The Adventure of The Yellow Submarine Adventure by J.Walt.
The Yellow Submarine Adventure was an interactive motion-base ride film based on the 1968 animated Beatles film. The ride was produced by Sony Development (SD), a short-lived division of Sony, whose mission was to create entertainment centers under the Sony brand. The project began in late 1998 and opened in Berlin in January 20, 2000, with most of the production work done in an eight-month span in 1999.
The main studios of SD were in Burbank, CA. Richard Vaughan worked for SD on the Culver City lot, where he worked on finding Sony properties that would work in "retail entertainment" venues. Richard is a veteran of Disney and Universal theme parks, and he did a lot of excellent design work for Sony Development on various projects.
Richard wrote a treatment for the Yellow Subarmarine ride, and pitched it to Neil Aspinall of Apple Corps and David Saltz of ABC. At the time, Apple was planning on re-releasing the movie and a re-mastered album, so the cross-marketing for the movie was appealing to them.
Richard's concept was to allow guests to ride the Yellow Submarine into Pepperland and rescue it from the Blue Meanies. The ride vehicle was a 30-person motion platform with a large front video screen that acted as a windshield view, and three large video portholes on either side of the cabin. The side views were an exciting twist on the then-familiar ride-film format. What's more, this ride was interactive in ways new to ride-films. The ride was hosted by a live animated Captain Fred digital puppet. Captain Fred would greet the guests as they entered the pre-show area, and would talk and joke with the guests throughout the show. He'd even have the ability to choose one of three different adventures for each ride: the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Science, or the Sea of Time. At the ride's climax, Fred would encourage the guests to sing "All You Need Need is Love" in order to defeat the Meanies and restore Pepperland.
I was working on producing computer games at SD when the project was being pitched. I'd worked in digital film production, virtual reality, and digital puppetry in my past, so I was offered to work on the feasibility of this project. It looked fun, and I'm a fan of the film, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of the project and lend my expertise.
Neil Aspinall and David Saltz had final approval of what we did on the project. Neil expressed concern that anything with the Beatles name be a quality product, and we aimed to please. The Captain Fred puppet was the newest feature of this ride, so we needed to demonstrate the technology to Neil and David, and show how fun it could be. Around October of 1998, we worked on putting together a Captain Fred prototype. It was good timing to bring in Ron Fisher and Trey Stokes on the project, each of whom had finished up projects in the Bay Area, and were looking for work in L.A.
Both Ron and Trey were perfectly experienced for this project. Ron had done some early performance animation projects, so he made quick work of putting together a live Fred. Trey and I had worked on one of the first digital puppets. Trey is a fine puppeteer, and a pretty funny guy, so it was great that he was available to work on this project. Trey had also done extensive work on ride-films and was working his way into film director roles, so he ended up taking on the position of director for the Yellow Submarine Adventure movie itself.
The production progressed as a two-headed beast: the ride movie and the ride vehicle. The design and construction of the vehicle was a large undertaking in itself, and it was ably and methodically executed by professional engineers and project managers. The movie, on the other hand, was given over to a bunch of undisciplined creative types such as myself and Trey. Fortunately, we found Michele Jeffers and hired her as line producer. Without her attention to schedule and details, our submarine project would have sunk.
After our initial Captain Fred demo, Ron Fisher left the company to other projects, while Trey and I worked on planning the production of the movie. Dave Simmons, an animator with a distinguished history at Bluth Studios, also came on early and whipped through dozens of storyboards. Dave worked with Trey to figure out how to capture the fun and character of the feature-length movie in a six-to-eight minute ride experience.
We sent the project out to a few CG production houses for bids, but in the end we were convinced that we could do the production in-house and maintain control over the final product. One of our concerns was that the movie actually work in the vehicle that was being built across the street. The ride engineers were pretty good at ignoring us animator types, so we really wanted to be close to that work and have the ability to tap them on the shoulders and say something like, "Please, sir, may we play our animation in your submarine?" Actually, most of that coordination was spearheaded by our producer Michele, who went out of her way to check on the vehicle schedule. More than once she found flaws in the construction schedule that impacted our movie schedule, and it caught many off guard. She helped them work it all out, and we got our time in the Submarine before it headed to Berlin for installation.
Trey was most concerned with making a fun (and funny!) ride, so he worked tirelessly on the script, cutting together various versions of an animatic. Along the way in the process, animator Tim Everett worked with Trey on a 3D animatic of the ride and the different sections.
The ride was composed of six sections: 1) a preshow, where Jeremy the Nowhere Man, and Captain Fred introduce us to the submarine 2) Our start of the journey in a high-contrast Liverpool a la the Eleanor Rigby sequence of the original film 3,4,5) three different middle sections: the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Science, and the Sea of Time, and 6) the battle to re-take Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. The narrative for the beginning and ending of the ride went fairly smoothly, and most of the creative energy was spent on designing the middle sections -- the "Seas".
The original film makes references to the seas in the lyrics of the titular song. However, there are only a couple of seas in the film that have any real narrative meat -- others are just references or quick gags, like "the foothills of the headlands". The Sea of Holes is a great concept that we used just as in the film, to express a crossroads of unlimited and unexpected possibilities. On our ride, the Sea of Holes bridged all the sections, and was a great mechanism for choosing a different Sea to visit each time. The only other Sea that we could lift from the film was the Sea of Monsters, which was a pretty fun section of the original film. Dave Simmons and Trey re-worked the scene very faithfully. The scene was animated to include some of the very distinctive monsters, including the big vacuum monster which sucks up the entire sea.
I think the biggest creative challenge was to create two new Seas for the ride. Each sections had to be fun and engaging for the ride-film format, which requires nearly constant motion, and they had to have a setup/conflict/resolution in just a couple of minutes -- and it had to match the spirit and themes of the original film. This challenge occupied most of Trey's energy for a few months of the project; he had little patience for lesser decisions. He would often work alone late into the night editing and re-editing animatics to get them right.
In the end, the other two Sea sequences were at least as good as the Sea of Monsters. The Sea of Time is the most musical, as it's all animated to the beat of "When I'm 64". The submarine passes alarm clocks and silly time contraptions before entering a castle-like clock. We avoid the gears and pendulums and reach a master clock dial. The Glove heads us off and breaks the dial, creating a sort of "time whirlpool" that tears the fabric of time and space apart. We end up in the Sea of Holes, and back on course for Pepperland. The Sea of Science is more psychedelic, with math equations, mystical symbols, and sacred geometry swimming about. However, we encounter the Meanies using Science for Evil, in command of a shrinking ray. The Meanies zap the submarine, and we shrink, too. Smaller than Teeny-Meanies, we keep shrinking to molecular, then subatomic size. All seems lost until we find ourselves back in the Sea of Holes.
Though Trey took on the most responsibility of the project as director, he also got the best perks of any of us. One of his client meetings took him to Apple Corps in London to update Neil Aspinall on our progress, and even have a brief brainstorming session with Heinz Edelmann, the art director for the original film. During his trip, Trey took the opportunity to do some photographic research on a Magical Mystery Tour of his own, visiting and photographing various Beatles landmarks around London and Liverpool.
Our production schedule was very tight, as was the space we had for the animation staff. At the time the submarine project was ramping up, Sony Development was completeing its raison d'etre project, Metreon in San Francisco. As I slipped off to Metreon, Trey and Michele found a way to squeeze nine or ten animators into a medium-sized room, which was really more like a large cubicle. Such cramped quarters weren't always easy, but the team generally kept a good humor about it -- they were all pretty jazzed about the project.
Animators on the project included Trey Stokes and Dave Simmons, along with Tim Everett, Keith Matz, Aaron Estrada, Dave Bailey, Jennifer Hachigian, Ed Shurla, David Hibscher, Malcolm Wright, Gabrielle Urbana. Each of them had a lot of animation to produce, even as Trey continued to make script changes. Audri Phillips acted as Art Director, keeping focus on the whimsy and psychedelia of the original film. It was a lot of work, but the bright side was that each of the artists was able to make significant contributions and put his or her own stamp on a scene.
Game Programmer Terence "TJ" Bordelon and animator/artist Phil Zucco came on board to create the final version of the Captain Fred puppet system. They had been working together on the very successful Hyperbowl, a virtual bowlling game I designed for Metreon, so they were a proven team that worked well together. In short order, Phil modeled and animated a new Fred talking head (and arms) and TJ used a spinoff of his game engine to program Fred's interaction. Looking back on it, most animation houses would have had a difficult time creating or subcontracting a CG puppet, but TJ and Phil made it look easy.
Greg Ercolano was on hand, maintaining his Rush render queue software and debugging the harddrive video players that would eventually run the show. Like the shoemaker's elves, he'd work invisibly at night. The only way that you knew he'd been there was seeing your completed frames and diabolical drawings of Blue Meanies on the whiteboard.
Trey and Michele led a successful installation in Berlin in early 2000, and later that year in Tokyo. Though the ride didn't exist for very long, I think we on the animation team still should be proud. We had produced a very fun and funny experience. The movie looked good, stayed true to the original, and there were some brilliant bits of animation. But more than that, though it never stopped feeling like work, we had fun, too. I mean, for the better part of a year, we all had the chance to re-immerse ourselves in the Beatles World -- and how much fun is that?