During the 1990s, local investors partnered with the Overseas Enterprise of of China Travel Service to build the Splendid China theme park in Central Florida which opened to the public in November 1993 and closed just ten years later on December 31, 2003.
A beautiful book entitled “Florida Splendid China Theme Park U.S.A.” marking the grand opening of the park was created with beautiful photographs and well wishes from dignitaries from around the world.
It was based on a similar park built in 1989 in Shenzhen, China and was designed to showcase Chinese history, entertainment, cuisine, and culture to visitors from around the world who might not have the opportunity to experience China in person. The focal point of the park was a self-guided walking path that meandered through the 76 acre park highlighted by a series of handcrafted built to scale miniatures representing key landmarks throughout China, such as the Great Wall, Terra Cotta Soldiers created by the Emperor Qinshihuang, and even the rock formations of the enigmatic Stone Forest.
Orlando production and post production companies were involved in various media endeavors related to promotion of the park, including the creation of marketing videos and television commercials. One notable project was the award-winning overview film simply titled “Splendid China” presented at the park, which was developed by Renaissance Entertainment, together with Florida Film and Tape and Century III Teleproductions at Universal Studios Florida. Check out this nine minute segment that was part of the “Splendid China” presentation.
The overview film was projected in a 30’x10′, three-screen seamless format in a theater located just inside the entrance in the Suzhou Garden area. It introduced visitors to the varied history and landscape of China by combining vivid panoramic on-location photography, animation, and effects. To produce this film Florida Film and Tape, traveled to China and recorded original footage on 35 mm motion picture film at locations across the vast expanse of China. The goal was to capture the iconic scenes of ancient and modern day China, including images of the streets of Beijing, the Imperial Palace, the Great Wall and more.
Post-production was completed by Century III Teleproductions which was located on the back lot at Universal Studios Florida at that time. Century III’s contributions included editing the film, creating all visual effects and animation and mastering the final version into the custom, seamless, three-screen format developed by Panorama Technologies, Inc. This projection system used three overlapping images played from synchronized laser disc players to create a single, ultra-widescreen image on the screen.
Splendid China Overview Film Credits
The Creative Directors for the Splendid China overview film project were Jon Binkowski and Ken McCabe with Renaissance Entertainment in Celebration, Florida. “Renaissance Entertainment is an industry leading international entertainment company with corporate headquarters in Celebration, Florida. Since its original introduction in 1989, the company has established an outstanding reputation in themed attraction design, installation and operation.” The company, headed by Jon Binkowski is still creating exciting shows for theme parks around the globe. The Producer was Rusty Rustaad also a staff member at Renaissance Entertainment.
Director of Photography was Brad Fuller with Florida Film and Tape, another Orlando company. Brad and FF&T are still active in video production here in the Orlando area.
Video Editors on the project were Michael Elias and Oliver Peters who were employees of Century III Teleproductions at Universal Studios Florida, at the time the largest post production facility in Central Florida. Century III closed its doors years ago, but most of its former staff members are still active in post production.
Michael Elias is currently video editor for the “Family Guy” television show and resides in California.
Oliver Peters is still active in post production in Central Florida through his company, Oliver Peters Post Production Services, LLC – www.OliverPeters.com. He writes for Digital Video magazine, is an instructor at Valencia Community College, is a consultant, and presents seminars around the country. Oliver was presented the 1994 International Monitor Award for Best Editor of an Informational Non-Broadcast production for the “Splendid China” overview video.
The visual effects for the overview film “Splendid China” were created by Curtis Sponsler, another former staff member at Century III Teleproductions. Curtis Sponsler is still active in the Orlando area through his company AniMill.
VISIT the original Splendid China website through the Wayback machine
WATCH this 9-minute excerpt from the 20-minute presentation at the visitors’ center at Splendid China
WATCH this 15-minute video on the History of Splendid China.
WATCH this 8-minute video recorded on a visit to Splendid China.
Below is Information from the original Splendid China website.
The Welcome page on their original web site reads: “Embark on a journey through 5,000 years and 10,000 miles of Chinese culture, history and tradition. Our 76-acre park recreates in painstaking detail over 60 lifelike replicas of China’s historical sites and landmarks, including: The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Tomb of the Terra Cotta Warriors and much, much more. All exhibits are hand-crafted by Chinese artisans direct from China, with a plethora of unique and rare merchandise available in our gift shops. Enjoy Chinese cuisine at it’s best in our gourmet restaurant, The Suzhou Pearl. Marvel at The Mysterious Kingdom of the Orient, a 90-minute live-stage production, featuring over 40 of China’s top entertainers. Watch as they combine award-winning acrobatics with the unparalleled grace and beauty of the Chinese dance to form a breathtaking performance unlike anything ever seen this side of the Orient!
Between our outdoor and indoor facilities, we can accommodate groups from 50 to 750. Only 2 miles west of Walt Disney World’s main entrance, off 192 West, and 3 miles west of Interstate 4. Call toll free 1.800.244.6226 or 407.396.7111 today!”
The Tour page on the website reads: “Splendid China is a spectacular family theme park featuring more than 60 incredibly detailed replicas of China’s most historic landmarks, including a half-mile long Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the modern archeological site of the Terra Cotta Warriors and dozens of other equally wonderful sites and scenes.
In addition, several new attractions are now featured within our 76 acre complex including “The Mysterious Kingdom of the Orient”, playing every evening Tuesday through Sunday at 6:00 PM at the Golden Peacock Theater. This spectacular production features the largest, award winning Chinese cast ever assembled in American theatrical history. Discover Suzhou Gardens – a shopping, dining and entertainment complex.”
Road to Ruin
The beginning of the end took place in 1995 with a single school system canceling and forbidding school field trips to Splendid China. The following year the boycott spread to more school systems. Add to that numerous demonstrations outside the park entrance that intimidated visitors and the park began losing money. By 1999 the attraction was losing $9 million dollars a year. With no let up in the activities against the park, Florida Splendid China closed forever on December 31, 2003.
Shortly thereafter the vandalism and theft began. Structures were stolen and destroyed by teens living in the area. There are several heartbreaking and disturbing videos posted on YouTube.com showing the destruction of the structures that were painstakingly created – one tile at a time – by artisans from China.
Finally, in 2009, the owner of the property held an auction and sold off as many of the structures as it could. The construction of the large structures with re-bar reinforced concrete bases extending many feet below the surface made it virtually impossible to remove the structures. One bidder stated that an earth mover was unable to dislodge portions of the Great Wall from their foundation and the over abundance of re-bar made it impossible to remove a section.
One bidder now displays some of the intricately tiled miniature buildings in the parking lot of his business. In what is at first heartwarming immediately turns to heartbreaking as you gaze upon the once beautiful works of art as they deteriorate in the parking lot of Deco Gallery in Mt. Plymouth, northwest of Apopka on Highway 441.
The tiny individually attached tiles litter the dirt and pavement surrounding the buildings as the paint peels away. Evidence of the struggle that ensued to detach the structures from their foundations is seen in the damage to the foundations of several structures.
The photographs below taken by a child on a field trip to Splendid China show the miniature structures in their glory. The photographs taken in August 2015 shows them in their current desperate condition.
Oliver Peters worked for Century III (CIII - Century 3) Teleproductions from 1985 until he left in 2002 to form his own company. Over the course of seventeen years, Oliver held the positions of videotape editor, project manager and operations manager. CIII was first located in the old Bee Jay Recording Studios on Eggleston Avenue in Winter Park, Florida, but relocated in 1989 to Univeral Studios after being selected from many production houses to be the post production facility on the back lot at Universal Studios. During this time period, Orlando garnered the name "Hollywood East" due to the filming/taping and post production of films and television series in the Central Florida area.
Oliver is currently involved in production and post production of commercial and corporate projects; he is a writer for Videography and other industry magazines in print and online; he is a presenter at conventions around the country; a guest instructor at Valencia State College and Full Sail, and he shares his knowledge of editing systems and techniques as a consultant to television stations and production houses around the country. His web site is www.OliverPeters.com
The following interview took place in May 2011. The interviewer is his wife and Orlando Public Library staff member, Kim Peters.
INTERVIEWER: If you search Orlando Memory for the name Oliver Peters or Century III you'll find info on theme parks, tourist attractions, museums, Jimmy Buffet and motion pictures you may not have seen, but should. Oliver's involvement in most of these projects was as producer or videotape editor while employed at Century III Teleproductions - a video post production facility located on the back lot at Universal Studios Orlando.
Century III closed its doors many years ago, but Oliver is still editing video, teaching video production, conducting seminars, and writing for Videography magazine. Oliver is here today to tell us about Century III during the years Orlando was known as "Hollywood East."
Welcome Oliver. I appreciate your taking the time to share your memories with Orlando Memory.
OLIVER: Thanks. Glad to be a part of this.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that you were part of the original staff of Century III when the company relocated from Boston to Orlando in 1985. Give us a brief background on Century III and how it was chosen to be the post production facility on the back lot at Universal Studios.
OLIVER: Century III started out as a branch office of the Boston facility. It was a post production company doing commercials and corporate videos. When the Studios started opening up, both Universal Studios and Disney, we had the opportunity to become the resident facility at Universal Studios and that was a concession that they made available to a number of companies around the country. We happened to win the chance to be part of it, and were invovled in a number of shows and projects from the time they started until we moved off the lot.
INTERVIEWER: Who were the main people involved with Century III in the Boston facility and when you moved to Orlando?
OLIVER: Century III was owned by Ross Cibella and the company down here was managed by Miles Ptacek and both he and I answered to Rich Parent who was the head of engineering and operations in Boston. Rich and Miles were largely responsible for the original design and construction of the facility which was in the old Bee Jay Recording Studios.
INTERVIEWER: If people would like to find out more about Bee Jays Recording Studio we have a number of items on Orlando Memory that were given to us by Eric Schabacker who had been the owner of Bee Jays at one time.
During your time at Century III you were on the back lot at Universal Studios, and the Florida Governor, Jeb Bush at the time, was actively promoting the state as Hollywood East . Century III benefited from that, and at the time, Century III was involved in the post production for a number of television series, films, and theme park videos. That must have been an exciting time, probably pretty busy, but exciting all the same.
OLIVER: We had a lot of fun doing that. We were involved in quite a lot of different television shows that were being shot on the lot at Universal Studios as well as various feature films being done in and around the area. Some of those included on the TV show side, The Adventures of Super Boy, Swamp Thing, Fortune Hunter, and Super Force. There was also the first one that got us started which was the last season of The New Leave It To Beaver Show. So, it was fun watching some of those people as they came through the lot and I occasionally got to see some of the taping. The various feature films that we worked on, some of those included the First of May and the Michael Winslow film and we were also involved in some more non-traditional projects done for museums and theme parks. We did some of the work that was at Universal Studios itself, including some of the sound design for the original King Kong ride when it went up there. We also did videos for Margarittaville which is the Jimmy Buffet attraction at City Walk and also the Bob Marley restaurant.
INTERVIEWER: I understand ya'll also did some work for Madam Tussauds in New York and for the Smithsonian.
OLIVER: That's correct. The Madam Tussauds Wax Museum did a tour of New York that was sort of an animated virtual tour projected on a dome, and we produced the actual program including all the animation that included live actors, as well, and we did the whole production on that.
For the Smithsonian, we actually did the video for a museum called the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum which is in Memphis in the old Gibson guitar factory. And this was the Smithsonian's first effort in doing something outside of their normal environment, actually being involved in content for other museums both private and public. They had gone through a process of recording interviews with all of the iconic musicians and studio owners involved in creating the Memphis sound and we had the opportunity to work with a lot of the files which made for a really interesting program about the history about both the origins of rock and roll and soul music.
INTERVIEWER: Now, I know Century III was not just involved with editing. I know on your work that you did for Madam Toussads ya'll actually shot the video against green screens that you had set up in a studio in your facility. What other types of things did you do in addition to editing on some of the projects that you had there?
OLIVER: Well, Century III was a full service company, so we did, in addition to video editing, we also did extensive graphics work including 3-D animation. As you mentioned Madam Tussauds involved both live action and animation of the entire city of New York - 3D replicas of the buildings and so on. We also had an extensive audio department that did sound recording and mixing, obviously on the TV shows that I'd mentioned before but we also did films. For instance, one of the two Christopher Columbus films that played internationally around the world, we did all of the sound on one of the films. And that included everything from sound effects all the way through to a finished mix.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that CIII also did work for several of the theme parks here in the Orlando area. I know one of which was Splendid China and that has closed, but you worked on...had something special to do with the ET Ride that was there [at Universal Studios] and also at EPCOT. What can you tell us about those.
OLIVER: Well when the park opened up at Universal we did sound design for various attractions and that included ET. When the ET character says all the different names of the people going through the attraction [at the end of the ride], the recording of all the variations of those names was something we were involved in and also installing where the various sound effects occurred thoughout the ride.
Kim: The biggest project you worked on was Illuminations which is Reflections of Earth at EPCOT. Can you tell us a little about what role CIII played in that and you in particular, and how long it took to get to the final video we see on the large earth globe at EPCOT?
OLIVER: Right, that was designed and started in time for the Millennium Celebration, so it's been running over ten years at this point [debut was at EPCOT October 1, 1999]. And we produced the video content that you see projected on the earth globe which is a 30 foot tall structure and the images are actually shown on what amounts to LED signs. So, we produced that as video and worked on that for about a year. And that included a little bit of R&D (research and development) trying to figure out what kind of images would actually be recognizable as well as actually doing the content.
I was involved not only in organizing and editing but sort of working as the co-project manager on that. Any of these projects take a lot of different people and in that case we had a team on and off throughout the year of probably a dozen different people involved in the project including Craig Stickler who was an art director on the project and Fawn Trivette who was one of the lead artists and compositors. We also had live action. At the very end of the presentation there's a sequence of people handing off a torch and lamps and candles from one person to another, so the recording of those various actors was done by Jack Tinsley who is a director here in town.
INTERVIEWER: And this was all coordinated through Don Dorsey Productions?
OLIVER: Yes, Don was the show director which is a position that theme parks have for the person involved in designing the creative design of a show and seeing it through to its end. So Don was responsible for all creative aspects of the show. Not just our part, but also the music, the lasers, the fireworks and interfacing with the Disney management and getting the job done.
INTERVIEWER: And Orlando Memory is really happy that Don Dorsey provided us with some images of the trips to China to select the proper fireworks and also the recording of some of the music that was done at Abby Roads in London.
In all your years at Century III, there any experiences that stand out or any individuals that you met that you would like to tell us about?
OLIVER: Well, sure. During the time we were on the lot at Universal Studios a lot of interesting people passed through there. We had a chance to meet with Steven Spielberg. Of course we worked with a number of the actors on the various shows. We did a movie that included Ernest Borgnine (Hoover) and he's an interesting character. Of course, we also were involved in lots of different projects that really related to the start of a lot of production activity in the Central Florida area. For instance, that was the time period when Valencia College started up their film technology program and we were very actively involved in a number of the projects that they brought through in classes there. There was a very active high school video competition that Universal Studios was involved in and we met some folks like Jim Hensen and Robert Duval who came through at one point doing audio work in our studio.
INTERVIEWER: That sounds interesting! CIII closed around 2003 and you left in 2002 to start your own company. What type of activities are you involved in with your own company?
OLIVER: Well, I continue working in the post production field primarily as an editor and a colorist, but I'm also involved in overall post production supervision. I've worked on various projects for area clients; a lot for the Walt Disney World Company. In the last few years I've done projects such as a series of videos for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina and other projects that include local documentaries and films as well as television commercials and training videos. I am also involved as a speaker and as a writer and I've been to various seminars and things like that giving instruction in post production processes and various aspects of the industry.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it seems that you really enjoy editing and all the aspects of post production. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.
Century III at Universal Studios had a listing and advertisement in the 1992 Florida Production Sourcebook. A copy can be found in the Florida History collection at the Orlando Public Library (call number FLORIDA COLLECTION 338.47791 FLO).
Century III's listing is as follows:
CENTURY III at Universal Studios - Film and Video - Pamela Lapp
2000 Universal Studios Plaza, Orlando, FL 32818 - 407-354-1000 FAX 407-352-8662
Complete on-line/off-line computer editing for video and film post production. Digital recording, audio editing and mixing available, Synclavier sound design and composition, SFX libraries, 2-D/3-D computer animation, 16/35mm film transfer, C/K-U Band Satellite Uplink/downlink, Duplication, all formats.
Information pertaining to the award-winning "Splendid China" film created for the viewing by visitors to the park.
In November 1993, Splendid China Theme Park opened in Kissimmee, Florida. A booklet was created in honor of the grand opening ceremonies complete with images from the park, lists of individuals and companies who aided in the realization of the project and congratulatory letters from dignataries from here and abroad.
Enjoy perusing through the book and the wonderful photographs of all the exhibits that make up the world of Splendid China by clicking on the link above.
Timeline history of the important events in the history of Splendid China.