Hotopp dives into the world of dark ride theming by crafting fantastical 360 degree environments for an interactive attraction experience that is never the same twice.



Hotopp joined the Sea World team in 2011, collaborating to build the story and environment of the ride path at Sea World Orlando’s newest attraction – Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin - which would give guests an up close and personal penguin experience.  Over the next two years, Hotopp would engage in a fast and furious creative process involving many moving parts and unusual design challenges, as the ride would be housed in the same chilled building that the penguins themselves would call home and Sea World would be debuting cutting edge ride technology that gives every guest a truly unique experience. 

The team of designers at Hotopp worked with Sea World creative to develop a story about the life of little Gentoo Penguin “Puck”, from his first moments as a hatchling on the desolate Antarctic shelf through his fledgling adulthood as he proves he is able to survive in the wild on his own.  With a combination of hand-drawn sketches, 3D CAD models, technical drawings, and clay sculptures, the design team delivered plans for compelling environments from the entrance queue line through the ride path, completely immersing the guest in the frozen world of the penguin from their very first step into the attraction.

The new ride technology allowed each vehicle to depart from the load platform and take off on a completely new ride path generated from a computer algorithm, with differing speeds, differing turns and spins, and a differing path through the scenic realm.  The Hotopp team worked tirelessly to ensure that no matter where the guest is in the ride, they don’t miss a beat of the story and they are completely immersed in the world – this means there’s no “backstage” at the Antarctica ride!  

Bringing all of these completely immersive environments to life was no small feat.  The managers and designers at Hotopp worked in close collaboration with vendors all over the country including the scene shop in chilly upstate New York, the animators in Orlando, the lighting team in San Francisco, and the project Architect in Louisville.  The teams spent a lot of time doing “Research and Development” answering the truly critical questions that went into creating this spectacular world: How do we build 200 iridescent icicles in a cost-effective fashion?  How do we get this scenery to glow like Antarctic ice in the dark?  Do these veins of rock sparkle enough to be effective?  

Ultimately, we were lucky to have Art Directors that were also experienced in all sorts of technical methodologies, as building the environments of this imaginative Antarctica required a lot of unique solutions and large teams of scenic artists, mold-makers, sculptors, and painters.  Glowing droplets of ice were created by casting huge fiberglass molds, over 7 feet tall, so that they could be internally lit.  An ice cavern that introduces the guests to the penguin world was created by fully sculpting the 360-degree room out of foam and pulling molds of it so it could be replicated 5 times over.  The focal point of a frozen waterfall took carvers several months to sculpt and cast, as it stood over 2 stories high.  The 200 icicles were ultimately created by accident, when one of the plastic profiles was warped by a Vacuform machine, but it was a perfect fit for this creative space!    

The attraction has now been up and running successfully since 2013, where it has transported thousands of audience members on this entertaining and imaginative expedition to Antarctic.