At their most compelling, theme parks grant us the power to do the incredible. They move us through enchanted portals, allow us to travel through time, defeat robot armies, survive attacks by mythical beasts, and escape the bounds of gravity to fly.
Of all these trips, flight might be the most popular theme in the parks. Whether we are riding on the back of a flying elephant, knifing through the air like Superman or soaring around the world, we can find flight-themed attractions in all of the world’s top theme parks. Why do we love flying so much?
Because from the time we first entered consciousness, we’ve wanted a better view of the world around us. Being a short a little kid stinks, having your view of the world restricted to the legs of the adults around you. Even as we grow, there’s still someone, or something, blocking our view, even if it’s just the limit of the horizon. How wonderful would it be to soar above all that?
That’s why theme parks provide us so many different ways to fly. Or, at least, to engage our imaginations to pretend that we’ve taken flight. But how do the best attractions trick us into believing?
Like with all acts of magic, the key to success with theme park rides lies in getting us to buy into their illusion. In “Life, the Universe and Everything,” the third book of the five-volume Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (yes, I know – that’s part of the joke), Douglas Adams wrote, “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
The first step in creating the illusion of flying for theme park designers is to place us into a physical position where we feel like we’re falling – like we are throwing ourselves at the ground.
If I am sitting upright in a chair on a “flying” ride, then I feel like I am just on another airplane ride. That’s nice, but hardly special enough to send my heart and imagination soaring. So think about the…