Wicker Man has awoken! On Thursday 8th March, TowersTimes was invited to a special ‘Meet the Maker’ event, alongside other enthusiast communities to get a special preview of Wicker Man ahead of its grand opening on 17th March 2018. TowersTimes take a look at all the details of Alton Towers Resort’s latest secret weapon.
Billed as ‘the world’s most immersive rollercoaster experience to date’, expectations have been high for the Resort’s newest addition. One of the first things that strikes guests as they approach the ride is the six storey tall Wicker Man himself towering over the twists and turns of the 2000ft long track. This impressive structure, which on one side features a human head and on the other the head of a ram, forms the focal point for the attraction with the track interacting with it on three separate occasions, with each pass through seeing flames burst from the Wicker Man’s shoulders. The other element which will draw guests in is the immersive, 3 step dynamic soundtrack composed by IMAscore. In the ride’s entrance area, and in the first section of the queue the soundtrack has a lighter, almost festival type feel designed to feel like the Beornen are inviting guests into their world, however, as guests make their way through the queue, the soundtrack becomes more sinister as you are drawn further and further into the mysterious world of the Beornen until it is your turn to participate in their ritual. The attraction’s queue-line also features an extensive amount of theming throughout, including multiple elements featuring the runes which are the language of the Beornen, from colourful bunting, torches, and even a ‘Rosetta Stone’ to help guests decipher the mysterious runic alphabet. This impressive level of attention to detail in the theming, combined with the immersive soundtrack really make guests feel as if they have truly entered the Beornen’s world by the time they have reach the front queue.
Of course the queue-line is just the start of the experience. Once guests have made their way to the front they are batched into a waiting area where they can leave their bag in the baggage hold before entering the pre-show. Whilst the exact contents of the pre-show cannot be revealed just yet, what can be said is that it is a theatrical experience which provides the perfect prelude to the ride guests will be about to experience. Each pre-show can hold 48 guests (enough to fill two trains on the ride). The attention to detail in the ride continues into the station with the lighting in the station complementing the slightly darker feel created by the queue-line and pre-show. The attention to detail even extends to the trains themselves which have wicker detailing and are fronted by a ram’s head. Even the station announcements add to the feel that what you are experiencing is controlled completely by the Beornen with the station airgates described as ‘pens’.
The ride experience itself is a good, solid, overall experience, with a range of effects throughout the layout. As you pass through each of the sound tunnels you are greeted by smoke and light effects, and each time you race through the Wicker Man fire effects are triggered on top of the structure. The layout offers some nice moments of airtime which complement the forces felt on some of the tighter turns. Throughout construction there has been much speculation about what, if anything, guests might experience right at the end of the ride in the maintenance shed. As things stand, this section is pitch black with a sound effect to indicate that you have defeated the Wicker Man and escaped the Beornen’s ritual, which is what was originally intended. However, TowersTimes understands that this section is being looked at with a view to introducing additional effects for the ride’s grand opening. There is a noticeable difference in the intensity of the experience depending on where you sit on the train – for a smoother ride the front of the trains are the best option, for more intensity sit towards the back.
Overall, Wicker Man is a hugely impressive attraction to the Alton Towers Resort line-up. The level of theming, attention to detail, and immersion throughout the entire ride experience is some of the best ever seen at the Resort. It complements the existing attraction line-up perfectly, offering an attraction that both families and thrill seekers alike can experience, enjoy and love. Whilst there are still a few finishing touches to be made to the ride before its grand opening on 17th March, there is little doubt that Wicker Man will be a success for the Resort, and be deemed worthy of its place in the Resort’s canon of Secret Weapons.
Meet the Maker
As part of the special event, TowersTimes also had the opportunity to speak to some of the creative and technical minds behind Wicker Man – Bradley Wynne, Neil Walker, and Francis Jackson – to uncover some of the secrets behind the ride.
One of the key considerations when deciding on the various different elements of Secret Weapon 8 was to find the right companies to partner with to help elevate the overall experience and create the immersive feel of the ride. Although several different manufacturers were considered for Secret Weapon 8, Great Coasters International (GCI) was the one that felt the best ride wise for Wicker Man.
Wicker Man has been intended as a change of direction for the Secret Weapon canon of rides at Alton Towers Resort. The team behind the ride recognise that there will only be so many world’s first they can do (although future world’s first attractions will never be completely ruled out), therefore the focus is now on delivering world beating attractions and solid ride experiences with Wicker Man in particular being about stripping things back to what people originally loved about rollercoasters.
It was revealed that a number of potential themes were considered for the Resort’s first wooden rollercoaster, including a film based IP. The team drew on various elements of folklore, and popular culture to eventually devise the concept for what would become Wicker Man. When it was first announced as being a ride which would ‘fuse wood and fire’, many people questioned just how this could possibly work and pointed out that they are two elements which don’t really mix. However, it was for just this reason that it was decided to combine wood and fire, because they knew people would question just how it could work. In order to research the most effective way to implement the effects they wanted, the team visited and experienced a range of existing GCI rollercoasters and even visited film studios in Hollywood to discover how to combine the effects they wanted to use to create the best possible experience.
As with all projects constructed at the Resort, a great deal of careful planning went into the physical construction of the rollercoaster. The Resort were clear in their planning to ensure the theme park could operate whilst construction of the ride was ongoing and as part of that planning brought in contractors with a passion for the park. During construction, the ride was built in zones to ensure all parties had access to the areas of the site they needed to at the right times to ensure everything ran to schedule. During construction many enthusiasts commented on the unusual composition of the rollercoaster’s lift hill with it changing angle part way up. This was a quite deliberate design, partially to cater for the unique landscape of the site, but also to allow the lift hill to clear the brake run, a design which is a first for a GCI rollercoaster. Consideration was given to the positioning of each and every speaker, down even to the direction which they faced, to ensure the Resort remained mindful of its neighbours, a consideration which is also behind the addition of the sound tunnels and walls in the layout. Even the landscaping was carefully planned to allow the area to ‘green up’ prior to the theme park opening to guests. All of this careful planning has been designed to culminate in everything being ‘guest ready’ on opening day, right down to the last finishing touch.
As part of the development, the Resort have partnered with experience designer, Holovis, who have designed and delivered all the elements of the multisensory experience which places guests at the heart of Wicker Man’s story. Holovis worked alongside Merlin Magic Making from concept through to delivery to ensure all the element were fully integrated with the ride, including programming all the SFX and synchronising the pyrotechnics. In a press release, Pete Cliff, Creative Director at Holovis explains:
“We specialise in creating story led, immersive experiences that put the guest at the heart of the narrative and create long lasting, powerful memories. Immersive pre and post show scenes have now become a staple of the traditional rollercoaster experience, extending the thrill of the ride from just a few minutes to something that guests will remember, talk about and share for years to come.”
With just over one week to go until Alton Towers Resort and Wicker Man open, what are you most excited about for Wicker Man? Make sure you share your thoughts over on the Attraction Source Forum. As The Beornen lure us ever closer to opening day, we’ll continue to bring you all the latest developments.