Among the many new dark rides and show rides announced for 2022, one of the latter category stands out because of its unique ride system. That is Chasseurs de Tornades, the newest attraction in the French theme park Futuroscope. The opening of this ride marks the first installation of the so-called Motion Theatre, a new type of simulator ride. With its large motion platform, rotating and twisting in the middle of a 360° LED-screen combined with physical sets, the ride promises a new show ride experience unlike any other. Team DRdb visited Futuroscope to check it out for ourselves.
The development of this new type of ride did not go unnoticed by the amusement industry. The concept of the Dynamic Motion Theatre was introduced by Dynamic Attractions back in 2016, and immediately won the IAAPA Brass Ring Award for best new product concept. Nevertheless, it was not until this year that Chasseurs de Tornades opened to the public as the first ride to utilise the ride system. The ride was developed by Futuroscope in collaboration with AAB Theming, Dynamic Attractions and François-Xavier Aubague. During the IAAPA Expo Europe, held in London in September 2022, Chasseurs de Tornades also received multiple awards: The European Star Award for best new ride 2022, and the Park World Excellence award for both best dark ride and for best product innovation.
The Images Studio Pavilion
Before we dive deeper into the experience that Chasseurs de Tornades offers, we will first take a look at the history of the pavilion which currently houses this new ride. In the case of Futuroscope, we can truly speak of ‘pavilions’, in the same way one would describe them in a park like EPCOT or at a World’s Fair. Futuroscope is an educational theme park which focuses on innovations and modern technology, showcasing them in large pavilions with distinct futuristic architecture. Although the park is not a traditional theme park, its carefully designed environment and unique experiences draw a steady number of ca. 2 million annual visitors.
Rides in the park were originally limited to 4D films and simulators, but over time more general theme park rides were introduced in the park. Nevertheless, these new rides were always designed with the same educational mindset and futuristic theming. The most profound example of such a ride is Objectif Mars, the spinning roller coaster that opened in 2020.
Due to limited space at this stage of the park’s development, new rides generally take the place of a former ride, pavilion or garden. As is the case with Chasseurs de Tornades, which uses the building that previously housed the Images Studio Pavilion. This pavilion opened in 1995 and has been an eye-catcher at the northern end of the park ever since, thanks to the striking architectural design of the façade.
Little is known however on the exact experience of the pavilion in 1995, though it is certain that it included a dark ride called Images Studio. In the winter between 2004 and 2005, this ride was re-themed to Star du Futur! which eventually closed in 2009. As far as we know, the building has stood empty ever since, apart from hosting an exposition between 2015 and 2019. The dark ride had presumably been removed by this point in time.
Chasseurs de Tornades: Introducing the story
After this short detour in history, let us now get back to 2022. The Images Studio Pavilion was cleared over the last years, and a completely new experience has been built inside. Or mostly inside the old building, that is: the construction of Chasseurs de Tornades required demolishing a part in the back of the pavilion and extend the building in order to fit the new ride inside.
As with all rides in Futuroscope, this new ride also has a specific educational theme. In this case the ride is about tornados, not surprisingly, with the name Chasseurs de Tornades being French for Tornado Chasers. The ride uses an extensively themed queue line to explain the backstory of the ride, and teach riders more about this particular weather phenomenon.
The whole storyline was conceived in collaboration with AAB Theming and François-Xavier Aubague. AAB is a French theming company, who designed and produced all of the theming elements. The media content was directed and produced by François-Xavier Aubague, who is known for working on visual effects of blockbuster films like, amongst others, The Dark Knight. He later moved to directing other films, such as theme park film Attention Menhir! (Parc Astérix). For Chasseurs de Tornades, Aubague brought in Benjamin Ribolet to compose the film score.
Our visit to Futuroscope to experience Chasseurs de Tornades takes place on a crowded day in August, with queue times across the entire park rising above an hour. The extensively themed indoor queue line of Chasseurs de Tornades, capable of hosting a 40-minute queue, is thus completely full. The park however turns out to be prepared for such crowds, as the ride is also equipped with a large outdoor section of queue line that can presumably host another 60 minutes of waiting time; we’ll consider ourselves lucky that this part is only halfway filled.
The outdoor queue is located below ground level, in a pit surrounding the show building. While waiting in this queue area, we are introduced to the fictional CEMEX institute, of which the ride building is intended to be the headquarters. CEMEX stands for Centre d’Etudes de Météorologies EXtrêmes (Centre for Studying Extreme Weather Conditions), and inside this building we are about to learn more about their recent studies on tornados. The outdoor queue is furthermore decorated with pictures of these weather events, but the major highlight of this section is the large wind tunnel where we can experience the force of a true tornado first hand.
Once we enter the CEMEX building, we meet with the two main characters of the ride, who are visible on a screen as they welcome us through a video call. One of them is Melanie Melville (played by Carine Ribert), the female director of CEMEX and apparently a rather precise and punctual woman. The other character is Alex Faure (played by Yannik Mazzilli), a tornado chaser helping Melanie in her research, who seems more laid-back and nonchalant in his work.
Both characters shortly present the research projects they are currently working on. For Melanie, it is the Tromb’X, a prototypical machine to research tornados and prevent their associated hazards. Alex helps her on this machine, but is simultaneously working on a special vehicle equipped to chase tornados. We also learn that Melanie is supposed to present the Tromb’X later that day for a large crowd at CEMEX.
Now that we are introduced to the main characters, it is time to walk further into the CEMEX building. The queue line passes through a series of rooms, each depicting another state of development of the inventions. We first pass through an office, meant for desk research, where the desks of both Melanie and Alex were quickly distinguished. Moving on, we enter a simulation room where we witness a small tornado simulation in a water column. Finally, we end up in the workshop where both prototypes were being tested and worked on; however, it seems that testing on the Tromb’X prototype does not yet go according to plan.
Throughout the entire queue line, we frequently witness Alex and Melanie while they are video calling each other. They never address us again as they did in their introduction, however. Following the storyline, they are constantly calling each other for help on their projects, with their difference in character obviously showing up many times during the calls. In the workshop, we eventually see both of them on a screen as if they were truly inside that room, working on the Tromb’X prototype. Futuroscope cleverly uses loops of ca. 10 minutes for each screen, where both characters enter every now and then, making sure that no-one in the queue should see the same shot multiple times.
Apart from the many screens on which we witness the talks between Melanie and Alex, the different rooms in the queue line are extensively decorated. A particularly eye-catching example is the prototype of Alex’ tornado chasing vehicle, a full-scale converted Isuzu pick-up truck which we encounter in the workshop. Another detail which easily slipped our notice are screens on which you can see security videos of the queue line itself, with many people waiting in the other rooms. This detail however is worth watching, as it has a role in the final queue line room.
After a long wait, we eventually enter the final queue line room. This room depicts the research room where weather conditions in the surroundings of Futuroscope are examined. Problems seem to be heading for us, as we see that a tornado is currently heading straight towards the park. On a video screen above our heads, we first witness Alex who is called away from the garage where he was working on his prototype. Afterwards, the screen shows security images of the rest of the queue again, where panic seems to kick in: we see alarms and screaming people, running out of the queue line and the CEMEX building as fast as they can. Panic however does not reach our room, leaving us behind questioning whether we should be running for our lives. Instead, one of the CEMEX staff members shows up to welcome us to enter the next room: there we are invited to watch Melanie’s presentation of the Tromb’X prototype.
Chasing the tornado
This next room appears to be the pre-show room, where 120 riders are gathered and lined up in seven rows. On our left, we see a large room (the Analysis Center) from which Melanie is to present her prototype. Once all riders are inside the room, she is asked to start her presentation for all of us to witness.
In this case, everything happening inside the Analysis Centre is created by a Pepper’s Ghost projection, creating an even more ‘real’ feeling than a traditional projection. Melanie starts presenting the Tromb’X, but it is no surprise to us that problems start to occur with the prototype. Alex is called to help on the presentation, but when he shows up he starts presenting his own tornado chasing vehicle instead.
Then the news on the upcoming tornado is finally heard in the Analysis Centre as well. It turns out that both inventions will be needed to prevent a hazardous tornado from destroying the park and CEMEX building, which gives Alex and Melanie a mission to accomplish. In order to address us and ask us to come along, Alex takes a helmet and walks out of the Analysis centre, suddenly appearing as a live actor in front of us. He encourages us to move on to the next room and join him and Melanie in their attempt to stop the tornado.
Now we arrive in the main show, where it is time to take our seat on the large motion platform. The platform contains 120 seats in 7 rows, matching the rows in the pre-show. The circular platform is surrounded by a 360° LED-screen, showing some sort of garage interior as we take our places. While we board, there are two openings in the screen: one is the entrance, another the exit of the main show. However, when everyone has taken their seat and pulled down their safety restraints, these openings are closed, creating a seamless screen completely surrounding us. As we are about to discover, the screen includes more places where it can surprisingly split apart, revealing physical sets placed behind the screen.
Now that the entrance and exit are covered and we are fully surrounded by the LED screen, we are off chasing down the tornado and trying to stop it from destroying the park. During the 4,5-minute film we follow Alex and Melanie, using Alex’s vehicle to come as close as possible to the tornado. Eventually we get sucked up in the storm together with Alex, who plays the hero by starting the Tromb’X at exactly the right moment to stop the tornado.
The entire adventure is enhanced by the motion platform, rotating and heaving to simulate the wild ride on the tornado, in combination with wind and water spray effects. The seamless round screen makes sure we lose our orientation rapidly, making the appearance of real sets a total surprise. These sets include amongst others another full-scale pick-up truck, mounted on a motion arm to spin around and move along with the audience for a short distance. As an extra addition, the live actor appears as Alex multiple times throughout the ride, giving another dimension to the entire show.
With 120 riders on one single platform, the ride experience varies largely between the different seats. We end up sitting almost in the middle of the platform, which turns out to be a position in which not all movements are clearly distinguishable. Nevertheless, it is clear that all movements are exceptionally smooth and are convincingly adjusted to the action shown on the screen. From our position we hardly notice whether we are heaving or tilting, but it is clear that all movements are so smooth and accurate that they gave the perfect simulation of riding a tornado, while remaining a family-friendly ride.
The Dynamic Motion Theatre
Concluding, we are really surprised by the immersive experience of Chasseurs de Tornades. Therefore, we would like to dive a bit deeper into the technical details behind the Dynamic Motion Theatre, the ride type developed by Dynamic Attractions. Though the ride system was introduced in 2016, Futuroscope is the first to open an installation in their park. In an interview with EuroAmusement Professional (5/2022), Olivier Héral (Creative director of Futuroscope) says: “We really liked the concept of a rotating motion theatre because of the myriad possibilities it offered for immersive experiences. We immediately thought about possible themes, finally settling on tornadoes, an impressive natural phenomenon that seemed perfect for showcasing this ride system.”
The system sets itself apart by its large screen, which uses LED instead of the generally used projection in order to create a seamless 360° film, with possibilities to suddenly open the screen for showcasing physical sets. Héral explained: “Initially we wanted to rely on video projection, but in the course of the project we received an interesting offer from Samsung to install a huge circular LED screen here. What seemed unimaginable until then has now become possible thanks to their expertise.” The screen has a diameter of 17 meters and is 8 meters tall, creating a surface of 420 square meters which is equipped with 21,600 x 3072 pixels.
The film of Chasseurs de Tornades was developed in such a way that it heavily benefits from the combination of the screens and the physical sets, making it seem for example that the vehicle used in the physical set moves on along the screen (see video below). The immense size of the screen makes sure that rider’s eye is completely captured, setting this ride system apart from earlier simulator rides. Those generally use one screen in front of the riders or, in case of an immersive tunnel, a screen surrounding them at a distance, keeping edges of the screen clearly visible. The ability of the Dynamic Motion Theatre to truly capture the riders’ view creates a much more immersive ride experience than other simulator ride systems have so far managed to achieve (except maybe flying theatres).
On top of the effects created by motion, film and physical sets, Chasseurs de Tornades also features wind and water spray effects. No less than 40 ceiling fans, installed by Crystal Group, create the wind effect that convincingly simulates the tornado. Other effects and installations were equipped by Ingéliance and FMD, and the audio equipment was delivered by L-Acoustics – the latter also being responsible for the Pepper’s Ghost technique in the pre-show. As for the ride’s film, more details can be found on IMDb.
All effects and motions are carefully put together to create a convincing show, where every effect gives the right touch to the total story. This did not go unnoticed by Jerry Pierson (President and COO of Dynamic Attractions), who showed himself enthusiastic in the article of EuroAmusement Professional: “As a ride manufacturer, they made us look great! They took our ride system and made it 10 times better by the show they wrapped around it. Our motion theatre ride was a blank canvas for them to build their story around, and I think it exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
However, when you ask us, the ride system delivered by Dynamic Attractions already provides a high quality standard in itself. The motion platform is remarkably smooth in its movements, adding the perfect motion effect to the film. The system provides a heave and tilt effect, as well as a continuous spin (as visible on the video below), creating just the amount of movement that is necessary to create a convincing experience. Combined with all efforts by the team assembled by Futuroscope, that creates the perfect showcase for the possibilities of the Dynamic Motion Theatre.
Taking the simulator ride to a next level
When looking back at our experience of Chasseurs de Tornades, it is not just the carefully created simulator experience that comes to mind. First of all, the whole storyline and the extensively themed queue line are very well executed. The richness of the decorations and details in the queue line is remarkable, and the integration of the characters of Alex and Melanie is well-conceived.
In general, the whole way in which the story is explained by the video calls between Melanie and Alex is a nice concept. The narrative is described with hardly any need to address the public, thereby staying true to the backstory of the ride. A major disadvantage however is that all spoken text is only in French, without subtitles or any other way for foreigners to understand the story. For a park like Futuroscope, receiving 2 million annual visitors, which did use translation in previous expansions like Objectif Mars, we did expect a better way to involve international visitors in the story.
A very nice twist in the queue line and pre-show were some small effects which really surprised us by their simplicity and effectiveness. Especially the effect with the security cams is well-conceived and executed, by integrating security cam screens throughout the entire queue and then adding the surprising twist of the enacted evacuation in the very last room. Also the trick with Alex’s helmet, enabling a live actor to become Alex in the pre-show and main show, is a nice idea that adds a more dynamic touch to the ride experience.
Despite the fact that all elements in the queue are executed in a detailed and clever way, the main draw of Chasseurs de Tornades as an attraction remains the simulator experience itself. With the Dynamic Motion Theatre, Dynamic Attractions developed a smooth family-friendly ride that creates a simulator ride unlike any other. As described earlier, the circular screen in the Dynamic Motion Theatre manages to completely capture the riders’ eyes and take them in a much more immersive ride experience. This is even enhanced by the possibility to add physical sets to the ride, which show up surprisingly thanks to the seamless integration of these openings in the LED-screen. This integration of physical sets and the large screen creates a range of new opportunities that were seldomly seen on simulator rides before.
In our opinion, Dynamic Attractions has created a ride system which really takes the simulator ride to new heights. The Dynamic Motion Theatre offers an immersive quality that so far could only be matched by the flying theatres, and not by any other simulator ride. On top of that, Futurosocope created a highly themed attraction together with their partners that makes excellent use of this ride system. If you ask us, this team definitely deserved the awards they received for Chasseurs de Tornades, and we cannot wait to see more of these next-level simulator rides in the future.
© Dark Ride Database
Visit and text by Luc
Pictures by Luc unless indicated otherwise
Own pictures taken on 4 August 2022