Disney effect to wash over Expo

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Coming attractions like the USA pavilion's live-action movie experience will redefine the future of Chinese 'edutainment' say creative heads at design firm BRC.

The USA pavilion is on track to open in time for the start of the Shanghai Expo so early visitors won't miss out on its main attraction, an emotive cinematic experience right out of Hollywood, officials say.

"We got a delayed start but we are catching up rapidly and we hope to open on May 1," commissioner-general Jose Villareal told a press conference held at a luxury nightclub near the Bund last week.

"Hollywood, California, is ground zero for big-screen entertainment and last week I had the privilege of visiting the studio where (design firm) BRC is producing the show for our pavilion," said Villareal, who was appointed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"This is our grand feature, the main event, and I don't think, based on what I saw last week, that any of us will be disappointed."

Disney effect to wash over Expo

Hollywood does not have its own floor space at the six-month-long Expo but it seems to have found a Trojan horse by which to join the party in the form of America's national structure and BRC Imagination Arts, which began designing attractions for Disney's Epcot theme park in Florida 28 years ago.

The firm, which is also working on the 2010 Expo's Information and Communications pavilion and a China Aerospace theme park in Hainan province, has designed a four-part story inside the USA pavilion that links with its external architecture to give guests "an emotional souvenir", says company vice president Christian Lachel.

"The architecture and planning actually wrap around the story," he says of the $61-million pavilion, which is shaped like an eagle with wings outstretched in an embracing gesture. "This all boils down to what we call emotional engineering."

Guests will first be treated to a video montage of classic Americana before US citizens and celebrities like Kobe Bryant welcome them in mandarin Chinese - while showcasing the kind of gaffes, humor and humanity that give US television its strong personality.

"The point of the initial 'The Overture' section is that we want to tell everyone, 'Thanks for coming. We're glad you're here,'" says Greg Lombardo, BRC's director of brand experiences.

The same message could read equally well in reverse: the US was among the last of the 185 countries to sign up for the 2010 Expo due to the global credit crisis and a US law mandating that it must rely on the private sector for funding. It has so far raised $50 million, according to its official website.

Whether all of the new construction springing up around the 5.28-sq-km Expo site will be finished on time remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, some of the USA pavilion's video celebrities may join what could be a thick red carpet of international stars lining Shanghai from May to October, including such luminaries as China's Jackie Chan and Yao Ming, Portugal's goal-scoring machine Cristiano Ronaldo and the entire Inter Milan squad.

"Kobe, Magic Johnson and (skateboarding titan) Tony Hawk have all expressed keen interest in participating in the live-video component here in Shanghai," says Lombardo, hinting at the autograph-hunting opportunities that lie in store.

After "Act 1: The Spirit of America" guests will be spirited to "Act 2: The Garden" which tells the story of how a young girl engages her community - a metaphor for the world's community of nations - in turning a derelict wasteland into a flourishing oasis.

This part of the show, which corresponds to the structure's rooftop urban farm feature, uses new technology borrowed from sponsor Microsoft and five jagged, 10-meter-tall "screen towers" that resemble a city skyline to impress tourists as the cinema "slowly comes alive", Lombardo says.

Meanwhile, the use of music instead of dialogue will ensure everyone can enjoy the spectacle at what surveys show to be the second most anticipated pavilion at the 2010 Expo after the China pavilion.

BRC aims to enhance the experience by incorporating 4D elements like wind, rain and lightning at its main 500-seat auditorium, but it rejected going 3D despite the recent success of James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar.

"We thought about that but we decided it would just distract people," said company founder Bob Rogers. "If we went with 3D it would add a lot of expense, meaning we couldn't talk about other areas such as collaboration and friendliness. So now we have two theaters."

The USA pavilion will deploy other forms of cutting-edge communications technology such as tagging, which links cell phones to URLs. Act 3 will divide into five themed areas focusing on opportunities and innovation, with an eye to the future.

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