Shrek-themed midway attractions developed worldwide. Saul elaborated on how those would differ.

“On the future projects, you have location specific stuff,” he said. “For example here in London you get a London bus, you fly out over the London Eye and see Big Ben, but in new locations we would change the overlay to fit those specific locations.”