Tony Christopher knew his business had to change. His company, Landmark Entertainment Group, had long made rides and experiences for amusement parks and casinos. If you’ve been to Universal Studios, you’ve probably been on a ride his Los Angeles-based company designed. (They include Terminator 2 3D and Jurassic Park: The Ride.)
But Christopher says theme parks have grown conservative, and that has slowed his traditional business. A couple of years ago, he realized that it was time to own and operate his own rides. He has hatched an ambitious plan to create digital theme parks for families. Christopher plans to roll out these 200,000-square-foot facilities around China once he has secured funding.
“Take a theater, an immersive cinema, a museum, an art gallery and a zoo and we’re going to combine that with what we call experience or entertainment retail to create the shopping mall of the future,” he said.
Christopher envisions families spending about four hours per visit, and a third of that would include wearing a virtual-reality headset. Wearing the goggles to see virtual animals would totally change the zoo or aquarium experience. Forget arriving at the wrong time and missing the piranhas getting fed. He imagines guests pressing a button to see the animal of their choice swim by, even if it’s extinct. The virtual-reality element will allow for other experiences you wouldn’t get at a traditional aquarium.
“Clap your hands, all the fish turn to skeletons — that kind of stuff,” said Christopher, whose infatuation with virtual reality underscores the growing global interest in the emerging media format. Of course, it’s unlikely that virtual reality can ever fully replace the experience of seeing a live animal in person.
He’s calling his parks L.I.V.E. Centres, and hopes to break ground in a year. He says he has interest from 10 Chinese cities. If the project succeeds there, he’ll expand around the world.
Christopher also plans to create virtual-reality experiences that can be enjoyed at home, but said it is too soon to discuss more.