By Charly SHELTON
Of the five senses, smell is most closely linked to emotion. Incoming smells are first processed in the olfactory bulb in the nose, which shares its back wall with the brain. The bulb is directly connected to the brain in the nearby amygdala and hippocampus, two areas responsible for memory recall and emotional response. This is why smelling a corn dog may bring a flood of memories from the summer county fair from 20 years ago, or smelling the perfume of your dearly departed grandmother may bring a flood of tears despite the many years since her passing. Smells can trigger emotions and memories and just make an experience more impactful.
So when you are in a hang glider soarin’ over an orange grove, or aboard a time vehicle taking you back to see the burning Library at Alexandria, it just makes sense that you would smell oranges and burning scrolls. A smell attached to an experience takes it one step further and creates a stronger memory. This is where Escential Resources FX comes in.
As the top scent provider to themed entertainment locations around the world and the official scent provider to Disney Parks, owner Lorane Wasserman helps to create those memories.
One of the most famous Disney smells is the very first one she developed – the orange groves from Soarin’ Over California. At the time of development, there was no smell delivery system for rides and attractions other than liquid, which was messy so it was not used. So Wasserman sourced essential oils and different fragrances from around the world, combined the scents to make a perfect new blend and created a new delivery system.
“[We started] making scented beads. Learning how to make scented beads. Not knowing what to do, not knowing I had to buy a mesh to put the beads in, I had nothing to copy from because we were doing this for Disney in the beginning when they wanted to use scent,” Wasserman said. “It was brand new 18 years ago.”
The fragrance is combined with ceramic or poly beads which, when placed in a
breathable sachet, disperse the scent around the room with the help of a small fan. The scent lasts long and leaves no mess or residue. This was perfect for the fast-paced, high-occupancy ride. The scents for the ride included the orange groves of Southern California and pine forests of northern California. These scents were met with a legendary following, with Disney fan sites creating candles, body sprays and diffuser oils trying to replicate the magical smell.
“It makes me feel good that we had the right orange for them. When people call, now they can ask for the Disney orange since we’re not using it for Disney,” Wasserman said.
The orange scent is now available because the ride has changed and the proprietary orange is no longer used by the theme park. The smells of a Tahitian beach, rose-scented trees of the Taj Mahal and cool mountain air of the Matterhorn are in place now.
The first ride led to ERFX becoming the official scent provider for Disney Parks worldwide, and the introduction of scents to other favorite scenes – like the burning scrolls on Spaceship Earth, the car paint in Ramone’s Body Shop on Radiator Springs Racers, the Pandoran jungle on Avatar: Flight of Passage, and the gingerbread house in Haunted Mansion Holiday.
But not all smells are as pleasant as oranges. In addition to all the theme park smells, ERFX also supplies movie theaters for 4D screening scents, haunted houses, parties, stores and museums. These require a broad range of smells from beautiful florals to horrific nightmare scents. And some scents that are impossible to imagine.
“Years ago, one of the first big things we did was the [Jarkov] woolly mammoth on Discovery Channel. For the traveling show we did the mammoth smell,” Wasserman said. “My younger brother, when he was in Boston, went to see it at the Boston Science Museum. You push a button and smell the mammoth.”
The haunt industry has taken great advantage of scents in haunted walkthrough attractions. From the big boys, like Universal Studios and Knott’s Scary Farm, to the average home haunter, Wasserman says there is a smell for everyone at an affordable price for even amateur hobby haunters.
“Sometimes people ask, ‘How can you make these horrible smells?’ but the answer is simple. To me they smell like money because they’re such good sellers,” Wasserman said.
Scents can range from dinosaurs to clogged toilets to burning flesh – whatever the scene calls for. For example, this year’s Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Haunted Jail event will feature scents from ERFX including wet dog, rose bushes, car exhaust and musty attic, all to help make the space as believable as possible for guests.
“People want bad smells. Sometimes I think they’re a little off. But it serves the purpose, especially at Halloween. I don’t know of any companies that have a repertoire of really disgusting smells like we do,” Wasserman said. “We make this horrible fragrance and we call it Just Bad because I couldn’t think of a name because it was just vile. We created that one; we blended it. And I get a kick out of it when someone calls up and asked if we stock Just Bad.”
Wasserman’s team includes Tony Bantula, king of scented fog juice, Craig Chuc, Carmine Nunez and Patty Martinez. Nunez is the lead scent mixer and she creates many of the new scents, both good and bad, just by knowing what will work well together to create that perfect reaction.
“[Nunez] likes it, even the bad smells, because the whole point is that when she makes something, it goes around the world. [She thinks about] all the people who smell what she makes, and she feels good about that,” Wasserman said.
But whether it’s good or bad, if it fits just right it creates the perfect reaction and it seems so real, guests may not even notice it.
“Sometimes people don’t even notice it because they think they’re smelling what they should be smelling, and they go, ‘Oh, I forgot there was a scent’ so it’s nice hearing that because it’s just right,” Wasserman said.
For more info on Escential Resources FX, visit the website EscentialResourcesFX.com.
PS – The smell in Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland – that’s not from ERFX. That’s real mildew.