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Ticket to Rise: Sound Design Drives NYC Thrill Ride

RiseNY, a new ride in Times Square, tears through the Big Apple with wild visuals and matching sound design by Geoff Strasser.

RiseNY is a thrill ride located right in New York City's Times Square.
RiseNY is a thrill ride located right in New York City’s Times Square.

New York, NY (August 9, 2022)—New York City’s Times Square is a thrilling place to be, but RiseNY aims to take it higher—30 feet higher, to be exact. The new thrill ride, which opened this spring in the nerve center of Manhattan, dangles 46 visitors at the center of a three-story immersive flight-simulation theater.

Surrounded by a 180-degree, 40-foot projection dome featuring 8K aerial footage of the Big Apple, audiences are whisked through the city to experience the metropolis in a whole new way as their full-motion seats turn, dip and more. All that visual overstimulation is supported by an equally sense-tingling 7.1 sound design created by Geoff Strasser, senior sound mixer at post audio company Mr. Bronx Audio.

Geoff Strasser.
Geoff Strasser.

Audio for RiseNY is the latest in a string of projects that Strasser and composer Sami Jano have worked on for theme park media studio Super 78, but while previous efforts like a 2017 dinosaur ride took Strasser to China, this one found him merely heading uptown to 45th Street. The mixer’s typical work days find him tackling audio for commercials or HBO comedy specials, so mixing a thrill ride is both similar and entirely different from his usual efforts.

“With commercials and film, you respect the fourth wall, but with something like this, you break that fourth wall as much as possible,” said Strasser. “There’s a lot of panning that has to happen; that makes it so much more immersive, supporting a natural effect of motion. There’s this one shot that’s my favorite—two little birds flying at you, through you and behind you. Every time I did it, I felt like I could just reach out and touch them, just because of the way that they move across the screen and how, I guess, I mixed it. That was just unreal.”

Creating that realistic sense of unreality was no simple task. Super 78 spent weeks in 2019 filming New York City from helicopters and drones. Once visuals were locked, Strasser began sound design work, continuing until all the creative stakeholders converged on the ride’s construction site for mix installation.

“Mixing it was chaos,” Strasser said with a laugh. “During the day, there were six different construction teams in there, putting down carpet, building walls and the rest of it, so we had to work through the night. When I first got there, I said, ‘Can I go up on the ride to see how the mix sounds?’ And they’re all ‘Sure, but you’ll be the first person,’ and I’m ‘Hell no!’ They still had do tests where they load the chairs up with sandbags and fly it around to make sure none of them fall out.”

An ‘Air’ of Sophistication: Sound Design 1,401 Feet Above New York City

In the meantime, Strasser found a secondfloor vantage point of the screen and got to work. “I set up my Mac Trash Can [Apple MacPro] running Pro Tools, a Euphonix controller, mouse, keyboard, then I ran Ethernet, HDMI and USB extenders down to their control room. Their Brainsalt Media Server manages all eight projectors, the 8K footage, the lighting and audio. The mixing took four nights, and two were just me doing my thing—getting the lay of the land, ringing out the room, getting the mix in place. Once the ride was approved to go on, I got strapped in and had an iPad Pro with the Avid Control Mixer app. When I was out there, I’d make mental notes, but if there was something that I could do easily, like a couple of pan moves or some volume rides, I’d do it there.

“A couple of nights later, Brent Young, the creative director of Super 78, and Sami came in, got on the ride and rode it a few times. They’d yell notes back to me and I’d take care of them. That’s a super helpful process to have, because I can depend on their ears a little bit more. They hear things differently than I do, because they’re really the storytellers.”

With the attraction now complete, RiseNY has been getting raves since it opened this Spring, and that’s turned out to be the most gratifying part for Strasser. “When you go online, people don’t post ‘this is amazing’ about a car commercial,” he laughed, “but when you read people saying, ‘I had the best time,’ you think, ‘Wow, I actually had an impact on making somebody’s trip fun in New York.’ That’s really cool.”