I had the privilege of working on Pearl Quest, an exciting Dark Ride project for China's Wanda Group.
It forms part of an expansive retail and entertainment hub in Qingdao, one of three parks within a new complex in the city. Known for its attractions, Qingdao provides visitors unrivalled access to entertainment at every turn, playing to a consumer hunger for immediately available, ambitiously scaled, immersive content.
I was responsible for designing the digital environments of the ride and bringing to life a vast, palatial city plunged in the secluded depths of the ocean.
Following the established approach to architectural design, I strived to harmonize fantasy elements and historical sensibility so that even the most whimsical creation felt authentic and deeply rooted in Chinese architecture and culture. To that end, I dived into Chinese mythology, symbolism and material culture, almost losing ourselves in the boundless beauty and splendor of such ancient and noble civilization. This comprehensive exploration allowed me to gain a deeper connection with the story of Nezha, which is the ride's central theme.
The character of Nezha is a well-known character in Chinese mythology, bound to protect people and fight demons and dragons. In the story Nezha pursues a magical artifact of extraordinary power held in a huge underwater palace by a mighty dragon.
Great care was devoted to the sancta sanctorum of the palace, the richly decorated canopy holding the magical artefact, closely guarded by the dragon. This is where the wealth and splendour of the palace reach their apex. Gold, crystal and jade are everywhere, creating a dazzling spectacle of sparkling lights and reflections. The canopy's platform gracefully unflods like a golden flower. The four dragons at its corners and the giant onyx stones help to draw the viewers' eyes towards the floating globe in the center.
As is often the case with our work, the design process was nothing less than holistic, ranging from outlining the overall palace layout down to sketching the doors and lanterns of the interior.
I designed grand halls and small chambers, large courtyards and long corridors connecting the vast complex, and all these places are held together by one common language drawing inspiration from marine life and underwater motifs.
Hallways are lit by dozens of anglerfishes hanging from the walls while elegant doors in the shape of spiral shells open up to the bewildered visitor.
Shoals of fish gracefully cross the water all around us, inflating depth into the environment and causing the blue light of this underwater realm to scatter and reflect.
Designing this immersive world for a dark ride has been a wildly enriching experience. Aware that ride guests are free to continually take an almost 360 look at their surroundings, I was inspired to go beyond the limitations of a
camera-centric perspective and embrace a level of immersion rarely seen in similar entertainment projects.
The design process had to adapt to a 4D experience that fosters a significant level of interaction between the
ride-goers and the digital environment. Particular attention has also been devoted to merging the digital world we created and the ride's physical space in Qingdao by the wise use of set dressing and additional media features.
In Qingdao, the attraction's opening day has seen thousands of excited visitors go through the ride. The overwhelmingly positive feedback has been the greatest reward after the many months of research and intense work.