“I work on the seam between the content and the attraction,” says entertainment technology developer Ofer Yardeni.As a 21-year-old who had just completed his service in the Israel Defense Forces, Ori Yardeni, born and raised in Israel, gazed at the skyline of Disneyworld and thought, “that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”
Twenty-seven years later, Yardeni received the 2001 Themed Entertainment (Thea) Award for projects of outstanding quality, for the Time Elevator Epcot, a 120-seat cinematic simulator room complete with special effects, located in the Epcot Millennium Village, Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida.
A film producer and entertainment technology developer, with diverse experience in industrial and leisure communication, Yardeni has created more than 360 entertainment and media projects spanning five continents, and has received several international awards for his outstanding achievements in this field.
His favorite subjects in high school were literature and electronics and during his army service Yardeni worked at the IDF radio station, first as a technician and subsequently as a producer/editor/director. Upon completing his army service, Yardeni was among a group of creative young Israelis invited by the Rotary Club to spend six weeks in the United States on a cultural exchange program, during which he toured the country and talked about life in his country.
In his professional life, he has synthesized his love of state-of-the-art, multi-media technologies with his delight in spinning a good yarn.
“I work on the seam between the content and the attraction,” explains Yardeni, 50, who is fond of referring to his projects that transform learning into an entertaining experience as ‘edutainment.’
“It is the synthesis between the content and the experiential elements that I add that creates the total experience,” he says. Yardeni’s independent company has produced image films for the likes of Coca Cola and Microsoft and organized such extravaganzas as the late King Hussein of Jordan’s 60th birthday party. The party, replete with laser, water and other special effects, was a spectacular multimedia event for 5000 guests.
Yardeni likes to get right into the thick of his projects. This is evident even in the job title that he has coined for himself ‘storyteller’, a word in which he notes that his first name (Ori) appears smack in the middle.
Yardeni says that his challenge is to find creative ways to tell good stories, using all of the technology available to achieve his goal.
Yardeni built his first multi-media experience, dubbed the Time Elevator in Jerusalem in 1998. “Every floor or level where the elevator stops is another layer of history,” explains Yardeni, who says that he always builds his prototypes in Israel. He then fine-tunes and improves on the original before going global. In addition to the Jerusalem attraction there are Time Elevators in Italy and Cyprus as well as in Florida, Atlantic City and Baltimore in the United States, with more in the works.
Yardeni employees a team of 30 full-time professionals and an additional 50 freelancers including film directors, producers, sound engineers, script writers, creative directors, and technicians when required. While Yardeni’s Israeli team takes care of most of the work, partners are sought in every location to share in the investment and to assist in managing the projects and local experts are consulted for advice about content.
In the Time Elevators, in addition to stomach lurching dips and turns courtesy of spacious banks of ‘Smart Seats’ mounted on motion base platforms (a Yardeni invention that is a comfortable cinema style seat with motion capability and other effects) spectators may feel the wind in their hair, be sprayed with water, surrounded by mist, or have their senses otherwise titillated as they journey through various strata of history. In the new, improved Time Elevators the 45-minute experience includes an interactive Trivia game during which spectators compete with other members of the audience and see their answers tallied on screen. Naturally the software is designed to suit each particular location.
The inspiration for the Time Elevators came when Yardeni, in his 30s, took his 10-year-old son to the planetarium and the child fell asleep in his seat. That day, Yardeni vowed to re-design the planetarium and find an innovative, exciting way to teach about space that both children and adults would never forget.
He decided to take spectators on a voyage, to transport them into the ‘story’ by stimulating their senses and simulating a real journey. To create this sensory experience, Yardeni built the world’s first moving planetarium. He converted the old theater into a simulated space shuttle and created special effects using a 360-degree motion-based platform, dozens of projectors, a surround sound system, and more, all of which came together in the Tel Aviv Planetarium’s vivid and exciting ‘Voyage to the Universe.’
From planetarium Yardeni progressed to ‘oceanarium.’ He built his first oceanarium in Eilat, where, in the Underwater Observatory by the Red Sea, using specially designed simulators, he created the largest virtual reality submarine in the world, with a 150-person seating capacity. Panoramic projection techniques are supplemented with real water effects, pyrotechnics, and colossal stage sets. The large screen format film was produced in collaboration with marine biologists and incorporates footage shot by photographers from National Geographic and the BBC among others, as well as 3D computerized animated graphics.
Yardeni later built an oceanarium in Malaysia, as well as a moving planetarium and a laserium (laser show). He recounts that while in Malaysia, due to the lack of friendly relations with Israel, he had to work ‘undercover’ and claim to be from Holland. Just a few months ago Yardeni completed work on yet another experiential aquarium in Baltimore.
Yardeni explains that his work is based on the 3E + 4D formula. 3E stands for Entertain, Educate and Excite, while 4D refers to Yardeni’s four dimensions: seeing, hearing, feeling and riding.
His latest project is the development of EX Centers, based on the Israeli prototype near Tel Aviv called Cinema City. Designed to fill cinema complexes during the down-time, daytime hours, EX Centers warn audiences to EXpect an EXperience that is EXtraordinary, EXtreme, EXceptional, EXclusive and EXciting as it takes them on an adventure of discovery using more state-of-the-art cinematic techniques than they have ever seen in one place.
The EX centers are to comprise a Cinemax, a hall for 3D films, an interactive screening hall and a cinematic simulator room complete with Yardeni’s Smart Seats and state-of-the-art special effects, all under one roof. Each hall examines a different aspect of a unifying theme. In the first EX Center, that theme is the World of Man.