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5D Takes Movies Underwater

July 25, 2018
A new attraction in Abu Dhabi gives a whole new meaning to becoming immersed in a movie—made possible, in part, by pneumatics.

Imagine you’re relaxing seaside—a light breeze blows, and you smell the fresh scents the of the ocean. The tide is coming in, and you are now sitting in the water. Is this reality or an illusion?

It could be real, but it could also be a new 5D movie experience, made possible by pneumatics. This new form of theater experience brings the audience into the story by producing effects that stimulate multiple senses. Seats are mounted to motion bases that are impervious to being submerged in water and accompanied by other effects, such smells, air and water jets, and a 3D visual presentation.

In Europe, 5D theaters have been established for some time. Now, experience theater is being taken to the next level. Yas Waterworld, the world’s first water park theater, opened in Abu Dhabi this past spring. This 5D theater not only floods, but also produces movement simulation in the water that is synchronized with visual, audio, and other presentations.

Yas Waterworld, recently opened in Abu Dhabi, relies on pneumatic valves and actuators to produce synchronized motion of theater seat while frequently submerged under water.

Matching Technology to the Application

The designers of Yas Waterworld wanted to create an entertainment experience that had not been seen before by adding motion to a variety of other effects already bombarding the senses. They decided on movement, so the challenge was finding the best way to generate motion under seats that would be repeatedly submerged in water.

Electromechanical actuators often are specified for motion bases in flight simulators and entertainment attractions, but the potential hazards of high-power electricity made it obvious that electromechanical was not the way to go. Furthermore, sealing proved challenging because any water getting into the lubricated components of the mechanical drive could have created major maintenance issues.

Another consideration was electrohydraulics technology, which is widely used for producing powerful, tightly controlled movement in these applications. However, prolonged submersion in water would have posed a sealing challenge, especially for piston-rod seals. Seal failure could introduce water into the hydraulic fluid and hydraulic oil into the water environment. Designers wanted to avoid the maintenance to avoid these conditions.

Pneumatics: The Only Solution

The solution came from Austrian company Attraktion! GMbH, which has focused on system integration for multimedia theme parks that are also suitable for water for about five years. “We needed a solution that functions precisely with a fixed installation and that scores with a long service life,” explains Max Wieland, engineer and head of system planning and engineering at Attraktion!. “We knew that pneumatics was the only solution. The impressive references and constructive consultation convinced us that AVENTICS was the right partner to have at our side.”

Each motion seat base contains seven pneumatic BCP double bellows actuators with bores to 203 mm strokes to 123 mm. The actuators are maintenance-free because they have no dynamic seals to wear out or leak, and their flexible construction tolerates a wide range of misalignment.

Pneumatics proved to be the best choice for three major reasons. First, because pneumatic valves can be controlled by pilot pressure, no electricity had to be routed directly to the valves controlling the motion-base actuators. Second, engineers at Attaction! chose bellows-type actuators to generate motion. Bellows actuators have no dynamic seals to leak or wear out, so keeping the water and compressed separated from each other posed no great challenge. Third, because the seats become partially submerged in water, movement from the motion bases needed to be smooth and fluid-like, which is easily accomplished by controlling pneumatic flow and pressure.

Pneumatics Key to the 5D experience

Motion seats from Attraktion! Use bellows type pneumatic linear actuators to provide three degrees of motion in conditions that frequently become drenched in water.

At the heart of the design is an assembly of four seats mounted to a motion seat base that moves in synch with the movie. Three independent axes maneuver each motion base for roll, pitch, and yaw in any combination for realistic movements. Air valves control movement from automated theater controller signals. To deliver this performance, each theater is equipped with a compressed air system consisting of a compressor and air reservoirs. Compressed air flows to an AVENTICS ED02 series proportional valve system, combined with AVENTICS MU1-RGS series pressure regulators.

ED02 series electronically actuated proportional valves pneumatically control pressure regulators through pilot pressure, eliminating the need for electrical control. The regulators, in turn, control bellows actuators that provide motion.

The electropneumatic proportional valves control pressure regulators, which supply the pressure to the system. The theater controller sends motion signals (0-10 V) programmed in sync with the film to the ED02 valve, which transforms the modulation into 0 to 6 bars and forwards it to the regulator. There, the resulting system pressure is passed on to the bellows cylinders in the motion seats according to the control signal.

Simple Solution for a Grandiose Experience

Thanks to collaboration with AVENTICS, Attraktion! has managed to develop a cost-effective solution that can be implemented for the long term. Although an initial technical implementation required three proportional valves and three pressure regulators per row, the current, revised variant has cut material costs significantly by requiring only three proportional valves to supply nine pressure regulators.

“AVENTICS quickly identified the need for optimizations and assisted us with expert advice,” explains Wieland. “The result: a simple technical solution that is more energy-efficient and cost-efficient. Thanks to the consultation from our partner, we will benefit for the long term—even in new projects…And movie fans can look forward to truly unique theater experiences.”

Future Development: World Firsts

The “wet theater” format was developed in 2009 as a collaboration between Markus Beyr and Markus Achleitner, both from Bad Schallerbach, Austria. The concept has been refined through the years, but only a few 4D and 5D theaters with real water effects have been built.

The Yas Waterworld water park is the first water park theater with flooding and other special effects. It provides the experience of being right in the middle of a theater that is suddenly flooded with water, where moviegoers are immersed in warm water up to their waist. Water rises from below, flooding the theater matching what is happening in the movie. Wave machines perfect the illusions, rounded off with waterfalls that flow to the left and right of the screen. Attraktion! is working on a second project of this type, set to open in Guangzhou, China. It will also use pneumatic components from AVENTICS.

John Bridges is marketing manager at AVENTICS Corp., Lexington, Ky.

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