The 2018 TEA Thea Awards, Anaheim, California. April 7, 2018

By Freddy Martin

Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards Gala lobby sign
TEA NextGen members Brynn Gelerman and Axel Arth await entry into the ballroom.

ANAHEIM – When civil rights activist and U.S. Representative, John Lewis, dedicated the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC, his words echoed the triumph of generations; “See what a dream can do.”

The NMAAHC was honored with the Award for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) at the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Awards, where Rep. Lewis’ words also seemed to speak for the spectacular efforts of the themed entertainment professionals whose completed projects were on display that night.

The objective of the Thea Awards, TEA’s 24th annual awards gala, is to find excellence within the themed entertainment industry and celebrate it. Sponsored by the Chinese theme park giant, Chimelong, themed entertainment legends and cutting-edge players alike gathered from around the globe just across the street from the original place “where dreams come true” at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.

“I never imagined that world of imagination would become real for me and it would be much more than a dream, it would be a career and a home,” said Phil Hettema, founder of The Hettema Group, a well-respected experiential design firm known for building incredible attractions worldwide, for clients such as DreamWorks, Sea World, Universal Studios, and the Chicago Museum of Science and industry.

Hettema was awarded the highest honor of the night, The Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Outstanding Achievements.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity.” – Phil Hettema

Tony Baxter, Mike Mulligan, Phil Hettema, TEA, Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards after party
Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter, Storyland Studios Producer, Mike Mulligan, and Buzz Price Award Honoree, Phil Hettema of THG discuss the finer points of theme park design.

 

Quick to give credit where credit is due, Hettema began his remarks by directing guests to an online list of those he wished he could thank if he had more time. Gently ribbing Disney he quipped, “I want and need to thank all of them, but if I did, we would be here until Star Wars Land opens.”

With all the fun that comes with working within the dream-making industry, Hettema warned that the industry has some important obligations.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity.”

Zsolt Hormay, creative executive on the Pandora World of Avatar land at Disney Animal Kingdom poses with members of his creative team
Zsolt Hormay, Vice President Creative for WDI, along with members of his creative team, was honored with the Thea for Theme Park Area Development for Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney Animal Kingdom

 

“Our industry has often been accused of creating fake worlds,” he said, “and we seem to be living in a world of fake news and alternative facts, but when we tell our stories with quality and integrity, they’re powerful and they can change lives.”

“We have an obligation” Hettema continued, “to make sure that we build teams that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We cannot expect our stories to be heard by the whole world if our teams telling the story don’t mirror the full spectrum of our audience.”

Garner Holt, Bill Butler, Olaf Vugts, Coen Bertens
(Left to right) Garner Holt and Bill Butler of Garner Holt Productions join Stan Dingemans, Olaf Vugts, Sander de Bruijn, and Coen Bertens (far right) of de Efteling to celebrate their award for Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy

 

To the internationally diverse audience, this last statement struck a unifying chord, and was met with their loudest applause.

Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) received a total of four Theas for projects at their American theme parks. First, WDI was recognized for successfully reimagining two beloved attractions; the Epcot attraction Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: BREAKOUT at Disney California Adventure.

WDI’s other two Theas were for Disney Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, and it’s anchor attraction, Flight of Passage. WDI veteran and creative force, Joe Rohde led teams in creating an unbelievably convincing alien world based on Avatar, the James Cameron IP.

“This is a business of hearts and minds,” Rohde said. “We reach out and touch the hearts and minds of all the people the who come through these places. That is not done with plastic. It is not done with machines. It is not done with concrete and steel or projection. It is through the hearts and minds of the artists and the workers involved. If you just set them free and give them the power, they will give you back more than you can predict, more than you can measure, and certainly more than you can buy.”

Volunteers and members of the TEA NextGen initiative celebrate an event well done.

 

Other awards for theme park excellence went to Cedar Point, the flagship park of Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. in Sandusky, Ohio, honored with the Thea Classic award for being an influential project that has stood the test of time, Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy, a beautiful new dark ride at de Efteling in The Netherlands, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom’s Journey of Lights Parade in Zhuhai City, China, DreamWorks Animation Zone at MOTIONGATE Dubai in UAE, and the amazingly low-tech, day-long immersive theater of Ghost Town Alive! at Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.

“If you just set them free and give them the power, they will give you back more than you can predict, more than you can measure, and certainly more than you can buy.” – Joe Rohde

A tribute to WDI luminary, Marty Sklar, who passed away in 2017, was a heart-warming celebration of the “Dad” of the themed entertainment industry. Images of the hundreds of Disney Parks projects he personally touched and influenced played on the screen while a choir sang the Sherman Brothers’ classic One Little Spark.

Bob Rogers, the founder of BRC Imagination Arts said of Sklar, “Marty was a giver. He was a mentor to me. But not just me. What about you?” One by one, everyone in the audience stood to declare Marty’s influence on their lives.

Along with the NMAAHC, other museums received honors for their excellent achievements including Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, an emotional tour of remembrance through the history of the famous WWI battle that led to New Zealand’s national independence, featuring 2.5 scale, life-like figures created by Sir Richard Taylor and the Weta Workshop team, depicting the true stories of real people impacted by that crucial 20th century event.

Stacia Martin of Disneyland, Diane Michioka of ThinkWell at the Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards Gala after party.
Disneyland artist, Stacia Martin and ThinkWell Vice President of Production, Diane Michioka connect as peers at the Thea after party.

The Rainis’ Museum in Tadenava, Latvia stood out among the technological giants for it’s stripped down simplicity and warmth featuring beautifully-designed, kinetic interactives made entirely of wood.

Projection mapping and 3D technologies brought honors to projects like the Citadella Visitors Centre on Gozo Island, Malta, which transformed an ancient stone reservoir into a gorgeously illuminated history experience. Les Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence, France projects fine art masters in gigantic scale onto the walls of an ancient cave. Aura, at Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal, Canada illuminates one of the largest cathedrals in North America with an architectural narrative that recalls the original purposes and impact of religious art.

Nathan Huber of 3D Live and Christian Lachel of BRC Imagination Arts at the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual Thea Awards, 2018
3D Live creator, Nathan Huber trades secrets with Christian Lachel, executive at BRC Imagination Arts in the press reception before the Thea Awards ceremony began.

 

3D Live was honored for Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Technology with their “Holographic” 3D LED display permanently installed at California’s Great America, within the Mass Effect: New Earth attraction. Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience in Shanghai, China was honored for its haunting live-theater adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Olaf Vugts of Efteling and Tony Baxter of Walt Disney Imagineering at the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual Thea Awards Gala at the Disneyland Hotel, April 7, 2018
Legends Collide – Olaf Vugts, Chief Imagineering Officer at Efteling and Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter share mutual admiration at the TEA Theas after party.

 

Everyone literally raised a glass for the brand experience award, which went to Jameson Distillery Bow St. in Dublin, Ireland, the brand home of Jameson Whiskey. The project’s director, John Carroll, quickly became everyone’s best mate when he bought a round of drinks at the after party, all made with Jameson Whiskey, of course.

As the party continued with gusto, TEA guests enjoyed the company and mutual-respect of their peers sharing stories of projects past and yet to come. These accomplished artists, craftspeople, engineers, and architects have seen what a dreams can do and they take seriously their job to continue shaping far off dreams into concrete reality.

See What A Dream Can Do – The 2018 TEA Thea Awards
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