Legacy Entertainment pushes the themed-attraction envelope

Inventive design firm finds fertile ground in Asia and beyond

AT: Dean Lamanna

LOS ANGELES — Legacy Entertainment, true to its name, has been leaving its mark around the globe for nearly two decades. Since 2002, the award-winning design firm has delivered thrills through 40-plus immersive attractions such as Monster Mansion at Six Flags Over Georgia and elaborately themed indoor and outdoor parks and destinations, including Trans Studio Makassar in Indonesia, multiple ride projects at Lotte World in South Korea, and the sprawling Studio City Macau and Galaxy Macau resorts in China.

Now, with several major projects completed in 2019, it is wrapping one of its busiest years ever.

The North Hollywood-based company, previously known as Gary Goddard Entertainment and Goddard Group, rebranded two years ago and named then 14-year company veteran Taylor Jeffs president and chief creative officer. Rounding out the management team are Barry Kemper, COO and director of production; Marcus King, chief projects officer; and Eric Carnagey, managing director, global business development and media.

In an interview with Amusement Today, Jeffs acknowledged that Legacy is still “kind of carving out our space” in the market as it moves forward under its new name.

“We’re a boutique firm, which gives us the flexibility to take on projects that are exciting and interesting, and decline others that aren’t,” said the executive. “We’re known for mega-projects but actually like doing smaller things, as well. If someone came to us with a project involving a little retail cart and it sounded really different, challenging and fun, we’d take it on. If we’re going to commit ourselves to anything it needs to be groundbreaking.”

Having long shared a neighborhood with some of the world’s biggest movie studios, the company, which has just 25 full-time employees, has adopted an adventurous, yet practical, film production-type approach to its work.

“We build teams based on the projects we’re doing, and at any given time we’ll have 100 or more people working for us,” explained Jeffs. “For example, we’re doing animal and a marine life parks for a group in China, so we’ll bring in life-support systems people, acrylic design people. If we’re doing a casino, we bring in gaming people. It wouldn’t make sense to have specialists like these on staff full time, but they are absolutely critical.”

In addition to maintaining flexibility, Legacy limits its capacity in order to uphold high standards.

“Because we’re not a big company, we take on only three or four projects at a time. But you can only plan so well and can’t control when clients want to start, stop or pause their projects. Sometimes you’ll have seven of them happening simultaneously. Keeping all the plates spinning is a challenge.”

Evolving attractions

Legacy met that challenge this year, seeing several dark rides and theme parks to completion while designing about half a dozen other projects that are in different stages of development.

The dark rides, Road Rage at Trans Studio Bali and Pacific Rim: Shatterdome Strike at Trans Studio Cibubur, are located in indoor, multi-floor retail / FEC-type facilities in Indonesia. “For each, we had to figure out something that would make them really stand out, some kind of new territory to chart,” said Jeffs.

The company derived twists on both concepts from the walkthrough attraction genre.

Billed as the “world’s first stunt show dark ride,” Road Rage, tentatively set to open in December, taps Indonesia’s inexpensive labor market — integrating live performers into the rolling 3D film experience instead of pricey audio-animatronics. It also incorporates a dynamic ride system from Oceaneering.

For the giant robot battle-themed Pacific Rim ride, a collaboration with Legendary Pictures and Lay-Carnagey Entertainment described as the “world’s first immersive theater dark ride,” the value-added twist involves a staged breakdown of the ride vehicle about halfway through. This requires passengers to disembark and make their own way through an interactive stretch before reboarding to complete the 20-minute journey.

Citing Universal Studios Hollywood’s permanently operating The Walking Dead Attraction as well as seasonal park haunt experiences, wherein performers repeat the same gags at 15-to-20-second intervals, Jeffs wondered aloud why similar live elements have not been deployed in regular attractions more frequently. 

“Why is there this double standard between haunts and theme park rides? If anything, our rides have much less frequent dispatches than haunts do — like every 43 seconds. Adding live gags to them became a way for us to make the experience more effective.”

Jeffs characterized Legacy’s partnership with the Trans Studio properties and their parent company, CT Corp., as “fantastic, because the chairman is all about groundbreaking, shocking, wild ideas. Everything we do with them, they expect us to come back with something crazy, which is unique for Asia. Often, they want what’s been done in the U.S. already.”

Innovation, in fact, defines the entire Trans Studio Bali venue.

“We’re calling it the world’s first social media theme park because everything in it is designed to be seen and shared through your smartphone,” said Jeffs. “And they’re all tangible experiences — there’s no VR or augmented reality.”

Making the facility and its attractions social media friendly also exemplifies the need for the attractions industry to “look outside of itself,” observed Jeffs.

“If you’re only looking inward, that’s not how you evolve. And if an industry is insular and only relies upon itself for inspiration, it’s going to stagnate and die. We always try to keep our fingers on the pulse of what’s happening with the latest and greatest trends outside of our industry.”

 Cross-cultural synergy

While Legacy has enjoyed much of its success in Asia, where it has opened more than 20 projects in the last decade, the debut of Shanghai Disneyland in 2016 has revealed a more sophisticated customer base and ever-greater industry potential.

“It’s the best thing that could possibly have happened to China and Asia for the theme park market,” said Jeffs. “Not only does it set a standard for everyone else to aspire to, it shows how successful a theme park in China can be.

“We’ve been going to China once a month for face-to-face meetings since 2006, and we would always get lectured by potential clients about the way the Chinese think and operate. They’d say, ‘The Chinese people don’t like to walk. They won’t eat in a theme park restaurant. They won’t shop in a theme park store.’ Shanghai Disney has proven all of that wrong. There are still some design concessions we have to make based on where we are, but now companies that hire us want the Western standard.”

The US$700 million Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park, which opened in November 2018 and earlier this year brought Legacy a Best Theme Park award from the China Cultural & Tourism Development Conference, represents a resounding achievement for the company.

“For me, our big win at Haichang is that everything in the park is layered and interwoven, and the design is very nuanced and a lot of fun,” said Jeffs, noting that Legacy was one of four Western firms that participated in a government-approved conceptual design competition for the project six years ago. “The roller coaster is going above walkways, under walkways, over the river. The rapids ride, which is the world’s longest, winds through half of the park. I hope it inspires other people to be more creative with their park design in China.”

The destination’s original annual attendance estimate of 3.2 million has since been boosted to six million.

Another, more recently opened park master-planned by Legacy is the 76-acre Dream Bund, a few hours south of Shanghai in Zhejiang Province. It is located in Hengdian World Studios, which is said to be the world’s largest film and television center and is famous for its collection of full-scale practical sets that include intricately-crafted recreations of more than a dozen iconic Chinese palaces and locales.

The new park / functioning film studio, styled to evoke Shanghai’s Art Deco waterfront district during the first half of the 20th century, has been designed to allow for the concurrent operation of attractions and up to 20 productions. It includes a trolley tour, a historical museum and a hotel modeled after Shanghai’s iconic Broadway Mansions building.

“We designed this park so that just by changing its signage, it could represent any time between 1900 and 1950,” said Jeffs. “It could be made to look more modern, as well.”

Other Legacy projects under construction include China’s Chimelong Marine Science Museum, located adjacent to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China, and expected to be the world’s largest indoor theme park at four million square feet; The Sea Shell, an aquarium on the Vietnamese resort island of Phú Quốc with a turtle-shaped building design inspired by local ancient mythology, set to open next year; and Lotte’s Magic Forest, an outdoor theme park in Busan, South Korea, that will debut in mid-2021.

In the meantime, the company is exploring opportunities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and other locations internationally.

For Jeffs, who was born in Irvine, California, and virtually grew up at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, where he would later work during his high school and college years, awaking to the industry every day as an adult is his dream job. “Just being engrossed by it all as a kid and seeing first-hand how guests would use a theme park — that was the most valuable thing that ever could’ve happened to me.” 

His colleagues at Legacy Entertainment share his intense love of the medium.

“We’re very passionate about advancing it and putting great work out there,” said Jeffs. “When theme parks are done well, they are as good or better than any other entertainment medium. When all the gears are clicking and the pistons are firing, it’s as great as any movie or any piece of theater.”


This article appears in the NOVEMBER II 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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