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How the Wet Was Won : TVA's Water Productions Make a Splash

March 05, 1997|EVELYN IRITANI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Southern California entrepreneur Jeffrey Goddard is exporting water, in a manner of speaking. His Studio City-based TVA, the Video Agency, is marketing multimedia water shows to theme park operators around the world, particularly Asia.

He calls it a dive-in, a high-tech show projected onto water screens. Viewers can watch from the edge of the pool or even enjoy the theatrics as they float on inner tubes.

TVA, whose annual revenue exceeds $1 million, is one of a handful of companies involved in this new form of entertainment. The water screens are created by projecting 3-D computer-generated images onto a fan-shaped curtain of water, as large as 120 by 60 feet.

So far, Goddard's firm has produced five water-screen shows, including the world's largest water-screen production, for a theme park in Shanghai. In Dubai, the operators of Wonderland Family Fun Park are attracting close to 20,000 people a night to their 70-millimeter water-screen attraction, which depicts a journey from outer space to the Caribbean.

"This is an incredible way to keep the crowds coming," said Goddard, who lived in Japan as a Mormon missionary before starting his career in advertising in 1983 in Tokyo.

Indeed, the appetite for American fun and fantasy is growing. Tim O'Brien, an editor at Nashville-based Amusement Business, said the hottest markets for theme parks, particularly water parks, are Asia and Latin America.

The economic growth in many Asian countries has created a large and increasingly sophisticated middle-class population willing to pay big for designer names and glitzy entertainment.

O'Brien said Walt Disney Co. pioneered the concept of water screens, which have become the flavor of the month at theme parks around the country.

"People love spectaculars," he said.

This is not cheap entertainment. The price tag for a production ranges from $450,000 to $800,000. The computer-generated graphics, which can cost as much as $5,000 a second to produce, are projected onto a mist created by giant pumps. Live performers, lasers and pyrotechnics are also often incorporated into the show.

TVA is producing a water-screen show for a Thai shopping mall operator that involves a battle between a live performer and a gigantic dragon that rises out of the water and shoots laser bolts from its eyes.

"Virtually any company or group that has access to water can have an instant Imax-style theater at a fraction of the cost," Goddard said.

Theme park operators are happy with the water-screen shows because they keep visitors around longer. The projections must be done in the dark.

"The longer they stay, the more money they [park operators] make," Goddard said. "When people are tired, they buy tons of food and souvenirs."

Meeting the demand for bigger and better fantasies is one of TVA's biggest challenges.

"As people become more visually sophisticated, they have increasing levels of impact and uniqueness," he said. "They need higher visual fixes."

Times staff writer Evelyn Iritani can be reached via e-mail at evelyn.iritani@latimes.com or by fax at (213) 237-7837.

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