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Universal Beijing Resort
By Tao Zihui  ·  2021-09-10  ·   Source: NO.37 SEPTEMBER 16, 2021
Visitors at Universal Beijing Resort on September 2 during its trial operation period (Wang Yajuan)

Watching Jurassic World, studying the scenes frame by frame, zooming in and out, was what Xing Yizhi did every day before embarking on the design and construction of Universal Beijing Resort (UBR). Xing is an engineer and project manager at China Construction Second Engineering Bureau (CCSEB), a major contractor of UBR.

How many times did Xing watch the movie? He can't even remember. "If we weren't 100 percent sure about the subtlest of minutiae, we would circle back to the film just to make sure our final designs accurately represented Jurassic World down to the smallest detail," Xing told Beijing Review.

Jurassic World, one of seven themed lands at UBR, features a 49-meter-high landmark rockery, which is very different from your average rock garden. In order to recreate the most famous scenes from the blockbuster, the terrace had to be realistically reproduced with the help of special effects.

"It is very difficult to construct and restore film effects. How could we even begin to turn an imaginary world into reality?" Xing wondered.

 

A worker inspects and cleans the teeth of one dinosaur at the Jurassic World, one of seven themed lands inside the Universal Beijing Resort (COURTESY PHOTO)

A new landmark

Five years after the grand opening of Shanghai Disney Resort, many people have been waiting on the edge of their seats for the official unveiling of UBR, poised for a big public blastoff on September 20. Its opening will take place during the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, welcoming eager visitors into the world's largest Universal Studios-branded theme park.

Located in Beijing's eastern suburban district of Tongzhou and spanning 4 square km, the resort includes the Universal Studios Beijing theme park, a Universal CityWalk commercial complex, Universal Studios Grand Hotel—the first-ever Universal-themed hotel, and the NUO Resort Hotel inspired by the architectural grandeur of China's Old Summer Palace.

Featuring seven themed lands filled with 37 rides, Beijing's new tourist destination observes a blend of Eastern and Western movie elements, including those courtesy of Kung Fu Panda, Harry Potter, Jurassic World, Minions, Transformers and Waterworld.

Compared with Disneyland, the UBR franchise can attract an even wider array of visitors and may even offer a certain synergy that resonates very well with Beijing's special role in the Chinese film industry.

Walking into the Jurassic World zone on Nubula Island, the volcanic landscape and the ubiquitous old banyan trees entangled with ancient vines transport people back in time hundreds of millions of years, as they make their way through the breathtaking scenery.

"Compared with the Jurassic zones in other countries, which are a re-enactment of the original Jurassic Park movie, UBR decided to come up with a new storyline based on the movie Jurassic World," Xing said, adding that it features the first Nubula Island reproduction in the world.

Actors on parade at Universal Beijing Resort on August 25 (XINHUA)

Tech hits a high note

From a suspended roller coaster to an off-road ride, UBR's Jurassic World has changed from previous water soaked environment to a dry island one.

"Inside its dark ride, players get into the off-road vehicle and enter the world of dinosaurs, giving them the thrill of being chased by these creatures like a movie hero," Xing said.

There are a large number of artificial hills in the Jurassic World, with their design and maintenance all using 5G technologies. When constructing the largest one, with more than 9,000 components worked into its steel structure and single pieces weighing in at some 25 tons, engineers were left with the question: How to accurately express the complex shape of the rockery and use abstract conceptual models to guide on-site construction?

"The traditional construction method was obviously difficult to accomplish these tasks. Therefore, we adopted a new approach," Xing said. In order to "resurrect" Nubula Island, the original environment of 60 million years ago, in the real world, Xing and his team first built a rockery model based on the concept map, then hand-crafted the prototype before using 3D scanning technology to calculate the digitized rockery skin data.

But there's more. In order to recreate the setting of the dinosaur era in the movie to the greatest possible extent, especially when catering to tourists, 16,320 lamps were installed in the zone.

According to the initial construction plan, all lamps were to be imported. "We did the math and concluded that if the lighting part was to rely on imports, the material procurement and construction schedule would suffer delays," Yang Meng, electrical and mechanical project manager with UBR, told Beijing Review.

Yang and his team decided to try out a new solution. They visited large manufacturers of lighting fixtures across the country, and after much research comparison, finally determined that the Chinese lamps could meet the original design in terms of safety, reliability and compatibility. "I am sincerely proud of the theme lights, with 80 percent sourced from within China," Yang said.

Technology also comes in the form of an applet on social media platform WeChat that informs visitors of wait times for the various attractions to better distribute visitor traffic. People can also create their own itinerary based on the time they have and the experiences they wish to enjoy.

The overall UBR, one of the most advanced 5G-enabled resorts across the country, is digitally advanced and the technology to deepen visitor engagement is swiftly evolving. Its facial recognition technology could become even more important in the current age of contactless entry, enabling visitors to preregister. Further technologies will be implemented to cap admission numbers and help accommodate the resort's capacity.

Cultural integration

Ya Juan, a Beijing-based designer, said she had an amazing experience at UBR, as she is a big fan of films and roller coasters. "I have visited three Universal Studios parks, in Singapore, the U.S. and Japan. I've always had high hopes that we could one day have such a venue in our city," she told Beijing Review, adding that she was thrilled to hear UBR would be the largest of its kind in the world—with unique Chinese elements.

The design of Universal CityWalk Beijing, the resort's entertainment and dining destination, integrates Chinese architectural styles, such as cultural elements of Beijing's hutongs. Red and gold are heavily featured in the lighting scheme and floor decorations along the walk are accompanied by a mosaic of Chinese ink paintings.

"Take the Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness for instance; it's the first time a themed land based on the Kung Fu Panda movie has come into being. We had no experience whatsoever to draw on. The Jade Palace was inspired by China's ancient buildings. If you look closely, and really take in the details, you will spot the great imagination our designers possess," Fang Guowen, artistic director of the zone, said.

Tom Mehrmann, President and General Manager of UBR, pointed out to China Daily that the park's storytelling has been adapted to the Chinese market, to give a fresh twist to well-known stories such as the Harry Potter or Transformers franchise.

For this purpose, international designers of the resort have carefully studied Chinese culture and worked closely with their local counterparts throughout the design process to bridge the multicultural dialogue.

In storytelling techniques, how to insert into the equation elements of Chinese humor, pop culture and creative thinking, and not merely sticking to the surface by injecting a Chinese-style set design, matters even more.

"We need to translate a famous Western, or even an alien one like that of the Transformers series, into a Chinese context, which means we need to think about how we tell the story in a way that Chinese guests will understand and prefer," Sabrina Han, creative coordinator for the Transformers Metrobase, told China Daily.

As people are lining up to visit the venue, the companies involved in the project believe it will offer far more than just a fun day out.

"UBR will take on a key role in elevating the cultural and touristic landscape of Beijing. It aims to become a travel destination of the city and contribute to a higher level of international exchange," Xing said. He believes the venue will inject new vitality into the expansion of China's cultural and tourism industry.

But it's not just the tourism that will reap the UBR benefits. The venue will create a plethora of jobs across the entertainment, retail and catering sectors. "It will drive the construction of an integrated cultural tourism ecosystem, trigger more business opportunities and extend the industrial chain in Beijing," Xing added.

To be specific, the resort is a token of China-U.S. cooperation. "Relations between the two countries have had their ups and downs in the past 20 years, but our project was finally nailed down and has become reality," Song Yu, Chairman of Beijing Tourism Group, said in an interview with China Daily.

"This is a story of designers from different cultures thinking and working together to impact and co-create," John Gentile, senior director and executive producer of UBR, said.

Amusing the crowds

Within just one hour of the resort announcing its official opening date on September 1, the traffic on travel booking platform Ctrip rose by a whopping 830 percent compared with the same period of the previous week. Searches for nearby hotels increased by an equally impressive 320 percent.

China's theme park market remains on the upswing as it benefits from the combination of an increasing disposable income among a growing segment of the population and their demand for themed entertainment, read a report by infrastructure consultancy company AECOM in March.

More than 30 new projects were rolled out across China over the past three years. Though COVID-19 put a temporary spoke in the wheels and delayed many an opening, the nonstop design and construction of theme parks remain a long-term and realizable ambition for China, according to the report.

Data from marketing research firm iiMedia Research showed the value of the Chinese theme park market exceeded 300 billion yuan ($46.41 billion) in 2019. With its growth projected to remain robust in the next five years, the industry finds itself in an age of healthy development. Both domestic and foreign companies are putting in their bit in an effort to mature this sector and meet the high demands of Chinese consumers.

Given China's resilient domestic tourism business, Universal spotted a great business opportunity in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This year, short-distance travel has become increasingly popular. Theme parks have always been a hot commodity in this kind of two-to-three-day tour market," Luan Bo, an engineer with CCSEB, told Beijing Review.

Luan said the opening of UBR bodes well for north China's tourist market as the region features relatively fewer theme parks compared to the south. "The market was affected by COVID-19. This new resort will definitely contribute to the tourism industry in Beijing as well as its neighboring areas," he said.

Though it is the first Universal resort in the country, UBR faces competition in the likes of Shanghai Disney Resort, plus popular domestic theme park brands such as Happy Valley.

Luan and his colleagues for one are confident. "UBR will become a new Beijing tourist landmark. Visitors will have a full-fledged experience in the resort via a few key differentiators: immersive experiences and a focus on service," he said.

Unlike other theme parks, considering the Beijing climate can get quite harsh in winter, UBR will provide more indoor recreational options than outdoor locations. "Competition also means opportunity," Luan concluded. "Time will tell." 

(Print Edition Title: Universal Amusement

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to taozihui@bjreview.com

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