26 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Attractions Management
2018 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Playing the Looney Tune

Theme parks

Playing the Looney Tune

With new and exciting leisure opportunities continuing to crop up in the Middle East, Yas Island, one of region’s hotspots for such offerings, welcomes one of its largest additions to date – the US$1bn Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi

Tom Anstey, Attractions Management
Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi is the largest indoor theme park in the world
The Gotham City area features several Batman-themed rides, including Knight Flight, The Joker’s Fun House and Riddler’s Revolution
Warner Bros Plaza is an Art-Deco-inspired land that celebrates the golden age of Hollywood
The Jetsons Cosmic Orbiter is among 29 rides, interactive family-friendly attractions and live entertainment spectacles on offer in the park
The Jetsons Cosmic Orbiter is among 29 rides, interactive family-friendly attractions and live entertainment spectacles on offer in the park
The Jetsons Cosmic Orbiter is among 29 rides, interactive family-friendly attractions and live entertainment spectacles on offer in the park

It seems just yesterday that Abu Dhabi welcomed Ferrari World, then Yas Waterworld and then Dubai Parks and Resorts among a host of new visitor attractions coming to the emirate. What was once largely a barren desert landscape is starting to be filled with wonder, culture and, most importantly, visiting tourists.

Miral – the government organisation responsible for building lifelong visitor value for Abu Dhabi – has led this charge, with its latest development adding to the leisure offering at Yas Island.

Called Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, the US$1bn investment opened its doors to the public on 25 July, with Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, inaugurating what is now the world’s largest indoor theme park.

Featuring six immersive lands and covering 1.65 million sq ft (153,000sq m), the attraction has been developed by Miral, with AECOM and the Thinkwell Group both working on the landmark project.

Visitors experience a selection of 29 rides, shows and attractions, including thrill rides, family attractions and live entertainment.

The DC universe makes up two of the six worlds, with Metropolis and Gotham City showcasing characters including Wonder Woman, Superman Batman and a rogues gallery of villains from those franchises.

The next world, Cartoon Junction, brings together popular Warner Bros characters, placing them in a stylised cartoon world.

For fans of Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones, a recreation of Bedrock makes up the fourth world, while Dynamite Gulch features both Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera characters.

The final part of the park is the Warner Bros Plaza – celebrates Hollywood, telling the rich history of the Warner Bros brand.

Combined, these worlds offer one of the best visitor experiences available anywhere in the region.

Attractions Management spoke to Craig Hanna, chief creative officer and co-founder of the Thinkwell Group, and Peter Van Roden, senior VP of global-themed entertainment for Warner Bros Consumer Products, to discuss the 10+ year journey that led to the realisation of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi

Craig Hanna Chief creative officer Thinkwell Group


Craig Hanna

What was your role in the project?
I’m chief creative officer and one of the owners of Thinkwell. I was the executive creative director for the project.

What was your goal?
The brief originally was to do an all indoor Warner Bros-branded park featuring the DC Comics characters, as well as classic Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera.

How long has the development process been and what challenges have you faced?
We started work in 2008. One of the challenges was the economic crisis, which happened not long after we started. The project was paused and then picked back up again in 2011. It’s been full steam ahead since then. Another challenge was working in the region, because you don’t have a lot of experience there with world-class theme parks and themed environments.

Does the theme park being indoors change your usual design approach?
You can’t really build big rides under a roof. They take up such a large volume, that we had to come up with clever ways to incorporate the rides into the environment. You still want rides to provide kinetic activity and engagement to people walking through the park but at the same time, not take up the entire space.

Being indoors, we really had to think through where attractions would engage with the public and where we wanted to keep them hidden away.

Were there any challenges working with distinct IPs?
Our role was interesting because we worked both as representatives of the IP for Warner Bros, while also working directly with Miral to build the park with them. We were responsible for making sure the translation of any of the IPs were brand-accurate and also telling stories that involved a lot of original thinking and new creativity.

If you put, for example, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner into 3D, how do you translate what what you remember seeing in the cartoons to make sure that everything is looking and feeling as accurate as possible? That took a lot of work, down to small things like rock work; what makes the rocks from Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner so specific and how do you translate that into 3D? This isn’t something you’d see off in the desert, this is something you’d see specific to them. Attention to detail is paramount.

"We were responsible for making sure the IPs were brand-accurate and telling stories that involved a lot of original thinking and new creativity"


Thinkwell conceived, designed and was a key member of the project delivery team to bring the park to life

Peter Van Roden Senior VP of global-themed entertainment Warner Bros


Peter Van Roden

What’s your background?
I run global-themed entertainment at Warner Bros, which includes all theme parks and attractions, live entertainment, travelling exhibits, location-based entertainment and virtual reality.

Why did you choose Yas Island for this project?
This is a 10-year venture inspired by our CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, who thought about Warner Bros and themed entertainment as something we could do bigger.

We started to think about that journey and potential partners around the world, reaching out to different regions. In that reach, the Middle East came up. We spoke to Miral and quickly formed a partnership.

How has it been working with Miral on the project?
You can partner in all kinds of different ways. The most successful partnerships are not about writing a cheque. It’s about the value the partner brings. In terms of Warner Bros, we bring our characters, our content and our storytelling. Miral brings this unbelievable vision in terms of an Abu Dhabi masterplan. They also bring excellence in execution in terms of design and construction.

Mohamed Al Mubarak – chair of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, and chair of Miral – is a visionary leader of entertainment, attractions, leisure and construction. He is a force of nature and has become our mentor and partner there.

How were the plans affected by the recession?
If you look back at that time, everyone who had a project going in 2008 had a hiccup. Many around the world and in the Middle East stopped and never got going again. Every project at that period of time had a moment. The same thing happened with us. We said ‘let’s reset, let’s stabilise’. It wasn’t about our project, it was about the world economy. It was not a stop, it was a moment in time where the world took a pause. We very quickly got the project back on track.

How was the project funded?
This is a license relationship. Warner Bros licenses our IP and our expertise and our participation to Miral. Miral is the owner/operator of the project.

Are there future plans for Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi?
There are discussions about expansion but our main focus has been getting this wonderful thing up and running.

Are there plans to roll this model out?
It’s certainly possible. We have lots of discussions and we have a number of plans in the works. The indoor element is really interesting for us. It gives it some stability in terms of environment with an air-conditioned place to go, making it a year-round prospect. Because it’s all inside, you have full control over noise, lighting, sound and that general feeling of immersion. That’s the beauty of this park. It feels like you’re in these worlds. The wonderful box that was created is really paying off in terms of the product we’re presenting.

How do you see the Middle East market?
We believe in the vision of the Middle East. There’s a vision for Abu Dhabi that our partners in Miral and across the territory have, which is that the Middle East – specifically the UAE and Abu Dhabi – will become a world-class leisure destination. That has been in the works for the last 10 to 20 years and we think we’re a major part of that story. Inside the themed entertainment area for that region, we’ve set the bar. You can put Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi up against the best of the true theme parks in EMEA in terms of quality and immersive experiences, rides, F&B, merchandise and operations. We had remarkable responses from our visitors since launch. If you look at attractions capable of drawing visitors from across the world, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi represents a big player in the Middle East.

How does the Middle East compare to Orlando?
I don’t want to compare in terms of scale and scope of park. Orlando has a massive size in terms of that. I don’t compare it that way yet, but I think that’s the vision – a critical mass of quality attractions. If you see what our partners are doing with Yas Island and in Abu Dhabi, it’s absolutely amazing. From Ferrari World to Yas Waterworld, to the Yas Mall, to the Amazing Louvre. With Warner Bros coming to the region, it becomes this centre of real quality destination travel and I think there’s more to come. The level of vision and execution that Abu Dhabi is pulling off is really making it a destination.

How do you feel following the opening?
We’re absolutely over the moon. I think this is a huge accomplishment. The work and dedication that has gone into it is absolutely world class.

"With Warner Bros coming to the region, it becomes this centre of real quality destination travel"


Warner Bros characters, such as Tweety Pie and Sylvester, will meet and greet visitors around the park

Originally published in Attractions Management 2018 issue 3

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