A Burbank-based creative design firm has dreamed up a pair of theme park attractions that put Ferrari fans in the driver's seat of an international road trip and behind the wheel at some the world's greatest race tracks.
It was a passion project for Mousetrappe's creative chief, Daren Ulmer, whose team worked for two years on the Flying Dreams flying theater and the Racing Legends motion simulator at the recently opened Ferrari Land at Spain's PortAventura theme park.
"I happen to be, long before this came along, a Ferrari Formula 1 fan," said Ulmer, a former Disney Imagineer. "I go to the races almost every year."
Mousetrappe occupies a low-slung brick and cinder block building near a freeway underpass in an industrial area of Burbank popular with media companies. The warehouse office is filled with video production work stations connected to a server bay that powers Mousetrappe's media-based wizardry. The magic happens behind a floor-to-ceiling Wizard of Oz-like black curtain where digital projectors paint scale model versions of familiar fairy tale castles and other theme park landmarks with animated imagery.
I recently stepped behind the curtain for a virtual reality look at the two Ferrari Land rides. In the darkened space, I sat down on a bar stool and slipped on a virtual reality headset and headphones. Up first was a virtual ride on Flying Dreams, similar to Disney's Soarin' attractions. After setting the scene at one international landmark after another, I'd swoop down on a speeding Ferrari zipping along an empty road. It was like the globe-trotting road trip of my dreams — if only I had a fleet of Ferraris that could swim across vast oceans.
Next up was a virtual dash on Racing Legends, similar to Universal's Simpsons simulator rides. The speedy racing simulator was much faster and more thrilling than the more leisurely flying theater. I leaned into banked turns even though I was only sitting on a wooden stool. I expected to pop up off my seat as my ground-hugging Formula 1 race car hopped over whoop-de-do hills.
In the theme park industry, Mousetrappe is known for its projection mapping projects that wrap digital images around dimensional objects. The Burbank-based attraction design and production firm has worked on nighttime spectaculars, fireworks shows and parades at Disney and Universal parks around the world. Mousetrappe hopes to translate its projection mapping success into more media-based attractions like flying theaters and motion simulators.
During the 1990s, Ulmer worked for Walt Disney Imagineering on live entertainment at the company's theme parks around the world. He served as a music producer for nighttime spectaculars, parades, shows and attractions during an era when the entertainment world was transitioning from analog to digital productions. The experience persuaded Ulmer and a partner to start a creative development firm focused on digital entertainment.
The original Ferrari World opened in Abu Dhabi in 2010 with the world's fastest roller coaster, the 149 mph Formula Rossa. The much-smaller Ferrari Land debuted in April as a new themed land at Spain's PortAventura. While Ferrari World emphasizes the aspirational aspects of the brand, Ferrari Land focuses on the car company's Formula 1 racing history.
The Flying Dreams flying theater at Ferrari Land lets riders take the ultimate road trip around the world in 11 different Ferraris, including a Spider, a Barchetta, a GTO, a Lusso, n Enzo and a LaFerrari. Built by Taiwan-based Brogent Technologies, the flying theater features seats that rise into the air toward a domed screen in the middle of the action.
A quote from car company founder Enzo Ferrari marks the entrance to the flying theater: "My dream is to build a car that flies without leaving the ground."
The route improbably hops from Monaco to Russia to China to the United States with the help of movie magic and strategic transitions. The journey starts in Italy at the Ferrari factory with a spin around a test track.
"It's almost like you've taken delivery of a new Ferrari." Ulmer said. "The idea is you got a new car and you drove around the world."
Ferrari provided only one car for the Flying Dreams attraction: The 488 Spider that appears in the opening scene on the test track outside the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy.
Mousetrappe had to use a replica of the 1962 Ferrari 250 GT California for the Monaco racing scene, renting a movie car that once starred in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The only other real Ferrari in the film: A red Enzo filmed outside of France's Chateau de Chantilly.
A majority of the practical scenes were shot with high-resolution camera-mounted drones — a first for a flying theater film.
"Our biggest innovation on the film was that we filmed it all with drones instead of helicopters," Ulmer said.
Many of the drones' scenes used dummy cars that were later swapped out with computer-generated Ferraris.
Three scenes were so fantastical and fraught with permitting hurdles that Mousetrappe opted to create them entirely in CGI: an F40 near the Great Wall of China, a 250 GTO at New York's Statue of Liberty and an F50 next to London's Houses of Parliament.
Mousetrappe used geographical data and aerial photography to pre-visualize scenes and rehearse drone maneuvers before every location shoot. The curvature of the domed screen shrank objects even further, magnifying the difficulty of combining an establishing location shot with a detailed close-up of the hero car, Ulmer said.
Rick Rothschild, an Imagineer on Disney's original Soarin' concept and a consultant on the Ferrari Land project, impressed upon the Mousetrappe team to think of the flying theater attraction as a roller coaster with dips, turns and hills.
"When you think about the film in those terms, you end up with a stronger ride experience," Ulmer said. "You have to shoot the movie with all those moves in mind."
Every scene in Flying Dreams starts with the ride experience — so that the banks, drops, ascents, near misses and special effects inform the story rather than the other way around.
"It's not a film with a ride that synchronizes to it," Ulmer said. "It's a ride first that has a film designed to emphasize the ride."
Racing Legends, Mousetrappe's other Ferrari Land attraction, combines Universal's Simpsons simulator ride experience with the test drive conceit of Epcot's Test Track in Florida. Built by Britain-based Simworx, the domed screen and motion simulator attraction features wind, water and aroma effects.
Riders climb into one of 10 Ferrari F1 race cars arrayed before a 75-foot diameter domed screen.
The backstory places riders in a Ferrari racing simulator used to train up-and-coming drivers on race tracks from any era.
The journey starts in present-day Spain behind the wheel of a Ferrari F1 on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Traveling back in time, the car company's founder, Enzo Ferrari, battles up a bumpy and muddy 1919 hill-climb race in Parma, Italy. The time-traveling race continues in 1960 on the banked corners of Italy's Autodromo Nazionale Monza, hopping over perilous hills at Germany's Nürburgring in 1975 and ducking and weaving on the Circuit de Mónaco course in present day. Graphics-heavy computer transitions call up each new course.
Theme park fantasy takes over near the end of the trip with a Formula 1 car speeding through several scent-centric near misses on the streets of Rome and a futuristic concept car trek on a Speed Racer-like looping course.
Both rides share a common queue that was also designed by Mousetrappe, with projection mapping and pepper's ghost effects used to simulate a high-tech Ferrari workshop.