How Are Custom Lighting Experiences Created For Theme Parks?

Find out how theme parks create unique experiences for guests using DMX controllers, LED lights, and other immersive lighting applications

Every theme park is a carefully curated experience for guests. When guests enter a theme park, every element is designed to create an atmosphere of fun and excitement. Lighting applications are used in a lot of different ways to immerse guests in the world designed by the park. From indoor attractions to large-scale outdoor lighting installations—like the kind commonly found on roller coasters—lighting plays an important role in how guests perceive the park. Lights in amusement parks are not only used for decoration, they are also used for branding and within immersive attractions. Since lighting is so important for theme parks to run properly, we thought we’d take a look at how these lighting applications are accomplished for parks at such a large scale. We’re going to be talking about DMX controller software, LED lights, and other amusement-specific lighting applications to find out more about theme park lighting and how it works. Let’s dive in!

How Do Theme Parks Manage Large Lighting Applications?

To manage complex sound and lighting inputs, theme parks rely on DMX controllers

Amusement park lighting relies on a complex set of lighting commands.

Lighting a building, themed area, or a ride is no easy task. Often, these applications require complex lighting commands to achieve the desired lighting profile for a designated area of the park. To handle these inputs, theme parks rely on DMX controllers to control these lighting applications.

DMX stands for Digital Multiplex and is a device commonly used to control many lighting fixtures at once. DMX controllers are often used in theater and concert productions and they are also able to control other types of fixtures including audio and fog machines. These devices can create a wide variety of colors and patterns that can be easily changed depending on the preset inputs. For example, amusement parks can adjust lighting inputs based on the season. Amusement parks require vastly different lighting applications for different seasonal events like Halloween and winter events. By changing the inputs for the DMX controller, theme park managers can customize lighting profiles for different events.

Now that we’ve learned a little bit about how theme park lighting works, let's take a look at a few of the most common applications and how they enhance the overall guest experience.

Lighting for Buildings in Amusement Parks

Using a LED lights, amusement parks can execute elaborate and changeable lighting applications

Retail locations need to have eye-catching lighting—even during the day!

The first type of amusement park lighting we’ll be discussing is lighting for buildings. Though they are not the usual main attractions, lighting for buildings still makes a major impact on a guest’s experience. When executed properly, the way the building is lit can visually communicate everything the guest needs to know about the building and how to interact. For example, a gift shop is likely to have a different exterior lighting profile than that of a restaurant located in the park. A gift shop is much more likely to have flashy, changing lights to entice guests to enter based on the eye-catching display, whereas a restaurant will be more focused on illuminating a sign so that people can easily read the name and understand which type of restaurant is housed in the building. 

There is also the option for theme parks to use LED lights as LED video fixtures. These fixtures can create moving images using only LED lights. This type of amusement park lighting is great for moving text, signs, advertisements, and more! Since LED lights are so flexible and able to create so many different colors and patterns, there is no limit as to what you can project using LEDs.

There are also a lot of branding opportunities associated with amusement park retail lighting packages. Projectors are just one example of an easy way for amusement parks to create immersive branded experiences for retail spaces. A projector can be used to display a brand name or logo on the inside or outside of a retail store. If a retail space is only being used temporarily or is changing uses, the logo can be easily changed using the DMX system. This is an excellent and impressive way to brand a retail space without the hassle of installing a physical sign or the less-than-immersive look of a temporary banner. 

Lighting for Outdoor Rides and Attractions

Amusement parks can create subtle, yet effective lighting for large outdoor rides with LEDs

Outdoor lighting is the most commonly used form of lighting for amusement parks.

One of the most effective ways to enhance a guest experience is with an impactful lighting package for a major ride. To light a ride without interfering with the ride profile, amusement parks use micro-dot LED technology. Using these micro-dot lights, amusement parks can install flexible and impactful lighting without any invasive or ugly wiring surrounding the ride. These lights are also able to stay up year-round, so there is no need to remove them for harsh winters or add any extra winterization. Since these micro-dots are LED lights controlled by a DMX, they can be easily changed for every season. LED micro-dot lighting is perfect for any type of large-scale application including Ferris wheels, flat rides, and wooden and steel roller coasters.

Lighting for Indoor Rides and Attractions

Indoor attractions require unique applications that enhance the ride experience

Great lighting is essential for indoor attractions.

Even more so than outdoor attractions, indoor attractions require unique lighting packages to impress and entertain guests. After all, without exciting indoor lighting applications, the ride will exist in pitch-black darkness. That’s why theme parks need to use lights to tell the story for the ride in the queue and on the ride itself. Indoor attractions can use the same micro-dot technology to light attractions but in a slightly different way. For indoor rides, micro-dot LEDs are installed on the walls or the floor of an attraction or queue. Instead of illuminating the exterior shape of a ride—like when used for a roller coaster or a flat ride—these lights fill the room with color which creates an immersive experience for guests.

Another common type of lighting that is used for indoor attractions is moving head lighting. Moving headlights are a type of light that can swivel 360 degrees while also rotating vertically. These lights are most often used in moving indoor attractions like interactive games or 4D experiences. Since the guests are constantly moving through the attraction, the lights need to move as well. By creating lighting experiences that move through the attraction with the rider, guests are treated to an immersive lighting experience using moving heads.

 When it comes to indoor rides, immersion is key. To create a unique experience that transports guests to a different world, theme parks use a combination of audio, video, lighting, fog machines, and other elements to add to the ride or attraction. Luckily, all of these devices and commands can be easily controlled using a DMX.

The additional effects that can be controlled using the DMX are important for highly themed attractions—especially for Halloween attractions. Scary attractions—whether they be walk-through style haunted houses or moving attractions—require these additional elements to be effectively scary. Fog helps obscure features that are coming up ahead, adding an element of surprise to the attraction while audio and visual effects help tell a story through the attraction. These effects combined with specialized lighting fixtures like moving heads and lasers help add additional thrill elements to scary amusement rides.

Additional Lighting Considerations for Theme Parks

Theme parks have different lighting requirements as opposed to theaters and concert tours

Lighting fixtures need to be extremely durable to handle outdoor weather conditions.

Most lighting applications are designed for large-scale theatrical productions or for touring concerts, which presents challenges when trying to use these same lights for amusement parks. First things first, amusement park lights will be run far more often than those used for shows. For theater shows and concert tours, the lights will have to be used—at maximum—for 3-4 hours per day. For amusement parks, the lights will need to stay on from open to close in most cases—especially for indoor spaces like dark rides. While many lights are only used at night, they still need to stay on for longer than lights used for a show. On average, amusement park lights will need to be turned on for 12 hours per day. That is why it is so important for amusement parks to invest in the highest output, longest-lasting lights possible. To make sure that the lights are right for the job, amusement parks need to make sure that they are installing lighting that is durable enough to produce consistent quality lighting that lasts for years. If parks don’t invest in durable lighting, they will likely have to spend more money over time on constant replacements. Not to mention, the majority of low-quality lighting fixtures are unable to function properly in outdoor weather conditions—which eliminates the vast majority of theme park-related lighting applications. 

Theme parks are highly complex properties that require extensive lighting applications to make the parks memorable and immersive. Using DMX lighting control systems, LED lights, projectors, and other fixtures, amusement parks can create unique experiences for each attraction, store, and themed area of the park. As lighting technology and lighting control systems continue to evolve, so do trends in amusement park lighting. You never know, the next big innovation in amusement park lighting could revolutionize how parks create attractions.