René Hansen is the managing director of MK Themed Attractions (formerly Tema Design by MK Illumination) in Denmark, a division of MK Illumination. In an interview with InterPark editor Andrew Mellor, Hansen talks about his time in the attractions industry, his company and its products, recent projects, industry trends and other aspects of the theme park and attractions industry
Andrew Mellor: Can you provide a brief outline of your time in the attractions industry?
René Hansen: I’ve been in the attractions industry for 20 years and we have mainly focussed on Denmark during this time as it has a lot of parks for which we do a lot of theming. One of the first projects was the Horror House at Bakken. This also fits well with our company structure with the period from December 1 to June 1 always focussing on the parks, for which we do all the theming during their different ‘seasons,’ such as Halloween and Christmas.. But we also do theming work for other businesses, Christmas lighting displays and renting for exhibitions – dinosaurs, sharks and others – at shopping centres.
AM: What is the history of MK Themed Attractions? When was it founded and by whom and what are the company’s key products and services?
RH: The company is a division of MK Illumination headquartered in Austria, a world market leader in the provision of festive decorative lighting, and which also incorporates the Creation Group. MK Illumination saw an increasing demand for high quality themed attractions across a range of sectors and MK Themed Attractions was formed to provide both world class-theming and world-class lighting for attractions of all shapes and sizes.
We are seeing bigger and bigger demands for fibreglass statues, figures, theming and such products/services so we decided to build our own factory in the Philippines five years ago as we could do quality fibreglass work there. Today we have a 10,000sq.m factory there and a workforce of 350 and are planning a further 4,000sq.m of space.
AM: What are the company’s key products and services?
RH: We do design work, 3D work, sculpting, moulding, painting, production and packaging at the facility in the Philippines. At the premises in Denmark we do woodwork, metalwork and animatronics. We are a Danish company and very proud of this. The only way to survive is to be creative and have quality. This is above all we do. We always try to come up with the best designs, products and materials to create and develop new ways to theme and produce things.
After opening the factory in the Philippines we had bigger ambitions. We wanted to reach out to Europe first and do great quality theming work there. A new sales person, Lars Neilson, our themed attraction manager, came in who knows a lot about the parks industry and has been a great support in opening doors and finding the right people to talk to about our products. He is a park fanatic and has also been an active member of various IAAPA committees over many years. He is currently a member of the IAAPA EMEA Education Committee.
Also following the opening of the Philippines factory we created MK Themed Attractions for a specific approach to the parks industry. The company is 100 per cent focussed on this sector.
AM: What do you think makes MK Themed Attractions stand out from other suppliers of similar products and solutions?
RH: What we are good at is detailing and listening and getting the right feeling of a concept. Also the full scale of production, by which I mean we are not limited to what we can do. We do the whole package for a project and are a complete (turnkey) supplier, not only for new rides and the theming for these but also for the trend for parks being themed for the ‘seasons,’ which are very important for us and are one of our specialities. We plan the whole ‘season’ and convert a park accordingly. This is one of the ways we stand out.
AM: Can you provide a few details of two or three of the company’s most recently completed projects?
RH: We are just in the process of finishing (at the time of writing) a new wilderness themed area for the new hybrid coaster Untamed at Walibi Holland, a re-theming of the old Robin Hood area. The design concept for this was by Leisure Expert Group (LEG) from the Netherlands who we have a great relationship with and with whom we do a lot of installations.
We’ve also been working on Tiger in Wild Asia at Djurs Sommerland in Denmark and have started to produce items for a new themed area at Paultons Park in the UK. This will be a very heavily themed area and a totally new concept. It’s a great project and we were very proud to win this contract.
At Europa-Park in Germany we are doing a new fountain near the new hotel and waterpark, among other things, while we also did a Christmas season theme for Zoo Copenhagen last winter to help push further development at that venue.
AM: How does MK Themed Attractions create its designs and theming solutions? For example, are these usually inspired by requests from/the needs of individual operators or do you have some ‘standard’ themes and products that are offered?
RH: We have three different ways of doing this. A park may come to us with a concept and design, we get projects from companies like LEG and we also do our own designs for projects. The very big parks often have their own designs so want these, while the smaller parks use us. Others use companies such as LEG.
One of my own specific areas in the company is on the creative side and I run that department. We create around 10 new designs/products every week so our portfolio of standard products is extending dramatically each month. We do standard products and also specific designs and IPs, etc.
AM: In what ways does the MK Themed Attractions offering enhance the visitor experience at parks and other venues?
RH: We help to create the right atmosphere and feeling for guests by using high class and quality designs, from the cartoon-like to original designs. We create fantasy experiences and new worlds for people to see.
AM: What changes and/or trends is MK Themed Attractions seeing in the parks and attractions industry at the moment?
RH: We are seeing competition increase between parks which are creating and developing new rides, while themed rides and areas are also growing. So to stand out parks try to find different concepts. Untamed in Walibi is totally new and the project we are working on at Paultons is also a new concept, so new types of theming and new concepts are coming through. Before it was usually pirates and the Wild West, so this is the direction in which we are now moving.
AM: How do you see the MK Themed Attractions offering developing in the future?
RH: As a global company MK Illuminations has offices in 40 countries. MK Themed Attractions has offices and factories in Denmark and the Philippines. In the future we will have specialised offices in the US and other countries so our presence will grow around the world. It will be the same for our production capacity, while our combination of skills will also grow in the future.
Not a lot of people know this but I am very good at… doodling and drawing very fast sketches that only I understand!
The most interesting place I’ve ever been to is… sitting among a group of white lions in the Serengeti National Park at night time
Family aside, the prized possession I value above all others is… creating dreams that come true
My favourite film is… some of the Marvel movies
When I’m not working I like to… have a glass of cold white wine with my family, ride my garden tractor to destress and barbeque with my four children
The person who has influenced me most is… my wife Linda
My favourite musician/band is… Enrique Inglesias
If I could invite a celebrity to dinner it would be… the Crown Prince of Denmark
I really dislike… people who are dishonest